05 May The wild west of landscape lighting ……A highly unregulated trade….Buyer Beware
By Mike Gambino
I operate in a trade that works with electricity yet is almost totally unregulated which some will tell you it is a good thing (not me) some will say bad. Low Voltage landscape Garden lighting. In California a contractors license is required however there is no specialty license for the specific trade. So if the job is more than $600 then any licensed trade can perform the work meaning there is no experience required. Under $600 and no license is required at all. Where we work there are No building permits, No inspections and literally no minimum set building standards required. Buyer beware !
Literally there are no set minimum county, state or city standards other than the that which the NEC (National electrical code) touches on in their code book. And those are mostly ignored by installers because of a lack of awareness as it is widely assumed that there are no minimum codes and standards to install low voltage garden and landscape lighting. It is widely regarded, erroneously in my humble opinion, as a DIY project.
In addition , since cheap low grade products have been historically sold in do it yourself big box and hardware stores for years to the do it yourselfer weekend warrior. The assumption again is that it is a totally safe do it yourself project.
Even though the fixtures themselves operate on low voltage (12 volts) the transformer they are connected to must interface and is powered by the 120 high volt power supply coming from the home or building.
Twelve volt power is are inherently safe. However even though the voltage is low and there is very low risk of shock, the amperage is high and dead shorts (two conductors coming into contact) results in extreme heat buildup in a very short period of time. If the power is not interrupted and the circuit shut down by an effective breaker, wire can heat up fast and melt and anything combustible in contact with the wire can start a fire.
Not only are there literally no minimum set build standards there are also no minimum set quality standards for the products being used. The industry has historically kept the cost low by making fixtures and components out of low grade pot metals and plastics, press on connections that are not weather proof that do not last outdoors very long.
After 27 years designing and building high end systems we have set our own standards. Here are a few but not all of them.
All power cable is installed inside of pvc conduit and buried a minimum 6″ below grade.
All products exposed to the elements are constructed of weatherproof non rust metals- Brass, stainless steel, copper or bronze including fastening hardware, screws, nuts etc.
All power cable connections made with brass lugs and covered by marine grade heat shrink for weatherproofing.
All fixtures operate at or close to their recommended 12 volt rating for predictable performance and longevity. We accomplish this two ways. Our custom made transformers have 1/2 volt increments instead of 1 full volts between output taps. Eight power taps to choose from instead of the usual four. Fixtures in close vicinity of one another are powered by a common main power cable coming from the transformers strategically located in the center of each of these groupings of lights inside of an accessible distribution box.
These distribution boxes and the fact that our systems are built with cable inside of conduit gives us the ability to make future additions /alterations to the system with minimal expense. And since the garden is always changing this is a very important and valuable build standard.
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 27 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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