Serving Toronto, Oakville, Mississauga, Newmarket, and the greater 905 area
15 Romina Dr, Concord, L4K4Z9
Mar 20 2017

We service all outdoor lighting systems

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Toronto service van
Click to view full size

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.

Aug 30 2016

Encapsulated LED bulbs

When it comes to Bi-Pin LED bulbs, along with various size and brightness differences there are two general categories to choose from: encapsulated and non-encapsulated. So, what’s the difference and why would you want one or the other?

Encapsulated LED bulb (on left)

Bi-Pin bulbs (the kind with the two small pins that stick directly into a socket) are a mainstay of landscape lighting fixtures. Bi-Pins are the usual bulbs for pathway lights or other fixtures that are non-directional. Unlike a directional bulb, such as an MR16, a non-directional bulb just send the light out in all directions. Perfect for pathway lighting and when you want a wide effect, such as a wall wash, but not so great for spot lights.

Pictured above are two different Bi-Pin bulbs that give off the same lighting effect. They are both the same pin-size, the same wattage, the same lumens. At night, their effects look pretty much identical. They differ in only one respect: the bulb on the left is encapsulated, and the bulb on the right is not.

An encapsulated bulb is encased in clear silicone. The silicone is soft to the touch, almost spongy. Unlike halogen bulbs that shouldn’t be touched by bare hands (due to oil deposits from your fingers), encapsulated LED bulbs are okay to handle without gloves.

The main point of the encapsulation is wet weather protection. Encapsulated bulbs shouldn’t automatically be considered submersible, but they are water tight and suitable for wet location use. Also, they are pretty much a requirement around salt water or salty air. Encapsulated bulbs are also generally better at withstanding vibration and swings in ambient temperature.

Not just for the boat, but also the dock and pier lighting.
Click to view full size

You should always use encapsulated bulbs for any fixtures on boats, docks, near back yard water features, etc. Think of how many of your own path lights are directly in the path of pop-up sprinklers, or near pathways/driveways that get salted in winter. But there’s no downside to using them in any fixture, so they are increasingly the standard as cost for encapsulating comes down.

It will likely be the case eventually that all LED Bi-Pin bulbs will be encapsulated. The only thing holding them back is cost, but that cost is coming down.

There’s no reason to go out today and replace your still-working non-encapsulated bulbs with encapsulated ones. But once your bulbs start to fail or dim, you should upgrade to encapsulated LEDs at that time. That’s especially true in places like here in Toronto where large seasonal temperature differences and high lakeside humidity can really affect outdoor LED bulb life.

Aug 29 2016

Light bulb colour temperature

You probably have heard the terms “warm white” and “cool white” referring to light bulb colour (or “color” for our American friends). But what does that really mean? And how does it help you select which colour light bulbs you’d prefer for outdoor lighting?

The scale of light colours from red to blue is called the “colour temperature“, and usually expressed in Kelvin, using the symbol K. For instance, a bulb colour might be referred to as “3,000 K”. Lower numbers are “warmer” and higher numbers are “cooler”. In other words, lower numbers are more red, and higher number are more blue.

To illustrate the differences, here are some light sources and their typical matching colour temperatures:

Colour Temperature Example Light Source
1,850 K Sunrise/sunset or a candle flame
2,400 K Incandescent bulbs
2,700 K “Soft white” bulb
3,000 K “Warm white” bulb
4,100 K Moonlight
5,000 K “Cool white” bulb
5,500 K Noon sunlight
6,000 K Direct sunlight
7,000 K Overcast sky
5,500 K Clear blue sky

Those are all typical approximate values, and they all can vary. Also, the colours you see in the chart above will be affected by your monitor settings, ambient colour in the room you’re sitting in now, etc. But the chart gives you an idea of warm and cool colours in relation to each other.

Which colour is best for outdoor lighting? Well, there is no “best”, there’s only what appeals to you personally.

Most people opt for soft white or warm white colours (that is, 2,700 K or 3,000 K) for their outdoor landscape lighting. These warm colours have a hint of firelight in them, and they can feel inviting and attractive. They compliment most stone and hardscape colours, and usually look pleasant against the “Earth tones” you’ll find in most gardens.

Some people prefer a cool white colour, especially if the lighting is more for security or for checking there aren’t any raccoons outside before you let the dog out.

As a rule of thumb, any colour that is cooler/bluer than the ambient light will seem to “pop” or stand out more, which is very good for security lighting but can be a touch stark for general aesthetic lighting. So for outdoor lighting design, colours cooler than moonlight (above 4,100 K) are less typical for landscape lighting.

But it’s all just personal preference, and if you want your lights as bright as possible then choosing a cooler colour can make them stand out more and add to apparent brightness.

One thing to keep in mind is landscape and architectural lights are cast upon subjects that have their own colour: green leaves, red flowers, grey stones, etc. It’s the mix of bulb colour PLUS subject colour that you actually see. Landscape lighting design should take into account the colour that results when the light illuminates an object, not the just colour coming out of the bulb.

The only rule (and it’s really just a rule of thumb) is do not mix lamp colours in your design, at least not without purpose. If some of your lights are 2,700 K and some are 5,000 K then your lighting design might have a patchwork feel to it. It’s typically better to select one colour and use that throughout your landscape. The objects in your landscape will add in their own colours, and the resulting shades will feel more natural.

Incandescent coach lights and warm white up-lights
Click to view full size

If you already have exterior house lights, such as coach lights or the dreaded “pot lights”, then you’ll probably want your landscape lighting to match the colour of your existing bulbs for a seamless effect. The image to the right is a “before” example showing why matching bulbs is important. A quick bulb change later, and the effect was seamless and lovely.

That said, if you just have one or two exterior lights by your door or garage, then if their current colour doesn’t appeal to you it makes more sense to change those few bulbs rather than committing your entire landscape lighting to something less attractive.

Old LED fixtures were notorious for having very blue light, often 7,000 K or above, and that made them very unattractive on landscapes. Low quality LED lamps today can still have that problem, and many (perhaps even most) solar lights still are that unattractive harsh blue. But a quality outdoor lamp will usually be available in a range of warmer colour temperatures.

Unfortunately, just like with their dubious claims of higher and higher lumens, bulb brands can not always be trusted with their colour temperature claims. One brand’s 3,000 K can look different than another’s, and many brands apply the term “warm white” to just about everything under the sun (literally). An outdoor lighting professional can supply you with bulbs that truly match the colour you want. In fact they should be able to come look at your existing bulbs and supply you with matching replacements, or suggest changes for a more attractive effect. But if you’re getting bulbs from a big box store, you might want to buy just a couple to view at night before you commit to a bulk purchase.

Aug 18 2016

How to install path lights so they don’t lean over

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 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.

How to mount a path light
Click to view full size

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.


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!).

Installing copper garden lightsANNUAL 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.

Aug 17 2016

The 5 questions to ask any outdoor lighting company

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:

Discuss your lighting goals on-site with designers


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.

Aug 15 2016

Top 5 Outdoor Lighting Wire Tips

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:

Spools of wire for outdoor landscape lighting
Spools of outdoor wire
(Click to view full size)


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.


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.


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.


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.

High quality outdoor light wire
High quality outdoor light wire
(Click to view full size)

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.

Jul 21 2016

How long do outdoor light bulbs last?

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?

Upgrade outdoor lights to LEDOne 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

Encapsulated and non-encapsulated LED bulbs
Encapsulated LED bulbs (left) last longer

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.

Jul 11 2016

Be picky when picking a transformer

Since LED bulbs use so much less electricity than traditional halogen bulbs, the overall electrical draw of typical outdoor lighting systems has gone down a lot. That makes very small cheap transformers tempting to use. After all, why install a 300W transformer if you need less than 50W total for your lights?

Well, here’s why:

There’s a lot more to a low voltage transformer than just it’s total power rating. And cheap, low-wattage transformers are cheap for reasons beyond just lower quality materials. They also skimp on important features.

Let’s compare 3 popular styles of low voltage transformer, and see if I can talk you out of considering 2 of them.

Outdoor Lighting Transformers With Manual Dial TimerOne style of low cost transformer is the “egg timer” style such as the one pictured above. These typically are black painted metal, which means they eventually fade, peel, and rust is a concern. I can’t even estimate how many rusted, broken versions of this kind of transformer we have removed and replaced from properties (none of them were originally installed by us).

A more immediate concern is their integrated manual timer. These plastic rotating timers have a lot of downsides: they don’t change for daylight saving time, they aren’t smart enough to know when dusk/dawn are, and they get out of synch whenever there is a power outage however brief. Also, if you rotate them the wrong way the plastic “gears” inside will break, effectively ruining your transformer.

They often put out “noisy” current, bouncing over and under 12V, and usually have just a single tap (connector for your wires) which is not just awkward for installing but also means you can’t “amp out” or balance the electrical load among your various lights and zones.

Basically, that style of transformer is a perfect example of paying very little and getting what you pay for.

Outdoor Lighting Transformers With Digital TimerAnother common style of low voltage transformer is the “digital integrated” style, like the one shown above. These are also typically made of black painted metal to keep costs down (with all the downsides as above).

This style avoids the plastic egg timer problem by including a basic digital timer, but again it’s an integrated timer which can be a point of failure that ruins your complete transformer. This kind of timer is also highly limited, with only “stay on for X hours” settings rather than specific time control, which is inconvenient especially in Canada where our dusk times vary hugely from Summer to Winter. Most people want their lights to come on at dusk and go off at a fixed time, for instance midnight, but if that’s what you want these transformers can’t provide it.

Speaking of dusk, these transformers usually include an “electronic eye” to turn on when it gets dark, but that means the transformer has to be placed somewhere in sunlight and cannot be hidden away inside sheds, garages, or under decks where they’d be out of sight. Also, these electronic eyes can be fooled by leaves falling on them, or car lights shining on them. They are prone to fail, and even when they work they are inconveniently unpredictable.

In short, this is a low cost style of transformer were you get (barely) what you pay for, with lots of inconveniences.

Both of the above styles share another big downside: they only have 12V connectors, and usually just one of them. You might think that’s okay, since outdoor lights are typically 12V. However, the longer the wire the more resistance, which drops the voltage. It’s important to be able to start the voltage higher at the transformer so that by the time it reaches the actual fixture it’s at 12V. That means you often need multiple lines starting at different voltages, so that across your landscape each fixture receives the correct final voltage.

Stainless Steel Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting TransformerA third style improves on the above in all ways. These are stainless steel, so no worries about paint fading or rust. They have multiple taps from 12V up to 15V or more, so each fixture gets the right final voltage. Plus they have have low voltage circuit breakers for safety and to protect the transformer from electrical shorts.

And instead of an integrated timer they have a place to plug in a range of smart timers. That means you can select the right kind for you, including low cost digital timers that understand dusk, dawn, times, self-change for daylight saving, include a 7+ day battery backup, and more. Plus because they use an internal, removable timer, then if the timer fails you haven’t lost your whole transformer. Also, such smart timers know when dusk and dawn are without the need for an electronic eye, so you can have “on at dusk” settings but still tuck your transformer into a shed, garage, or under a deck. You can also seamlessly add these transformers to a complete home automation system. And you can upgrade the timer as your needs change.

This style of stainless steel professional transformers cost a little more than the cheap black ones from big box stores, but their long-life, safety, expandability, and convenience are more than worth it.

Those are some of the many reasons why you should not settle for a low quality black painted transformer. And remember, even if a transformer is rated at 300W or more, it’ll only draw the actual electrical needs of your lighting system. So it is not wasteful to have a transformer with a higher capacity than you currently need — and a lot less wasteful than disposing of or recycling a whole transformer because of a broken plastic egg timer!

It certainly pays to be picky when picking your transformer.

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting Transformers



Jul 08 2016

Lumens lies

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.

Money LightbulbWell 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.