Nightscapers is the choice when you desire an exquisite system you will enjoy for years to come. Quality low voltage lighting and sales in South Florida.
What you need to know
Designing and installing a low voltage landscape lighting system looks easy… buy some fixtures, some wire, a transformer and hook them up. Unfortunately this is a recipe for frustration – you probably won’t be happy with the performance of the system. In addition, a poorly installed system will suffer the ravages of the Florida soil and climate resulting in whole strings of lights failing. This information brochure will tell you what you need to know about landscape lighting so you can be sure your system will work properly and last 10 to 20 years.
Start with a well designed System
The design of a landscape lighting system is part art and part science. It’s about understanding how much light is needed and determining where the focal points are. The choice of fixture, brightness, beam spread, placement position and angle for each and every light source are a critical foundation for any successful system. The correct location of the transformers, voltage taps used and wiring routes are vital to ensure every fixture operates properly.
Install it with close attention to detail
To create a lighting system that will remain trouble free for ten to twenty years requires good quality components and close attention to detail during the installation. Nightscapers uses computer aided planning and installation techniques that go beyond typical industry practices to ensure your system operates perfectly night after night. An example is the use of soldered joints for the main tee and branch connections. Nightscapers takes this extra step tp completely eliminate one of the most troublesome problems of the system.
Use components that are built to last
There is currently is a wide variety of landscape lighting components available to consumers. The materials used and levels of quality vary considerably and the differences can significantly affect your systems long term operation and viability. Be sure you choose components that are built to last, not those that are built to a price.
Landscape lighting fixtures today are made from a wide variety of materials including plastic, aluminum, copper, stainless steel or brass. While plastic is used in the lowest cost multi-pack systems, aluminum is the most popular material today.
Assuming all fixtures made from aluminum are created equal would be an error. Lower cost fixtures are made from aluminum alloys that contain other metal to keep the cost of the material down. This, however, makes it more difficult for the paint to stick to the surface of the fixture resulting in premature paint peeling and chipping, which then allows the soil to corrode the unprotected aluminum itself.
Better quality aluminum fixtures are made from a higher grade/purer (also called marine-grade) aluminum to eliminate the paint adhesion problem. Higher quality fixtures are generally made from brass, copper or occasionally stainless steel. Nightscapers recommends brass fixtures for all installations.
The paint on lower cost fixtures is simply sprayed onto the fixture and can easily be chipped or scratched. Higher quality fixtures use an electrostatic powder-coating process which is then baked onto the fixture in an oven. This process produces a significantly more durable finish that is practically chip and scratch proof. Brass fixtures are not painted so there is no peeling possible. They also generally have been pretreated with a bronze coating to eliminate the patina stage.
When light fixtures are pointed upwards to illuminate trees they are prone to water buildup on the lens. When the water comes from a well or lake fed sprinkler system, the water can contain minerals that will deposit on the lens when the water evaporates in the heat of the day. One popular low cost fixture allows up to ½” of water to become trapped on the lens; in less than two weeks the lens becomes opaque with mineral deposits. It is therefore important to choose fixtures that do not allow any water to become trapped on the lens.
The lens on low cost fixtures is typically window glass. High quality fixtures will employ soda-lime glass which is used in industrial applications for sight-glasses where a clear unobstructed view is required.
Soda-lime glass is much smoother that window glass so it helps prevent deposit build-up. It is also much easier to clean the soda-glass glass lens. Mineral deposits on window glass are very difficult to remove without scrubbing and thereby scratching the glass.
The transformer is the heart of a low voltage lighting system. It converts the 120V house current into the safe low voltage to power the lighting fixtures. There is a wide choice of transformers available but some are more set-it-and-forget-it than others. Time clocks without battery backup need to be avoided since they will need adjusting after power outages.
Photocells will turn on at dark and off at light. Additionally, there are now many options permitting control of the system from your phone.
It is very important is to use a multi-tap or multi-voltage transformer for your system. This allows the designer and installer to ensure that each and every fixture gets the proper volts needed for the long life of the system bulbs. A lower cost single tap transformer (that only puts out 12V) will almost certainly not allow the correct working voltage for every fixture.
Connections — The single most important installation detail
The cause of most system failures is a connection problem. The corrosive south Florida soil/moisture works its way into lower quality connections and starts to corrode the copper wiring. The repair task can be difficult since the connections are buried underground, so finding the problem can be time consuming and disruptive to your landscaping. Alligator clamp on connections are the worst type of connection since there is no moisture protection – they are not impregnated with a sealer so they offer no protection from the soil, and hence they should be avoided at all costs.
Nightscapers solders all tee and branch connections for durability. The solder protects the wire from the corrosion and ensures the electrical connection remains strong. The joint is then sealed to keep the water out. This process takes considerably longer than using other methods, but ensures your system will be trouble free for many years.
Low (12V) Voltage Systems vs. High (120V) Voltage Systems
Low-voltage landscape lighting systems using modern technology are displacing the traditional high-voltage landscape lighting systems in most residential and commercial applications. The primary reasons for this change are:
1. Low-voltage systems provide superior light control through a wider variety of fixture options, brightness levels and beam spreads
2. Low-voltage systems offer significantly lower operating costs as less light is wasted on the sky.
3. Low-voltage systems do not suffer from moisture ingress problems that can plague high-voltage systems causing shutdowns.
4. Low-voltage systems are inherently safer requiring a much less invasive installation which also results in substantial savings in cost.
There are no situations that a low-voltage system cannot handle. They do have the necessary power to successfully compete with high-voltage systems and typically accomplish the task using 1/3rd less electricity and at a much lower installation cost. LED lighting systems use 75% less energy.
Are there any disadvantages to using low-voltage systems?
As long as you find a company you can trust to design your system correctly and install it properly there are no disadvantages to using low-voltage lighting systems. Nightscapers’ only business is lighting so all of our designers and installers have received up-to-date manufacturer training ensuring we do it right the first time.
What about solar powered light fixtures?
While simple to install, solar powered light fixtures are typically seriously under powered. The solar units typically output a fraction of the light that a low voltage lighting system will provide. The durability of the solar units is also poor as the batteries soon wear out due to the constant charge and discharge cycle. Also, overcast days will not allow the batteries to charge enough to power the units for the night.
What are the pros and cons of LED lights?
· No bulb changing at all with integrated LED fixtures and significantly less bulb changing when using LED bulbs as compared to Halogen
· Lower operational cost (75% less energy use for equivalent lighting)
· No bulb changing.
What about the landscape lighting kits I see at home improvement stores?
Kits are available to allow the home owner to install a landscape lighting system. These systems however are very different from a professional landscape lighting system. The installation manuals of these systems never mention voltage drop calculations and hence most systems are installed with no regard to the problem.
The instructions conveniently also forget to offer suggestions on how to get that wire under the driveway or sidewalk. (Simply “jetting” under such obstacles with a hose and pipe is not recommended as this may leave the driveway support weakened and subject to settling.) The fixtures attach to the cable using alligator type clips which work well for a short period, but over time the connection will corrode and result in fixture failure. The fixtures themselves are always lower quality and often have fatal design flaws including allowing water build-up on the lens.
Finding a competent contractor
Low Voltage Landscape Lighting systems have many significant advantages over high voltage (120 Volt) systems, but they must be designed and installed properly. Nightscapers’ only business is lighting so all of our designers and installers have received up-to-date manufacturer training so we do it right the and install your system, ask them the following questions. Always confirm the installer is a “licensed contractor”.
Q: Have your staff recently received training specifically for low voltage lighting design and installation?
A: Only a training course specifically aimed at low voltage lighting design and installation will ensure your designer and installer understands the necessary procedures to create a properly designed, durable system. New techniques are ensuring a longer trouble free operating life for your system so recent training is a must.
Q: What is voltage drop?
A: When power runs through a cable a voltage drop occurs. The higher the current, the larger the voltage drop. Even over a relatively short run the cable can cause a several volt drop – which means the bulb will not get the full voltage it needs to operate correctly. The designer must plan and compensate for voltage drop.
Q: Bulbs in your system.
A: LED fixtures typically operate on a wide range of voltage from 9-15 volts
Q: How do you address voltage drop?
A: The designer must run calculations to determine what the voltage drop will be in all of the cable runs and compensate for the drop using a multi-tap transformer. Fixtures must be balanced within a cable run by using center fed tee (or “T”) cabling. During the installation measurements must be taken with an accurate voltmeter to ensure the correct voltage at each fixture.
Q: What sort of connections do you use?
A: For durability you should insist on soldered connections for all tees and branches.
Q: What grade of aluminum is used for your fixtures?
A: You are looking for marine or aviation grade aluminum. When near salt water areas brass or copper is recommended.
Q: What method is used for painting the fixtures
A: Baked-on powder-coat finish is significantly more durable than a sprayed paint finish.
Q: Will your fixtures allow any water to get trapped on the lens?
A: Fixtures should have drain holes or no lower lip to prevent or at least minimize water build-up.
Q: What material is the fixture lens made from?
A: The fixture lens should be made from soda-lime glass to minimize mineral deposit build-up and to make them easy to clean without scratching.
Besides showing you how the system works, ask the contractor to perform the following quick tests that should only take a few minutes. Don’t pay the invoice until you’ve seen the results!
1. Turn the system on and check to ensure all fixtures are operating properly.
2. Look closely to make sure light distribution is even and there are no “hot” spots.
3. Pick a circuit or two and ask the contractor to measure the amperage. This is a simple measurement done with an ammeter. Nightscapers recommends no more than 15 amps for a circuit to leave room for expansion and safety. Delete all else in the Acceptance section.
4. Pick a couple of the circuits shown on the fixture information sheet at random and ask the contractor to measure the current for each of the chosen circuits. (This is very quick and easy to do with a clamp ammeter.) The values on the sheet should match the measured value within 0.5A.
If I use a 12V transformer, won’t the voltage at the bulb be 12V?
Unfortunately the answer is no! The wires use to connect the fixtures to the transformer have a natural “resistance” to the power flowing to the fixture. This resistance causes the voltage to “drop” across the wire. It is not uncommon for the voltage to drop 2 or 3 Volts along runs from the transformer to the light fixture, so the fixture only gets 9 or 10 Volts.
If this voltage drop is not compensated for, the bulb life and light output of the fixture will be compromised. Professional landscape designers will keep the voltage at all the fixtures within the exacting specifications for optimum performance and bulb life.
The system wiring must be installed using complex calculations to determine the best way to run the wiring. While first instinct would be to run the wire from the transformer to the nearest light and then onto the furthest light, this will almost guarantee the near light is too bright and the far light will be too dim. (This also guarantees a short bulb life for both of these fixtures and many of the fixtures in between.)
The fixtures must be wired in a tee where the power runs to the lights in the middle first. This technique requires the use of much more cable but with careful calculations and measurements the system can be guaranteed to have the design voltage at each and every fixture.