Solar vs. Wired Landscape Lighting Systems: Which is Best for Your Clients?

Solar vs. Wired Landscape Lighting Systems: Which is Best for Your Clients?

There’s no denying that the solar lighting industry is booming. With so many solar products available, it begs the question: is solar the future of landscape lighting?  

It's a good question, because as a landscape lighting installer, your business lives or dies on customer satisfaction. There will alwaybe budget-minded customers who try to insist on solar. Plus, installing solar lights is fast, easy and cheap, so it’s got the makings of a very profitable project. 

But there’s another side to this story -- one that’s not all sunshine.  

Ultimately, solar lighting has many, many disadvantages that make it a poor option for even the most green-minded, budget-conscious customers. And the problems with solar lighting reflect directly back on your reputation as an installer. 

So let’s take a deep dive into the differences between solar lighting and wired low voltage landscape lighting so you can make an informed choice.

1. Solar Landscape Lighting Systems Explained: Pros and Cons

Solar Lighting Cost & Convenience 

Solar lighting's primary appeal is its affordability.  

The price to install solar landscape lighting is significantly lower than wired landscape lighting. There are no wires or transformers needed, and since solar doesn't use electricity, the operating cost is zero.  

As well, the supplies that are needed to manufacture solar lighting systems are less expensive than those for wired lighting systems, so the product cost is lower. This makes solar lighting a convenient and appealing option for homeowners on a budget, even after factoring in your markup. 

So long as solar landscape lights are installed under direct sunlight, they will provide a somewhat consistent and affordable source of light.

Solar Landscape Lighting Installation & Maintenance 

Modern solar landscape lighting systems are wireless and contain the working parts within the unit for seamless usage. The solar panels are installed in the very top of the light fixtures, while the batteries are placed in the body of the fixture that is stuck in the ground or mounted on a wall/post.  

The main installation concern is ensuring that the placement is able to receive direct and adequate sunlight in order for the system to perform effectively. The sunlight is what charges the battery and enables the lighting to turn on once it is dark outside. 

Solar lighting is often thought of as environmentally friendly, but they do contain batteries that must be changed and properly disposed of on a regular basis. 

Aside from battery changes, the maintenance required for upkeep on solar lighting systems is minimal. Since they are self-contained units, solar lights only require periodical wipe downs to dust off dirt, moisture and debris. Changing the battery out periodically as well is critical in the maintenance of solar lighting systems.  

Understanding the Benefits of Solar Landscape Lighting Systems

Solar landscape lighting is an inexpensive outdoor lighting source with minimal maintenance and installation requirements.

  • Easy to install. With no wires, it’s easy to install them in the ground, on a fence post, or practically anywhere that you desire – with one big exception. For solar lights to work, they need to be exposed to direct sunlight for hours during the day. There’s also a convenience factor: your customers won’t have to set timers or reminders to ensure they turn off the landscape lighting once the sun comes up. 

  • Eco-friendly. Solar energy does not produce gases, fumes, carbon emissions or pollution and contributes to making earth conscious household decisions. Solar landscape lights do, however, contain batteries that are a hazardous waste.
  • Affordable. Besides being environmentally friendly, solar lights are also inexpensive to buy and to run, requiring no additional electricity.

Problems with Solar Landscape Lighting Systems

Solar lighting offers some neat benefits, but as a landscape lighting installer, it is crucial to recognize the potential cons as well.  

Solar landscape lights have some serious shortcomings that could adversely affect your reputation if you install them. 

  • Solar lighting has a big weather problem. Unless you’re located in a region with reliable sunlight year-round, then this landscape lighting option is not going to meet your customers’ landscape lighting needs. The tiny, cheap solar panels that sit on top of solar landscape lights are only able to collect light during the daytime and when the sun is at its brightest point, uncovered by the clouds. Solar lighting is therefore completely unpredictable and unreliable. 

  • Low-quality materials equal low-quality light. Solar lights are often manufactured with cheap flimsy plastic and lamps that simply are not professional-grade. The brightness of the light is often poor, leaving the average solar powered path light giving off just a few measly lumens of light. By comparison, the average 3-watt LED low-voltage path light gives off 350-400 times more lumens than the solar lighting can. The light emitted from solar lights often isn’t strong enough to even illuminate the elements (such as plants or fences) around them, and simply produce a weak glow that doesn’t actually highlight anything in the outdoor space. 
  • The color temperature is off. Low-quality solar lamps not only give off a very low amount of light, but they also tend to emit a harsh, blueish-white light registering extremely cool on the kelvin temperature scale.
  • Changing batteries is a pain. The battery capacity of the solar light systems runs very low, which means your customers will have to switch out the old batteries for new ones more often than they would prefer (surely they’d prefer never to have to deal with this!) 

As you’ve probably guessed, the single biggest disadvantage of solar landscape lighting systems is weather dependency. If you have a super rainy, overcast, or dark winter, the charging time will be reduced and result in a low run time for lighting.  

Yes, your budget-minded customers think solar lighting is brilliant in theory. But what will they think when their solar deck lights go out every rainy day -- just when they need the light most to keep from tripping and falling?  

How will they like changing the batteries in their path lights one-by-one at the start of every season? 

And think of the effect it will have on your overall landscape design. No matter how well thought out and creatively designed a landscape may be, without good lighting, it will never reach its full potential. 

Think carefully about how these grievances would reflect on you and your reputation as a landscape lighting installer. Then, think twice about switching to solar.

2. Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Systems Explained: Pros and Cons

We’ve covered the pros and cons of solar landscape lighting systems, and now we’ll get into the nitty gritty of low voltage wired lighting: the good, the bad, and what low voltage lighting has to offer for your customers’ landscape lighting needs. 

Low Voltage Lighting Cost & Convenience 

The cost to install a low voltage lighting system, also known as a 12v landscape lighting system, tends to be higher than solar.  

High quality LED landscape lighting fixtures are made from durable materials like aluminum, stainless steel, or polycarbonate. Consequently, the price per unit of these materials is higher than that of most solar landscape lights.  

Not only do the light fixtures cost a bit more, the installation process is more involved, which in turn has a larger price tag attached to it.  

Any 12v landscape lighting system must be connected to a low voltage lighting transformer (itself must be plugged into an outdoor GFCI outlet) via low-voltage cable. For garden lights, path lights, and paver lights, the cable is usually buried at least 6 inches below the ground. For hardscape lights like post lights or deck lights, the cable may be fastened directly onto, beneath, or inside of the hardscape. In any case, there’s a need for some cable management! 

Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Systems Installation and Maintenance 

In terms of installation, 12v landscape lighting systems have come a long way. For example, the patented Easy-Lock connector makes connecting 12 volt outdoor lighting fixtures to a low voltage cable quick and easy -- no electrical experience is required.  

It’s not quite as fast as throwing some solar lights in the ground, but when it comes to real landscape lighting, it’s an absolute game-changer! 

Still, installing and repairing 12v LED landscape lights isn’t something homeowners should do by themselves. Repairs and maintenance checkups that involve rewiring, adding, or replacing components require a few special tools and a specific skill set. 

You can’t just pull low voltage wire for lighting the same way that you are able to pull traditional electrical wiring. Low voltage wiring is more fragile, so any damage, twisting, or pull of the wire can negatively affect the performance of the lighting system.  

Plus, the cable system has to be simple and well organized so that it is easy to make changes later on. A well-designed system can reduce energy usage and maintenance costs.

Understanding the Benefits of 12v Landscape Lighting Systems

While not as easy to install, the lighting quality of low voltage landscape lighting is worlds above that of solar lighting systems -- and installation has become much easier thanks to innovations like the Easy-Lock 

  • Install anywhere. Unlike solar lights, which must be placed in areas that get direct sunlight, low voltage lighting is widely more flexible. If you have enough cable and a close enough power source, you can install them almost anywhere.  

  • Endless options. Solar lights offer one level and color of light, and are not compatible with timers or other control systems. A 12v outdoor lighting system offers a greater range of brightness, color temperature, and placement options for you and your customers to choose from. 
  • Totally reliable. High quality LED landscape lighting fixtures are wired to the home’s electricity via a stepdown transformer. They will not dim in brightness due to weather conditions. in-lite 12v lighting systems are also weatherproof and waterproof, and come with a 5-year warranty.

3. High Quality LED Landscape Lighting Fixtures: Performance, Safety, Appearance, and Costs

Here’s why not even the most expensive and highest quality solar lights can compare to a professionally installed, low voltage landscape lighting system featuring high quality LED landscape lighting fixtures. 

  1. Energy savings: Solar lighting is often advertised as a way to save energy, but 12v LED landscape lights are also highly energy efficient. And because 12v lights are brighter, last longer, and do not require batteries, they are very competitive with (if not superior to) solar lights in terms of being eco-friendly and energy-saving!

  2. Safety and security: Low voltage 12v lighting systems are much brighter and more reliable, ensuring that the landscape is well lit from dusk until dawn. in-lite’s 12v landscape lights can also be set up with motion detectors to keep unwanted visitors out. Additionally, the color fidelity in this lighting system is ideal for security spotlights! 

  3. Durability: High-quality 12v lighting systems like in-lite are designed to stand up to rain, ice and snow -- great for all climates and seasons. The brightness of the lights will stay the same year round and through any weather conditions! 

  4. Brightness and versatility: In order to gather enough solar energy to power the lamp for an entire night, a solar light’s solar panel would need to remain in full sunlight all day. This greatly limits where landscape lighting can be placed, especially in dark, shaded areas of the home (which are often the best places for landscape lighting!) Not a problem with 12v wired landscape lights. You can design outdoor lighting based on where the light should be placed to enhance the property’s appearance and security -- not just in locations where they are able to receive enough sunlight! 

  5. Longer Lifespan, Happier Customers: The vast majority of solar landscape fixtures are constructed poorly with cheap, flimsy plastics and lamps with extremely low light output. High quality LED landscape lighting fixtures, on the other hand, can literally last for decades. A professional landscape lighting system can even increase the value of a property and is a feature that new home buyers are usually interested in. Your customers will be thrilled with their new lighting for years to come  

Solar lighting seems like a good option at first glance: they are inexpensive, easy to install, and don't require digging or wiring. Unfortunately, this is all they have to offer. Solar landscaping lights can't compete with the durability, brightness, and energy efficiency of a low voltage LED lighting system.  

Professionally installed LED low voltage lighting systems take all the benefits of solar illumination -- energy efficiency, affordability, and ease of installation -- and combine them with the flexibility of creating the perfect lighting design for every landscape, without limitations. 

Ready to learn more about low voltage landscape lighting? in-sider is here to help. Join our free in-sider program today or contact us to learn more!