Installing an uplight in historic tulip tree

Renovating an outdated landscape lighting system

Is your landscape lighting system outdated, perhaps inherited through the purchase of an existing home? Or have you noticed that the system you paid to have installed some years ago isn’t meeting your long term quality or performance expectations? Regardless of the specific case, if you’re considering options to update your landscape lighting system then this article is for you. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you may want to consider incorporating some of the more elegant and state of the art trends and technologies available in the 2022 landscape lighting markets.

Out with the old, in with the new

Older lighting systems installed 10 or 15 years ago commonly utilize outdated incandescent or halogen light products which are less energy efficient and have limited life cycles. Older systems will often incorporate the following obsoleted technology features

Analog timers – this style of timer will “drift” which means that they require constant adjustment in order to actually maintain time accurately.

Old fuse power transformers – these transformers use older fuse technology which needs replacing when a circuit is broken.

Odd spec electrical wiring and connection methods – these are things like the utilization of older style wire nuts which allow moisture into the electrical circuit and can lead to short circuits or an entire failed electrical system.

Generally, it’s the older and less perpetuitous systems that show to be inefficient and less reliable, ultimately requiring more maintenance as they age.

Landscape Lighting Upgrade Considerations

Consider the example of a recent homeowner who had a large number of 20-plus year old fixtures placed inconsistently throughout their landscape. These fixtures were in much need of repair but also, from a landscape architect or professional lighting designer’s perspective, were in greater need of repositioning and architectural reconstitution. Several of their fixtures were of solid cast bronze that were still in good condition but the addition of LED bulb upgrades really brought out the light.

Incandescent bulbs replaced with modern LED bulbs

Incandescent bulbs replaced with modern LED bulbs

By replacing those old obsoleted halogen bulbs with LED bulbs, we can increase light output and give much better lumen levels with beam angle control that can produce a much improved feature lighting effect on current architecture.

When clients desire a warm light effect, 2700k LED bulbs can be used to mimic incandescent lighting all while reducing energy costs and also increasing bulb life by many years.

On-site Reviews for Upgrade and Maintenance Planning

An on-site review can sometimes reveal the shortcomings of an existing system installed by the garden variety lawn maintenance company, landscaper or by the homeowners that have placed the lighting fixtures improperly. These fixtures can easily become damaged even by the actual lawn maintenance equipment operated by the same companies hired to do the installations in the first place. It’s also pretty common to see lighting products installed with no thought for lighting design or composition, ultimately becoming obtrusive and aesthetically inconsistent with the overall landscape design. As a general philosophy in landscape lighting

Keeping unsightly and cheap plastic fixtures from cluttering the yard should be a priority for anyone that wants to enjoy an impressive evening landscape.”

Squirrel nuts collected in tree light fixtures 300x300
Squirrel nuts collected in tree light fixtures 300×300

During an assessment, It’s not hard to discover older and outdated “well” style lights that have been rendered useless and covered by debris and mulch while sitting hidden within the planting beds. This is partly a maintenance issue but can be remedied with a better choice of light fixtures that won’t serve as receptacles for leaves and mulch.

Even a thoughtfully placed tree light can become a favorite snack time meal perch for the local family of squirrels, again, making the case for a seasonal maintenance and cleanup program.

Getting “Down in the Trenches”

When considering a landscape lighting upgrade or the addition of a seasonal maintenance program for an existing lighting system, it is important to understand the condition of your current installation. It’s best to perform a thorough on site review to look for certain hidden value items and things that might be re-purposed such as . .

  • existing in-ground wiring
  • transformers
  • light fixtures
  • even trenches

What is Trenching?

Trenching refers to the process of laying low voltage electrical wire into the ground. Often it may require snaking underneath walkways, around architecture and into planting beds and in lawn areas. Several obstacles and even hazards must be considered when trenching wire. These include things like

  • existing low and regular voltage conduit and direct burial wire
  • irrigation systems
  • tree roots
  • gas lines
  • cable lines
  • hidden boulders

While regulatory code requires that dangerous elements such as regular voltage wire and gas lines be placed 18″ deep into the earth and housed within protective conduit, we find that is not always the case. Great caution must be exercised when working around these hazards. While cutting through a small tree root for example, will not damage a tree’s health, cutting through a main root can When trenching, we should always err on the side of minimizing any and all damage to trees even if that means re-thinking the placement of a buried line.

Trench depths and methods

The main goal when laying direct burial wire is to keep the wire hidden and out of plain site, protected from damage but accessible for future upgrades. In planting beds we should typically bury the wire just under the mulch or compost layer so that those tending the garden can quickly see wire placement when replanting perennials and thus preventing shovel or tool damage. In lawn areas we should typically bury wire 4” – 6” inches deep in order to protect it from lawn aerators. The ultimate ground conditions and soil will play a role in final depths as well.

Most careful trenching is done by hand as this methodical process allows us to “feel” underground obstacles like irrigation lines, tree roots and boulders. When burying longer stretches of line in bigger yards, one might employ the aid of a powered mechanical trenching machine which can make short work of a specific depth wire trench but may require repair to unknown irrigation lines afterward. Each scenario has its pros and cons and must be determined beforehand.

Smart transformers and timers

Transformers play a central role in landscape lighting systems and serve the purpose of taking 120V line voltage as an input and “stepping it down” to a safe 12 volt output for the lower power system devices. These low voltage “direct burial” line and lighting fixtures are efficient and pretty safe to work with. Should a pet or rodent chew through one of the system wires, a scenario that is more common than you might imagine, the system will subsequently “trip” or trigger a circuit breaker which cuts power to the system or a part of it. There is no harm to the animal.

wifi timer used in landscape lighting
wifi timer used in landscape lighting

Transformers allow for a measure of safety but also allow for the efficient powering of complex lighting systems throughout the property. Some transformers are fairly complex, featuring cluster effects which allowing for the grouping of certain classes off lights. These light classes might feature :

  • variable dimming
  • color mapping
  • customizing via mobile apps

Modern transformers have taken the place of the old replaceable fuses with simple circuit breaker technology. Some transformers now have integral timers while others allow for the quick plug in digital or wifi timers. Upgrading older transformers with wifi timers can be a simple and cost effective way to make your lighting system programmable with in app on / off system capability.

These wifi timers allow customers to pre-program their own scheduled power On / Off cycle times with the aid of a downloaded smartphone app. Check out our article for more info on app controlled lighting technologies.

Ultimately we can bring an old existing landscape lighting system up to current standards with technologies that improve efficiencies, that will extend the life of your outdoor lights well into the next decade and all with the energy saving cost benefits of the newer tech.

We always seek to maximize client budgets even if having the best of everything means sparing no expense, there’s always opportunities to find hidden gems of value in the projects that we take.

To better understand what Boston Lightscaping can do for your outdated landscape lighting system, contact us for an on site consultation at 978 828-5962.