By: Paul R. Gosselin, Sr., CLVLT
For years low voltage landscape lighting has gotten a bad rap. Its reputation has been tarnished mostly by poor quality products that have been made readily available from the corner home improvement store for the DIY community. The cheap, and very cheaply made Malibu or Portfolio products that are sold in these stores appeal to the handy homeowner because they are inexpensive and easy to install. What is unfortunate about this is that the consumer is never made aware that far superior products even exist. The majority of people have no idea that there are professional grade outdoor lighting products available as well.
When I hear people talk about how their “low voltage lighting is always messed up,” and “the lights are always going out,” it perpetuates the myth that low voltage means poor quality and unreliable products. This really cheap lighting leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth – not just the homeowner, but the professional landscape lighting designer/contractor as well.
The next rung up on the ladder of low voltage lighting fixtures are the cheap internet products sold direct to the home owner or contractor. I’m not saying that selling direct to homeowners is a bad thing; I’m simply saying that most companies who do sell direct to the homeowner usually sell products that are not much better than those you can buy at the home improvement stores. Some contractors will buy these products, too, so they can install a lighting project at a bargain price. It’s likely that these fixtures will have a very short life-span, similar to their big-box store cousins.
While the home improvement store lights are at the very bottom of the list as far as quality goes, the other extreme end of the line includes manufacturers such as Auroralight or Teka. While the low end products are geared toward the do-it-yourself market, the very high end products are geared toward the landscape architect market that specifies products on very large projects, mostly commercial. These products are made extremely well from heavy gauge copper and brass, designed to withstand almost any weather or climate condition. They have glass lenses, not plastic; they also have very well made sockets and fittings. Along with the very high quality comes a very high price tag.
In the middle of the pack there are several mid-range but excellent quality products that most outdoor lighting professionals use on a daily basis. Here in the greater Austin, Texas area you’ll see manufacturers like Kichler, CAST, FX Luminaire and Hadco as well as a few others. The California area sees more FX Luminaire, Vista, and SPJ. East coast generally uses products from CAST, CopperMoon and Kichler. These are just a few of the manufacturers that have products that serve the vast majority of home owners. These products are well made, using materials suitable for the regional environments and carry excellent warranties. I myself have installed high quality products from all of these manufacturers.
Materials from these reputable manufacturers are made to last for many years – not just barely to the next season like the plastic store-bought kits. When installed correctly, with the climate considerations taken into account during fixture selection and proper maintenance, a professional LED low voltage landscape lighting system should last for 10+ years with only minimal additional maintenance expense after installation. In the long run, comparing the much longer life, fewer headaches during installation and maintenance, a better design and consistent operation for your property, why wouldn’t you consider a professional lighting system for your home?
Visit our Photo Gallery for examples of what low voltage landscape lighting should really look like.