When you see the OLP van pull up, you know great service has arrived.
Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Toronto can service your existing low-voltage outdoor lighting, or add new components like timers and controllers. We can even add more lights to any system that will blend in harmoniously with the lighting you have now, for a seamless addition that feels like it was always there.
No matter what brand of outdoor lighting you have now, we can help with everything from annual tune-ups to wire repairs.
We offer bulb replacements, conversions to LED, fixture relocation and re-designs, timer programming, transformer upgrades, and more. We service all forms of outdoor lighting, including both LED and halogen systems. We can service any residential lighting systems all across the GTA and beyond, so whether you are in Toronto, Oakville, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, Aurora, Markham, North York, or anywhere in the 905 area, we are your local low-voltage lighting experts.
It doesn’t even matter if you know what kind of lights you have now, or who originally installed them. We service and maintain every brand, even the old ones that are no longer in business. No label? No problem. From high-end solid copper lighting to big box store plastic specials, we service it all.
Just give us a call, and one of our lighting service vans will be on its way.
When it comes to DIY outdoor lighting installation, a common question I get asked is: what is the best way to install a path light so it doesn’t lean over?
Well, I have good news, and I have bad news.
The bad news is, all path lights installed in soil will lean a bit as the years go by, no matter what you do. This can happen because they get knocked by animals, or just because the ground freezes and heaves. But the good news is with the right kind of mount you can make your path lights stay straight much longer, and even add flexibility to raise or lower them over the years if needed.
But first, it all starts with correctly mounting your path lights into the ground. Generally, path lights come in one of two kinds: stake mount, and conduit mount.
STAKE MOUNT PATH LIGHTS
Stake mount path lights are common. They are threaded on the bottom, and they simply screw into a PVC stake. Stakes come in a variety of sizes, and you should use the largest stake that your soil permits, but at least 50% as long as the fixture is tall (i.e. an 11″ stake is good for path lights 22″ or shorter).
To install, you can either hammer the stake into the ground first and then screw on the light, or attach the stake to the fixture and push both into the ground together. Either way, it can be tricky to get the fixture installed bolt-upright to start, so often you have to wiggle it straight. That loosens the soul beneath the mount, and if you leave it loose the path light will likely start to lean over within a short period. So once you have the fixture sitting properly upright, it’s important to take a mallet and stomp down the soil all the way around the light. Do this a few times, round and round, until you are sure all the soil has been packed very tightly. Loose soil or mulch can then be spread at the base of the fixture for a natural look.
The downside to stake mounting is there is no flexibility for the height of your path light. If the nearby plants grow larger over the years, you cannot adjust the path light to be any taller. Landscapes and gardens are very organic designs, and stake mounting your path lights does not give you any flexibility to account for changes.
CONDUIT MOUNT PATH LIGHTS
I prefer path lights that use a conduit mount. This kind of mount is more common on premium quality path lights, and not something you’ll see much in path lights from big box stores. These fixtures are not threaded at the bottom, but instead are designed so a 1″ PVC conduit will snugly fit into the stem from the bottom.
To install, you hammer a piece of 1″ PVC conduit straight into the ground as deep as the earth will permit — basically, down until you hit rock — then cut off the excess conduit above ground level. That means you always get the deepest mount permitted, not just limited to the length of a small stake. Next you sheath the path light stem snugly down over top of the PVC conduit, and press it into the ground. The conduit will guide it straight down. You should still tamp down the soil with a mallet, but the soil will not be nearly as loose to start as with a stake mount.
The two big advantages of conduit mounting over stake mounting are: (1) you always get the deepest mount the location will permit, and deeper mounts mean less lean over time, and (2) the stem of the fixture will be longer, so you can raise or lower it to adjust for changes to your gardens over time. It’s both a stronger and a more flexible mount.
Because a conduit mount path light will have some part of its stem actually underground, you would usually select a taller fixture. For instance, you could select a 24″ stem to give you the same above-ground height as an 18″ stake mounted path light, but have the flexibility to mount the light higher or lower as suits the location. You’d then also be able to pull the light up later if needed, or press it down lower into the ground, if the nearby plants changed over the years (as happens in all our gardens!).
ANNUAL ADJUSTMENTS: BRING YOUR MALLET
Unfortunately, every kind of mount will work loose over time due to ground freezing/unfreezing, foot traffic, animals brushing against the fixture, or even the occasional soccer ball aimed the wrong way. Conduit mounts better resist side impact and ground heaving, but both kinds of mounts will still need adjusting over time. The reality is, outdoor lights require a bit of annual maintenance to keep them looking and working like new.
Straightening your fixtures and re-tamping the soil should be part of the annual maintenance to keep your path lights rod-straight over the years. It’s the perfect time to check the connections too, to make sure everything is still secure and waterproof. If mounted correctly, this maintenance should only have to be a quick annual adjustment, and can be done at the same time as changing any halogen bulbs, re-burying any wires that have surfaced, trimming plant overgrowth, etc.
Outdoor lighting is an investment, and a bit of annual maintenance will keep your system looking new for many years to come.
If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area we offer a fantastic outdoor lighting tuneup that includes all the above and more. But if you’re the DIY kind, then simply setting aside a Saturday each Spring for “mallet and trowel day” will keep your path lights on the straight and narrow.
How do you pick an outdoor lighting company? Naturally, I think you should definitely choose OLP if you live anywhere near the Greater Toronto Area. But let’s imagine you live far away. What advice would I give for selecting the best outdoor lighting company near you?
Of course, you’d want a company that offers high quality products. But they all claim to do that. So before I even looked at any fixtures or designs, I’d ask these 5 questions first:
1. CAN I SEE YOUR INSURANCE?
The very first step is to eliminate the risk of an under-insured or non-documented crew working on your property. If there is an accident, make sure you won’t be at any risk. You should ask for verification of active liability insurance coverage of at least $5,000,000, and up-to-date Workers compensation coverage and WSIB.
2. DO YOU SUB-CONTRACT ANY WORK?
Many general landscape contractors use third parties to do the actual work, and this is often the case with outdoor lighting. But then you have no assurance of who will actually be working on your property and what their qualifications are. Plus it leads to “finger pointing” if something goes wrong. I’d strongly advise you to only consider companies that have their own on-staff designers, installers, and maintenance crew.
3. IS OUTDOOR LIGHTING YOUR ONLY BUSINESS?
A lot of companies just dabble in outdoor lighting, especially when times are slow. But think of it this way: no matter how great your plumber is, you wouldn’t hire them to do your interior decorating. Companies that only do lighting part time generally don’t have access to the highest quality fixtures, nor the same range of solutions. Instead, they’re likely to want to sprinkle the same bullet lights everywhere — the old “I only have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail” problem.
4. WHO STANDS BEHIND YOUR WARRANTY?
A warranty is only as good as the company backing it up. Ask how long the company has been in business, but just as importantly ask what happens if they go out of business? Is there a national or international network in place to back up their warranty and continue service?
5. DO YOU OFFER A NIGHTTIME DEMONSTRATION?
Outdoor lighting is a highly visual thing. Not long after installation, your fixtures will become invisible to you during the day. But the nighttime effect is always front and centre. Seeing the actual proposed lighting effects, at night, right on your own property, can sometimes be the only way to be sure the design is right for you. Don’t rely on a 3D rendered walkthrough, either, since those are notoriously inaccurate compared to how the actual effects will look in person.
Only after asking all 5 of the above questions would I want to see any fixtures or start talking about designs. If you can’t get the right answers to the above, it’s better just to look somewhere else (such as one of the 60 Outdoor Lighting Perspectives locations all across the United States).
Of course, if you need outdoor lighting in the Greater Toronto Area then you can get great answers to all of the above questions if you give us a call. Just saying.
There are real advantages to using quality outdoor landscape lighting wire. Quality wire will save you both money and time. But how can you tell the good stuff from the bad? Here are 5 easy tips for selecting high quality wire for outdoor lights.
Technically, any 2-strand wire (even speaker cables!) could be used for outdoor lighting. But you wouldn’t want to use just anything, because you’ll end up with problems such as uneven lighting due to voltage drops, and electrical shorts which can be a real pain to track down and fix.
As a rule of thumb, for landscape lighting projects you’ll want to use UL-listed “12/2 wire” (in other words: 12 gauge wire, with 2 strands). But the aisles are full of wire all claiming to be great for outdoor lighting. How can you spot the good stuff?
Here are 5 things to look for when selecting your outdoor landscape lighting wire:
1. DIRECT BURIAL
Wire labeled as “direct burial” or “underground” is specifically designed for installing underground where it will be exposed to the elements. The water and chemicals in soil will eat away at the insulation sheath, and direct burial wire better withstands this year round attack. Specifically important here in Canada, direct burial wire will much better resist stiffening and cracking due to cold. Look for the words “direct bury” or “underground” printed right on the wire.
2. SUNLIGHT RESISTANT
You might wonder why you need your wire to resist UV rays when it’ll be underground? Because it’s easy for you or your gardener to expose a small length of wire when turning your soil. Often this goes unnoticed since it’s black wire against dark soil or mulch. The sun will attack that exposed length of wire, which causes polymerization. In layman’s terms, it’ll turn the insulation sheath into goo. That can lead to corrosion and short circuits which are maddeningly hard to track down. Look for the words “sunlight resistant” or “UV resistant” printed on the wire.
3. HIGHER VOLTAGE CAPACITY
A quality wire should be rated for a much higher voltage than you will ever expect it to handle. Higher voltage ratings are not just good safety, they’re a handy rule of thumb to separate the quality landscape wire from the low grade stuff. Look for wire that says it’s rated to handle 150V, and as with all these tips only trust the words printed directly on the wire itself not just the claims of salespeople and web site. Look for a higher voltage rating such as “150V” printed on the wire.
Some wire is far more flexible than others, and often a good strong UV-resistant sheath makes a wire hard to bend. This makes snaking the wire around your garden much more difficult. Look for a highly flexible wire with a PVC sheath that’s very pliable. Unfortunately, if you’re buying from a big box store you often have to choose between quality and flexibility. A professional outdoor lighting provider can supply you with wire that is both strongly UV-resistant and highly pliable. Flexing the wire by hand is the only way to test this for yourself, which makes buying wire over the internet more difficult.
5. DISTANCE MARKERS
Part of a successful outdoor light design is taking into account zones of fixtures, so you can evenly distribute voltage. This is true for both LED and halogen, although halogen bulb are more dramatically affected by “voltage drop”. Any quality wire will have distance numbers printed every foot so you can keep track of wire lengths when you are load-balancing your system back at the transformer. Look for distances printed every foot along the wire.
Pictured to the right is an example of a high quality landscape lighting wire that meets all 5 of the above criteria. Click the photo to see how the details are printed right on the wire itself.
It’s relatively easy to replace an outdoor light fixture if it gets damaged, but when the problem is a tiny crack in a wire “somewhere” on your property, it can take hours of frustrating digging to hunt down the problem.
You’ll save a lot of time in the long run if you use quality wire for your outdoor lighting.
Outdoor landscape lighting wire is available from many places, including big box stores, electrical supply shops, some landscapers and sprinkler companies, and of course from professional outdoor lighting installers such as Outdoor Lighting Perspectives in Toronto.
Outdoor landscape light bulbs generally come in two kinds: LED and halogen. A quality LED outdoor bulb can have a “rated life” many thousands of hours longer than a halogen bulb, but what does that mean for real-world expectations?
One factor that affects the life of your landscape light bulbs is whether you run them from dusk to dawn or just from dusk until a fixed time (e.g. dusk to midnight).
Here are some rule-of-thumb rough numbers for LED outdoor lightbulb life expectations for landscape lighting in the Greater Toronto Area, based on rated bulb life, average dusk/dawn times here in the GTA, and our years of experience:
LED bulbs, Dusk to Dawn = 5-10 years
LED bulbs, Dusk to Midnight = 8-15 years
LED bulb packages often claim even longer lifespans than that, but many LED bulbs are using technologies that haven’t even been around as long as their lifespan claims, so everybody is just estimating at this stage. For instance, the LED bulbs we currently use claim an expected lifespan of 60,000 hours (25+ years if operated from dusk to midnight), but only time will tell.
One thing I’ve noticed is that LED bulb life claims keep going up and up, even when the bulbs themselves are unchanged; the only difference is the number of hours printed on the box, which makes me a little dubious. Also, even with longer and longer claimed lifespans, the warranties seem to stay at 5 years. Hmmm.
Turning to traditional long-life halogen bulbs (which claim anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 hours expected life), here are our expectations for their real-world working lifespans, again based on our years of experience:
Halogen bulbs, Dusk to Dawn = 1-2 years
Halogen bulbs, Dusk to Midnight = 2-3 years
Those of you with halogen bulbs are probably probably thinking “I’ve had my bulbs for many years and they still all work great!” But one factor to keep in mind is the way in which halogen bulbs fail. LED bulbs usually fail in one step (basically they work one day and fully stop working the next). On the other hand, halogen bulbs usually fail slowly over time. Sometimes they suddenly stop working if they are damaged or completely burn out, but more often they just slowly become dimmer and more yellow over time. It’s so slow you might not even notice, until you change the bulb and suddenly WOW it’s so much brighter.
So you might think your current halogen bulbs are working great, but you may be surprised at how much dimmer and more yellow they are compared to that first night.
That’s why we recommend changing halogen bulbs even when they are still technically lighting up at night. You should change halogen bulbs every year (for dusk to dawn systems) or at most every two years (for dusk to midnight systems). That way your outdoor lights will always look fresh and new.
There’s a sneaky secret in outdoor lighting that the bulb manufacturers don’t want you to know: the way “lumens” is used for light bulbs is effectively a meaningless term.
To explain that, let’s talk about candy bars for a moment. If one candy bar weighs 300 grams, and another one weighs only 200 grams, then we can be sure the 300 gram one is heavier. Labels can’t lie about the weight, and “grams” has a specific real-world meaning.
This is because a “gram” is one of the International System of Units, which also includes things like “second” for time and “ampere” for electrical current. This way, we can all agree how long a second is, and that there are 60 of them in an hour, etc. No funny business.
But imagine if “grams” wasn’t a standard. One candy maker could say their candy bars were 600 grams, but you wouldn’t really know what that means. Would a 600 gram “Chocolate Monkey Bar” be more or less than a 400 gram “Bubblelicious Yummy Snack”? You couldn’t tell, and it wouldn’t be fair.
Well when it comes to light bulb packaging, “lumens” might as well be a made up word too. One brand’s “300 lumens” might be less bright than another brand’s “200 lumens”, and both depend on the shape of the bulb, the nature of the lens, and even the fixture it the bulb gets put into.
Lumens does have a fixed specific meaning (in fact it’s a “derived SI term”), but in real world use there’s no way to know how bright a fixture of a certain amount of lumens will actually appear in practice. So it may as well be a made up word.
For outdoor lights in particular it’s a tricky thing, since what we really care about is how bright a given surface or area ends up appearing to a viewer, not how much light is sent out in all directions from a bulb. A directional lamp (such as a spot light) will appear much brighter to your eye than one that casts a general area effect (such as a post light).
Even things like lux (lumens per meter) and foot candles (lumens per foot) can be slippery characters when it comes to package claims too. These terms should be a much more accurate way of expressing how bright a light will appear to you. But alas the reality is the output from most bulbs is not “measured” but just “calculated” (which really means “guessed at”).
All these words can still often be useful when comparing the brightness of one bulb to the next, but really only when comparing two bulbs of the same kind, from the same manufacturer, in the same light fixture, shining on the same surface. And even then, it’s not like you can count on anything other than “higher means brighter”. You can’t assume that 200 lumens will appear twice as bright as 100 lumens, only that 200 will look brighter than 100. Probably.
So the next time you are shopping for light bulbs, be skeptical of brightness claims. That no-name bulb with “500 estimated lumens” might not be such a bright idea after all.