Landscape Lighting FAQ

The experts at Garrett Churchill have compiled some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to Landscape Lighting.

Are All Fixtures The Same?

In short, no. Garrett Churchill are proponents of solid material fixtures that resist the elements.

Garrett Churchill has installed CAST Lighting Systems, P.M. Lighting Systems, and Alliance Outdoor Lighting Systems.

Recently, Garrett Churchill was named a certified dealer for Coastal Source. Their approach is completely different and includes solid brass fixtures. Fixtures from Coastal Source have been tested in harsh environments and continually stand the test of time.

Coastal Source is the only manufacturer that makes an all-brass fixture so there are no set screws to bind up in the fixture.

Is All Wire The Same?

Wire sizing is a key component of the system if a halogen lighting system is chosen. With new LED systems, wire size is not quite as critical yet the wire itself still plays an important role in the longevity and function of a lighting system.

  • Standard Wire Sized For The System – OK
  • No Ox Tin-Coated Copper Wire – Better
  • Coastal Source wire w/ coastal connectors – Best

Coastal Source uses a no oxygen (no ox) wire coated with tin and two protective jackets to limit the chance of damaging the wire and exposing it to the elements.

The flow of energy through the wire can be negatively impacted if the wire begins to corrode. Wire corrosion begins when the wire is nicked or pierced – allowing water and oxygen to enter the copper. This is the main reason better wires are treated with tin.

Are All Wire Connectors The Same?

Landscape lighting - wire nut

Finished wire nut.

The type of connection you make has a big impact on the resistance created as the system ages.

  • Wire Piercing Connections or Wire Nuts & Electrical Tape – Poor
  • Crimp Fittings w/ Heat Shrink Tubing – Good
  • Silicone-Filled Wire Nuts – Better
  • Coastal Source Connector – Best

Wire piercing or not completely sealing a connection from moisture and oxygen will lead to a connection that degrades over time. It will not allow energy to pass through it as effectively as it did when it was first installed, leading to lower voltages at the light which impacts the effectiveness of a halogen system.

Using wire nuts filled with silicone keeps the elements out of the connection. Assuming the connection was made correctly (and as tightly as possible), that means all the wire and some of the jacket are encased in the silicone.

Coastal Source connector

High quality Coastal Source connector.

The Coastal Source connector is a marine-grade connector. All wire comes in precut lengths with the connectors already installed so there is no chance of failure or corrosion. The wire and the connections have been tested by submerging them in salt water for years with no failure.

How Can I Tell The Difference In LED Lamps?

Different manufactures use different chips and the quality varies.

The original LED landscape lights had an integrated LED lamp. The integration meant there was no way to service the fixture, so if it went bad, you had to throw away the entire fixture and replace it.

LED technology has continued to evolve. LED replacement lamps can now be used to replace halogen bulbs or be put into lighting systems from the beginning.

When selecting lamps, make sure they are rated to be used outside and understand the operating ranges. LED lamps can operate under a wide range of voltage and produce the same light output which is a nice feature on longer wire runs.

There are a number of benefits to LED Lighting Systems:

  1. Less Energy Use – You won’t see much of an increase on your utility bill.
  2. Easier Upgrades – LED lamps can replace halogen lamps in an existing system and allow you to add more fixtures to an existing transformer.
  3. Long Life – Lamps last longer, reducing the time and cost associated with replacing halogen bulbs.
  4. Safer – Lamps operate at lower temperatures so there is less of a chance someone would be burned if they touch a fixture or starting a fire if there is a lot of organic debris piled around a fixture.

LED may end up costing a bit more up front depending on the system you wish to install. The good news is you will save money over the life of the system with lower energy bills. Due to the energy use, a smaller transformer with smaller gauge wire can be used.

Light output is measured in Lumens and Kelvins.

Lumens measures the amount of light and Kelvins reflect the temperature of the light or the color of the light.

Years ago, LED lights had a blue color to them that made their use unappealing. Today, with Kelvin ranges comparable to halogen, it’s very difficult to tell the difference with the two side-by-side.

Not all LEDs are created equal. LED lamps are composed of electrical components – a housing, chips, and light emitting diodes. The housing helps control the temperature and protect the components housed within it. The chips are critical in the Lumen output per watt used and the color of the light. If you got three different LED lamps from three different manufactures, and measured the lumen output per watt you would get three different results and this is a direct reflection of the chip.

  • Alliance LED – 5W, 310 Lumen
  • Brilliance LED – 5W, 380 Lumen
  • Coastal Source LED – 6W, 492 Lumen
Trenching to install landscape lighting wire

Trenching for installation.

How Deep Does Wire Need To Be Buried?

Low voltage lighting wire does not need to be buried 18″ deep or put in conduit like household current wire because there is no hazard of electrocution. That said, burying wire at certain depths can help eliminate damage to the wire.

In lawn areas, Garrett Churchill buries wire a minimum of 6″ so the wire isn’t damaged by lawn aeration. In planting beds, wire does not have to be that deep.

Does System Documentation Matter?

Picture documentation of wire installation.

Picture documentation of wire installation.

It is important to document the location of the wires so anyone digging has an idea of where they are. Documentation also gives a technician the ability to find wires quickly and troubleshoot any problems in the system.