A: Probably the most obvious difference is most landscape light fixtures purchased locally are lightweight, made of powder coated aluminum, and use lower quality sockets for the bulbs inside the fixture. 99 % of the time our fixtures are made of heavy brass, bronze, or copper. all of those compounds are very good at withstanding the elements, age to beautiful patina, and are excellent at dispersing heat. The internal sockets inside these heavier fixtures also tend to last 20 years or more. Most store bought fixtures we replace tend to have socket failure around 5 years or less.
On retail bought products, we also found that the wire provided in the kits tends to be lighter 16 gauge wire, rather than 12 and 10 gauge wire we use. This lighter gauge wire tends to allow the voltage to drop too low and makes bulbs dim and yellow, rather than white and bright. The connections on retail lights also tend to be "pierce point" rather than waterproof, which causes wire to corode and fail. Connection failure is the number one problem we find.
Finally, most locally purchased transformers tend to be light duty as well, made of steel, and only have one level of voltage output. Our transformers are all stainless steel (to not rust), are very heavy duty (again, 20 plus year lifespan), and have multiple voltage outputs to allow us to provide the perfect voltage to light fixtures, whether they be 5 feet away or 300 foot away.
Q: I already have some landscape lighting, but I am not happy with it. Can you fix what I have, add to my design, or do I have to start over?
A: It depends on the condition and quality of the products that are installed currently, and how they were installed. We usually will start at the transformer to determine the quality of the unit, how much load is on the unit, and to see if it is putting out good voltage. If the unit is good quality, working properly, and is able to provide good voltage to the fixtures regardless of distance from the transformer itself, then we are usually happy to keep that piece. Many times, we will find a good older tranformer, but then...
We look at the wire coming from the transformer and going to the fixtures, and determine if the proper guage and type was used, is it corroded, and did they load the wire with proper amperage, or "watts" of low voltage electricity. This is unfortunately where we find the trouble begins. We would say that, unfortunately, 75-95% of the wire that we inspect is undersized, corroded, or was wired improperly in the initial installation. The connections to the fixture are nearly always the reason wire fails. Water gets to the copper in the wire, begins corrosion and creates resistance in the wire which causes the lights to begin turning yellow to orange from too low of voltage to the bulb. Once this happens, we have to replace the wire, and many times, the lead wires to the fixtures as well if that wire has corrosion all the way to the bulb socket.
We also inspect the fixtures to determine if they are a quality unit. We will check lenses and o-rings, and make a judgement call about the remaining lifetime of a fixture. If it appears the fixture will last 5 years or longer, we will usually try to incorporate it in the design, unless the homeowner wishes to start fresh with new fixtures with a warranty. It seems to be the rule the majority of the time we do an inspection, that we find even top quality fixtures fail due to a lack of maintenance. The bulbs were never changed, the lenses never cleaned, foliage was never trimmed away from the unit, the bulb socket or the o-rings were never lubricated. After a period of only 3 years or so, the best fixture in the world will fail outdoors if not maintained. Also, transformers that cost well over a thousand dollars and are the best made in the world still need to be cleaned out of bugs once per year. Digital timers need new batteries. Photocell lenses get dirty and need cleaned.
The LIghting Master would compare this with a Lexus, Mercedes, or any other very expensive precision automobile. Even though they start out perfect, they still need maintenance, such as a simple oil change, or an air filter change, or they will fail, and fail quickly. We are so adamant about maintaining our systems about every 6 months or yearly, even going so far as to extend a full no questions asked warranty on everything new-bulbs, wire, fixtures, transformers, etc, if we just come out and do a full maintenance on the system once or twice per year.
We do not extend our warranty to older products we keep in a blended new/old system, mainly because the older products went without maintenance for a time and will typically need service more often than a new item that has been kept in great shape. We will try to keep the older items working, maintain them, change bulbs and repair as necessary, and replace older items when needed. Many clients would rather have the warranty, so we install all new equipment. We do have customers that are conscious about saving money, and would rather have us do a blend of maintaing some of the old equipment along with installing a few pieces of new items. The Lighting Master is happy to do either, given that in a blend situation that the items fit the above criteria.