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.

Force of Mother Nature and Outdoor Lighting

Back Yard Fire Caused by Overhead Power Line Being Snapped by Falling Tree

We design and install our landscape and architectural lighting systems to withstand almost everything mother nature can throw at them – from six foot deep snow drifts in the winter time, driving rain in the spring and summer time, and to salty environments in the coastal locations. But sometimes Mother Nature  lets you know that she’s really a force to be reckoned with.

On Monday of this week, the Denver metro area endured sustained winds of 45 mph with gusts to 70 mph- a few mph under hurricane force winds. I had been out in this wind with one of my crews and several times we almost got swept off our feet. Sure enough the phone rang several times the next day with calls from customers saying that some of their fixtures had been damaged by wind-blown debris.

The most major damage, however, was reported by one of our customers in the Hilltop neighborhood. One of his neighbor’s trees was blown over by the wind and severed the overhead XCEL power line causing the 80-foot tree to instantly become a fireball. One of the Kichler modernistic brushed nickel path lights can be seen in the photo below after the fire.

Thankfully, neither the homeowner’s family nor any of his neighbors were injured by the falling tree that was on fire or by the high voltage line that had just been severed. In fact, if you ever see a cut loose overhead wire on the ground or dangling from the air – NEVER, EVER approach it. Call 911 immediately so that the utilties can be called to cut the power as soon as possible. It may literally mean the difference between life and death to another unsuspecting passerby.

The other thing that happened was that the high voltage overhead power line sent a surge through the low voltage lighting system that in turn blew out the low voltage transformer and the GFI wall outlet. The good news is that our stainless steel transformers are designed and manufactured to code to be able to contain a catastrophic event such as this one. And the GFI outlet tripped and then failed preventing the outside surge from entering the rest of the house’s wiring system.

We just started our 12th year of installing lighting systems in Colorado, and this is the first time that we ever had an overhead line voltage power line get severed and then cause all of this other damage. After checking with our factory in Nashville, the folks there who have been doing this for over 20 years have never experienced a scenario such as this one. They have experienced damage to lighting systems due to lightning strikes but not from overhead power lines being severed.

Our Nashville office is currently dealing with the aftermath of the major flooding with respect to the repair and re-installation of entire lighting systems. And of course our New Orleans office is still dealing with the devastating effects from Hurricane Katrina. All we can do is to make our lighting systems as foolproof and as safe as possible, but sometimes Mother Nature reminds us who is really the boss.

Outdoor Lighting Systems Do Require Maintenance

Yes, outdoor landscape lighting systems do require maintenance to keep them operating at peak performance. Most of our Outdoor Lighting Perspectives’ customers avail themselves of our Annual Maintenance Plans (AMP) so that the lighting system and the lighting effect look as good as the day the system was first installed.

Well Light Requiring Cleaning/Vegetation Pruning

In Colorado, houses and landscaping get dirty through the winter months – and at the left is a photo of a well light prior to the AMP work being done. The lens cover is dirty and needs to be cleaned, the fallen leaves need to be removed, and the juniper needs to be pruned so that it does not block the light meant for the crabapple tree. Interestingly, last week we had a rain shower in Denver that left a deposit of reddish-tan dust on cars, house windows and landscaping – and the weatherman told us that evening that the dust had been carried all of the way from Mongolia!

Running an outdoor lighting system with dirty lens covers or lumen-depreciated bulbs is a total waste of energy. Imagine having to drive your car during all of the winter months without ever cleaning your headlights.

Quartz halogen bulbs lose roughly a third to a half of their lumen intensity on an annual basis. That’s why when the AMP is performed, all of the bulbs are replaced with new ones so that the lighting output and effect will be the same as when the system was brand new.

During the freeze-thaw cycles in Colorado and in communities with lots of active wildlife, it’s not uncommon for fixtures to become crooked or knocked out of place. Animals sometimes have a knack for pulling up wiring which also needs to be re-buried during the annual maintenance service.

Wiring That Needs to Be Buried

Wiring connections also need to be rechecked for tightness, especially in the transformer bays where internal temperatures can reach as high as 135-degrees Fahrenheit.

All landscaping has a way of maturing and spreading so that a well light that was properly located five years ago to light up a spruce tree, has now been swallowed by that same tree if proper maintenance has not been performed over the years. That’s one of the advantages of a low voltage system to be able to relocate the lighting fixtures as the landscaping matures.

Control systems for outdoor lighting systems should also be checked during this annual service visit. Even though low voltage lighting systems are very energy efficient, it does not make sense to be running the landscape lights an extra two or more hours a day during daylight hours if the system has not be set properly. That’s why we only use the Lighting Control Automation™ system for residential systems. There’s no mechanical timer to get out of synch because of a power outage or a photocell on a transformer that gets blocked by a roof overhang or tree that causes the system to turn on when it’s really not dark.

So either hire a professional or get out there and do the maintenance work yourself on your lighting system. Either way this annual maintenance will keep your lighting system at its optimum level for years to come.