The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

How to Choose The Worst Outdoor Lights: LED Landscape Lighting

With countless landscape lighting fixtures available on the market, choosing the right ones can be a common problem. How do you know you are getting a quality fixture for the money you are spending? How do you know it will last? How do you know, your lighting system will be installed properly to stand the test of time?

The Worst Outdoor Lights

If there is one thing we've become accustomed to its removing old broken lighting systems.

We remove countless broken disheveled landscape lighting systems each year and replace them with new ones built to last a lifetime. We know what we're talking about when it comes to the quality of a LED landscape fixture because we literally rip out the worst outdoor lights everyday. We've seen first hand what works and what fails. 

Knowing the difference between a quality system and a crumby one can come down to the fixtures that have been installed.

Colby Pully

Now, don't be mistaken. The way a system is engineered and designed is also very important. Even the best fixtures on the market will fail quickly if they aren't installed properly.

You can spot if a system is doomed to failure by simply looking at the fixtures.

Why? From what we've seen, professionals who install quality systems are very particular about which fixtures they choose to install for their clients. This is why its so important to be sure you're working with a lighting professional. 

Story Time

The other day I met with a client whose unfortunate outdoor lighting experiences prompted me to write this blog. She learned the hard way that not all landscape lighting fixtures, or those who install them, are the same. I want to share her experience in the hope that it will help others avoid the same problems she had. 

My client shared that she had landscape lighting installed at her home twice: first by a handyman, then by a landscape contractor. She had a poor experience with each, but for very different reasons. 


  • My Client's Handyman Experience

Hiring a handyman to do work around your property can be a hit or miss. The handyman my client hired for her first lighting system had limited experience working with low voltage landscape lighting. Regardless, he told her that her new lights would perform beautifully.

Because the lights were LED, she was told they would last for a very long time and that she shouldn't experience any burn outs or problems.

However, a year or so later my client experienced some serious problems with her lights. Only half of her lighting system was still operational.

The fixtures her handyman installed were all built from a thin composite (plastic) material. Many had cracked housing, some had filled with water, some had connections with poor electrical contact, etc.

If you're curious about the worst outdoor lights, look no further. Landscape lighting fixtures built from composite should not be counted on as a long term solution. As my client learned, these fixtures really only last a few short years if you're lucky.  

All in all, she was frustrated that she had spent the amount of money she had for something that wasn't going to last.

She tried calling the handyman several times and even left him multiple messages about the problems she was experiencing. She only ever received one response from him. He told her that he had warrantied her system for six months and that there wasn't anything he could do for her now that the warranty had expired.

She ran into him a few months later in the parking lot of a big box store. When she tried approaching him, he proceeded to walk straight to his pickup truck and drive away (completely ignoring her attempts to talk to him). 

That same day, she discovered the lights her handyman had installed for her were purchased from the bottom shelf at the same big box store where she ran into him.

I'm not saying people shouldn't hire handymen for projects.

However, this story does demonstrate a very real risk.

I wish I could say this was the first time I'd ever heard a story like this from a client.

The sad reality is that in the eyes of some handymen and contractors, once the check clears it's not their problem anymore. You may never see or hear from them again. 

If you do manage to get a hold of them, the chances of them being able to really help you are slim.


  • My Client's Landscape Contactor Experience

After her first bad experience, my client decided to hire a landscape contractor. After all, landscape contractors install landscape lighting systems all the time. Right? 

There were some notable improvements to her lighting system this time around. The path lights here contractor provided were built from copper and well engineered. This was a serious upgrade from the composite ones. However, her new up lights were built from aluminum.

While aluminum is a step up from composite, it still poses a number of potential problems down the road. Even if its been powder coated.

Click here to read more about aluminum fixtures and the differences between ferrous and non-ferrus metals. 

After the new system was installed, her lights looked great. She was happy and everything was working exactly how she wanted. For a while at least. 

After some time had past, she was having problems again. This time a small run of of lights wasn't turning on and causing the transformer to trip.

When she called her contractor, he was receptive and said he'd send someone out to take a look in a week or two.

Things were already looking up compared to her last experience. This guy was taking accountability and willing to do some repair work to the system he installed for her. 

Someone came out to troubleshoot the system and discover what the issue was. 

However, no solution was ever reached. After hours of troubleshooting, my client was told her lights wouldn't be fixed that day. 

There were several explanations as to what could be the problem. They told her they thought a connection somewhere had gone bad. They told her that can happen from time to time. 

They said they'd need to return to finish solving the problem.

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Want to wager a guess on what happened next?  

If you guessed that they never returned, you'd be correct. 

Again, I wish I could say this story didn't this way, or sound so familiar.

 I've had clients tell me very similar stories about dealing with the originals installers of their landscape lighting system. Its rare that I hear a client was able to get the original installer to return at all.

Click here to learn more about one of the biggest problems in the landscape lighting industry. 

The Truth

The reality is that most landscape contractors install a small handful of low voltage lighting systems a year. Handymen probably install them even less often. They also very rarely  ever service their lighting systems. 

If you choose to have your landscape contractor or handyman select LED landscape fixtures and install a system for you, your project is probably a bit of an experiment for them. They learn a little bit more about how to install landscape lighting at your (often later) expense. 

This is the untold truth about landscape lighting. 

Please keep in mind that there are landscape contractors out there who've installed numerous lighting systems and use high quality fixtures and components. Their systems are thought through and well engineered. However, these contractors tend to be the exception and not the rule. For every landscape contractor who can put together a good lighting design and installation, there are dozens who struggle. 

Its important to be selective about who does your landscape lighting, because you don't want to do your lighting twice. Remember my client's story before making a decision on who to hire.


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 & 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.Free Landscape Lighting Design Guide

Landscape Lighting Installation | Landscape Lighting Design | Landscape Lighting Maintenance | Hiring a Lighting Professional