Why Do COSTS Vary So Widely TO Have A Custom landscape Lighting System Built?

Why Do COSTS Vary So Widely TO Have A Custom landscape Lighting System Built?

By Mike Gambino

One of the most common questions that landscape lighting designer builders get is—“How much does it cost to build a custom landscape lighting built on my property?”

As with many other purchases, prices vary greatly depending on what the prospective buyer is desiring. We all have different tastes. Following are a few examples of why it is so difficult to answer the simple question—“How much does it cost?”


When selecting a restaurant, there are those who would prefer to just spend a few dollars per person for a meal, while there are others who prefer a gourmet meal and will spend in the hundreds and more. We could all tell the difference between the dining experience at McDonalds vs. the dining experience at …. (insert your town’s highest end restaurant).


Average Hotels in the LA area start at less than $100 per night and go up to well over $1,000 per night. Of course hotel costs can vary greatly, and some of it is based on supply and demand, but mostly it is based on quality and level of service offered. The high end hotel would likely provide a much better experience than a $100 per night hotel and rightfully so.


And how about new cars? Average new car prices start at approximately $30,000 and go all of the way to $3.26 million (Bugatti Chiron Sport). I believe, albeit an extreme analogy, that we would all agree that the Bugatti would provide an unforgettable experience.


Homes also vary greatly in price. there are tract homes in the LA area that start at around $300 per square foot, and custom homes that cost considerably more. There are custom built home in luxury communities like Bel Air that have sold for as much as $2,000 per square foot and better. It likely wouldn’t take any of us long to tell the difference in a home costing $300 per square foot and a home costing $2,000 per square foot.

Landscape Lighting

So, back to the original question, —“How much does it cost to have a custom landscape lighting system built?” This year, we have built landscape lighting systems in the Los Angeles area as low as $12,000 and as high as $375,000. With that being said, most of the systems that we built are in the $15,000 to $70,000 range. Why the wide range in custom landscape lighting system pricing? There are many variables, following are a few of them:

  • Quality of construction-Pool construction is like any other type of construction, there are different levels of quality, not only in the materials used, but also in the installation of those materials—some installers are simply more skilled than other installers. Many of these components cannot be seen once the lighting system is complete, but quality is typically reflected over the long term. The bad thing about construction is that once it is done, it is done—if it is possible to change it, it can be very expensive.


  • Materials selected-These are the components of the lighting system that you see, the finish buildout materials. There are many types of materials to choose from, some that vary greatly in cost. A few examples of options in the area of materials selected are: fixtures (all brass/bronze solid castings, copper, aluminum, composite, fiberglass, plastic, etc.); stake and mounting material (cast brass, plastic, etc.); and Wiring connections (weatherproof direct burial, wire nuts, clip on pierce point connections, etc.).


  • Features of the system-There are quite a few features available for a landscape lighting system, such as down lighting from trees, individual zoning of specific or banks of lights, smart home remote controllability, having power cable placed inside of rigid electrical conduit and buried underground, etc. All of these features add to the cost of a lighting system.


  • Other backyard components-Typically a landscape lighting system is part of the backyard and or frontyard project. Oftentimes there are additional amenities such as patio area, shade structure, outdoor kitchen, pool area, putting green, ponds, statuary, landscaping, etc. that require specific types of lighting. Bringing primary electrical power to these areas of the yard also figures in to the cost of a system.


  • Elevation changes and hard surface (concrete) obstacles-Many yards are not flat in elevation and have several areas like walks and driveways that create obstacles to getting power to illuminated areas. Elevation changes oftentimes require the use of retaining walls or both from a structural standpoint and a functionality standpoint (proper drainage). These conditions typically add installation costs to even the most basic systems.


  • Size and scope of system-We naturally think that the wide range in pricing mostly has to do with the size and scope of the landscape lighting system. Although size and scope does factor into the cost, it is not as big of a factor as the other variables mentioned here. There are small lighting systems that have been built that are very expensive and large systems that have been built that are less average per fixture cost.


  • Maintenance and Warranties-I am not sure if I have ever seen a landscape lighting system that did not require at least some level of maintenance work needed. Typically the better built and more expensive systems require much less maintenance are more reliable and last much longer and bring more value to the property and property owner. Unfortunately, doing warranty work costs money. It is easy for a lighting company to say that they have a “lifetime warranty”, but when they are not around to support that warranty, it really doesn’t mean much. Support after landscape lighting system construction costs money.


  • Design/Build Company costs and stability-This is oftentimes referred to as “overhead”, but this “overhead” is what every legitimate business has. Insurance, equipment, quality staff, etc….California is a state that does require licensing and bonding for contracting work greater in cost than $500 which would include most all landscape lighting builds. The state of California does not require a specialty license which means easy entry and even easier exit out of the lighting business for various unrelated tradespersons. The Los Angeles area has had dozens of generalist contracting companies over the years who have been responsible for failed projects. Most of the older, landscape lighting companies such as my company Gambino landscape Lighting have stories of replacing systems originally installed by generalist contractors that went out of business, no longer offer landscape lighting, do not service what they installed or just plain never responded to their customer for repairs, maintenance or warranty service.

As you can see, there are quite a few variables when it comes to the cost of custom landscape lighting. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when selecting a designer builder is basing everything on price alone, instead of choosing the best most qualified company. Although price is important because no one wants to overpay, you want to be sure that you get what you want and not be misled by price alone. It would be like buying a car without an air conditioner or power windows; although you bought the car for less money, you really did not get what you wanted.

If you simply cannot afford the exact landscape lighting system that you would like to have, a good recommendation would be to reduce system scope, reduce plant size or other landscape amenities which oftentimes can be done at a later time and plants will grow. Never scrimp on the quality of the materials and construction of a landscape lighting system. Those who do typically eventually regret it, potentially paying for it in the long run by having more maintenance and repairs and it could also hinder the house sale when you do decide to sell. It is not a car, a landscape lighting system cannot simply be traded in if it doesn’t work out. You are stuck with problems that often times cost more to repair than to replace.

Bottom line—It is never a good idea to make money the number one priority in any type of construction project (home, pool, landscape lighting, etc.). Once that happens, bad things begin to occur and you very rarely end up happy!

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 29 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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