Landscape lighting systems require regular routine maintenance. Inside your home, all you need to do is replace light bulbs when they burn out. But in the outdoor environment, your lighting fixtures are exposed to a much different variety of conditions that can render them less effective and leave your beautiful lighting system less than perfect – even inoperable.
It is not an intensive or expensive proposition, (not like the spring opening of the pool) but it is just as important.
Your specific needs will vary with your situation, but generally, all outdoor lighting systems are exposed to dirt, rainfall and irrigation, even snow and ice. The fixtures are designed to withstand moisture, but calcium and lime deposits; hard water scale and dirt will build up on the lenses, dramatically reducing the light output. Because your lights are in the gardens, they are near the plant material, which grows and changes with the seasons, dropping plant material onto and near the fixtures, and can obscure the intended light output.
Often gardeners, homeowners or landscape maintenance personnel accidentally knock the fixtures out of place as they go about their gardening business, bury the fixtures with mulch or debris, blow leaves on top of the fixtures or otherwise compromise the perfect aiming of the light beams onto their intended subjects.
Sometimes homeowners plan to take care of maintaining their lights themselves. Quite often, they’ll change the lamps with models of lesser quality or incorrect beam spreads. Worst of all, they install different voltages than intended for the system or for the individual wire runs or circuits. This simple mistake can truly compromise the functionality of the system and can invalidate manufacturers warranties on the fixtures or transformers.
Be sure to hire trained, licensed and insured installation and maintenance personnel to help ensure that your system is performing at its optimal levels. The best choice is to go back to the licensed electrician who installed your system. If your system was not installed by a licensed electrician – many low voltage systems are installed by gardeners, landscape irrigates and by homeowners themselves – choose a reputable outdoor lighting company that offers a maintenance plan to keep your system looking great and performing optimally. Ask to see their maintenance plan. It should cover all the elements listed below.
With regular service, your landscape lighting system will perform as designed, and enhance your property for beauty and elegance season after season.
ENSURE PROPER WORKING ORDER
Technically, your system functions properly because of proper wattage, voltages, amperages and circuit loads. When these are incorrect, due to faulty installation or changes made after installation, you need a professional electrician with a good meter to determine where the problems lie. Your electrician should test your voltages and amperages, troubleshoot your system and correct these issues to ensure your system is in proper and safe working order.
The maintenance should include cleaning your fixture housings and removing mineral deposits from the lenses. This can be accomplished by using solvents or by scraping them with razor blades. A good lens cleaning can make a big difference to the light output of the fixture – up 30-40%.
Clear away mulch or debris that has accumulated near the fixtures, or on the shields or baffles. Not only can this debris block the intended lighting effects, it can pose a fire hazard in some cases. Keep fixtures clear of debris at all times, and advise your landscape maintenance personnel to refrain from blowing leaves into or onto the fixtures.
ADJUST, RE-AIM & RE-FOCUS FIXTURES
Landscapes are organic and ever changing with plant growth and change of seasons. As plantings mature, it is often necessary to change the aim of the light beam or to make adjustments to the beam spread of the lamp selections. A good landscape lighting maintenance agreement should offer to relocate your fixtures to some degree, improving the appearance of the lighting and enhancing the appearance of the plantings.
ADJUST TIME CLOCKS & CONTROLLERS
Sometimes your system isn’t coming on when you’d like, or your time clock needs to be adjusted for daylight savings or the change in the seasons. Have the lighting professional take care of making these adjustments for you, and leave the programming instructions with you. Do try simple fixes before you call for midnight help.
1) Has the breaker tripped? Reset it
2) Has the battery in the timer expired? Replace it
3) Is your transformer plugged in to the outlet? Replug it
REPLACE & LUBRICATE O-RINGS, SEALS & GASKETS
Some fixtures require gaskets, seals and o-rings to ensure a positive seal against the elements. These become worn with age, and are affected by heat. They crack and become brittle and need to be replaced and lubricated periodically.
Maintenance is supremely important with halogen bulbs. Halogen MR-16 lamps are particularly susceptible to performance declines over time.
Tungsten-halogen lamps operate in a “halogen regenerative cycle.” In conventional gas-filled tungsten filament lamps, the tungsten molecules evaporate from the hot filament and are deposited in a thin film on the inside surface of the lamp, reducing the lumen output and efficacy of the lamp in two ways.
First, the deposits of tungsten on the bulb wall builds up a film which reduces light output, and second, the evaporation of tungsten from the filament reduces the filament wire diameter, increases the resistance and conversely decreases wattage, lumens and color temperature.
We recommend replacing all lamps every 2 years, and replacing all lamps in the system if 1/3 have burned out. Any burned-out lamps will effect the operation of your low voltage lighting system. The application of “bulb grease” will help prevent corrosion on the electrical connections, and help improve conductivity.
LED retrofit bulbs can be used in some fixtures as an energy-efficient replacement for MR-16 halogen lamps. Size and shape of the fixture housing determine whether these are appropriate for your fixtures.
TRIM & PRUNE
As your plants grow and mature, they can block the light or obscure the fixtures. As ground covers obtain greater height or extend bloom stalks, they can compromise the intended appearance of the light path. During your maintenance, have your technician trim and prune the plant materials, which affect the light appearance, and add mounting stems to increase the height of ground-mounted fixtures.
Tree mounted fixtures require special attention to ensure that the tree can grow safely without damage and that the wiring is in good condition.
REPAIR & REPLACE FIXTURES
Finally, as with all electrical or mechanical devices, wear and tear, age and the effects of the elements can create damage that requires repair or replacement.
Some fixtures have replaceable elements such as sockets, screws, lenses and stakes, while in some cases, replacing the entire fixture is a more appropriate choice.
Your service personnel should offer choices and convenience for your maintenance plan, and your system maintenance should be customized to your needs. If you have your lights come on every night automatically, use your system often, or have many fixtures, you may choose to have maintenance several times a year to ensure perfect enjoyment of the lighting design. Systems used only for a few hours a few times a week might only need annual maintenance to stay in fine working condition. However often your have maintenance, be sure to have a professional do your work, and always insist upon a written agreement.
COSTS OF MAINTENANCE
Costs are usually determined on an individual basis, and are determined by several factors including the quantity and type of fixtures, accessibility of the wiring and the age and type of system. As with any service, don’t pay in advance.
Starting with a reasonable Service Call fee and hourly troubleshooting charges, you should ask that the service provider give you a detailed listing of the work they recommend, a material pricing list, and a final detail of the work completed. In most cases, your payment will be expected at the completion of service.