Its hard to believe, but regularly maintaining your landscape lighting is the best preventative measure you can take to ensure the continued success of your outdoor lighting system.When your outdoor lighting starts to experience problems, it can be frustrating to try and figure out what went wrong, what changed, what lead to these problems you're having to solve. Regularly maintaining
Unless something out of the ordinary has taken place, like a cut wire, regular maintenance is all a quality low voltage landscape lighting system should require.
One day everything works, the next day it all seems to be falling apart.
What Our Lighting Systems Are Up Against
Our yards are an unforgiving place. The abuse the outdoors impose on our fixtures is far greater than we might realize. Overtime, the outdoors will impact your lighting system the same way driving your car will put wear and tear on the engine.
Sun exposure, scalding summer temperatures, freezing winter temperatures, moisture from rain and irrigation, expanding and contracting ice during freeze thaw cycles, etc., all take their toll.
If our fixtures aren't built from high quality material, and if the system is not engineered to take the abuse that will be thrown at it, then we are already fighting a losing battle.
But amusing that our fixtures are built from non ferrous metals (click here to learn more about non ferrous metals), and have been engineered to combat moisture and other impositions imposed by the landscape, there are still other obstacles to face.
The same way regularly changing the oil in your car will extend the life of the engine, preventative maintenance is the key to extending the longevity of your lighting system.
As much as we would love for them to remain unchanged the day after they're first installed, our lighting systems will be impacted by mother nature. If this is allowed to go on unchallenged for too long, the lighting system will eventually experience failures and require repair work.
This is why preforming regular maintenance on our lighting systems is so crucial.
What Happens When a System isn't Maintained?
Its easy to recognize when a lighting system hasn't been looked after. The condition the fixtures are in is often a telltale sign of how well the system has been maintained. Here is a list of things to look for in a system that has gone without any maintenance for too long.
- Are any fixtures burred in mulch?
- Are there fixtures with exposed ground stakes coming out of the ground?
- Are there fixtures laying on their side?
- Are path lights crooked / bent / falling over?
- Are any fixtures broken?
- Has vegetation begun growing over / engulfing fixtures?
- Are there obstructions keeping fixtures from casting light at their intended target?
- Are there exposed wires that need to be reburied?
- Are there any frayed wires?
- Are the glass lenses coated with hard water deposits?
- Are there any cracked or broken lenses?
- Are there fixtures filled with water?
- Have the lamps inside the fixtures stopped working?
- Have the lights stopped turning on / off at the correct time?
- Is the transformer in good shape, or is there corrosion / rust inside the door panel?
- Have wire connections come undone?
- Will a fixture not thread back into it's ground stake? Are the wires all twisted from continually attempting to get the thread to catch?
- Have wires been pulled free of their sockets?
After year upon year of neglect, even a quality outdoor lighting system can fall into a state of disrepair.
That doesn't mean it can't be fixed, it just means that the cost and effort required to get it back to its former glory will almost reach obscene levels. If a low voltage lighting system looks anything like what has been described in the list above, even professional landscape lighting companies won't want to get involved / take responsibility for the repair work unless its something they themselves originally installed.
Professional landscape lighting companies want to help create something beautiful for our property, but they also know from experience when getting involved with an old broken far gone system is only going to end with everyone involved feeling frustrated.
If it costs nearly as much to repair an old broken down corroded lighting system without any warranty, as it would to pay to have a new system installed with a lifetime warranty, which would you choose?
Our company rips out old broken systems by the truck, full all the time, for clients who simply want something that is going to last, and be easily maintained by our service crews down the road. Our company offers different service programs to meet our clients needs so there lighting system can look good year round.
For those who are curious about basic maintenance, here a few things to think about.
Problems With Function vs. Design
There are two aspects to maintaining a landscape lighting system: the functional ability for each fixture to operate how it is intended, and the lighting effect each fixture contributes to the overall design. If either the function of the fixture or its ability to create the correct lighting effect are compromised, the lighting system will not perform as intended.
If the lamp inside the fixture doesn't cast a light when the system turns on, its a problem. Its obviously an issue if the fixture becomes damaged or ceases to function. Problems concerning function tend to occur when there is a problem with either the fixture, or the system.
What functional problems can be avoided with regular maintenance?
- Checking the control timer or photocell to be sure they are functioning correctly. If a photocell is located in a more shaded area, for example, it will be triggered to turn the system on more easily. Aiming the photocell out towards the sun / sky, with no obstructions to block the natural light, is ideal.
In addition, be sure that none of the lights in the system or anywhere else are shinning on the photocell at night. A bright light cast on a photocell at night will throw the lighting system into a circular limbo. The light will turn off because of the light shinning on it, then turn back on because its become dark again.
- Check transformer terminals to be sure they are tight and are functioning,. A failing terminal can cause either the whole system or a large part of the system to cease operation. Special Note: pay attention to your transformer. While many transformer claim to be outdoor rated, the reality is that unless the housing is constructed from a non ferrous metal, like stainless steel, its still susceptible to corrosion and rust. Check out this transformer we found while consulting with a client about the old lighting system their landscaper installed several years prior to our visit.
- Bury exposed wire if it has managed to come out of the ground. Your wire runs should be buried deep in the first place. But if they somehow manage to come out of the ground, its important that they get reburied. An exposed wire is a vulnerable wire.
- Grease sockets as needed to ensure good electrical contact. Over time, it is possible for the the marriage between lamp and socket to weaken. If there is a moisture issue, or BLANK discharge from a halogen lamp, the metal on metal contact between the lamp and socket can struggle. Greasing the socket with electrical grease helps this joining reach better contact with one another.
- Check and change burned out lamps regularly. It's important to change lamps when they burn out. If you have an LED system, The chances of a lamp burning out are greatly diminished. However, look closely at each lamp to see if any diodes have failed. If so, the lamp is failing and needs to be replaced.
If you have a halogen system, replacing burned out lamps is a must. When a halogen lamp burns out in a low voltage system, it actually sends more power to the remaining lamps. After a few lamps have burnt out, the remaining lamps in the system will start to burn brighter and hotter from the influx of extra power that was distributed evenly through out the system when all lamps were operational. This means our remaining lamps that still work will begin burning out quicker. In short, not changing our halogen lamps when they burn out actually causes our remaining lights to burn out faster.
- Repair cut wires. For obvious reasons, a cut wire can effect either a single light, or the entire system. Whatever the reason for it happening, a cut wire is a wound in your system that needs to be taken care.
Pro Tip: Don't use wire nuts. Even if they are grease filled, they are not water proof. Remember, moisture is the enemy and can cause untold problems. You want your entire system to be water tight from head to toe. If a wire needs to be repaired, use a wire connection that will completely seal the entire connection.
- Lastly, look for anything out of the ordinary that might be a concern. Is there water condensation collecting inside a fixture's glass lens? Has a diode gone out in one of your LED's? Paying attention to details like this will enable you to react to a potential problem before it becomes and issue.
The reason a fixture is placed in a certain location and aimed at a specific landscape or architectural element is to render that object in the correct light. The design, what we actually see and experience at night, is the reason why the system was created in the first place.
If the lighting design doesn't inspire beauty and enjoyment, then what was the point of having it installed?
What design problems can be remedied with regular maintenance?
Its natural that adjustments will have to be made to a system over time. Plants grow, ground shifts, and the outside forces impose their will. Here are some basic things that can improve the performance of your lighting system in terms of design.
- Clean hard water deposits off lenses. Naturally hard water deposits will collect on the glass lenses of your fixtures. This blocks / obscures the light source inside the fixture. These hard water deposits should periodically be scrubbed away to clear a path for the light.
- Straighten and re-aim fixtures if they become crooked or have otherwise shifted. If a fixture is looking crooked, straighten it. Be mindful of the ground stake when doing this. Getting the aim right on a fixture is important for the lighting effect. Not to mention, aesthetically, fixtures look more appealing when they aren't crooked and falling over.
- Move fixtures to accommodate plant growth. Trees, for example, get larger and with time will need to have their light adjusted to accommodate the new growth. When a pine tree grows, the light will need to be moved further back away from the tree so the fixture will not become engulfed by low hanging branches.
- Trim overgrown plants. Ornamental grasses and shrubs can become large and grow over path lights and up lights. A little pruning and trimming here and there can make a world of difference if these plants have begun growing over the fixtures.
The suckers that grow at the base of many tree species should also be trimmed. If not, they will block the light from up lights placed at the base of the tree. These lights are meant to shine up into the tree to warm up the truck and cast light into the canopy. Suckers block this light and create a distracting hot spot where the light first leaves the fixture. Look at the example below of a light source being blocked by tree suckers.
When it comes to maintaining your low voltage lighting system in terms of design, all you really need to do is pay attention to when something doesn't look quite how it should. If a fixture is crooked or coming out of the ground, make a correction. If the light doesn't look as bright as your remember, do a quick investigation. Often, getting your system where it should be doesn't require to much work unless you let it get away from you.
What Does Regular Maintenance Mean?
Regular maintenance means periodically going through the whole system with a fine tooth comb and looking after it.
Have your lights stopped working? If so, why? What has changed recently that could have caused a problem?
Did you have a gardener working in your yard the day before you noticed a zone of lights stopped working? Did the lights not come on after a heavy thunder storm? Did your teenager, with their newly adorned drivers license, back into a path light near the driveway by accident? If you are paying attention to your lighting system, you'll notice immediately when something has changed or gone wrong.
This is the secret to keeping your system in good working order. Major problems or repairs won't be necessary if you catch the smaller issues as they are happening. But if you let your system go for years without any attention, you'll have no clue why different problems are happening.
Click here to inquire about our service programs:
Landscape Lighting Makes All The Difference
At Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah, the art of outdoor illumination is a real passion we work to perfect. Designing elegantly bespoke landscape lighting systems is simply all we do. For over 15 years, our award winning team of designers and craftsmen have striven to bring the best outdoor lighting experience possible to people's homes and businesses across the Wasatch Front and beyond.
Located in Midvale, Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah installs, maintains, and repairs lighting systems throughout Utah's residential areas, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper, Davis, and Utah Counties.
If you have an upcoming project you'd like help with, call (801)440-7647 for more information, schedule a free consultation, or feel free to simply fill out a contact form on our website, www.utahlights.com