If you’ve seen pictures or visited a beautifully lit garden, you may have considered bringing landscape lighting into your own garden design. You may even have gone so far as to call a professional for a price quote. That quote might have been shocking. Many ambitious do-it-yourselfers out there have rejoiced at the alternative option of purchasing and installing their own outdoor lighting in an effort to save costs. Enter the alluringly priced landscape lighting kit.
Before you do any online research and find yourself drooling at the remarkably low prices on some landscape lighting kits, you should know that there are good reasons for those low numbers. The saying goes, “you get what you pay for” and, to some extent, that’s true here. That isn’t to say that kits are bad ideas. Just that you should know what you’re getting before you buy. Let’s break down the good and the bad.
The do-it-yourself nature of landscape lighting kits can be seen in a positive or negative light. It really just depends on how handy you are. Installation of kits requires very little in the way of tools or skills, but if you are deathly afraid of the outdoors or have never held a screwdriver in your life, you may find yourself challenged.
A big upside, as already mentioned, is price. In my searching, I’ve found landscape lighting kits with up to 14 lights, a transformer and 100 feet of cable for as little as $50 USD. Seeing that price and the number of included lights really gets most folks excited when, in fact, it should prompt you to ask one question – why is the price so low?
Kit manufacturers can swing these low prices thanks, in part, to mass production. There’s not a great deal of diversity in the models they offer, for example. But the fact that their lights are made of plastic plays the biggest part in that bargain basement price offering. That might not concern you much, but plastic has a down side. It has a much lower melting point than metal.
If you consider that these lights contain potentially hot bulbs and that they are made of a material that is prone to melting, you might have already concluded what I’m about to tell you. Low-cost, plastic landscaping lights contain low wattage bulbs so as not to melt the housings in which they are contained. Your average low is a 10 watt bulb for border lighting . Your average high for accent/spot lights runs about 20 watts. Is that enough?
Commercially purchased single units run 20+ watt bulbs for border and path lights and 35+ watts for accent and spot lights, you may get the picture that, for some applications, the lights included in some kits are simply too dim.
Uplighting a large tree or spotlighting a large specimen plant may simply place too high a demand on the strength of the bulbs included in light kits. And, no, you can’t simply stick in a higher wattage bulb unless you want your light to end up looking like a melted mushroom.
So does that make landscape lighting kits pointless? Not at all. There are plenty of applications that actually benefit from dimmer lighting . Border and path lighting meant strictly to outline a perimeter for safety doesn’t require all that much illumination. Likewise, smaller plants (particularly in newly planted gardens) do really well with less intense lighting . Over doing it is a very common beginner mistake so a landscaping kit may just save you from your own excessive ambition!
An upside to that plastic construction is that the stuff is surprisingly durable. Even should one of the lights be damaged by an errant lawn mower or a clumsy guest, replacing one of the units is painless and inexpensive. Not so should they inadvertently destroy one of your custom designed metal units.
Speaking of custom designs, another downside to lighting kits is that they limit your creativity. Styles aren’t that diverse, nor is functionality. There are no such limitations if you buy individual lights which will allow you to choose from an almost infinite number of beautifully styled lights and a fair number of practical functions. Good luck finding recessed lighting or lights for in-tree mounting included in kits, for example.
So landscape lighting kits are bad? Not at all. What I hope you’ve learned is that there is an appropriate application for which kits are ideally suited. They cost savings you’ll realize with a kit in marking out a path or border with safety in mind or illuminating small plants or architectural features is simply unbeatable. Just know the limitations and, if they don’t suit your needs, prepare to shell out a little extra cash. Better to get great results at a higher price than to spend money and not accomplish your goals.