Landscape Lighting – New service

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Adding landscape lighting installation and maintenance as another service offering can help your bottom line grow.

But like any other service offering you consider taking on, you want to make sure you have a good understanding of what it will take to be successful.

Like so many different landscape service subjects, landscape lighting has subject areas which can range from simple to complex.  The more you educate yourself on all of the subjects within the landscape lighting category, you will be able to distinguish your business from competitors and thereby run a more profitable landscape lighting profit center.

Some of the technical subject areas involved in landscape lighting are basic electrical principlesphotometry, lighting design techniques, electrical codes and more. Other subject areas include lighting design, installation techniques and emerging internet of everything technologies.

First, you need to separate landscape lighting into two categories of high voltage versus low voltage. Outdoor lighting systems which operate on high voltage power sources require the installer to be a licensed electrical contractor.

Low voltage landscape lighting systems are the focus of this overview because it is the primary category the landscape trade offers to their clients. In all instances you will need to refer to your local and state codes to make sure you are in compliance.

Today you find that landscape lighting systems are becoming more sophisticated and require more product and technical knowledge than before. In the early days of landscape lighting systems were fairly simple to understand from a technical starting point.

Basically, the installer would use a lighting transformer that would reduce high voltage at the job site from 120 volts to 12 volts. The installer would then use primarily 12 gauge low voltage wire and splice lighting fixtures into the electric wire. The transformer could be activated by a timing device and or a photocell.  Many lighting systems today are still installed in this manner but dramatic changes have occurred in the lamps and in the control of the systems.

The early days of the landscape lighting industry witnessed irrigation contractors entering into the landscape lighting industry. The reasons for this were both practical and technical and serve as a good starting point to introduce you to landscape lighting.

Many irrigation contractors in the colder parts of the country found that by offering landscape lighting as a service they could extend their selling season late into the fall. Technically, irrigation contractors were able to understand how basic irrigation design principles were similar to electrical lighting principles.

For example, irrigation design needs to take into account beginning pressure, pressure loss, available pressure at the sprinkler head and the gallons per minute used at each head. Irrigation pressure loss occurs through friction loss, which varies depending on the type and size of the pipe used and the distance of the pipe. Pressure loss also occurs when the sprinkler head discharges the water.

In basic electrical lighting design many of the same principles applied. You need to take into account your beginning voltage, calculate voltage loss based on the size of the wire used and the total distance of the wire used. Voltage loss also occurs when the lamp would turn on, and this voltage loss would be expressed as watts.

This very simple comparison between irrigation design principles and outdoor lighting design principles is only meant to give you a starting point in understanding the starting point in your technical education requirements, and an understanding of the history of the development of the landscape lighting industry.

To this day, many contactors have been able to install simple landscape lighting systems in the landscape with a very limited amount of technical knowledge.  The visual impact that lighting has is immediate and often dramatic.  But a failure to understand landscape lighting at a more technical level and understand emerging technologies in lamp technology and design principles will have you competing against the DIY homeowner, or other contractors who only sell on price.

Design principles

Landscape lighting principles borrow from techniques used in the theater. Lighting techniques such as back light, up light, silhouette, cross light and more can be used in your lighting designs. One of the pioneers of the landscape lighting industry was the late William Locklin, the founder of Nightscaping.  Mr. Locklin developed some of the earliest training guides to introduce contractors into how to offer landscape lighting as a service.

From a design perspective the Nightscaping training manuals suggested that every landscape lighting project should broadly address beauty, safety and security concerns on the site.  By addressing these three areas first, the landscape professional is able to start generating several design ideas for their clients.

The first design principle, beauty, is often the easiest to address because landscape enhancements are very visual.  You will find many elements on the property to illuminate such as fountains, architectural features of the home, trees, patios and more.

From a safety design perspective the professional landscape lighting professional will illuminate pathways, steps and all areas where the owners of the property could trip or fall. Pointing out how your lighting design takes safety into the design is important.

Finally, landscape lighting enhances the security around the property. This can be an overlooked category for the landscape lighting contractor since property owners are usually considering landscape lighting for its beauty first. However, looking for areas to illuminate for security concerns is an important consideration. Your eyes are naturally drawn to what is illuminated, which draws your attention away from areas. Security concerns can also be addressed based on how you set up the times you set to operate portions of the landscape lighting system.

Advancements in lamp technology

Broadly speaking, lamp technology is now blossoming into its third wave of technology. The first wave was borrowed from the automotive industry which used 12 volt incandescent lamps and PAR lamp technology.  The second wave of lamp technology was MR-Lamps (mirror reflect) and tungsten lamps. The MR and tungsten lamps introduced improved color and the ability to have beam control for more dramatic lighting techniques. The third and current technology wave is LED (Light emitting diodes) lamps.

The landscape lighting industry has traditionally followed the broader lighting industry as to when new lamp technology would be introduced to the landscape trade. The best example of this is LED lamps. Introducing lamp technology that uses computer chips into the outdoor environment brought a lot of challenges that were difficult to address in a cost effective manner.

Today, the LED revolution in the landscape lighting industry is in full force. LED lamps have been developed that offer beam control, improvements in color, longer life and perhaps most significantly greater energy efficiency. You are now able to get the same illumination output at 4.5 watts that you were previously able to achieve with a 50 watt MR-16 lamp.

This energy efficiency revolution has impacted design considerations and other materials used on a project. For example, the lower voltage consumption has reduced the size of transformers needed for the project.  That is because lighting transformers were designed to handle the total capacity of amperage of the lighting system. (Amperage = Watts/Volts). With LED, lamps operate on significantly smaller amperage so the landscape professional is now using smaller transformers.

Another advantage of the LED revolution is the impact it has had on reducing variances on light output that could occur based on voltage loss in lighting designs. Before if the lighting installer did not calculate voltage correctly for each lamp, both lamp life and the quality output of the light would be impacted. Calculating voltage loss remains important, but as long as each LED has the correct voltage to operate, each LED lamp will provide the output of light exactly as it has been designed to produce.

Advancements in control technology

For a very long time the landscape industry has controlled landscape lighting systems through the most common switching devices. From the simple wall switch to timers, photocells and even motion sensors, most landscape lighting systems are still controlled that way today.

Your ability to educate yourself on different control technologies and how to implement these into your landscape lighting services will differentiate your business.  Lighting controls products and related systems are basically controlling timing, brightness, motion, time of season, longitude and latitude, different areas or sections. These controls can be different products, for example, dimming and motion, and require knowledge on how to integrate these products into your lighting designs and installations.

Integrating lighting controls into your design has many benefits for your clients including lighting customization themes, energy savings, security and convenience. Smart home technology is now entering into the landscape lighting industry with remote control ability both on site and via internet technologies such as mobile apps.

Learning more about landscape lighting

Whether you are already offering landscape lighting or are considering adding this service to your offering, continuing your professional education is critical. You will discover that most of the electrical distribution companies may supply a lot of these products, but their on-hand inventory and attention to this product category may not be as focused as the landscape irrigation supply companies.

The leading landscape irrigation supply companies in your area frequently put on educational seminars in conjunction with the landscape lighting manufacturers they represent. Some of these distribution suppliers may also have sales personnel who are willing to travel to your job sites with you.

Like so many different subject categories within the landscape industry, one subject is actually a collection of different subject categories. Landscape lighting can be one of the most profitable and enjoyable landscape service offerings your company could provide.