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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

The Decline of Low Voltage Landscape Lighting In The Face of Technological Advancement

With a market overwhelmed by technological implementations, it's easy to find novel products that blaze brightly for a brief instant before collapsing beneath the wake of the next ground breaking innovation. Products are brought onto the market faster than they can be truly tested. The world of landscape lighting is no exception to the cyclical cycle of technological pan flashes. 

A professor from Lund University said in a recent article in The Society of Light and Lighting that it's not unusual for new lighting solutions to have infancy issues that are overlooked when they are rapidly brought onto the market: "technology developers believe strongly in their products, which may give rise to (excessively) high expectations about what can be achieved with the technology." The anticipation for what lighting technology ought to be able to do often outstrips the reality. When the technology developer is adamant about the capabilities of their product, it heightens the consumer's expectations. 

In the competing market of lighting products, technology developers are always looking towards the horizon, the direction in which the next great lighting solution will come about. This is a noble and commendable mission. The problem is that some manufacturers never stop to refine and better what they have created in the pursuit to create their next product. 

Landscape contractors supplementing their income with lighting have numerous manufacturers educating and introducing them to the latest in lighting technology. With a manufacturer's catalog in hand and a firm conviction in their products, many landscape contractors begin painting visions of technologically futuristic lighting systems for their clients. Like the technology developer, the educated contractor believes in these products and gives their client high expectations for what the system will be able to do. Many of these landscape contractors, specifically the ones who believe themselves to be the masters of all trades, are never around to see how the lights will work after they turn on the first night. 

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The concern I have is this: what happens to the client after the landscape contractor leaves the job site with their check in hand? What happens a year down the road when the newest product advancement's infancy issues begin to arise? What happens to the client when their lighting system stops working the way it should? It's frustrating for the home owner when they've paid for something and it doesn't work the way it ought to. What's even worse is when the contractor disappears or won't return any calls concerning the issues with their lighting system. 

Sometimes even the landscape lighting design build specialist, the contractor who specializes in building low voltage lighting design, couldn't have known that the newest technology was fraught with potential problems. This happened to our company a few years ago. We had no idea that the product we were sold would fall short of what we came to expect. It all happened several years ago when a manufacturer's rep came to our office with a revolutionary new product. Enthusiastic and confident in what they had to show us, they introduced a new control system that would enable homeowners to have greater handling over their lighting system. 

The rep set up the device in our warehouse and illustrated how it functioned. Clients would be able to dim different zones, designate different ON/OFF programs, and have full control over their system through their smart phone. We were impressed with this new development in lighting technology and began integrating the device into our lighting systems. 

We soon learned that this incredible technology's performance in a controlled environment was drastically different from how it performed out in the field. To our horror, the devices began failing a year after we installed them. In the beginning, we thought the first two failed devices were purely defective anomalies. Digital and electronic devices are bound to have a few outliers fail in every batch. 

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We soon realized (as the calls began flooding in) that the malfunctions were numerous. Nearly all the devices we installed ended up failing. To do right by our clients, we replaced every device we installed with something tried and true. Failed or not, we came back to every clients home to swap out their failing device with an alternative solution, one we were confident would provide our clients with a lifetime of success. 

So, what is the lesson to be understood from our story? The idea behind the product was fantastic in theory, but terrible in practice. We lost our confidence in the manufacturer, sure. It's evident that the product was over promised and under delivered. But there is another layer to this story. By using this product, we put ourselves in a position where our client's confidence in us and what we promised to deliver was needlessly tested. We did everything we could to redeem ourselves, to ensure that our clients were taken care of and would be happy with the performance of their lighting system.

It's one thing for a manufacturer to fail us, it's a completely different thing for us to fail our clients. For us, letting our clients down isn't just an affront to what we do, it's flat out unacceptable. 

It sometimes seems like landscape lighting has entered an era of reckless technological abandon. So many in the industry are looking to get their hands on the newest product. Everyone wants to have the hottest new lighting solution at their disposal. But sometimes it's better to stick with what has worked consistently and to offer tried and true products. It takes time for a product to be truly tested in the field. There is no reason to be in a rush to use it before seeing how it performs.

In the pursuit of creating a more sophisticated lighting system, the landscape lighting industry has produced some incredible developments. When LED first came onto the scene, everyone was quick to begin using them. We saw others, using LED, experience a lot of infancy problems: lamps shorting, diodes flashing, and electrical failures were everywhere. The technology just wasn't there yet. It was several years before LED was even capable of mimicking halogen convincingly. We chose to hang back and wait until LED technology became more refined, established, and dependable, before integrating it into our systems. 

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Today LED is the standard we use in all our lighting systems. While it's a good thing that technology is being brought into the world of landscape lighting to improve and further develop what we can create for our clients, that doesn't mean that the developer's confidence in their product should dictate that we immodestly begin using it. 

Low voltage landscape lighting has come a long way since the days of car headlamps and coffee cans spray-painted black. High-end fixtures, wire connections, transformers, and lamps have become incredibly reliable and energy efficient. While this age of low voltage enlightenment has produced some incredible advancements in the way towards creating more dependable lighting systems (like the introduction of LED lamps), it has also paved the way for others to create things that aren't really all that revolutionary or wonderful. 

As Lighting Specialists, we do our best to be vigilant. We keep our minds open to newly developed products brought onto the market. But we do it with a grain of salt. We do so not for our own sake, but for our clients. At the end of the day, they're the ones who need to have their best interests looked after. Because when everything is said and done, it's not the manufacturer or the technology developer who are looking after our clients, it's us. 

Give us a call: To learn more about how to light your outdoor living space, call us at (801) 440-7647 to schedule a free consultation, or feel free to simply fill out a contact form on our website, www.utahlights.com

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