27 Oct Buyer Beware: As a buyer of professional landscape lighting Design and Installation services you really need to be careful when choosing your service provider pt.2
By Mike Gambino
In last week’s blog article I took offense to a recent landscape trade magazine article that was written by an anonymous author with the intent to entice more general contracting non specialist tradespersons to offer landscape lighting as an add on service. This is not something unique or different as this same type of article with the same theme appears several times throughout the year in various landscape contractor related trade magazines. I have reprinted it again and below the article I shall comment on what i find especially offensive as a dedicated landscape lighting design build contractor approaching my 30th year in the business of offering landscape lighting services exclusively and not as a side line. Here it is:
He discovered low-voltage landscape lighting almost by accident. As owner and president of xxxxxx in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he’s designed and installed these systems for the past 12 years.
That’s how unintimidating the world of low-voltage landscape lighting has become. Xxxxxx had worked behind a desk for his whole career; he wasn’t an electrician or electronics tinkerer. Yet, in a few short years, he’s become a very successful landscape lighting contractor.
His career was helped along by the fact that few segments of the green industry have changed as much as this one has, in a short handful of years. New technology, such as digital controls and better LED bulbs, has not only made things more exciting, but much, much easier.
In fact, the entire process of installing, repairing and retrofitting these systems has been made practically foolproof. Essentially, you have a transformer, some wire and some fixtures.
Though it does take a bit of training to learn how to work with the components properly, the learning curve isn’t steep. For instance, you used to have to worry about voltage drop, where a lamp furthest away from the transformer would be noticeably dimmer than the one right next to it. Now there’s a wider operating range, so it doesn’t matter if a fixture is getting nine volts or 15.
|When halogen lamps were more commonly used, you had to know a lot of lot of different wiring techniques. They were also much more exacting, requiring 10.8 to 11.8 volts, which left you with a very small one-volt corridor in which to work. And, you could only put so many halogen lights per zone on a string.
If a customer wanted to add a light in a certain spot, but the nearest hub was maxed out, you’d have to run line out to a whole new hub, which sometimes required trenching. Now, you can just tap into a nearby fixture, and set up a new lamp or fixture. You also no longer have to check or match voltages anymore.
If you’ve put off learning how to install landscape lighting because of concerns about the complexity and potential hazards of working with electricity, you can relax. Quick connectors make it so you don’t need much, if any, electrical experience. And low voltage means that there’s little danger of getting shocked.
The design aspect isn’t that difficult, either. You’ll get good at it with a little practice. There are about 13 different lighting techniques, and once you understand two or three of them, you can pretty much light up any job.
The selling points of these systems go on and on. They let your clients enjoy their landscapes and outdoor living areas every evening, not just on weekends or during ‘staycations’.
They add dramatic highlights to water features, and safety to pathways at night. And, a well-lit landscape around a home or business make it a much less attractive target for ne’er-do-wells with criminal intent.
|Low-voltage outdoor lighting systems are being integrated into the Internet of Things (IoT).
Higher-end systems let users set different themes, colors, moods and feelings as easily as pressing a button on a smartphone.
The best way to get comfortable with lighting design is to start doing it. Get a demo kit from a distributor, and play around with it in your own backyard. Try your hand at uplighting, downlighting, silhouetting and moonlighting.
See how the light plays on different surfaces, and how wide and narrow beams, focused on the same spot, can produce different effects. Before you know it, you’ll be adept.
Now is the perfect time to check this out, because fall and winter is when landscape lighting really shines. As one lighting contractor said, when all the foliage is off the trees, they look like natural statues out there, lit up against the backdrop of the snow. It’s absolutely stunning.
Happily, information about landscape lighting is readily available, usually at no charge. Most distributors and manufacturers of outdoor lighting products provide some sort of initial training. A good manufacturer will give you a basic introduction to the components and how to install them and design with them.
Once you’ve done your training and are comfortable with the whole process, you can start cross-selling to your existing client base, doing after-dark demos. You won’t have to work that hard; these systems practically sell themselves. And, once installed, they’re nightly advertisements to the rest of the neighborhood, especially if your clients let you post a sign saying, ‘Outdoor Lighting by John Doe Landscaping’.
Go ahead, light it up!
First of all simply put, make no mistake about it, landscape lighting installation is physically demanding hard work. It requires physical labor out of doors in all climates and temperature ranges. Digging in all kinds of soil types, some cooperative but most not. You never know what obstacle or potential utility you will encounter and work around without causing damage to it. Every job is different, never two are alike. Nothing about designing and installing landscape lighting is “Foolproof” contrary to the authors sentiments.
I can honestly say that after almost 30 years of being in the field 6 days a week I still learn something new every week and use that information to refine and improve systems and procedures that result in better landscape lighting results.
After 30 years I freely admit that I Do Not Know It All! For some no name author to say “There are about 13 different lighting techniques, and once you understand two or three of them, you can pretty much light up any job” is preposterous and insulting. Maybe if a flat one dimensional boring display is what your after then perhaps I would agree. But that’s not the type of lighting that the handful of professional dedicated specialists who practice around the country would be responsible for.
Another statement I take offense to is “ Quick connectors make it so you don’t need much, if any, electrical experience. And low voltage means that there’s little danger of getting shocked.” Quick connectors should never be used in a permanent landscape lighting installation. They do not provide a tight, sound and weatherproof connection and should be avoided at all costs. Perhaps electrical shock risk is greatly reduced with low voltage lighting but what the author fails to mention is how electrical fires are much easier to start by shoddy low voltage work than they are with high voltage work.
Articles such as this spawn lazy, undedicated and uneducated installers who are in it for the quick buck. I have seen them come and I have seen them go just as fast. One example are Installers such as this person who made this totally uneducated statement in a landscape lighting message forum ironically the same week the article in question appeared in the landscape magazine.
” I always try to balance modern overkill vs. what is really necessary when installing things. So therefore… I ask myself, “Is internal fusing that important”? when internal fusing did not exist 25 years ago, even in the higher end products? And can one justify purchasing a high end transformer when they only want 6-8 lights? You mention the possibility of a short, so I also ask, is that not the entire purpose of the GFCI outlet? Isn’t that what it’s for?
Fusing of low voltage circuits have always been standard on professional grade products. A GFCI only protects high voltage circuits and have no effect on shutting down shorts that occur on the low voltage wiring of a system. This is basic information and anyone who does not know this should not be touching any electrical device whatsoever on his own home let alone that of a paid customers. Hopefully he has the local hospital and fire dept. on speed dial.
“Happily, information about landscape lighting is readily available, usually at no charge. Most distributors and manufacturers of outdoor lighting products provide some sort of initial training. A good manufacturer will give you a basic introduction to the components and how to install them and design with them.”
Training from providers of outdoor lighting products is typically some of the worst available. Those teaching these classes are not out there designing and installing systems on a daily basis or at all. The best they can offer is recycled theory and supposition and not real world experience.
“You won’t have to work that hard; these systems practically sell themselves”. There is no high ticket home improvement that I know of that sells itself. This is an insult to seasoned salespeople of every trade. High Quality Landscape lighting is not an easy sale ironically in part because of articles such as this that brings more low cost low quality competition into the marketplace. Amateurs have no idea how to bid profitable work. They cut corners with low quality products and poor installation techniques. Their systems fall apart and they go out of business and the unsuspecting homeowner must start again and lose their entire investment. It’s a constant that I haven’t seen changed in the almost 30 years i have been practicing in this trade.
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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