We've made you a list of the most common mistakes professionals make, so that you don't have to! Plus, we'll give you the tips and solutions for these mistakes too.
1. Designing Without a Budget
“I want it all lit up!” or “Do whatever you want, you are the professional!”
It's true, a couple times in our careers we might get clients that will give us “carte blanc” (or complete control over their project with an "unlimited budget"). But it's not unheard of that we could still shock them with the cost of the project. This mistake could be a huge time waster for you.
Let's paint a picture: you travel to the job site, take photos, and draw some sketches. You get home and think about your designs, tweaking them until they're perfect. You draw them out, maybe even throw in a 3D render. You did a butt kicking design job and this outdoor space is going to look beautiful. Well done!
You present your designs to the client and they are absolutely shocked at the cost. This isn't what they were expecting the cost to be, and now they're not sure they want to proceed with your designs.
The Fix: Give a Landscape Lighting Cost Estimate
Even if they do not want to give you a budget, talk to the client first about minimum costs to install landscape lighting: things like cable, a transformer, lights and labor. If they are happy with that, congrats! You've dodged Mistake #1.
2. Trying To Do Too Much, With Too Little
If there is one trap we all get caught in, this is it.
Maybe the homeowner did not want the lighting to begin with, perhaps you're a new outdoor lighting professional, or possibly you were just a bit too nice.
In this scenario you want nothing but the best and to ‘wow’ the client. You stretched their budget as far as you could. You lit up as much as you could by spreading out lights over the entire project.
What a fail! You (and the client) were left with an underwhelming landscape dotted with lights and no real effect.
The Fix: Design a Landscape Lighting Plan
Do not spread out the lights!
Advise the homeowner of the bigger overall plan. Paint the picture of how the landscape and/or deck lighting will change the look and feel of their outdoor space entirely; how it will be used and enjoyed. Explain to them that with their budget it is better to focus on highlighting one or two key elements or areas, to achieve the best results.
These projects should be planned out in phases – making sure to inform the homeowner that they can always add on to the other elements or areas in the project later. Trust us, they will love you for this and they will always come back for more!
3. We Didn’t Plan For That!
There we were, installing a project that we had designed and along came the ‘tweak’, the ‘add on’, the ‘project change’. It has happened on almost every project we have worked on. We're sure it's happened to you too.
That's not the problem, though. We're the experts and we know the quick solution. We can add on, change the project, and tweak it... No problem! Except maybe there is one...
We check our tool bag only to notice we don't have the required accessories or materials to make these changes.
The Fix: Don't Be Caught Short ‒ Bring Extra Accessories
These accessories will often save time and money in lieu of adding expensive cable runs to the project.
4. Now If We Could Just Find That Wire
There are two situations that we can talk about where we want to avoid the same scenario: we have to make a change to a project and now we can't find the cable.
Situation 1: We did a great job; we did an amazing job. So good in fact the homeowner called us back wanting to expand on the job the next year. Spectacular- we thought. Until we got on site and could not recall where all the wires were buried. We had drawn 47 jobs that year and had no clue where the wires were on this specific project.
Situation 2: We were called back to a large project to troubleshoot an issue with their in-lite system. We spent 3 of 4 hours trying to locate and separate cable runs to troubleshoot.
Our time would have been cut by 75% if there was a cable plan. Over time, if you have a failure, this is when you will remember reading about the mistakes we have made.
The Fix: Be Flexible
Be sure to keep both a design and working copy of your lighting diagram. Remember Mistake #3 and that changes from your design are inevitable. It is good practice to leave a copy (or two) with the homeowner, so that you are easily able to locate cable runs and faster troubleshoot the issue. Or, when you go back to add more lights, you know exactly where you can tap into the existing wires!
5. All Hooked-Up But No Power
It has happened on a few occasions during an install and/or addition to an existing project that the lights just don’t come on.
The Fix: Check for Voltage Issues
Using a Voltage Meter, set it to 120v setting and check for any voltage drops or voltage issues (this is the quickest and fastest way to check for power). We will often check the voltage in this order:
a) At the transformer – it should read 11.7-12.5v,
b) At the end of any cable run (if I have access to it) – we will often do this if there are a large amount of lights on the run, and
c) At any CC-2 Connector to see if there is power getting to the new run – if power is detected on the main line, and the CC-2 is connected, you should see 11.7-12.5v on the new run off the CC-2
6. My Lights Keep Turning Off
You are wrapping up the install, things look fantastic, one final check and you are on you way home.
You wait anxiously for the client to send "the night shots" and suddenly the text comes in. "Why do my lights keep shutting off? We have reset the transformer but they only stay on for a few minutes (or less) before shutting off!"
Suddenly you realize you didn't calculate the capacity (VA) of your system; you've put too many lights on your transformer!
(This often happens when lights are added to an existing system).
The Fix: Calculate Total VA Before You Install
This blog isn't about volt amps (VA), so we won't get into too much detail. But, here’s a quick rundown:
VA measures the potential energy in the system. By limiting the VA we are protecting the fixtures from excess amperage (premature failure). Excess VA will cause your transformer to "trip" and your lights to turn off. To ensure this doesn't happen, simply calculate the load (VA) on each lighting zone and ensure it is within the capacity of the transformer (and/or the tap when using the SMART HUB 150)
You should always calculate the total VA of the lights going onto your system before beginning the install. However, if you forgot, and find you are over the capacity of the tap or the transformer you have a few options:
7. My Easy-Lock Connector Isn’t Working
You've run your cables, the transformer is plugged in, you're getting power through the main line cable, but your lights won't turn on.
The Fix: Check the Easy-Lock
This one is actually quite easy to fix. Most of the time, the Easy-Lock just isn't connected properly.
Make sure you use the wire guide to place the main line cable into the Easy-Lock, and twist it all the way down. If you hear the click or pop sound, that's the Easy-Lock's connection actually popping loose. Twist it a few more times and you should be good!
You also want to ensure that your cable is straight in the Easy-Lock so that the prongs can puncture both sides of the cable!
Also make sure that the Mini-Connector (the lead of the back of the fixture) is plugged in fully to the Easy-Lock. Sometimes it requires an extra little push to really make sure those cables are 100% connected and sealed.
These are some of the common mistakes we see made by lighting professionals, including some of our own, that we thought were worth mentioning. Let us know if there's anything we missed, or anything you wish you would have known before installing lighting for the first time. We'd love to hear your stories! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more installation tips and tricks, check out our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/inliteoutdoorlighting