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!
 

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.