The Pros and Cons

Is landscape lighting something you are considering to finish off your overall landscaping design?

If you go the route of bringing in a professional service, it may  surprise you how expensive a job like this can become. If the costs of working with a professional service have put your plans on hold, you may want to consider doing it yourself.

This is where the option of installing outdoor lighting kits comes into play. These pre-packaged kits typically come with the transformer, fixtures and wires. (In some cases, they also include a timer.) They are also low-priced and (relatively) easy to install. But deciding whether this option is right for you depends on the expectations you have for the look you want to achieve, the quality of the materials used, and the durability of the kits. These kits are don’t cost much money for a reason. So before you make a decision, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages.

The first thing you need to assess is just how handy (or mechanically inclined) of a person you are. The do-it-yourself kits are designed for easy set-up and require the use of only a few tools. Yet if you are a person who has never worked with electrical equipment before and don’t know your way around a toolbox, you may find that even a pre-packaged landscape lighting package to be more of a challenge than you bargained for.

By far, the biggest advantage of outdoor lighting kits is the price. With a little research, you can actually find some kits that cost around $50 or so. That’s pretty cheap! But what are you actually getting that allows the manufacturers to charge such a low price and still be able to make a profit?

The first thing that allows these manufactures to charge such a low price is mass production. This means the variety of these products is going to be limited. So don’t expect to find a wide range of styles or practical functions. You should expect all of the lights in the package to look identical unless you purchase one that contains both spotlights and path lights. While the spotlights and outdoor path lights may have different designs, each path light will look the same as the next and each spotlight will have the same design as the next. This is just something you will need to sacrifice for the sake of saving money.

It also means you are going end up with outdoor lights that are made of plastic. This is the primary reason for the low prices – and a point well worth thinking through. Plastic lights melt much more quickly than higher-quality lights made from metal. What this means to you is that inexpensive landscape lights are going to require low wattage bulbs to prevent the plastic fixtures from melting. In other words, the lights may be dimmer than expected.

Most professionally installed landscape lighting systems use at least 35 watt bulbs for spot/accent lights and 20 watt bulbs for path/border lights. Outdoor lighting kits, on the other hand, are typically limited to 20 watt bulbs for the path/border lights and 10 watt bulbs for the path/border lights. So before you make a purchase, make sure the lights are going to be bright enough to light the areas you want to reveal. You certainly don’t want to go through the whole installation process only to discover the lights are too dim to adequately get the job done.

If you want to shine sufficient light on such objects as statues or trees, you’ll probably find that plastic lights don’t have enough wattage to produce the look you are after. And unless you want to melt the fixtures covering your bulbs, it’s not a good idea to insert higher wattage bulbs into the plastic casings. So, really, your only recourse in this instance is to do without the lighting altogether or purchase higher-quality metal lights.

You might be wondering at this point what outdoor lighting kits are actually good for. The answer would be for lighting areas that do best with dim lighting, which typically means path and border lighting. These lights are meant to safely and unobtrusively illuminate the outline perimeter of driveway and walkways. Another use for dimmer lights is on new or smaller plants.

The durable nature of plastic lights is another selling point. Plastic lights aren’t as prone to dents or other damage caused by the conditions they are exposed to outdoors. Should one of your lights be accidentally damaged or destroyed, it’s fairly simple and inexpensive to replace it. Yet if one of your custom-designed metal lights is destroyed, you are probably looking at a much larger expense to replace the ruined light.

Whether outdoor lighting kits are for you is something you will need to decide for yourself. The advantages are price, ease of use, and durability. They work well lighting border and path lighting, which don’t require high watt bulbs to properly light them. The downside is limited selection and functionality. Also, the quality of construction limits the amount of light each light is able to shine on larger objects like walls, statues and trees. Knowing the limitations of these lights is what will help you to make the best decision to accomplish your landscape lighting aspirations.

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