I’m going to level with you here. No one NEEDS a lighting designer. Anyone with thumbs and half a brain can wire some fixtures together and stake them into the ground. Sure, there are a few more laborious aspects of installing outdoor lighting like tunneling under sidewalks, burying and hiding wire etc., that can certainly discourage most homeowners from taking on the task. But the actual installation of the lighting is pretty cut and dry, especially now with LED technology virtually eliminating voltage drop. You can hire a handyman or even a landscaper to install them and the truth is, it will probably end up being much cheaper than hiring a lighting professional.
Of course there is a difference between price and cost; and while the upfront cost of not using a lighting designer might be lower, eventually over the lifetime of the system you will end up paying more. Unfortunately, I have seen this on far too many occasions. When you hire someone who doesn’t specialize in lighting you are far more likely to have inferior products installed and have the system installed improperly. Having an improper installation can cause premature failure of lamps (even if you pay extra to have LEDs installed) and there is such a wide range of materials out there it is hard for people outside of lighting to keep up with what products are best depending on the application. When you hire a lighting designer that is ALL that we do.
In many ways exterior lighting design is a lot like interior design. Not everyone needs an interior designer either. Anyone can arrange furniture in some sort of pattern in a room. Anyone can pick out a couch. But you pay an interior designer to achieve a specific feel and add a specific ambiance and mood. You want the design to compliment itself. You want it to reflect a feeling that you hope people get by being in your home. It’s the same with outdoor lighting. There are several ways to light a house but a designer is going to know how to highlight different architectural features. A designer is going to know that stucco lights differently than brick, or that you light ornamental trees differently than you light larger trees. A designer knows the correct lamp to use depending on how tall or how narrow a feature that you wish to highlight is. A designer isn’t just going to stick the same fixture with the same lamp every ten feet along the front of your house. And honestly, if that’s all you want, you shouldn’t call a lighting designer.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that there is never a reason to put in less quality material or to hire the least expensive person out there. Sometimes you sacrifice quality and longevity of the system so that you can have the appeal of the lighting effect immediately. Not everyone can afford to spend $10,000 on an outdoor lighting system at the drop of a hat. In these cases I always suggest working in phases first. But if that is not an option I have suggested using inferior product so that my clients can achieve the look they want knowing that they will have to replace the fixtures in a few years. That’s the key. If the client is aware of what may come in the future, I don’t see anything wrong with installing less quality material. But a lighting designer will know the difference and will be upfront and honest with you about it whereas someone who doesn’t specialize in lighting might not even know that there’s a difference. They sell you cheap material because they don’t know what sort of problems those materials are going to cause in the long run. They sell cheap materials because they are less expensive for them to purchase and they help widen their profit margins. I’m not trying to suggest that these contractors are being disingenuous. I’m just saying that if lighting is not their main area of expertise then they wouldn’t know to suggest something better or to explain the long term problems that installing less quality materials could lead to.
Aside from material selection you also need to consider quality of the installation. Are they selecting the correct wire gauge to accommodate for the load? Are they leaving enough room on the transformer to grow your system as your budget allows for it? Are they making connections that aren’t going to come apart, requiring you to call in a service every 3-6 months because your lights are constantly not working? Are they putting above ground fixtures in turf areas that you are going to trip over or worse, hit with the lawnmower? And probably my number one lighting nerd pet peeve: Area/Path lights in the turf area down your front sidewalk? A lighting designer will take into account how you use the area you are trying to light. They will know how to eliminate glare and hot spots. A lighting designer will know how to light a path with lights that you aren’t going to be tripping over. Since we spend so much time in the world of lighting we just have more tools at our disposal. That isn’t a knock against landscapers or irrigation companies who install lighting as a separate stream of revenue. But I wouldn’t hire a dentist to remove my kidney and I wouldn’t hire a brake specialist to rebuild my transmission. Sometimes it makes sense to have a specialist and outdoor lighting is one of those instances.
For lighting help and information please call The Outdoor Lighting Guy 214-901-1197