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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Professional vs. Amateur Outdoor Lighting Design: Why You Should Work With a Professional Outdoor Lighting Specialist

Most consumers think that all lights are equal and undervalued or don’t even think of the importance of proper lighting design. We run into this all the time but particularly in the spring when Irrigation and Landscape Professionals pretend to do landscape lighting. Many times, their premise is that while they have your yard all torn up or trenches open, they can run wire and put lights in the ground so you don’t have to rip up the yard again. So the homeowner says “go ahead”, not realizing how bad or mediocre the lighting project is about to become. The homeowners end up using a generalist to do a specialist’s work. I recently received a brochure in the mail asking me to register for a conference that provided 3 hours of landscape lighting training that would teach me all I had to know so that “Even I Can Become a Landscape Lighting Professional.” I am sure I could take a 3 hour course on how to plant trees or install an irrigation system but would that make me a landscape professional or irrigation specialist? This is what some companies are offering to get people to push their lighting fixtures.

Common mistakes made by pretender non-specialists include:

  1. Improper Fixture Selection – Frequently they only use 1-2 fixtures.
  2. No understanding of the photo metrics, color of light output and how different fixtures produce different lighting effects.
  3. Incorrect fixture placement – lights light up the wrong areas or objects.
  4. Wrong color of light output with LEDs – bright white or cold bluish-white.
  5. Inadequate lighting of objects – lighting up only trunks of trees instead of casting light into the tree canopies, or throwing light into windows on the home in lieu of actually lighting the interesting architectural features of the home.
  6. Improper wiring techniques including connectors that are not waterproof nor designed to last for years.
  7. Little or no Design Skills to properly design an outdoor lighting system.
  8. Inability or lack of desire to service customers when a bulb or LED goes out or a wire gets cut when they are busy conducting their real business of planting tress and shrubs or putting pipe in the ground.
  9. Inadequate pricing due to the use of “cheap” fixtures and cheap labor.

While these comparisons may sound radical, would you trust your dentist to work on your heart, a plumber to do fine carpentry work or if you are a golfer, can you play golf as well as Phil Mickelson? Outdoor Lighting Design and Installation is, in many ways, more of an art form and requires specialized training, years of experience and technical know-how to do and to achieve a professional look in a subtle and elegant manner. For most folks, your home is your single largest investment. If you are thinking about a lighting project, do the job right by hiring a professional who knows and understands proper lighting deign techniques. The end result will be well worth the added expenditure.

Here we have provided some examples of both good and bad landscape lighting projects. See if you can tell the difference. First, let’s look at the good. Notice how each home or landscape area is well lit, evenly and elegantly, accenting the architectural features of the home or focal points of the landscape, while providing safe and secure lighting on stairs and walkways.

Good Lighting 1

 

Good Lighting 2

Good Lighting 3

Good Lighting 4

Good Lighting 6

Good Lighting 7

And now the bad. Compare the diffences!

Bad Lighting Example 1

Notice the “hot spots”, dark spots, glare, and uneven lighting. Improper placement and incorrect use of fixtures. Entrance is very dark, light is guaranteed to be shining into these windows inside the home. A very common amateur mistake.

Bad Lighting Example 3

No description necessary. This walkway is a blinding mess with no appeal

Bad Lighting Example 2

Incorrect placement or angle of fixtures will cause lighting to be intrusive, shining into windows of home. Front entrance is dark, hot spots on columns.

Bad Lighting Example 4

What exactly are these supposed to be doing?

Bad Lighting Example 5

We call this effect “The Big Dipper”. Solar lights on a walkway. Who can see to walk?

Bad Lighting Example 6

Aesthetically unappealing – light source is overly evident.

Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure you’re going to be happy with the end result. Do your homework, and talk to a real outdoor lighting designer before you have your lights installed or install them yourself. Remember, you wouldn’t want your eye doctor to clean your teeth or ask your dry cleaner to fix your car.

Believe It Or Not, Spring Isn’t That Far Off

Winter WindowSometimes when it gets this cold, it’s hard to imagine warmer weather will ever get here. The winter months are actually a great time to spend a little time taking a look around your home and property to see what might need to be “spruced up” or replaced before spring. When the weather warms up and the time comes to begin enjoying your outdoor living spaces again, many homeowners find that they are in need of repairs or service, and wished they had called to have the work done before they needed to use whatever might need attention. This applies to almost everything you use in warmer weather, including your patio, deck, porch, outdoor furniture, grills, heating and air conditioning units, lawnmowers, pool areas and of course, your outdoor lighting system. Is your outdoor furniture dirty or in need of repair? When’s the last time you gave your grill a good cleaning? Is your lawnmower tuned and ready? Will I need any new pool accessories? Are all of your appliances in working order? Are your roof and windows in good condition? How much mulch or planting materials will I need? Are all of your outdoor lighting fixtures working?

You may find that many businesses give “winter discounts” on work during this time of year simply because they are not that busy, especially those that do outside work. You may even save a few dollars by getting ahead of the game.  By repairing, replacing, and sprucing up during the winter months, you insure the things you use during the spring, summer and fall are ready to go when you need them.

So make a checklist of those items/areas that might be “put away” or are not being used quite as much at present. Take a few minutes to look at each one and see what might need some attention.  Take inventory of what you’ll need. Then call your professional and have it spruced up and ready for when winter’s frost turns to summer’s sun. You’ll be glad you did.

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.

 

 

What To Look For In An Outdoor Lighting Contractor

There are a lot of people out there who pretend to be in the outdoor lighting business, particularly electricians, landscapers and irrigation people. All are probably really good at doing what their principal business is, but in many cases, they are not particularly good at Outdoor Lighting. So here is a short guide of what to look for in considering and selecting an Outdoor Lighting Professional.

Some good questions to ask and consider might include:

    1. Are they a licensed contractor with a license that pertains to the Outdoor Lighting Business? Check out their license status at: http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/
    2. Are they insured, including workers compensation and general liability insurance to protect you, the homeowner, from a workers injury or property damage?
    3. Are they members of the Better Business bureau, have they been accredited and do they have any complaints in their records? Check out their business at www.bbb.org
    4. How long have they been in the landscape lighting business and do they have the experience to run a good business with the staying power to be there for future service and to honor your warranty?
    5. Speaking of warranty, what is their warranty? Does it include labor or just parts? What does it exclude? How long do they warrant the fixtures and transformers for? (10 years is a minimum standard with some manufacturers offering a lifetime warranty) How long do they warrant the LEDs for? (Make sure you are getting at least a 3-5 year warranty).
    6. Who does the outdoor lighting installations? Are they employees or sub-contractors? What is their average length of experience in installing landscape lighting and maintaining outdoor lighting systems?
    7. Are their references readily available?
    8. Lastly, but of high importance, is their outdoor lighting design expertise. Are they over-doing the design and trying to sell you a lot of fixtures? Are they suggesting that you light almost everything? Are they focusing on bright, or are they recommending subtle and elegant architectural accent lighting and landscape lighting? Are they putting lights in front of windows which will throw a lot of light into the home or are they focusing on lighting the architectural features of the home? What is the color of the light output if they are recommending LEDs?

An Outdoor Lighting project is something that is very hard to shop and to compare on an “apples to apples” basis. Many times it is a major investment in your home and one that should be enjoyed night after night and for many years to come. Make sure you are comfortable with the answers to the above suggested questions.

And remember, in the outdoor lighting business, as in anything else, you get what you pay for. Many years ago, I heard this saying and it is true for almost everything we purchase.  “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial sweetness of a cheaper price”.

 

The Benefits of Outdoor Landscape Lighting

Thank you for visiting the Outdoor Lighting Expressions blog.

Several years ago while attending a show, one attendee walked up to me and said “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do this”. I wanted to say, “Are you blind or do you just have no taste?”. But not wanting to be argumentative, I responded by saying, “I can’t imagine why anyone would NOT want to do this”.

Landscape Lighting and Architectural Accent Lighting can provide many benefits to the homeowner. The following are several that immediately come to mind:

First and foremost, Outdoor Lighting including Landscape Lighting and Architectural Accent Lighting will immediately improve the safety and security of your home and property. By illuminating pathways and lighting exterior staircases, one can immediately reduce trip hazards by enabling family members and guests to see where they are walking.

Blue Stone Steps 2Short Walk Darker 2

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of security, by illuminating the architectural features of the home and surrounding landscape, the property becomes significantly less likely to be visited by an intruder due to the illumination. Law Enforcement Officials and Security Experts will tell you that a criminal is much more likely to pick the dark or darker home to visit as opposed to breaking and entering a home that was well illuminated.

Drivit 1

Curb appeal enhancement is the principal reason most customers contact us. A home for most folks is their single largest investment and one of which they are proud. It certainly looks beautiful by day but what about the look of the home at night? Many are dark and uninviting. Proper highlighting of the architectural features of the home makes the home look warm and inviting at night, and significantly enhances the overall curb appeal of the property after dark.

Georgian

And then there is the love of the outdoors in many of us. Most of us enjoy being outdoors in the evening, particularly during the summer time sitting on the deck or patio or around the pool area. For the past several years, our business has lead us to illuminate great outdoor living areas, decks, patios, fire pit areas, gazebos, outdoor living areas – you name it, we’ve lit it. So if you enjoy the outdoors in the evening, why not make it look beautiful and eye-pleasing with carefully designed light scenes or light scapes? Properly designed outdoor lighting scenes can make a dark property look absolutely spectacular at night.

ABF Tiki Bar 1 (2)

Copley 2 (2) 

 

 

 

 

 

So tonight, walk around your property. Try to envision how beautiful your place can look with professionally designed and installed architectural accent lighting and landscape lighting.

Wattsman Ornamental Trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please call us if we can be of assistance in making a vision become a reality. You will be amazed at how beautiful we can make your property look with professionally designed and installed Outdoor Lighting.

Clay Johnston