LED Landscape Lighting and Snow

This past weekend, most of us in the Mid-Atlantic States experienced a significant snow fall as a result of winter storm Jonas. In our area, we received somewhere between 14”-16”. Saturday morning, all of our landscape lights were completely buried in snow. So when we do get a significant snow, what happens to our LED Landscape lights?

LEDs feel relatively cool to the touch as compared to halogen fixtures which run almost burning hot.  LEDs are made up of electronics. And even though they feel relatively cool, the electronics generate heat. In the construction of most LEDs, the metal body of the LED and the fixture itself serves as a heat sync which draws the heat off of the LED. When the landscape lights are buried under snow, the heat generated by the electronics slowly melts the snow around the lighting fixture.

In our case, with 14”-16” of snow on top of the fixtures, we had no lighting effect around 6pm on Saturday night as the lights were still buried. By 11pm, some of the fixtures had melted the snow and started to illuminate the trees and house once again. By Sunday night, most of the fixtures had reappeared producing the full lighting effect.

Snow with Lights

So if you are worried about your LED lighting surviving under the piles of snow, no need, as long as your fixtures are well-made. Properly designed low voltage LED landscape lighting fixtures will keep the moisture out of the fixture and should produce years of trouble free service to keep your property looking beautiful at night, no matter what the weather.

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All LEDs Are Not Created Equal

More and more, Outdoor Lighting Expressions is being asked about LED lighting in lieu of traditional landscape lighting, which has historically been done with quartz halogen bulbs. We have moved away from quartz halogen and we are now exclusively using LED lighting in all of our new architectural accent lighting and landscape lighting installations.

LED offers several advantages, mostly dealing with energy consumption and longer life, as compared to halogen bulbs. The LEDs we install only use 20-30% of the energy that is required by halogen. For example, where we used to install 20 watt quartz halogen bulbs, we are now using 3 watt LEDs.  And where we installed 35 watt quartz halogen bulbs, we now use 5 or 6 watt LEDs. As far as the average life of the LEDs, most LEDs are rated for 50,000 hour average life versus a typical 4,000 hour average life halogen bulb. That’s over 12 times longer!

What most consumers don’t understand is that all LEDs are not created equal. Differences exist from manufacturer to manufacturer. These differences can pertain to the color of the light output, the amount of illumination produced by the LED (or what we would call lumen output or lumens per watt), the degree spread and beam length of the light produced by the LED. This, many times, is impacted by the optics used in the manufacturing process, as well as the method or quality of construction of the LED and how well the heat sink protects the driver of the LED. A poorly designed LED will have a much shorter life as compared to a well-designed LED due to the heat sink which disperses the heat away from the driver.

For now, if you are in the market for LED landscape lighting, work with a true lighting design professional who is particular about creating a natural effect and who truly understands the differences from one LED to another. Or if you are a do-it-yourselfer, do your homework very carefully to make sure you are using only high quality materials that will produce the desired lighting effect.

In Landscape Lighting, You Get What You Pay For

Some years ago, I met someone who was trying to sell me their services. They used the phrase “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. In the landscape lighting business, this statement is very appropriate.

Time and time again, we see projects done by homeowners, irrigation companies, landscapers and some who pretend to be in the outdoor lighting business who have little (if any) skills in landscape lighting design, and the design that they did for the customer  (if they did one) shows it. Not only is poor design common (i.e., lighting up the wrong objects), but poor quality landscape lighting fixtures are also prevalent. Also quite common is the end result of yellow light output instead of the white light output from Halogen bulbs, or the harsh, bluish-white light that comes from using the improper or cheaper LEDs. The trouble is, most of the time the homeowner or consumer does not know the difference between good or bad quality in landscape lighting.

Cheaper fixtures, which are either painted or copper-dipped aluminum can be purchased, but they will peel or fade long-term, as opposed to real solid copper or solid brass fixtures, which will not. Improper LED selection will also result in a poor lighting effect. One must pay attention to the Kelvin rating on most, if not all, LEDs. For a natural lighting effect, be sure to use LEDs with a Kelvin rating of between 2700˚ – 3000˚K. LEDs in the 4000˚-5000˚K will result in a cooler or bright bluish-white light. And try to use LEDs that are properly designed (heat sync wise) and rated for 50,000 hours average life. Generally, all cheaper versions lead to longer term problems and a lot more maintenance and cost for the homeowner in the long run.

I use the analogy all the time, that there is a big difference in price between a BMW 7 series and a Chevy Impala. Both are good automobiles that will get you to wherever you are going in roughly the same amount of time. But the quality of the BMW, the drive, the comfort, the finish, the status, all warrant a much higher price than the Chevy.

Consider this if you are thinking of having a garden lighting or landscape lighting system installed: “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial sweetness of the cheaper price”.  And so it is in almost all things. Cheap versus more expensive, you decide. But remember, you get what you pay for.

Why You Should Convert Your Outdoor Lighting System to LED

LED Beauty

Many of our customers have inquired about converting their older outdoor lighting systems to LED. And, many have had us do the conversion for them.  Perhaps you have also considered conversion of your own low voltage outdoor lighting system but weren’t quite sure how to do it or why to do it. This blog may help. Please continue to read on as we guide you through the facts to consider.

 75%-80% Savings in Electricity Consumption

 First and foremost is energy consumption. The LED’s we are using will save you between 75%-80% in electricity consumption. Our typical halogen well light uses a 35 watt halogen bulb. Our replacement LED’s are between 5.5 and 8 watts. That’s 27 fewer watts used per light per hour. Our customers have an average of 20 lights installed. Multiply the savings per light by the number of lights: 27 x 20 = 540 watts saved per hour. Assuming you run your system an average of 5 hours per night, the savings in electricity consumption is 2,700 watts less per night, or 985,000 watts saved per year, and that’s just for the well lights. Path lights with halogen bulbs use 20 watts per fixture, and the LED’s are only 4 watts. That’s 16 watts less per path light. At the end of the day, that’s a lot of electricity savings, and it all adds up.

Waterfront LED

Less Maintenance with Longer Life LEDs

The second reason is maintenance. Halogen bulbs we have installed have a 4,000 hour average life. The LEDs which we install today have a 50,000 hour average life. That is more than 10 times the average life of the halogen bulb. This means far less maintenance year after year and less bulb changes. And, the LEDs which we use come with a 3 year warranty versus a 1 Year warranty with the halogen bulbs. Potentially, you may never have to change a bulb again.

River Birch and Steps

Similar Lighting Effect with LED

Third is the lighting effect. We watched, we waited, and we tested various LEDs for 4-5 years before we ourselves offered them because the color of the light output was not as natural as halogen. But with product and technology improvements, the LEDs which we use today produce a similar natural lighting effect to what we all became accustomed to with halogen.  But be careful! All LEDs are not created equal and do not produce the same color of light output.

ABF Tiki Bar

Four years ago, I had our guys convert all of our own fixtures to LED while my wife was out of town as a test to see if she would notice a difference. A month later, we were coming home from dinner and she asked me, “When are the guys coming to change us over to LEDs?” I intentionally had not told her that it had been done as I wanted to see if she noticed any difference. Low and behold, she did not and was quite pleasantly surprised when I told her it had been done a month ago. The point to the story is that if you are concerned that our LEDs won’t look the same as your halogen bulbs, there is nothing to worry about. No bluish-white or “ghoulish” lighting effect here. Only a warm white, natural light, very similar to what you are accustomed to with your current lighting.

These two brick homes show how there is little difference in the lighting effect of halogen vs LED.

Minnich Kinloch Home Halogen

Halogen Low Voltage Lighting

Franklin Home LED

LED Low Voltage Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the photos shown, with the exception of the one above, are projects which we have done over the last 2 -3 years with LED.

Chimney LED

Smaller Fixture Size & Conversion Options

The fourth reason is smaller fixture size. Most of the LEDs we use are smaller in size as compared to their counterpart in a halogen bulb.  As a result, many of the fixtures manufactured today are smaller in size and more easily hidden when planted into a bedding area or behind a shrub. One recommendation for you though is try to stick with fixtures that are manufactured with natural materials such as brass or copper. They will weather better and last longer. Here are a couple of photos of fixtures we like to use:

Sw7

SL1

 There are two options for conversion. The first is replacing fixture for fixture. The second is to use the same fixture but replace the bulbs with LEDs. If you choose the latter, make sure the current fixtures are water tight and not leaking. LEDS generally do not like water. And try to find and use LEDS that are designed for exterior use and for landscape lighting applications. Avoid cheap LEDs if you hope to achieve the longer average life. And, in either case, know what the operating voltage range is for the LEDs (most are in the 9-14v range).In any case, make sure your transformer is not supplying higher voltage levels as the LEDs will immediately burn out.

Maybe It Is Time For An Upgrade! 

 Lighting manufacturing processes and technology has changed very dramatically with LEDs. If you are reading this blog, my guess is that you have traded in one or more cars over the last 5 – 10 years. Maybe it’s time for you to trade in your in lights. Let’s all do our part to reduce electrical consumption and take a much “greener” approach to your outdoor lighting system.