To Zone, Or Not to Zone… Important Landscape Lighting Design Question

Preliminary Landscape-Outdoor Lighting Design with Zones

One of the first questions a landscape lighting designer or contractor must ask a client is how they intend to use their outdoor space – and what the primary motivation is for them to be adding this new lighting. One of the mistakes that inexperienced lighting designers make is to assume how the client will be using their outdoor living space and lighting. After all, the client is the one who lives there 365 days per year and not the designer.

Landscape and outdoor lighting provides aesthetics, safety, security, and usability for a homeowner’s property. Oftentimes, homeowners will want the lighting for all four of the above categories or as few as one; e.g., security. If security lighting is the primary purpose, then chances are the homeowner will want to have the lights operate from dusk to dawn – and from a control standpoint you would only have to have one zone.

 If the primary purpose of the lighting is for aesthetics only and the homeowners go to bed around 11:00 PM every night, then there’s no point in increasing their electricity bill to operate the lights until 3:00 AM if they are not awake to enjoy them. The same thing can be said for usability of the outdoor living space. If the pond has been drained for the winter and there are three-foot deep snow drifts on the back patio, most homeowners will not be outside barbecuing in the dead of winter – and probably will not be using their lights quite as much. As far as safety, most homeowners do typically like to leave a few of their lights on all night long whether they be carriage lights by their front door or a few landscape lights to light the way along the sidewalk. 

 

All of the zones have been programmed to turn on and off automatically, but the homeowner can turn off any of these zones manually using this 8-button switch. So even after the installation of the low-wattage LEDs, no energy will be wasted at this homeowner’s house.

 Most homeowners typically want to control their back yard lights separately from the lights in the front yard – and they typically have their front yard lights operate for a few hours longer. We have also installed quite a few systems where the homeowners operate the path lighting all night long but have the uplighting for the house and trees turn off at midnight or earlier. We once did a landscape lighting installation for a former Denver Bronco offensive lineman. We had lit up his kids’  jungle gym but he wanted to be able to turn those lights off when he had get-togethers at his house with his team mates. He didn’t want anything to get broken – neither the play equipment or his fellow team mates. For smaller properties that require fewer landscape lighting fixtures, there is typically not much of a need for separate lighting and control zones – and separate zones can unnecessarily drive up the installation cost for a small system. For larger systems, however, separate control zones can help a homeowner save money on their monthly electric bill while also helping the environment. 

Come See Us at the 2011 Colorado Fall Home Show

The 2011 Colorado Fall Home Show is the only home show that is being held through the end of this year – so please come on down and visit the Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado exhibit (#514) at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Discounted coupons for attending the show are available by clicking here.

SHOW DATES AND HOURS

    • Friday, September 9          (10:00 am to 8:00 pm)
    • Saturday, September 10  (10:00 am to 8:00 pm)
    • Sunday, September 11      (10:00 am to 5:00 pm)

LED Snowfall Lights

    Our exhibit will be showcasing the latest in holiday and Christmas lighting products (LEDs, snowfall lighting, kinetic laser, garland, etc.); smart  phone and internet-based Lighting Control Automation(TM); and the latest in LED and halogen landscape/architectural lighting. In addition, we will also have an LED fixture on display that simulates the look of a gas carriage lighting fixture.
    We hope to see you at the show – please stop by and say hello.

Not All “Green” Bulbs Are Dimmable

This past week we had a customer call to say that he had a problem with his control system. Apparently he has replaced his soffit light bulbs at his front entrance several times during the past month, and the bulbs keep burning out within a few days. His soffit lights are controlled by one of our automated LCA switches, and they turn on every evening at sunset at a power setting of 65-percent.

I had suspected that the customer had been using non-dimmable bulbs, and upon meeting up with our crew and removing the bulbs – our suspicions were confirmed. The bulb shown above is a standardly-used compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb (and available at all of the box stores), but clearly marked at its base are the words – … not for use with dimmers.
Before arriving at the site, I had purchased two replacement dimmable R30 flood bulbs that are dimmable – see photo below.
This 65-watt equivalent bulb uses only 15W of electricity, and when dimmed to the 65-percent power level it will be using less than 10W of power.
Ordinary incandescent bulbs are to be phased out in the U.S. by 2014 by an energy conservation act passed by Congress in 2007. In fact, the last GE factory making ordinary incandescent bulbs in the U.S. (Winchester, VA) closed last month.
As the incandescent bulbs continue to be phased out over the next several years, CFL’s will temporarily become their leading replacement, followed by halogen bulbs and finally LEDs. As everyone knows, LED’s are our long-term lighting future and that technology continues to become more efficient and less expensive as time goes on.
So in the short term, you’re doing a great thing by ridding your house and business of incandescent bulbs. Just remember though that you need to use dimmable CFL and LED bulbs in any circuit controlled by a dimmer.

Another Reason to Use Lighting Control AutomationTM – Please Note the Intermatic Timer Recall

In a previous post, we highlighted state-of-the-art whole-house lighting control systems available today including the one we use, Lighting Control Automation™. We also mentioned some of the older technology still in use including the Intermatic electronic in-wall timer.

We just learned today that Intermatic has RECALLED 240,000 of their in-wall electronic timers because the product might pose a shock hazard to consumers trying to replace a battery. The model numbers include ST01, ST01C, ST01AC, ST01AC70, ST01C70, ST01CL, EI600C, EI600LAC, EI600LAC8, EI600WC and EI600WC8. These switches typically replaced an existing toggle or decora switch, and were sold at electrical supply houses and other retail outlets nationwide between March 2007 and June of this year.

If you have one of these switches, you can obtain details about this recall by calling 877-417-4316; online at Intermatic.com; or by accessing the website of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

That is truly one of the great benefits of our Lighting Control Automation system, in that each intelligent switch does not need or even require a battery back up. Once the switch is programmed, the program is preserved forever and batteries are not required to back up the memory. In addition, there is no need to keep reprogramming the on and off times throughout the year since Lighting Control Automation does that for you automatically.

Lighting Controls Save Energy/Money and Enhance Security

For many years, lighting control was simply thought of as a manual switch that enabled a homeowner to turn on or off the front porch or carriage lights, or outside landscape lighting system. The problem with that control system is that someone would either forget to turn the lights on when it got dark or invariably forget to turn them off during the daytime. That inevitably wastes energy and money. Many homes today still have three or four sets of switches along the entire length of the house that someone has to manually control twice each day.

Photocells were sometimes added to control exterior line voltage lights as well as low voltage lighting systems over the years – and the lights run at full power from dusk to dawn or longer, depending on the location of the photocell. The other problem is that if you have several lighting zones, it is virtually impossible to synchronize the lights; i.e, some lights may be turning on or off as much as an hour earlier/later than other lights. Photocells work great for public or commercial properties where dusk to dawn lighting is deemed necessary for public safety/security. However, for most residential applications, a photocell is wasteful because the homeowner is paying for lighting all night long – even when they might only need it to say 11:00 PM.

Then someone got the bright idea of combining the photocell with a mechanical timer (on a low-voltage lighting transformer) or an electronic timer on a switch inside the house that controls carriage lights, for example. In the case of the low voltage lighting system, that works great until there’s a power outage and the timer no longer has the correct current time. And if you have multiple lighting zones, the lights are invariably coming on and going off at different times. The other disadvantage is that you also do not have the ability to manually turn the lights on and off from inside the house.

In the case of the electronic timer used in an in-wall switch (Intermatic is used a lot), it may work fine for one set of exterior lights but there is no way to synchronize all of the lighting circuits so that they operate at exactly the same time. Most of these Intermatic switches have been installed by do-it-yourself homeowners – and many times we’ve found that they’ve actually been unsafely overloaded.

More sophisticated whole-house automation systems have been in use in recent years including Lutron (hardwired and RadioRA), Control 4, X10 and others. The hardwired Lutron systems are typically used in large new homes over 10,000 square feet and we have many lighting systems that interface with this control system. We also have experience with Control 4 and Lutron’s RadioRA systems – both of which use wireless technology. Our experience is that the more control nodes that the homeowner adds throughout the house, the more robust and reliable the control system becomes. So if you need to send a signal over long distances and there are not many nodes in between, this wireless technology can be problematic.

We started off using the X10 control system ten years ago – but dropped it over three years ago because of unresolved technical issues. As it turns out, the X10 technology was not able to overcome the signal interference problems caused by the new electronic devices increasingly common in today’s home.

So what we’re now using for all of our residential installations is Lighting Control Automation™ (LCA) which is based on Universal Powerline Bus technology. We can control all of the low voltage lighting transformers and any or all of the interior/exterior line voltage lights from a single controller that is plugged into an interior outlet.

Once the controller has been programmed, you can plug it in and forget it. The device automatically adjusts on/off times according to the daily astronomical sunset/sunrise times for the home’s specific latitude/longitude, and it automatically adjusts for daylight savings/standard time and leap year as needed.

What once were standard “dumb” mechanical switches can be converted to Lighting Control Automation “intelligent” switches with a series of different faceplates  – that would enable you to be able to control from one to eight different other circuits throughout the house.

The beauty of the LCA system is that it can do roughly 85-percent of what a Lutron control system can do – at about one-third of the price. And the LCA system does not have to be hard-wired because it uses the existing house wiring and is an excellent choice for remodels as well as retrofits.

So what kind of applications can be handled by Lighting Control Automation? Almost anything and everything:

–  automate your front carriage lights to operate at 85-percent power to save energy and to turn off automatically; never waste power again because you forgot to turn the lights off before going to bed. This dimming level will also ensure that the carriage lights become integrated with the overall lighting effect, instead of otherwise ruining an effective design because they cause too much glare.

–  automate the lights in any room of your house and randomize the on/off times when you are away to give the house a lived-in look to deter vandalism.

–  automate a SECURE-ENTRY scenario whereby interior lights turn on when you turn into your driveway or use your garage door remote.

– automate your basement and rec-room lights so that they never get left on overnight again

–  provide a warning light to notify the homeowner that the garage door was left open before turning in for the night

–  in hot weather, automate a ceiling fan or automatically lower solar blinds to keep the house cool.

–  provide an ALL-LIGHTS ON scenario in case a noise is heard in the middle of the night.

–  if you have children who have difficulty waking during the dark mornings during the wintertime, LCA can mimic a sunrise by having a table lamp slowly get brighter over time.

The number of possible applications for Lighting Control Automation is endless, and it provides a lighting designer the ability to fully coordinate and integrate the overall lighting scene for maximum effect.

LCA Timer

 DSC_0866

CELEBRATE EARTH HOUR TODAY

voteearth_enEarth Hour is being sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund to bring attention to the growing problem of global warming and its adverse effects on the planet. Even though we’re a lighting company, we urge you to show your support and make a statement by turning off your non-essential indoor and outdoor lights between the hours of 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM. This will help decrease your carbon footprint slightly but more importantly it will show your symbolic support for this global iniative.

In downtown Denver, the State Capitol, the Denver City and County building, and several skyscrapers will go dark during this time. Over 4,000 cities worldwide are participating this year. By comparison, only 400 cities were involved last year. From the pyramids in Egypt to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Harbor Bridge in Sydney, all of these well-known structures will have their outdoor lighting dim or be turned off completely during this period.

As an outoor lighting contractor, we are already committed to energy efficiency and conservation. The good news is that outdoor lighting and landscape lighting we install for residential applications is either low-voltage quartz halogen (12-volts) or low-voltage LED (light-emitting diode). On commercial applications where line voltage (120-volts) is required because of loads and distances, we still employ very energy-efficient 39W to 70W ceramic metal halide bulbs.  So what makes our lighting systems green? Please read the following:

Low Voltage Lighting. Every outdoor lighting system we install is low voltage rather than line voltage. Our outdoor lighting system transformers are designed to reduce the standard 120-volt line voltage used throughout homes to low voltage 12-volt electricity, which powers our outdoor lighting systems. In otherwords, 12 volts of power run from the low voltage transformer through the wire to the low-wattage bulbs mounted in the lighting fixtures. Our lighting systems provide energy efficiency while illuminating your home and property with soft, ambient accent lighting. In addition, our professionally designed low voltage lighting systems are precisely bright enough to illuminate a home’s exterior and landscaping, at a cost about 50- to 60-percent less to operate than with a standard 120-volt outdoor lighting system. To further enhance energy conservation, our low voltage lighting fixtures are strategically placed to highlight the key features of the architecture or landscaping, so that the light is not “wasted” by just flooding an entire area. And sometimes if not done properly, the light can spill into a neighbor’s yard and this is called light trespass.

Low voltage LEDs can save even more energy than low voltage quartz halogen systems but the initial investment cost is much higher. We’ll have information about our LED lighting systems in a future blog.

Heavier-Gauge Wire. The heavier the gauge of wire used in electrical systems, the less energy is lost as current travels through it. We use 12-, 10-, and 8-gauge wire in our lighting systems, with the 12-gauge wire being used primarily in residential installations. Also, voltage loss increases as more fixtures (or higher loads) are connected to a single wire run. To prevent this, we construct our systems with multiple wire runs and multitap transformers with output voltages ranging between 12-volts and 22-volts.

Choice of Lamps (Bulbs). Rather than incandescent bulbs, we use low-voltage quartz halogen bulbs (4,000 hour life), low-voltage LED (50,000 hour life), or line voltage CMH (ceramic metal halide – 15,000 hour life bulbs for commercial applications). All of our bulbs also incorporate reflectors which help to brighten and focus the resulting light without having to use higher wattage bulbs.

Control Technology. Our company, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado, recommends the use of control technology to automatically turn on and off necessary indoor and outdoor lighting on the interior and exterior of the house. The control system we use is Lighting Control Automation(TM) (LCA). With this system, the latitude and longitude of the house is programmed into the controller (and on a daily basis any time of year) the lights will come on at exactly astronomical sunset – not two hours before or an hour late. This system eliminates the energy wasted by the old-technology timer/photocell systems; invariably the photocell becomes shaded and the lights turn on too soon or the mechanical timer ends up being three hours out of synch because of power failures.

In addition, the LCA system can be used to automatically dim exterior architectural carriage lights, porch lights, soffit lights, and/or garage lights by 20- to 40- percent for additional energy savings. Interior lights can be integrated into this system as well for more energy savings. In addition to automatic control, any of these “intelligent” lights on the interior or exterior can be manually controlled from inside the house for even more energy savings.

So tonight, celebrate Earth Hour and if you already own a low voltage outdoor lighting system or a whole-house lighting control system, give yourself a pat on the back for helping to reduce your carbon footprint on the planet!

Best regards,

Mead Noss