Types of LED Landscape Lighting Fixtures

With all the recent advancements in LED and the popularity it has gained in recent years it’s easy turn your back on the halogen lamps that we relied so heavily on just a few short years ago. Twilight Designs will help you determine which fixtures, bulbs, and the placement that is best for creating your customized lighting system but for those of you interested in LED landscape lighting technology and the different types of fixtures available you may find this information interesting.  I’m a big advocate for LED landscape lighting industry but as the technology began to enter the outdoor lighting market, as a lighting designer, I wasn’t convinced by the early versions of both integrated and retrofit LED options.

I remember my first LED landscape lighting project. I had been designing halogen projects for about 7 years at this point and integrated LED fixtures were just starting to show up in the marketplace. They rivaled a 35 watt halogen in lumen output, had a number of beam spread options, and had a nice looking warm white color to them. I had a customer that really loved the idea of LED landscape lighting, I considered myself a seasoned lighting designer but spoke. Candidly with my customer about what I knew and didn’t know about LED. I acquired some samples of a fixture of fixtures manufactured by a company that I was familiar with and trusted their products. I did a demo for the homeowner. The demo was as much for me as it was for him. I should have been a lot more persistent in recommending products this customer was very particular and if something didn’t turn out just right I didn’t want the blame to fall squarely on me. We ended up with about 60 fixtures, hunter green fixtures, most of them cool white in color temperature, I think because the path lights and step lights were only available in cool white at the time and we wanted things to match. I had suggested a variety of 3 watt, 6 watt, and 9 watt fixtures but the homeowner insisted that he’d be happy with all 9 watt. I demonstrated the different varieties discussed and the job was installed.

I discussed elements of the design that I never would have even mentioned if it were a halogen project. If I wanted to create a cool white effect, I would use a blue lens. If I needed more lumens, or a different beam spread I’d simply change the bulb. Most of the time I wouldn’t even show clients the fixtures they were getting much less ask them what color they wanted. I would typically just share with them my ideas and vision of what type of lighting would create a look and mood that they loved and in the process I’d get their feedback and ideas and adjust my design accordingly. All other decisions could be made during the installation process and I think most lighting designers agree that you’ll always need to adjust a few fixtures, change a bulb here and there and maybe even move a fixture once in a while to really fine tune a project. I think this process of making “adjustments” is all part of the learning process and is a big component of being creative as well as a by-product of taking calculated risks on a job with your design.

The ability to maintain flexibility on a project I believe is a pillar of creativity and integrated fixtures took away a lot of my flexibility. What could have been as easy as removing lenses, and changing bulbs turned into removing fixtures, ordering and reinstalling new ones and finding a place for 30 hunter green fixtures with cool white LEDs. Not to mention the significantly higher price tag and more cumbersome design of an integrated fixture.

Where the integrated fixture can play an important role is for what I consider specialty fixtures. Underwater lights, ledge lights, and the occasional commercial project or very large tree that even the lumen output of a par36 lamp can’t seem to satisfy. A larger profile fixture will almost always be able to dissipate heat better than a smaller fixture. Therefore the often larger more cumbersome size of an integrated LED landscape lighting fixture results in a design that can stay a little ahead of the curve in terms of lumen output. However as LED landscape lighting technology moves forward the argument for lumen output will become less and less relevant.

When to consider an integrated LED fixture:

When a fixture is located in an area that a conventional fixture may be prone to taking on water (i.e. underwater lights, well lights in wet locations etc.)
Hardscape lighting that requires a slim profile fixture in which size may restrict the ability to use a retrofit LED bulb.
When there is a need for a lumen output greater than what is currently available in a retrofit lamp.
Why choose retrofit LED bulbs:

Lamps can be changes without removing fixture for easier service and warranty claims.
Contractors can easily stock a variety of bulbs for quick alterations.
Older halogen lighting systems can often times be easily be converted to LED.
Traditional Drop-in ready (halogen) fixtures typically have a smaller profile and look better.
As trees and plants grow and as LED landscape lighting technology advances, retro-fit bulbs are easy to upgrade.
The cost of a traditional fixture with a retrofit LED lamp is usually much less than an integrated fixture.

Integrated and retrofit or drop-in LED landscape lighting fixtures both have their place in the landscape lighting market and there’s no black and white answer as to when to use one or the other. However as you become more accustomed to using both I think you’ll view integrated LED fixtures as a specialty fixture when you need very small fixture, underwater, or hardscape fixture or when the application calls for a higher lumen output than most residential projects. On the other hand the retrofit fixtures will likely prove to be the most flexible easy to work with in most situations, they’re easy to keep inventory, more cost effective, easier to service and visually more appealing in most cases.

Whether you’re a fan of integrated or retrofit LED landscape lighting fixtures there’s no debating that this LEDs as a light source are here to stay and they offer an exciting new array of possibilities for lighting designers and contractors alike.