The wild west of landscape lighting ……A highly unregulated trade….Buyer Beware

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 !

patio-22Literally 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.

DSCN0999All 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.

DSCN0169All 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.

facebook logoThis landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all 20160627_004632146_iOSrights 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 . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

Blog articles may be published with permission on other websites without editing or removing links.



  • Mark Carlson
    Posted at 21:14h, 05 May Reply

    This topic seems to be one that’s been around since I started this trade almost 20 years ago. It’s a shame that licensing hasn’t really progressed in all of these years. Many of the states across the country still have No licensing whatsoever! Pretty sad, considering those that are performing this work. I doubt things will change unless someone dies or many structures burn down, so it continues….business as usual.

    The take-away here is that there are those, like yourself that are doing things right. And even with that, you still have the highest standards around. Great job for leading by example Mike. Keep up the great works.

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