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Archive for the ‘Landscape Lighting & Low Voltage’ Category

Lighting and LEDs – Part 2

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

In the past LEDs in Minnesota, did not work well, they were very expensive and did not melt snow. The prices have come down over the last two years and for a couple of specific uses are now a useful/viable option.

Downlighting out of trees – A costly and time consuming activity is switching out lights that are mounted high up in trees. By switching the lights to LEDs you can forget about having to replace bulbs for a couple of decades.  The only caveat being that you need to make sure you have a good watertight fixture or you risk water damaging your new expensive LED bulbs.

Path or Area Lights – These often use bi-pin style bulbs and manufacturers now have LEDs that will fit most area lights we use.  The biggest savings with these lights is if a system is designed around using LEDs.  If designed for LEDs, the system can use a smaller transformer and wire size, creating potential saving the customer money on the orignal install and on electricity use of the system.

All this comes with the knowledge that LEDs are a still relatively new technology, and it will take some time to see if they really last decades outdoors.

Will Landscape Lighting Work in the Winter? (Photos)

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

A common question I get is, “Will my lights work in the snow?”  Here in the Twin Cities and Minnesota we get a lot of snow each year and it gets piled on top of lighting fixtures.   Any 12 or 24 volt system using up-lights and halogen bulbs will melt snow.  Path lights will not melt large amounts of snow. Up-lights on trees or the side of the house will melt a cone of snow and continue working properly.  These are some pictures of up lights buried in 2 – 3 feet of snow and the result.

Winter is Almost Here – Time to Check Your Lighting

Friday, October 21st, 2011

The Minnesota Winter is almost here and soon temperatures will be dropping below zero.  This is your last call for any repairs to your outdoor lighting systems.  Once the ground freezes it is almost impossible to repair broken or cut electrical lines.  The decreasing daylight hours in the winter means you will see your landscape lighting more now than you have all year.  Nothing is quite as frustrating as having your system down all winter long.

While you are thinking about your lighting, when is the last time you changed the bulbs?  The tree lights are going to be near impossible to change once it snows. Any fixture using an MR 16 (see below) should really be changed once a year and fall is the best time. So go to the local hardware store or lighting supplier and get those bulbs changed before it snows.

How Much Does it Cost to Run Landscape Lighting?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

The answer will vary, and it may be necessary to look at an old electric bill to determine the electric companies’ rate.  Usually the cost of electricity is measured in kilowatt hours.  The average national rate is 11.53 cents per kilowatt hour.  The cost per hour can vary wildly, check out the department of energy here to find out how much your electricity costs.

To find out the monthly cost it will require a little math. First you need to calculate approximately how long it is running per month.  So the average person in the fall would run from dusk to midnight.  Here in Minnesota that is around 6 hours a day so, 6 hour  multiplied my 31 days equals 186 hours.  We then need to decide how big of transformer we are using, a 600 watt transformer could run roughly 10 – 20 lights and is a good size for an average residence.  We will then base our calculations on this size of transformer.

1000 watts = 1 kilowatt

We divide the 600 watts by 1000 to get .6 killowatt hours as our usage

.6 multiplied by 186 gives us 111.6 kilowatt hours for the month.

In Minnesota the average kilowatt hour is 11 cents so we multiply 111.6 by 11 and divide by 100

The cost to run an average sized system in Minnesota is then $12.28 a month.

Timers, Photocells, Sequencers, and Astronomical Timers

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

There are three different methods to activate and deactivate landscape lighting, timer plus a photocell, sequencer, and astronomical timers.

Timers and photocells have been around a while and have an advantage in their simplicity.  The timer is set for an on and off time, the photocell overriding the timer when it senses light.   This setup is usually easy for the anyone who has used a regular timer to understand and adjust.  The downside is, photocells are delicate in nature and can be easily broken.  Another downside is most timers do not have battery operated backups, causing many homeowners to believe the system has malfunction when in fact the timer is no longer set properly.  Sometimes photocells in Minnesota can have problems with blowing snow obstructing the lens. This causes the lights to go on earlier than they should and waste electricity lighting up an already bright outdoors.

Photocells can vary in sensitivity and if two transformers are used at one residence they might never detect dusk at precisely the same time.  In this situation a sequencer can be used to control both transformers.  The sequencer at a secondary transformer takes input from the primary timer/photocell to go on and off at precisely the same time as the first transformer.   This solution works well when transformers are in close physical proximity to each other.  Transformers are often placed in different locations because of lack of access or the impracticality of running all the lights from one location.  Sometime a remote trigger such as X-10 or other wireless devices are used to give control over multiple transformers.

A much more inexpensive solution than a X-10 module is an astronomical timer.  Astronomical timers work by having the sunrise and sunset times for all locations programmed in the timer.  There is no light sensitive part on the timer and the can have finer adjustments made to start times and end times with dozens of different programmed events.   Astronomical timers have the major advantage of being more exact than photocell/timer combos.  Astronomical timers have a batter back up so if a power outage occurs the device still functions properly.  Outdoor timers can also have two a drawback is more technologically challenged individuals will have a harder time adjusting the timer.

There are always unique situations but generally astronomical timers provide the best value and the least hassle for homeowners.