In this post, we discuss how LED technology has lead to a decline in the way low voltage outdoor lighting systems are built and engineered.
LEDs have changed our entire industry
Low voltage landscape lighting hasn't always been as prevalent in the world as it seems to be today. The reason we see so many landscape lighting systems now is largely owed to LED technology. LED has made building lighting systems easier, but this isn't always a good thing.
Before we can understand why LEDs are leading to more failing landscape lighting systems, we have to first look back at how landscape lighting systems were engineered during the days when halogen lights were the only option.
I'll try not to turn this into a boring history lesson!
Before LED, landscape lighting systems used halogen light bulbs. Halogen required more power and was far less efficient. Engineering a halogen system was also much more involved: it required larger transformers and far more wiring to create balanced runs.
Wiring a transformer for even an average halogen lighting system was no walk in the park. If the electrical loads in the wire runs weren't balanced, some lights would be too bright while others would be too dim. If the wrong halogen bulbs were selected by mistake, there was a chance the whole system would fail and not turn on.
For this reason, wattage selection for each bulb was extremely important. Halogen lighting systems required a lot of math and know how to avoid voltage drops and over loads.
If you'd like to learn more about the technical aspects of wiring a transformer and balancing wire loads properly, click here.
This is the point I'm getting at: halogen systems were not something for the average Joe to try and take on. Low voltage halogen systems were involved if you moved beyond a small system with only a handful of lights. Very few companies outside of specialized landscape lighting design / installation firms installed low voltage landscape lighting systems during the days of halogen.
Even established landscape contractors may have only installed a handful of lighting systems each season.
So why are LEDs causing my system to fail?
Let me be clear: LEDs are not directly responsible for why so many homeowner's outdoor lighting systems will fail and stop working after a year or two.
LED technology has been a fantastic game changer for the entire lighting industry (not just outdoor specific lighting). That's right, LEDs are great! They use less electricity, last an incredibly long time, and give us as lighting designers an incredible amount of control over lumen output and kelvin temperature.
If you'd like to learn more about LED color temperature, click here.
LEDs have changed how we engineer systems (the beginning of the problem)
LED technology does not cause systems to fail, but it has changed how outdoor lighting systems are being engineered and installed. During the days of halogen, landscape lighting was involved. Like I mentioned before, halogen lighting systems became complicated if the system called for more than a simple handful of fixtures.
Today, LEDs require only a fraction of the power that halogen bulbs do. With LEDs, voltage loads are more forgiving and smaller size transformers can be used without worrying about overloading the system. Because of LED, its also easier to get away with using smaller gauge wires.
But all this doesn't really matter.
What matters is this: the complicated wire runs and engineering aren't needed to get the lights to turn on now. Right?
The mentality has changed
Are you still here with me reading? My apologies!
I know what you are probably thinking right now: wait a minute Mr. Lighting guy, Mr. self proclaimed expert, Mr. low voltage historian writing all this, I still don't understand! The change LEDs have made all sound like good things. If LED technology is so great, why has it lead to so many failed systems? Was the title to this article just click bate? Please, get to the point!
I promise I'm getting there!
Like I said before, LEDs are not the direct cause for landscape lighting system failures (at least not high quality outdoor rated LEDs). I whole heartily stand by this.
However, the mentality LEDs have created in the landscape lighting industry are leading to system problems for homeowners.
Here is why.
The real problem with LED is how it has changed the mentality about how a system should be built and engineered.
Simply put, LED's have allowed for a lot of short cuts to be taken!
Quality engineering practices are not being followed with LED like they should be because they don't need to be to get the lights to turn on the first night. When good engineering practices are not learned and executed, it often leads to a failed system later.
The challenge with outdoor lighting today isn't getting the lights to turn on. That's easy.
Getting the lights to stay on for the years to come is the real challenge, and the reason why quality engineering, components, and fixtures are still important factors with any lighting system.
More lighting, more problems!
LEDs have allegedly made landscape lighting easier to install. As a result, there are now more handymen and landscape contractors installing landscape lights than ever before. More lighting, can unfortunately mean more problems.
The problems with failed lighting systems are often a result of the way the system was installed and/or designed.
There are a lot of handymen and landscape contractors installing lighting systems now to help subsidize their income. Landscape lighting is far removed from their company's main focus and for many of them working with low voltage lighting is a new experience.
To learn more about companies installing problematic lighting systems, click here.
Really quick, let's get something cleared up.
I'm not saying that handymen and landscape contractors build doomed lighting systems on purpose. Far from it! No one sets out to build something with the intention of it failing later!
The majority of these contractors really do have good and honest intentions when they decide to start doing lighting. They might be new to lighting, but everyone had to be new at something at some point. Even the companies who are specifically specialize in landscape lighting had a first lighting project.
However, when certain installation and engineering practices are overlooked, it will lead to bad results. Part of the reason systems fail more now is because those new to lighting never had to learn how to do landscape lighting the ol' halogen way. Halogen systems were unforgiving: with halogen systems, you couldn't afford to be lazy with how you built and engineered the system. Everything had to be thought through and measured twice, otherwise the system wouldn't work.
When well intention professionals aren't professionals at lighting, they will make mistakes that will cause their clients pain and frustration years after the check has cleared.
This usually leaves the homeowner in a precarious position. What do they do now that their expensive LED lighting system has stopped working?
Click here to read about an incredibly bad experience a client of ours had with her two previous lighting providers: a handy man and a landscape contractor.
Trying to fix your lighting?
Are you a homeowner reading this right now because your landscape lighting system is failing and you are hoping this post will contain the solution for getting your lights working again?
I have a question: where is the company who installed your lights in the first place? Shouldn't they be responsible for the lighting system they installed for you?
When I ask homeowners "what happened to the company who installed this system," their responses invariably carry the same tone:
- "I've tried getting a hold of them but no one will return my calls"
- "They're really backed up with service work right now and said they'ed give me a call back, but they haven't been returning any of my calls and that was months ago"
- "Well, someone came and fixed them the first time, but everything is worse now and I can't get them to come back out"
- "They sent someone out to try and fix the problems we've been having. He was here all day but said he couldn't figure it out.
- He told me he would send someone else from their company with more experience but no ones ever shown up and they aren't returning my calls anymore"
- "they're no longer in business"
- "I've tried to call them and a bunch of other companies but you're the only person I've gotten to come out to our home to take a look"
- "my landscape contractor who installed my lights told me it would be best if I just called your company"
The thing I hear from everyone is that the company or person who originally installed their lights are either out of business or unwilling to take responsibility for maintaining the lighting system they installed.
If you're a homeowner reading this and you hired a handyman or an inexperienced landscape contractor to do your landscape lighting, there is a very real chance that the lighting system they installed for your home was an experiment. Your home may have even been one of the very first lighting systems they installed.
Even if they claim that they've done landscape lighting before, there is a very real chance that they only install one or two lighting systems a year. At that rate, every lighting system is an experiment.
So back to my previous question: what happened to the company who installed your lights originally?
I've met with so many people over the years with lighting systems installed by handymen and landscape contractors ill equipped to service their lighting systems later. Unlike companies specialized in landscape lighting, handymen and landscape contractors don't have low voltage service technicians whose only focus is to repair and maintain lighting systems.
Whats the solution?
Your lighting system has failed. Its not turning on anymore. Perhaps only a couple of lights have gone out, maybe entire zones have failed. The point is you've tried reaching out to whoever built your system and they haven't been responsive. Now what? How do you get your lighting system to work again?
The right answer is to call a company specialized in landscape lighting. Right?
They'll be more than happy to come out to evaluate your system. But that doesn't mean the can fix the problems with it.
CAN is the wrong word. WILL they fix the problems with your system is more accurate.
This is all they do! Of course they can repair your system and get it working again, but is it worth it for you or for them?
Let me put it this way, a good mechanic can get your old rusted out 1970s Volkswagen Bug running again, but he can't change the fact that its still going to be an old rusted out Volkswagen bug.
In very little time you'll be heading right back to the mechanic's shop to pay a lot more money to keep that running.
In other words, a lighting specialist CAN put bandages on bullet holes, but that doesn't really fix the bigger underlying issue with your failing lighting system: its was set up for failure from the beginning.
Also, its not their system so they can't warranty any of the work they do for you. If the lights stop working again in 3 months, you'll be calling them up and paying them again to come fix your problematic system. Before you know it, the lighting specialists who didn't install your lighting system are now somehow the problem with your system.
Sometimes its best to start over
Whats the best solution when you have a failing system with broken fixtures, intermittent power, flickering low quality LEDs, etc., etc., etc.?
Tear out the old broken failing system and start over with a lighting system that comes with a lifetime warranty built by a specialized lighting company.
A lighting system built and engineered to stand the test of time can only be fully appreciated after a poor lighting experience.
As self serving as it might sound for me to sit here and wright this, it really is in the best interest for homeowners who care about their outdoor lighting to simply start over.
We rip out countless broken failing lighting systems each season. That old broken system is never going to work right. You probably paid quite a bit for your first system, and second one isn't going to be any cheaper.
But when it comes right down to it, a failing lighting system will always be a failing lighting system, the same way a totaled car will always be a totaled car.
What to look out for when hiring a lighting specialist
Building a lighting system that will turn on has definitely been made easier thanks to LED technology.
But that's not the real problem or challenge with building and designing outdoor lighting systems. Engineering a system that will work for the future and stand the test of time is the real challenge.
During the days of halogen, landscape lighting was involved, and still is. The engineering of landscape lighting systems still requires installers to over engineer and really think through how the system will be built.
If your not sure if you should hire someone to do your landscape lighting, ask them this: how many halogen systems did your company install before you began installing LED systems? Depending on their answer, you might have all the information to make an informed decision about hiring them.
Need a quality engineered lighting system?
Are you located in Utah and have an old broken lighting system? Do you have an upcoming lighting project you'd like help with? Call our office at (801)440-7647 to schedule a free consultation!