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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Service, Repair, or Replace: What's Wrong with my Landscape Lights?

Hold it right there. If you've been scrolling through search results trying to find information to help you figure out what is wrong with your landscape lighting system, you've come to the right place! If you continue reading you will probably learn more than you really wanted to know.

But before we get too deep into what could be going on with your lighting system, click here to get a quick walkthrough on how to address the most common problem we see when people's lights stop working.

Whether your lighting systems is just showing its age or it isn't working at all, you want to get the problem resolved. Over the years we've seen countless lighting systems in need of service, repair, and even replacement.

How do you know what kind of shape your current lighting system is in? Well, hopefully today we'll be able to help you figure out for yourself if your system just needs service, a few repairs, or a complete overhaul! 

Service

How do I know if my landscape lighting needs service?

Servicing a lighting system is different from repair work. A system in need of service is usually fully functional in the technical sense.

However, just because all the lights turn on at night, doesn't mean that the lighting system is preforming at its best. IMG_0051This brings us to the whole reason why servicing your lighting system is so important. 

Your system needs to be serviced to make sure it is preforming at 100%. Just about everything in our outdoor living space requires a little maintenance, and landscape lighting is no exception. 

Here are some of the basics that should be done to keep you landscape lighting system looking its best!

  • clean hardwater deposits out of lenses
  • straighten any crooked fixtures in need of straightening
  • reseat any fixtures that have started to raise out of the ground because of frost heave
  • rebury any exposed wires that have been unearthed
  • check your control and/or timer and reset or adjust it if needed
  • Check to make sure all your LED lamps (bulbs) are working properly and don't have any burned out diodes
  • move / relocate fixtures to accommodate plant growth
  • trim back decorative grasses that have started to restrict light output 
  • Re-aim fixtures that aren't hitting their target properly
  • tighten/check the terminal block in your transformer with a voltage meter to insure they are putting out the proper voltage

These are some of the basic things that can be done to improve your systems performance. Much like changing the oil on your car, servicing your lighting system is a great form of preventative maintenance.

When a landscape lighting system goes without service, it really shows.

 When a system goes without service for too long it can make your yard look disheveled, even if the landscape itself is kept up well. For example, hard water deposits build up over fixture lenses: This cuts down on light output, making everything look muted. 

Before-Landscape-Lighting-Service-4

After-Landscape-Lighting-Service-3

There are plenty of other examples where an un-serviced system will look disheveled. Crooked path lights will always catch people's eye. When a decorative grasses or shrub grows over a fixture and blocks the light, it really puts a damper on things. 

In short, servicing your system can go a long ways towards keeping everything looking great year round. But more importantly, having your landscape lighting system serviced also helps cut down on the potential need for repairs that neglected systems can sometimes require after a longer period of time.

Repair

How do I know if my landscape lighting needs repair work?

Repair work can very in scope and scale. If your landscape lighting has been serviced regularly & well maintained, repair work will be very minimal.

However, things can still happen to the best kept systems.

Here are some things to look out for that will indicate your lighting system needs repair work. 

  • single light not turning on
    If you have a single light not turning on, it could be a number of different problems. But in this case at least you know the problem is isolated to the single fixture. It could be as simple as a loose light bulb, or it could be as involved as needing to replace a socket that has corroded due to water damage. 
    But that said, if your system is being maintained, you shouldn't encounter a fixture with corroded components since its been looked after and shouldn't have had a chance to experience moisture issues before having the problem corrected. 
  • fixture spins in ground stake
    If your fixture has come out of its ground stake, or if its sitting crooked in the ground stake, chances are that ground stake will need replacing. This can happen if the fixture was struck by something, or possibly stepped on by a deer if you live in an area with high deer traffic. 
    If you tried to reseat the fixture into the ground stake but it just kept spinning around and around, chances are the threads are no good and the ground stake will need to be replaces. If you kept spinning it and now the light also doesn't turn on anymore, the socket and wire leads my have also been damaged and be in need of replacement. 
  • broken fixture
    If a fixture is very obviously broken, it will need to be repaired. This could be anything from a broken lens to a snaped screw setting. There is also a chance that a broken fixture could simply need to be replaced. 
  • cut wire
    It may be hard to tell for sure if there is a cut wire unless you have the right equipment. Cut lines can sometimes cause a short that will trip the transformer. Check the braker switch inside the transformer.
  • zone of lights not turning on
    When a zone of lights are not turning on, it could be a number of different problems. It could be a cut wire, a short in the system, a bad socket, a failed LED lamp, a bad connection, etc. If you have an entire zone of lights not turning on,  and it seemed to be working just fine before, than you can bet a repair will be needed. 
    I will say this though, if the system has been regularly serviced, chances are the problem will be quick and easy to resolve. 
  • whole system not turning on
    I wish I could give a simple answer, but when an entire zone goes out, the possibilities of what could be causing the problem can vary widely. In the end, having an experienced technician there to work on troubleshooting through the problem is the quickest way to find out if its a simple repair, or something more involved. 

Replace

how do I know if my landscape lighting needs to be replaced? 

When is it time to replace the entire system? I'm not talking about replacing a broken fixture or a transformer that has failed. I'm talking about when its time to cut your losses and except that your existing lighting system isn't worth salvaging.

This can be a hard thing to face, especially if it feels like it cost a lot of money when it was originally installed. But if it wasn't installed properly and/or if it was built using low quality products, it was never going to stand up to the test of time. 

Here are some questions to consider if you think you might be facing a lighting system replacement situation.

  • how old is the system?
    When a system is 10, 15, 20+ years old and wasn't built well and/or maintained consistently, it shows. 
    If your the new home owner, its unfortunate that you had to inherit this problem child. Older systems that have not been looked after tend to have lots of problems. The broken fixtures and burnt out lamps are just a symptom of the deeper issues the system probably has. 
  • the system was installed just a few years ago?
    If your scratching your head because your newer system (just a few years old) is having problems, than it could be an engineering problem. When is lighting system isn't built/engineered properly, it can quickly start having problems even if it worked fine the day it was installed. I have two examples to help illustrate what I mean:
  1. We met with a client who had a handy man she found through a friend of a friend install a lighting system around her home for a really good deal. A year later we're standing in her front yard because the whole system had stopped working and he was nowhere to be found. On closer inspection we discovered that the wire connections weren't wire connections at all.
     
    The installer had twisted the exposed wires together and warped them with plastic grocery bags. The "connections", if that is what we're calling them, were completely filled with water. Wire connections are the weakest point in any outdoor lighting system. Needless to say, her system's integrity had been severely compromised after being exposed to so much moisture. 

  2. I met with another clint who had a lighting system built by a sprinkler guy that stopped working not long after being installed. She tried calling him to have it fixed; he never picked up or returned any of her voicemails. When we went in to take a look at the system, we discovered that all the wire had been run using a gage of wire that was too small to properly distribute power across the whole lighting system (if you'd like to learn more about voltage drops and how low voltage landscape lighting systems are engineered, click here). 

    Because the system wasn't installed properly, all the wiring would have to be replaced with a thicker gage wire that could handle the voltage demands required. To top it off, all her landscape lighting fixtures were plastic/composite specials from a big box store. A few of them were already broken. We ended up replacing the entire system with a new lighting system built with solid brass/copper fixtures with a lifetime warranty.

  • what kind of fixtures were used?
    If your fixtures are built from composite (plastic), tin, or aluminum, they really weren't meant to last forever. These are usually price point fixtures. They are a low price point, but don't tend to last for very long. 
    Plastic can warp, become brittle, crack, etc. Tin and aluminum are slightly better, but both are susceptible to corrosion because they are ferrous metals
    Thickly gaged, water tight, copper or brass fixtures are much more durable. Copper, Brass, and Stainless Steel fixtures are what we recommend since these fixtures are considered non-ferrous metals that will not corrode/rust. 
  • broken fixtures/frayed wires
     If you can quickly spot or point out several broken fixtures, you probably know where we are going with this. When there are numerous broken fixtures that need to be replaced, chances are that there are also going to be exposed wires with frayed ends. When the wire and fixtures are broken/compromised, the whole lighting system is compromised. 
    Its probably time to start over.
    Old broken or rusted out fixtures/components sometimes really aren't worth the hassle to try and fix.
    Take a look at the transformer in the picture below. The transformer is the heart of the lighting system that powers everything and makes it function. If a component this important is in this bad of shape, just imagine what the rest of the lighting system looks like. 

    Bad-Transformer-Service-replace
  • nothing works
    The biggest indication that your system needs replacing is when nothing is working. The above picture, again, illustrates what we're getting at: when it becomes time to replace your lighting system, its usually pretty obvious. When we say "nothing is working" we're not talking about something simple like resorting power to a transformer or addressing one or two lights that have gone out.
    When only a few of the fixtures in the system are still operational, it raises a lot of questions about what could be wrong. Especially when it is an older system that hasn't been looked after properly.

Conclusion

service is your number one defense against your system failing

Assuming that your system was built from quality materials and engineered properly, it should provide you with years of enjoyment.

However, that continued enjoyment can largely depend on how well the system is looked after. When its serviced regularly (once a year), a low voltage lighting system will require few repairs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or so the saying goes. 

If you are looking to get your lighting system serviced, repaired, our simply evaluated, but don't know where to start, take the first step and request a consultation here! Let one of our lighting designers come take a look at what needs to be done to get your landscape lighting looking its best!

REQUEST A CONSULTATION

At Landscape Lighting Pro, 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 20 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. 

Low Voltage Landscape Lighting