How Do You Maintain a Solar Photovoltaic LED Lighting Installation?

Genesee Entrance Monument – Solar PV LED

Outdoor Lighting Perspective’s solar photovoltaic (PV) LED lighting system has been operational at the Village of Genesee’s entrance monument for two years now. A few weeks ago we completed the Year Two annual maintenance for the system – and it continues to illuminate the monument nightly with the free energy captured by the sun.

 
The solar PV LED system consists of the following: a 3.7W LED lighting fixture supported by a strut to provide downlighting (Genesee is dark-sky compliant); a solar mast that supports the 16- by 20-inch solar PV panel and equipment bay; the equipment bay contains the solar gel battery and system controller. Every solar PV LED lighting system should be checked and maintained on an annual basis, and this is especially true for a mountain installation where the site can experience very high wind loads.
 
To see some of the issues we faced at this year’s maintenance visit, please watch the video below:
 
 
As you could see in this video, we did have to replace the LED fixture on this visit because the electronics had become corroded due to moisture entering the fixture. We suspect that a seal had failed perhaps due to the buffeting by the high winds. The on-site checklist that we follow for this type of maintenance is shown below:
  • Confirm that the current levels of the solar array and load do not exceed the controller ratings.
  • Tighten all terminal connections. Inspect for loose, broken or burnt wire connections. Be certain that no loose strands of wire are touching other terminals.
  • Test that the LED fixture is working.
  • Inspect the equipment bay for signs of dirt, insects, moisture, and/or corrosion.
  • Ensure that the air flow around the controller is not blocked.
  • Check that the controller functions and LED indicators are correct for the system conditions at that time.
  • Clean the PV array and reconfirm that the array is oriented correctly.
  • Re-confirm that the correct battery type is indicated.
  • Check and re-tighten as needed the ground wires by the fixture as well as by the PV array.
  • Inspect and re-tighten as needed the mounting system for the fixture.
  • Re-touch paint as needed on the solar mast and equipment bay.

As with any type of lighting system, annual and preventive maintenance will ensure that the lights will be on when you need them.

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.

Can Landscape Lights and Mulch Coexist?

 

Mulch Covering Well LIght Causes Acrylic Lens Cover to Melt

During the spring months in Colorado, most homeowners start turning their attention to their outdoor living spaces, gardens, and lawns. A big part of this effort includes cleaning up any remaining leaves and other wind-blown debris from the property, and freshening up  the planting beds by re-mulching.

 

For those homeowners who also have landscape lighting systems installed on their property, it is critically important that none of the landscape fixtures become carelessly covered up by mulch during this process. If an outside landscaping contractor or handyman has been hired to do the re-mulching, it is encumbent on the homeowner to alert them to the location of each and every fixture – and instruct them not to cover up the fixtures. Many years ago one of our customers was out of town, and on a Friday afternoon, their landscaper carelessly dumped a 6-foot tall pile of mulch on one of the well lights. The landscapers didn’t plan to go back to the house until Monday to distribute the mulch – and early on that Saturday evening a girl riding her bicycle saw the resulting mulch fire. Fortunately, she summoned her father who was then able to douse the fire with a garden hose.

Our national company initially installed well lights without lens covers – and then quickly transitioned to the acrylic lens covers. For about the last four years, we’ve been using tempered glass lens covers on every well light that we install. The glass is thick enough that it prevents the outside of the lens from becoming as hot as the previous acrylic ones, and it keeps flammable materials from contacting the bulb directly. Surprisingly, most of the other major landscape lighting manufacturers are still not using lens covers of ANY kind. It’s not been uncommon when our crews are servicing non-OLP systems to find other manufacturer’s well lights that are totally covered by mulch. In some instances, we have found situations where a mulch fire had started previously.

OLP Well Light with Tempered Glass Lens Cover

As with everything else around the home, it does not take a lot of time to do some preventive maintenance to ensure that the lights are not being covered up by mulch, tumbleweeds, or leaves. Another rule of thumb is not to purchase the least expensive mulch (usually the lightest) that tends to blow away during the first good wind storm. In the early 2000’s, the National Electrical Code also addressed this issue by requiring that low voltage transformers have secondary circuit protection (the wiring that goes to the fixtures in the landscaping).

 
As lighting systems transition from quartz halogen to LED, mulch-related heat buildup problems and issues will decrease. However, in addition to safety, another main reason to ensure that your lighting fixtures are not covered up by mulch or dirt is because the light will be blocked – but you will still be paying the electric company for it anyway!
 

Can Line Voltage Lamp Posts be Converted to Low Voltage?

Retrofit Low Voltage Quartz Halogen Column Lights

In many of the older neighborhoods in Denver and along the front range, line voltage column lights or lamp posts had been used to illuminate the entrance walkway or driveway to a home. Over many years of time, this underground wiring has become corroded, frayed and/or cut – rendering the lighting fixtures inoperable.

One solution of course would be to trace and identify the defective wiring and either fix it or replace it completely. However, trenching and burying new line voltage wiring (18-inches deep in conduit or 24-inches deep for direct burial) can be very costly, not to mention the disruption and damage to the mature landscaping.

Fortunately, there is a much more cost effective solution for restoring power to these line voltage lamp posts and column lights – and that is by installing a low voltage transformer by the house – and running new low voltage wiring (6-inches deep) to the fixtures. The above photo shows an Outdoor Lighting Perspectives (OLP) installation along the 6th Avenue Parkway in Denver. In addition to not having any power to the columns, the existing fixtures were beyond repair as well. OLP installed two of its copper/brass BB-14 lanterns with 35W quartz halogen bulbs to replace the old fixtures. Not only did the homeowners save money by not having to replace the line voltage wiring, they will also be saving money over time by using more energy efficient bulbs.

LED vs. Incandescent Post Light Comparison

By using GE Vio LED technology, OLP can now provide a 50,000 hour lighting retrofit solution for new or existing lamp posts or column lights. In the photo, the fixture powered by GE Vio LED 7.2W total (left) is shown next to a regular 40W incandescent bulb. Fixtures having a frosted lens or globe work best as it allows for a better diffusion of the light.

 
So if you currently have any lamp posts or column lights that are having power issues, you may want to consider the less expensive option of retrofitting them to low voltage LED or quartz halogen – and saving additional money on your monthly electric bill.
 

 

 

 

 

Come See Us at the CAI Spring Showcase & Trade Show

Come see us at the 2011 CAI Spring Showcase & Trade Show – Friday April 29th from 7 am to 4 pm (Booth # 104) at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum – 7711 E. Academy Blvd. in Denver. The theme of this year’s event is Traveling Through Time with Your HOA.

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives (OLP) of Colorado will be exhibiting the latest in ceramic metal halide, LED, and induction fluorescent lamp/fixture technology for a wide range of typical HOA lighting applications including area lighting (street, park, walkway); signage/monument lighting; and stairwell/building lighting.

The new induction fluorescent technology offers increased performance life (up to 100,000 hours) with dramatically lower operational (up to 50-percent energy savings) and maintenance costs. Further, it offers a vast improvement over High-Intensity Discharge (HID) fixtures with respect to nighttime visibility and color rendering.

One of the new programs that OLP of Colorado is offering is a Free Energy Savings Assessment – so that HOA’s and building owners can assess retrofit and replacement payback periods for different lamp technologies. So if you are involved with a community or an HOA, please plan to stop by and see us.

We service other lighting systems

Colorado outdoor lighting service and maintenance

We service other lighting systems - Colorado outdoor lighting

You have a conundrum. You know your existing lighting system is not doing what it should. But, you’ve invested too much money in it to just scrap it. There could be a third option. Perhaps an outdoor lighting professional could service the system and either make some adjustments or perhaps make some small additions to get the lighting system where you want it to be. The good thing is the call and visit are free. Let us take a look at your system that’s not up to where you want it to be and we will make some recommendations about what can be done to fix it or make it better.

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.