Why Did My Landscape Lighting System Stop Working?

During the past week, Colorado has been subjected to a daily occurrence of severe thunderstorm activity with heavy rains and extensive lightning. It is not at all unusual for us to start receiving calls from customers asking why their landscape lighting systems have stopped working.

GFCI Outlet

If all of the landscape lights in a system stop working, typically there is a problem with the power to the low voltage lighting transformer. And 90-percent of the time the loss of power is due to a tripped Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI. In some circles, some electricians and homeowners will also refer to these outlets as just a GFI. During stormy weather with heavy moisture and power surges created by lightning strikes/outages – GFCIs can sometimes trip due to their sensitivity.

That sensitivity of GFCIs is actually a good thing because it protects people from possible electrocution. When a hand tool or appliance is in use, the GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from the hot to the neutral. If there is any imbalance in the current (as little as 4 or 5 milliamps), the GFCI can trip in as quickly as one-thirtieth of a second. If a person is standing outside on the ground and using an electric circular saw while it is raining, the saw is wet and a path is created from the hot wire through that person to the ground. If all of the current is diverted through the person, that could be fatal. That is why the National Electrical Code (NEC) requires the installation of GFCI outlets in new construction for electrical circuits in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, garages and on home exteriors. Older homes may only have one or two GFCI outlets (typically in bathrooms) to protect the circuits in the garage, kitchen and exterior.

So if your lights are not working, first check the outlet where your low voltage lighting transformer is plugged in. Plug in a radio or small appliance to see if you have power there. If there is no power, find and try to reset the GFCI. If the outlet where the transformer is plugged in does not have the GFCI test and reset buttons, you will need to find it. Remember that the actual GFCI for the circuit could be located in the garage, bathroom, laundry room, or on another outlet on the exterior of the house.

Once you have located the GFCI, push the reset button – and recheck the outlet by the transformer to ensure that the power has been restored. If there is still no power, you will have to keep looking for the GFCI that controls the circuit for the lighting. In newer houses, some garages may have as many as four or five separate GFCIs to accommodate power tools and central vacuum systems.

If you have reset the GFCI and the power has been restored, your lighting system is good to go. However, if your lighting system is controlled by a mechanical timer, you will have to reset the current time on the timer to ensure proper operation. If your system is controlled by a digital timer with battery backup or with Outdoor Lighting Perspectives’ (OLP) Lighting Control Automation™, just restoring power to the transformer is all you will need to do.

In the event that you tried to reset the GFCI and it would not physically reset, you should check your electrical panel to see if a breaker tripped for that circuit. If a breaker has tripped, reset it and then try again to reset the GFCI outlet. During this process if you have any problems resetting either the breaker or the GFCI, it would be a good idea to call in an electrician. Electrical breakers and GFCIs can break down and malfunction over time. In fact, the more times that breakers and GFCIs trip, the more susceptible they are to tripping the next time.

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that 90-percent of the time that landscape lighting systems stopoped working due to GFCI outlets tripping. The other 10-percent of the time can be attributed to the fact that someone unplugged the low voltage transformer and neglected to plug it back in or to a problem connected to the control system.

Control system problems occur frequently with the older technology – mechanical timers, photocells, and X10. Those control system issues have been solved with Lighting Control Automation – but you still have to ensure that the automatic/manual controller inside your house has power 24/7 for the system to operate properly.

So the next time you have an issue with your landscape lighting system, try these steps first before scheduling a service call. However, please feel free to call our office at any time if we can be of further assistance.

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