How Much Does Landscape Lighting Cost?
Low voltage lighting has come a long way since the first plastic Malibu Light sets were introduced in the 1970s. While today's systems are conceptually the same as the originals in terms of function, the light fixtures have come a long way. While plastic and low end fixtures are still available at home improvement stores, these are not the materials used by quality landscape contractors to create beautiful nocturnal illumination. To light projects these experienced contractors will insist on higher quality fixtures to ensure they function perfectly over many years in a wide range of weather conditions.
Quality contractors use professional quality fixtures that are all metal in copper, bronze, aluminum and steel featuring powder coated colors or unique finishes. These high quality light fixtures last far longer and cost substantially more due to their lifetime warranty. For example, a top of the line retail fixture may sell for about $30 while the professional quality versins, which may look identical, run about $80 apiece. A general rule of thumb for a preliminary estimate of your future lighting is to allow about $325 per fixture to cover product and installation.
Factors that Influence Costs
New landscape vs. retrofitting existing one - Lighting is installed after the new plants are placed into a landscape and before surface mulch is applied. Installations in existing landscaping is far more time consuming since the contractor must work in narrow gaps between plants to lay wiring to all the new fixtures.
110 volt outlet existing or to be installed - Older homes are notoriously short on exterior GFI outlets essential for powering a low voltage system. In order to install an outlet for the light system an electrical contractor is required to lay conduit and install the sockets. If existing outdoor outlets are not GFI protected, they must be upgraded, which also requires an electrician to change it safely. Any time you must hire an electrician there will be significant increases in cost.
Unusual long runs of wire for larger sites - Every light system requires a transformer. When contractors design an extensive system, the long runs of wire may lose voltage due to resistance, so a larger transformer is required to keep all lights on the same circuit. Transformers vary according to the proposed size of the system from about $350 to as much as $1500 for larger homesites.
Time clock or remote operation - The addition of a time clock or the integration of landscape lighting into a remote control on/off system operated by smart phones or tablets. These run about $100 installed.
Soil type for buried wire - Beware of sites where excavation is hindered by rock or hardpan because higher labor costs may result due to difficulties in trenching.
Fixture Types and Their Applications
Flush ground uplights. Typically installed in lawns or groundcovers. This fixture requires more labor to install because it sits in a metal cylinder underground that must be set precisely so the mower can glide freely over the top.
Adjustable uplights. Locate these in planting areas at each subject tree or focal point. Avoid uplights you cannot adjust since changes will be required as plants mature.
High powered uplights. Use these to shine up into taller trees that the typical fixture can't reach. Note that 110 volt flood lights may be required for very high applications such as palm trees.
Overhead bullet spots. Mount these small high intensity light fixtures on overhead structures to highlight points beneath.
Path lights. Often called "mushrooms", these freestanding lights highlight an entry walk to provide a safer approach. Cost of simple functional fixtures is minimal compared to finely made artistic lights designed for certain styles.
Architectural lights. These are mounted on the house for security or subtle ambient illumination to highlight specific elements. These get expensive when decorative fixtures such as sconces and carriage lights are used and when motion sensors are required.