Landscape Lighting- Commodity or Art?

Landscape Lighting- Commodity or Art?

By Mike Gambino

What is your best price for a Landscape Lighting System? How much are your landscape lighting systems per fixture?  I am collecting quotes for building a landscape lighting system, what is your price for a 1/2 acre property?

These statements seem logical to some but every time I hear them I cringe. 

What I hear is, “What you do is a commodity, and I can shop for it down the street from 3 other guys that do the same thing”.

They don’t mean to be insulting, it’s just a lack of knowledge about landscape lighting products, system design and building in general.

People are generally lazy and super stressed just trying to make a living. They don’t have time to research things or to try to understand how one builder may do things very differently than another. They haven’t seen the 30 or 40 large systems that we remove and haul to the dump each year. They don’t see the disasters in waiting at every design consultation.

A Different Perspective on Landscape Lighting

I didn’t start my career designing and installing landscape lighting systems. I started off as a Gardener at the age of 13, then moved on to Landscaping, New construction and renovations. I enjoyed creating new exterior environments for clients.

It wasn’t until I relocated from Long Island New York almost 30 years ago that I started getting serious about landscape lighting. When I started designing landscape lighting systems it was through a landscaper’s eye that I designed and created specifications. The basics of building were assumed.  I learned quite a bit as I perfected my methods and techniques over the next decade. This uncommon knowledge is what we built our foundations on. For the last 20 years I developed my own proprietary landscape lighting products to build better systems and provide me with a competitive advantage in my market. Still to this day the competition is just finding out about products and techniques that I developed and used 10 years ago.

That said… When I look at the typical landscape lighting system built in residential properties I am most often astonished. Not just by generalist landscapers and electricians–but landscape lighting systems built by specialists and so called professional landscape lighting companies as well.

Pride in designing and building a landscape lighting system without knowledge means nothing.

Most landscapers and Electricians are not Good Landscape Lighting Designer/Builders.

Yes, you heard me right.

I am not trying to be mean. It is just a sad fact. A Landscape Lighting system designer builder derives 100 percent of their income from landscape lighting design and installation. They take it very seriously.

Most landscape lighting systems are built primarily by generalist landscapers and sometimes electricians or handyman. If a builder does not know how many fixtures of what type and kind and what lamp they need to achieve a special effect or what that will look like in their minds eye even before seeing it light up at night then they have no business building a landscape lighting system. And there is so much more to know about designing and building a landscape lighting system than that. It takes many many hours of study in the night garden. Experimenting, moving fixtures around, adjusting tweaking, changing optics fiddling with brightness levels to get the desired effect just right.

A rookie landscape lighter that decided to start offering landscape lighting services because the industry literally tells them they are fools if they don’t and are leaving money on the table. They are drawn to landscape lighting, because they are told by sellers of landscape lighting products “Anybody can design and build a landscape lighting system,”. It comes full circle. Since any homeowner can buy products online or even in stores that used to be reserved for wholesale to the landscape trade only buyers– the perceived value is lower.

No cost advertising like Craigslist and or flyers or even door knocking, using it as an upsell or a “value added” giveaway to property owners they are already performing a landscaping or electrical project for make it easy to start building. Homeowners can’t tell the difference between quality builders or fly by night, so most can get a few jobs selling entirely on the lowest price.

Every year the phone calls come. “My landscape lighting doesn’t work, is falling apart, is problematic, never was satisfied with the performance of the lighting!”. And the original installer is nowhere to be found.

Your Dream Backyard is a big black hole at night and your original investment is totally wasted as it needs to be done over.

Working for cheap or for free is seen by new builders as a rite of passage. Rather than college tuition, they are getting paid to learn. It might only be a few dollars per hour but that is better than paying to get educated.

The equation goes like this. You get your dream landscape lighting for 1/3 – 1/2 the price of having a professional build it, and your builder learns how to build landscape lighting using inferior cheap materials. In a perfect world, the new builder gets a beautiful landscape lighting system to show in his portfolio. The landscape lighting system he builds will be perfect in every way, and everybody is happy!

This, however, is not how it goes in reality.  Any number of flaws will show up during and after the build in the first few years. Fixtures are a big one–and power cable connections are where rookies often fail. Sometimes in rare cases the lighting system is serviceable, but in most other cases what they build is dangerous and would cost more to repair than replace. If somebody is offering to a cheap landscape lighting system you have to expect issues.

How to Spot a Pro Landscape Lighting Designer Builder:

  • Check References
  • Look at their Website (Everybody has a website that is actually in business)
  • Check them out on Social Media
  • View Photos of their work and VERIFY its actually their work you are viewing
  • Ask to go to a job site while they are building
  • Call their references–invest an hour to see a 3 year old Is the system working? Does it look like what you want on your own property?
  • Learn a little about Landscape lighting and ask a few good questions like; Do you install all power cable inside of rigid electrical conduit? Do you use solid built brass and copper fixtures die casted from a mould or do you use less sturdy materials made from sheet metal?

You could just look at the shiny new truck and fancy business cards and assume that they know what they are doing but that is no guarantee.

Designing and Building a Dream High Performance landscape Lighting system that will last is a complex task. Trusting such a big investment to an amateur is usually an expensive life lesson.

Go with a PRO!

 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 28 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.



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