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.

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Architectural Features of Pre-Civil War Home Accented with LED Landscape Lighting

Coldbrook Farm Mailbox It is always a pleasure to be able to design and install an  outdoor lighting system to illuminate a beautiful home,  outdoor living area and grounds. But it is a rare treat in our  business to be able to illuminate a home that is on the  National Historical Register. We have done four in our  history, but this week we completed a project that has  historical significance dating back to the Civil War and a    home that was built in 1792. This is the oldest home for  which we have designed and installed an outdoor lighting  system to illuminate the architectural features of the home.

The Coldbrook Farm is located in historic Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  According to the owners, the home was built in 1792 by circuit Judge Henry Riddle as his summer home.  His main residence was downtown because it took too much time to travel one mile by horseback to the courthouse in Chambersburg, a mere 2-3 minute car ride today.

Coldbrook Farm Daylight

Chambersburg, which traces its history back to 1730, played an important role in the Civil War. It was the only major northern community that Confederate forces burned during the war. “Remember Chambersburg!” became a battle cry for the Union Forces after the burning took place.

The entire town was ruined by fires set by the Confederates as the town denied paying ransom to the Confederate Army.

The original house at Coldbrook Farm was spared as it was just on the outskirts of the city.

According to Wikipedia, during the American Civil War on October 10, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, with 1800 cavalrymen, raided Chambersburg, destroying $250,000 of railroad property and taking 500 guns, hundreds of horses, and at least “eight young colored men and boys”. They failed, however, to accomplish one of the main targets of the raid: to burn the railroad bridge across the Conococheague Creek at Scotland, five miles (8 km) north of town.

During the early days of the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, a Virginia cavalry brigade, under Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins occupied the town and burned several warehouses and Cumberland Valley Railroad structures and the bridge at Scotland. From June 24–28, 1863, much of the Army of Northern Virginia passed through Chambersburg en route to Carlisle and Gettysburg, and Robert E. Lee established his headquarters at a nearby farm.

The following year, Chambersburg was invaded for a third time as cavalry, dispatched from the Shenandoah Valley by Jubal Early, arrived. On July 30, 1864, a large portion of the town was burned down by Brig. Gen. John McCausland for failing to provide a ransom of $500,000 in US currency, or $100,000 in gold. Among the few buildings left standing was the Masonic Temple, which had been guarded under orders by a Confederate mason. Norland, the home of Republican politician and editor Alexander McClure, was burned even though it was well north of the main fire.

“Remember Chambersburg” soon became a Union battle cry. 

Of additional and significant interest is that the Confederates camped on the property prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Reports have it that General Lee’s tent was set up and used just where the current mailbox to Coldbrook Farm is located today. One of the attractions to the property was the stream that still exists today which provided a plentiful water supply for the Confederate horses.

The home has been added to over the years and was classified as a Georgian Federal in architectural style built with local limestone.

 

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.

Outdoor Laser Lighting Adds a “Wow” for Special Events

As many folks for whom we have worked or who follow us in the landscape lighting business know, we have always taken outdoor lighting very seriously,  creating subtle and elegant scenes at night by tastefully illuminating homes, landscapes, decks, patios, pool areas and just about anything else you can imagine. Our principal objective in landscape lighting and architectural accent lighting has always been, “Don’t overdo it”. Until now!

Every once in a while, something comes along that causes us to say “WOW! We can really have some fun with this!”  This past Saturday night we had our 3rd annual “We Hate Winter Party” at our home (seems like a novel and timely idea, especially for those in the Northeast experiencing “Snowmageddon”, the blizzard of all blizzards this week).  In preparation for the party, we added decorative outdoor laser lighting to illuminate large oak, poplar and evergreen trees in our yard, as well as indoor Laser Lighting to illuminate our great room ceiling. This created a much more festive party experience for all in attendance.

Upon arriving, many of our guests wanted to know how I got these little green and blue twinkle lights 50’-100’ or more up in canopies and on branches of our trees. Once I told them the secret of just plugging in laser lights on the ground into an outlet or extension cord, many immediately said, “I have to have some of these! Can you get me some?”

The laser lights we used are specifically designed for this purpose and can create amazing lighting effects for parties, weddings, the holidays, or just about any special occasion, maybe even for everyday use if you are so inclined. They are particularly interesting in lighting up trees, even this time of year when the trees have no leaves, in or around pool areas, ceilings of a room inside the home or to illuminate some special feature in or around the yard. And for some, they can even replace the burden of setting up holiday lighting. Check out the photos below and let us know what you think by sending your comments to us at outdoorlightingdesigners@gmail.com or through our website at www.OutdoorLightingExpressions.com. We have included some “before” and “after” pictures to give you an idea of the effect these laser lights can create. Keep in mind that the photos below do not do the lights justice. We are amateur photographers and you can be sure the effects are much more impressive in person.

We haven’t had any real snow to talk about this winter in Virginia. I am sure our time will come before winter is over. I personally can’t wait for a snow storm to try these out to see twinkling green and blue snowflakes falling from the sky or ice and snow up in the trees. If it’s all the same, I think I’ll pass on trying them in a blizzard though.

Porch Ceiling with Laser Lighting

Porch Ceiling with Laser Lighting

Room Before Laser Lighting

Room with Green Laser Lighting

Room with Green and Blue Laser Lighting

Oak Trees with Laser Lighting

 

Oak Trees with Green and Blue Laser Lighting

 

 

A Few Examples of Good vs. Bad Outdoor Lighting

What we find in most cases is that a perspective customer really has no idea of what represents good landscape lighting design versus bad landscape lighting design. We have put together this short video with some really bad examples of outdoor lighting which we have seen in our travels. The video also shows corresponding good outdoor lighting design examples which we completed recently as a comparison between good versus bad. Click on the link below to view the video.

http://youtu.be/USXf-bZ-XIs

Thank you for visiting our blog. If we can be of assistance now or in the future, please feel free to contact us.

 

 

The Value of a Professional Lighting Designer

It is not uncommon for us to hear “we are trying to determine the value in considering your proposal”. Well, there are a number of factors to consider in a professional outdoor lighting design and installation to illuminate the architectural features of your home, landscape and outdoor living areas. These would include the quality of the product, the experience of the company, the professionalism and workmanship of their designers and installers, the warranty and perhaps the most important, the skill and artistic ability of the outdoor lighting designer. Comparing price from company to company is very difficult, and almost impossible to come up with a true “apples to apples” comparison. The Landscape Lighting Designer’s skills are the most difficult to measure.

From my own vantage point, landscape lighting design is learned from multiple sources. These include formal and informal education, conferences, seminars, trade shows, seeing other professionals’ work, and many years of actual hands-on experience in doing outdoor lighting design. There is a lot to proper landscape lighting design and many factors to consider in creating a subtle and elegant night scape.

Desired effect and the objects to illuminate help me to determine the appropriate lamp or LED to select. One needs to understand the customer’s goals and objectives, their taste in lighting, the objects to illuminate, required beam width, required beam distance, color of the light output and the desired effect in order to determine the appropriate lamp to use. Once the light sources have been determined, then the appropriate fixture or fixtures can be selected to achieve the best outdoor lighting effect. The following two photos show good and bad comparative lighting effect. Notice in the example on the left, lights were placed in front of the windows, throwing light into the home. Peaks of the home were ignored and dark. The far left corner of the home seems to be nonexistent. The project on the right was designed by Outdoor Lighting Expressions. Notice how the areas outside the windows are lit and not the windows themselves, the smooth transition of light from one area to another, as well as illumination reaching the upper peaks.

The photo on the left is an example of poor lighting design and amateur skills. The home on the right is an example of proper lighting design, and a demonstration of the value a good, professional lighting designer can bring to the project.

Good Lighting of Home ExamplePoor Lighting of Home
 

 

 

 

 

Next is the fixture placement. If you are illuminating the architectural features of the home, one should focus on the interesting architectural features of the home, such as columns, peaks, corners and not lighting up windows, which results in throwing a lot of light into the home. Architectural accent lighting focuses on the home’s features whereas flood lighting illuminates almost every aspect of the home with lots of light infiltration into the home. We typically advise against flood lighting. Notice how the columns and peaks of the home below are well illuminated.

Hartman Front Final This project was accomplished by picking appropriate LEDs including wide floods and narrow spots of different wattages and strategically placing the lighting fixtures to achieve the desired effect.

Illumination of trees is also done very poorly by many inexperienced in lighting design, such as placing the fixture too close to the trunk of the tree which ignores illuminating the canopy of the tree. Many times by only using one light, the tree is lit on one side even though the tree can be seen from both sides. And trees with large canopies can sometimes require as many as three to four lights to illuminate the entire canopy of the tree. In the example below, each tree has two lights on the tree to maximize the effect of the landscape lighting.

Wattsman Ornamental Trees Walkways are another common problem area with some lighting designers. It should be simple enough and one should know that you should not be able to see the light source on the path lights and to also avoid the runway-type of effect, The lights should be evenly spaced and staggered from side to side if and when possible.  In these examples, the photo on the left is a good example of proper walkway lighting. The photo on the right shows poor fixture selection and placement.

Good Walkway Lighting ExamplePoor Walkway Lighting Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Lighting is an art form and if designed properly should create a beautiful, soft and subtle lighting effect. Smooth transitions, little if any light source visible, proper color temperature of light output and all interesting features properly illuminated. Only a professional outdoor lighting designer fully understands these principals.

 These are just a few elementary examples of what a skilled, artistic and experienced landscape lighting designer can bring to your outdoor lighting project and the value incorporated in their proposal.Our experience in landscape lighting has shown that cheaper is not better. You get what you pay for, and the skills and artistic ability of the Outdoor Lighting Designer can make or break the end result of a landscape lighting project. The old saying of “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the cheaper price is forgotten” is very true in our business.

Thank you for visiting our blog. If we can be of assistance now or in the future, please contact us at Outdoor Lighting Expressions.

What You Need to Consider When Using LEDs for an Outdoor Lighting Project

LEDs in the landscape lighting business are here today and continue to improve and evolve. While we initially bucked the trend several years ago to begin using LEDs in landscape lighting projects, we did so not because of reliability issues, but because of the color of the light output. Being a true professional Outdoor Lighting Designer, we were used to creating a very natural lighting effect using low voltage halogen bulbs. Many of the early LEDs consisted of chips and electronics that generated a cold, bluish-white or cooler white light, giving a very bright and sometime haunting lighting effect.

Today, advances in chip technology have enabled many manufacturers to produce landscape lighting fixtures that have a warmer white light, creating a similar effect and light output closely resembling halogen. As a result, 100% of new landscape lighting designs and installations that we complete now use high quality LEDs. But beware. All LEDs are not created equal.

So what do I look for in an LED outdoor lighting fixture? Many things, which include the following:

  • Color of the light output: For a natural lighting appearance, LEDs should produce light in the range of 2,700˚K to 3,000˚K. This will give you a more natural lighting effect similar to the older halogen bulbs. Avoid anything that is rated above 3,500˚K which starts to create a cooler or colder bluish-white light. The home below was illuminated using 5.5 watt 3,000 ˚K, LEDs.

  • Average Life: In the past, most outdoor lighting companies used halogen or incandescent bulbs with an average life of between 700 hours – 2,000 – 4,000 hours. Compare that to today’s LEDs. Most of the LEDs that we use are rated for 50,000 hours – more than 10 times that of halogen. This enables you to use the lights longer each day and to reduce maintenance.
  • Energy Efficiency: In past practice, we were accustomed to using 20w, 35w or 50w halogen bulbs. Today, our 20w bulbs have been replaced with 3w – 4w LEDs. Our 35w bulbs have been replaced with 5w-7w LEDs and our 50w bulbs with 8w-10w LEDs. All result in reduced electrical consumption and energy savings of between 80%-85%, making it possible to use your outdoor lighting system longer each evening if desired and at substantially less cost. If you look at the photo below, this home has 14 lights illuminating the architectural features of the home. If you assume 5 hours per night of usage, the approximate annual cost in electricity for this home owner is approximately $25-$30 per year.

 

  • Warranty: Beware of the “Lifetime” warranty on LEDs. 50,000 hours is a lot of hours and years of service. With an average life of 50,000 hours, your landscape lighting LEDs should last a long time – generally 10 or more years. Most reputable LED manufacturers, Landscape Lighting manufacturers and Landscape Lighting Companies warrant LEDs for at least 3-5 years under normal use and are not willing to absorb a Lifetime Liability.
  •  Integration: Many manufacturers produce LEDS that are completely self-contained. If improperly designed, heat build-up will shorten the life of the LED. If something malfunctions in the LED, the entire LED must be replaced and in some cases the entire fixture. While we use LEDs of this type, our preference is to use LEDs that have replaceable components including the optic, LED and electronics, which are all separate.  This reduces the impact of heat on the LED and increases the useful life of the LED.
  • Beam Spread, Beam Distance and Lumen Output: Understanding the characteristics of these three LED ratings can either make or break a project. You want to make sure the object you are lighting will be bright enough but not too bright. Lumen output is critical to know so you know how bright an object will be when illuminated. Beam spread and beam distance is also critical to make sure the object is going to be properly illuminated. Will the beam be too wide or too narrow? Will the beam reach the top of the object being illuminated?

Wattsman Ornamental Trees

 LEDs, if properly understood and selected appropriately, can create great lighting effects when lighting the architectural features of the home, landscape and outdoor living areas. With many things to consider, please feel free to call Outdoor Lighting Expressions if we can be of assistance, or should you have any questions as you design or consider a landscape lighting project.