09 Oct Who does Landscape Lighting Maintenance Service-Original installer? Handyman? Do-it-yourself?
by Mike Gambino
With our clients finding even more ways to have fun at home this past summer, aside from our normal new installs, we have stayed quite busy keeping our clients landscape lighting systems operating and looking their best. Some who have tried to change light bulbs themselves or hired other trades not familiar with our system have also resulted in jobs for myself and my staff.
We’ve been real busy with the maintenance and service part of our business. In this economy, that’s a good thing. It means the phone is ringing because homeowners need a professional to service and fix their systems and they have value for it. In some cases, however, system owners looking to economize, attempt to maintain their landscape lighting systems themselves or have some non specialized trade such as a handyman do it for them, often with poor results, and then we are called in to remedy the situation.
We do not get that many of these calls because we educate our system-owners up front. When we’re installing the system. I always want my clients to just really respect that their landscape lighting systems are like cars now — you just can’t work on your own car anymore even for oil changes. We educate homeowners on the complexity of the equipment they have in their system, especially with transformers and the low voltage electrical circuitry. I’m hoping this education will translate into the homeowner thinking, ‘When I have a problem, unless I can push a button and make it all better, I’m going to call Mike Gambino and have him and his crew come out because he is the expert on this particular system.”
We also educate our clients up front before they purchase a system from us that it is going to require an ongoing maintenance service schedule and we are the best to handle that for you.
Most of the time the advice works but lately, I guess with the state of the nation’s economy there have been a few who have gone astray. We occasionally do get called to fix a DIY project gone awry. If it involves electricity, as a homeowner you really don’t want to venture in there and risk messing something up. They’ll stay away from that for the most part. But if it involves changing light bulbs, they may try do it. From time to time we have helped a couple of system owners who bought products online, tried to install it themselves and ended up with a costly mess. When we came out, we found they had the wrong bulbs had been installed, and now the system is electrically out of balance and doesn’t look so good after dark anymore. In extreme cases they overloaded them and completely shut the system down but not before putting their property at risk for fire. All of a sudden what would have been a nice and easy job turns into a rather complicated one.
People need to realize that their Gambino landscape lighting systems look and perform so well because they consist of out of the ordinary proprietary parts and original replacement light bulbs are not available at the local home depot or local hardware store. Yes these convenience stores do sell bulbs that will fit our fixtures however they are greatly inferior in regard to color quality, light output and longevity and should never be installed in our systems.
Replacing our constant color originally installed light bulb with inferior light bulbs degrades the whole system and defeats the purpose of having this high end system installed in the first place as it will not perform the same way.
A proper scheduled maintenance service is not just changing light bulbs only. Timers are adjusted, glass lenses are cleaned, fixtures are properly adjusted or relocated as needed, o-rings are greased, foliage pruned away and readings are taken at the transformer to make sure everything is balanced and working electrically as it should be like we left it after the original installation.
Even though the homeowners in these situations would have been wiser to call us out in the first place — as it would have saved them both time and money — we never berate or brow beat them. Ultimately, if we are respectful, and we gain their trust and respect, there’s a good chance that the next time they have an opportunity to save $100 by buying off the Internet or from home depot, they will realize that they’ll have to install it themselves and deal with this and that, or they can just call Mike and get it done quickly and they don’t have to worry about it. I have noticed that if my clients buy equipment online and the installation doesn’t go well, they never try it again.
The Gambino brand name and contact information is all over our lighting fixtures and transformers so we make it real easy for any future new homeowners to contact us. Just recently, I visited a new client who didn’t call us before installing additional lighting on the system we installed for the previous original owner many years ago. I knew the homeowner had someone else put it in. We had done maintenance on the system for probably 10 years so we were intimately familiar with it and of course the new fixtures that were installed were of inferior quality and did not have the Gambino brand name on them.
Obviously the new owner didn’t buy the new lights from me. I didn’t say much, except to acknowledge I noticed it. I told him that whoever put the lights in did not follow the proper installation specifications for installing the lights and that has impacted the performance of the entire system. Without getting too technical, not only did they not install the wiring sequence properly or adjust the transformer so the new fixtures would operate at the proper voltage but they didn’t adjust the existing fixtures to compensate for the voltage loss from the new fixture installation. In short the system was totally out of electrical balance and was noticeably degraded when the system turned on. Some lights were bright and others noticeably dim and had a different color. Bulb life was also significantly compromised.
“At that point he says, ‘I put it in.’ I said, ‘I know I could tell, I was just trying to be polite. I knew he put it in, but I’m not going to berate him, even though inside I’m thinking, ‘If you’d have called me for the additional lights, I would have performed a maintenance service for free for the first time, and then it would have been done correctly. You would then see the value and hire us to maintain the system from now on .'”
Treating customers with respect and helping them in any way we can is critical during these tough economic times
Another recent event comes to mind. I’ve taken care of this system for seven years, and when I didn’t get a call or e-mail to schedule his service this spring, I e-mailed recently and was told, ‘Times are kind of hard and I did it myself. Oh, OK how did that turn out? Well my children have commented that it’s much darker outside now. They like to play in the backyard at night so if they noticed it and so has my wife then maybe you should come out and check things.
When we came out it was very discouraging to see what I saw. Fixtures pointed in the wrong direction, glass lenses crusted over with calcium deposits from sprinkler water. But the biggest most depressing thing was most of our large tree fixtures had lower wattage replacement bulbs in them. The client had replaced all bulbs with the same wattage and beam spread irregardless of what was originally installed to accomplished the desired effect.
Half the newly installed bulbs were already burned out. The replacement bulbs were only delivering half the light as even during the day it was visible that half the light was escaping out of the back of the bulb due to a cheap inferior reflector. The color of the light was yellow. I was sick. Once I see this there is no way I can leave this in my system without bringing it to my client’s attention.
Once I discuss this with them, it comes out that they hadn’t supplied or replaced these bulbs themselves but had the service guy from the company that comes to clean up after their dogs do it. They gave me the go ahead to replace all bulbs as needed with our quality replacements and make things right.
During the whole time, I was not antagonistic. I didn’t say, You’ll see how you’ve messed this system up. You’ll see why my bills are as high as they are because when I maintain your system, I come out there with my crew, we have stocked on the truck and install all the correct premium original parts. Do all the work the same day and leave a bill and we go. Quick and efficient all you do as the client is sign the check.
Anyway, that night, he calls and he says, ‘Why don’t you come out and from now on and take care of the lighting just like you used to. I think it’d be better that way.’
If I had been antagonistic and had made fun of him, maybe he would have just gone another way. But I genuinely care about my systems that have my name on them. I didn’t want his system to look like this, and I don’t want him to have my expensive fixtures with inferior replacement bulbs in them. I think people can sense when someone is actually trying to help them. I mean, this guy called me on a Saturday night to say how happy he and his family were and how much improved everything looked after our 2 hour service call earlier that day.
It would have saved this homeowner lots of time and aggravation if they simply had called me, an experienced professional, however I also has empathy for folks in a financial crunch. Our average client spends $500 to $4,500 a year for us to take care of their lighting system, and they’re looking at that and they think, ‘I can take care of it myself,’ and in reality, they’re going to cause some damage because there’s a learning curve. It’s not that they’re not smart enough to take care of their lighting; they just don’t have the experience or haven’t learned what I’ve learned or have knowledge of and access to the quality components. We do this eight hours a day, six days a week.”
Bulb replacements are historically one area of landscape lighting maintenance that’s split between service professionals and homeowners. Because of this, almost monthly we get a call from a homeowner who recently changed bulbs and put the fixtures back together, only to find that things just don’t seem to look the same. We go out, and sure enough, we pull the fixtures apart and find they didn’t put the replacement bulb in there correctly missed the female receptacle while inserting the bulb or installed an offshore bulb with blunt pins not designed for the socket.
And what results is a crushed or stretched out socket that won’t work and needs to be replaced.
This situation is a minor problem and relatively easy to fix when compared to an overload or short which closes the entire system down. This potentially dangerous situation can occur if bulbs are replaced with higher wattages than originally installed or if cable is tapped into, transformers are worked on or other alterations are made. You have to be really careful as even though the fixtures themselves are low voltage, the transformers which power them are connected to your home electrical system and operate on 120 volts.
While we don’t want landscape lighting maintenance concerns to scare people away from owning systems, we do hope this article helps homeowners realize that lighting service is not like cleaning the cat box. They need to know why they might want to hire a professional.
This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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