My Landscaper Did My Landscape Lighting But It’s Never Worked Right

Inferior Quality Low Voltage Bulb

I certainly do not want to pick on landscapers, but one of the most frequently heard comments at the recent Colorado Garden and Home Show was – my landscaper did my lighting but it’s never worked right.

During the last two weeks, I evaluated two lighting systems that coincidentally had exactly the same fixtures.  The low voltage path lights were manufactured by a well-known national lighting manufacturer that had rolled out a lower-priced line of fixtures for landscapers to use. The path lights use the incandescent T5 wedge-base bulbs that have an average life of only 500 to 1,000 hours. In addition, the manufacturer states that these fixtures are rated for damp locations (somewhat sheltered from the weather) instead of wet locations (snow, rain, sleet, etc.). The fixtures have no lenses to protect either the bulb or the socket from moisture, moths, and spider webs – and that degrades the bulb life even further.

Making the situation in both installations even worse is the fact that the installers used the daisy chain method of installation – that’s when numerous fixtures are connected in series one after the other on the same circuit. Invariably with that wiring technique, the installer typically sets the voltage higher than it should be to ensure that the light at the very end of the circuit receives enough voltage to light up. What that also means is that the first light in the series is receiving 14, 15, or 18 volts – and since the bulbs are only rated at 12V – the first bulb starts burning out very quickly causing a domino effect down the line.

In one of the locations, the landscaper installed over a dozen step lights in poured concrete steps and patios – and it appears that no sleeves had been installed so that the system could be rewired if necessary. More problematic is the fact that as the concrete continues to cure over time, it will react with and break down the protective insulation and eventually corrode the wiring.

Outdoor lighting systems can last a lifetime if high quality products are used and professionally installed – and it’s very disconcerting to see a beautifully landscaped yard with an inferior lighting system. Sometimes we can come up with a cost-effective solution for the homeowner to remedy the lighting system – but sometimes we almost have to start from the beginning.

See Our Lights at the Colorado Garden and Home Show

OLP’s Exhibit Showcasing the Latest in LEDs

The 52nd Annual Colorado Garden and Home Show started yesterday, and Outdoor Lighting Perspectives is proud to be making its 12th appearance in this important show.  Our exhibit is centrally located in the Colorado Convention Center Exhibit Hall in booth # 1442.

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives Showcases the Latest in Internet-Based Lighting Control Automation(TM)

Several new products and services are being launched at this show including new internet-based Lighting Control Automation™, new LED products and LED retrofits, Do-It-Yourself Kits, and Lighting Energy Audits/Retrofits for both the residential and commercial markets. We can show you how to have beautiful outdoor and indoor lighting, while decreasing your carbon footprint and your monthly electric bills.

Residential and Commercial Lighting Products on Display at the Colorado Garden and Home Show

The show continues for eight more days – through Sunday, February 20th. With the 60-degree weather expected to last through much of this week, now is the time to start planning your outdoor projects for the upcoming year. So enjoy the show and we look forward to seeing you at the Outdoor Lighting Perspectives exhibit.

What Is the Best Lighting Design for Outdoor Steps?

     The answer to that and just about any other lighting design question is that it just depends. While that answer may not be satisfying to most homeowners, it’s the best answer that we can provide until we’ve fully evaluated the site and have fully understood how the homeowner intends to use the space after dark.

Typical Recessed Step Light

     Most homeowners immediately think that the commonly used step lights shown at left are the easiest and best way to illuminate the stairs leading to their deck or raised patio. With any good lighting design, however, the final design should be based on the bulb itself and resulting lighting effect. In other words, the fixture selection and type should actually come last in the design process.
     These lighting fixtures are relatively easy to install on a wood or Trex deck – either during or after construction. However, if the lights need to be installed in poured concrete steps, then a lot of pre-planning needs to be done before the new steps go in.
     During the last twelve years we have been in business, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado has only installed a handful of recessed step lights. The primary reason for that is because there is a much better way to proper illuminate the steps for after-dark safety – and that design effect is commonly called downlighting or sconce lighting.

Entrance to Property Requiring Proper Lighting for Steps

     We recently completed a lighting installation at a home built in the 1920s near the Governors Mansion in Denver. The property is accessed from the public sidewalk through a large wrought iron gate. To reach the upper terrace and front entrance to the home, you can access the steps immediately to the left or right side of the gate. With an existing and historical home with stone and concrete work quickly approaching one-hundred years old, the last thing you would want to even consider would be recessed step lighting. The good news is that installing these  copper BB08 sconce lights is much easier and they provide much better lighting as well. A close up of the completed installation is shown below.

Close Up of Completed Sconce Light Installation

     That being said, there have been a few occasions where recessed step lighting was our only option for providing any lighting to steps. In those situations, the steps from side to side were over ten feet wide, with no handrails or any other possible location to mount any sconce lights. In that situation, we made sure that we installed at least three step lights on each riser so that the steps could be safely illuminated. 

     The last photo shows the lighting effect of these copper BB08 sconce lights (made in the USA at our factory in Nashville) on a deck with many steps among the pines.

Deck Lighting and Step Lighting Among the Pines

Park Lighting Project Completed for Piney Creek

LC40 Lamp Post at Entrance to Piney Creek Picnic Area

Our company, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado, just completed its latest lighting project at a community park – the Piney Creek Park near the intersection of East Orchard Road and South Joplin Way in the City of Centennial.

The picnic area next to the beautiful lake and water feature in the Piney Creek Park had been without functioning lighting for several years. The six four-foot tall bollard lighting fixtures  that had been installed there previously were vandalized and damaged beyond repair. The home owners’ association (HOA) realized that they needed a different lighting solution that would not only deter vandalism but also enchance the beauty and usability of the park throughout the year.

What we specified and installed are the 14-foot tall, LC-40 pole lamp posts (150W Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH)) manufactured by our national company in Nashville, Tennessee. The lamp posts are made of cast and extruded aluminum – and for this installation they were powder-coated black for an elegant and traditional look.

What really sets these lamp posts apart from any other installation you’ll see in Colorado today is the use of the Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) bulb technology. These CMH bulbs with a life of 18,000 hours generate 12,000 lumens while producing a Color Rendering Index (CRI) ABOVE 90! What that means is that the flowers, trees, and rocks, etc. look the same way illuminated at night as they would appear during the daytime. What a concept! And unlike regular metal halide bulbs, CMH bulbs never experience any sort of color shift; i.e., the CMH bulb will always provide a pure white light from the first day it is turned on until the day it burns out.

As a comparison, the current LED technology can generate at best only 50 lumens per watt while the current CMH technology can generate 80 lumens per watt. LED technology is rapidly improving but it still has a way to go to compete with CMH technology where you need to have a lot of light (lumens) at the ground level.

All of the lamp posts were mounted on four-foot deep, two-foot diameter concrete caissons with engineered rebar cages to withstand the higher wind loads that we encounter along the Colorado front range. I’ve attached some additional photos of the construction phase as well as some additional nighttime photos taken after the installation.

LC-40 Lamp Post Closeup at Piney Creek Park

 

Raising the First of Three Lamp Posts in Piney Creek Park

Piney Creek Park Lighting

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives LC40 Lamp Post - Piney Creek Park at Sunset

Custom Low Voltage BBQ Light

Custom BBQ Light

One of the advantages of being part of a large national/international lighting company is our ability to craft and install custom low voltage landscape/architectural lighting fixtures for our clients when the need arises. Last week we did a project for a customer who asked during the installation if there was a way to illuminate his barbecue grill. The customer wanted the ability to turn the BBQ light on and off separately from the rest of the landscape lighting system. The other requirement was that the customer did not want the lighting fixture attached in any way to the fence.

Our factory manufactures the copper BBQ lighting fixture assemblies with the black rubber all-weather switch and bulb socket assemblies. Our crew modified the assembly by installing a slightly larger copper flood head and mounting it at a 45-degree angle. By using an additional length of copper as well as one of our company’s heavy-duty underground PVC anchoring stakes, we were able to install the entire assembly behind some ornamental grasses.

The copper once it develops a patina will blend in nicely with the surrounding vegetation and fencing. The design and installation of this BBQ lighting fixture pretty much summarizes the goal of Outdoor Lighting Perspectives – and that is to emphasize the overall lighting effect with functional, unobtrusive, and durable lighting fixtures.

Custom Lighting Fixture Next to BBQ

Innovative Lighting for Backyard Sport/Game Courts

Sport-Game Court Illuminated with Low Voltage Lighting

People who live in Colorado are very active and many families throughout Colorado have installed sport-game courts in their back yards for family fun. Many communities, however, have very stringent regulations as to the placement and usage of these courts. Additionally, many communities do not allow the courts to be illuminated in the evening with line voltage (120V) lights (typically 150W metal halide).

Several years ago a homeowner approached us in this predicament and we performed an evening lighting demonstration with our low voltage quartz halogen fixtures.

Close Up of Low Voltage PAR36 Lighting Fixture

Our copper BB-01 copper flood lights with glare shields were painted black to blend in with the court’s fencing and netting – and the lights were conveniently controlled by the use of an all-weather switch next to the court. In previous years we have also illuminated a back yard ice rink in the mountains by mounting these same fixtures in trees and other strategic locations for very-spirited hockey games.

Our most recent installation was illuminating the sport court (with the Colorado Avalanche logo) shown at the beginning of the blog. Interestingly, the previous homeowner who had this court installed was one of the best goalies in NHL history – and he will forever be known in these parts as Saint Patrick!

The current homeowners use the court extensively and now they can actually see the volleyball net as well as the basketball nets at each end of the court! The low voltage lights and the anti-glare shields direct the light only where it’s needed – totally eliminating glare or light pollution into neighboring properties. As always with lighting, less is usually best in there’s absolutely no reason to light up a back yard court to the same lumen level as Invesco Field at Mile High. With this low voltage lighting system, the people using the court can see just fine thank you – without blinding their neighbors next door!

Low Voltage Fixture at Sunset

Important Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Landscape Lighting Contractor

As with any home improvement project, homeowners need to peform their due diligence on prospective contractors (including landscape lighting) before any project is begun. Many homeowners ask why they should work with us and our response is typically “maybe you shouldn’t.” That response can be a bit disconcerting to most homeowners but almost immediately they understand the point we’re trying to make. And that point is that until you ask the right questions and receive the answers you’re comfortable with and do the background checks on a particular company or companies, you really should not be proceeding with any project until that due diligence is completed.

The following are some questions we’ve been asked over the years – and others that homeowners should be including as well:

BUSINESS LICENSING/REGISTRATION/INSURANCE?  Is the business registered and in good standing with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office? Does the company have the appropriate state and municipal operational and tax licensing? Does the company carry the appropriate property and liability insurance?

BBB RATING?  Is the company listed as an Accredited Business by the Better Business Bureau and what is its rating? For example, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado is listed as an Accredited Business by the Denver-Boulder Better Business Bureau and currently holds an A+ rating.

HOW MUCH LIGHTING EXPERIENCE DOES THE COMPANY HAVE?  Outdoor Lighting Perspectives (OLP) of Colorado has been operating since 1999 – and our national company has been operating throughout the country since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Lighting is the only thing we do day in and day out – so we have to be really focussed and good at what we do. As part of a large national/international company with over 60 offices, we receive frequent and on-going training with respect to the latest lighting products and technology, design and installation techniques, and customer service. Interestingly, about 85% of the lighting companies operating in the Denver-Boulder area in 2001 are no longer in business.

HOW MANY LIGHTING INSTALLATIONS HAVE YOU DONE? The old saying is that anyone can sell you lights, but not everyone can provide you with an effective and high quality lighting installation. The number of installations a company has done is directly related to their level of expertise and professionalism in being able to handle any type of project. OLP of Colorado has close to 1,500 installations under its belt – from the plains of Fort Morgan to a two-mile high mountain-top and all along the front range of Colorado. Companies who only do lighting as a sideline business typically never get close to us with the breadth and complexity of the jobs we tackle.

CAN THE COMPANY PROVIDE REFERENCES? Good and reputable companies should never be reluctant to provide reference sites to prospective clients. However, from a lighting design standpoint every homeowner has different tastes and even different budget ranges in mind. That’s one of the reasons that we provide the free evening lighting design demonstration so that every design is customized for each homeowner.

WILL THE COMPANY PROVIDE A PREVIEW? As a follow on to the previous topic, any good lighting contractor should be able to provide you with an evening design demonstration so that you can see what the system will look like prior to the installation.

WHAT WARRANTIES COME WITH THE SYSTEM? Obviously, warranties are only as good as the company that backs it up. We once had a prospect (now a customer) who had asked one of our competitors “whose lifetime?” when he spotted their “lifetime warranty” banner hanging somewhat precariously in their exhibit. As I mentioned above, most of the lighting companies in business locally in 2001 are no longer around.

ASK ABOUT THE COMPANY’S SERVICE/MAINTENANCE PLANS Do they provide service after the sale? More often then not a lot of homeowners find out too late that the company that installed their lights provide no help after the installation.

FIND OUT WHO DOES THE ACTUAL INSTALLATIONS Does the contractor have their own factory trained employees or do they pick up day-hires with limited on-site training? Do they provide workmans comp, etc. Do they only hire and employ workers who are in the U.S. legally.

WILL MY LANDSCAPING AND SPRINKLER SYSTEM BE DAMAGED? Reputable and experienced lighting contractors should leave your property as good or better than it looked before the lighting installation was started. One of the best compliments our crews receive at the end of the day from a homeowner is that it looks like they had a lot more work to do since they didn’t notice any disruption to the landscaping. And that’s the entire point – the homeowner should not see anything different about the landscaping except for the fixtures as well as the beautiful illumination in the evening.

All of our trenching is done by hand with thin slices in lawn areas. After the wire is buried, the sod folds back over and most homeowners cannot tell where the wiring had been run. With regard to sprinkler systems, occasionally one of our crews does cut a line but it is our responsibility to fix it. If the sprinkler system is more complex than what we’re experienced with, we can call in one of several irrigation companies to complete the repairs.

Of course there are many more questions that homeowners can and should ask with respect to contractors in general and lighting contractors in particular, but hopefully I’ve addressed the primary questions today in this short blog.