Is a free nighttime demo a good way to choose a lighting company?

No! A demonstration that places temporary lights on your property is ineffective. Such demonstrations are more flash than substance and are often used to hide a company’s lack of design sophistication and design knowledge. Besides, you already know that you want to light your home so what does it really show you about the total system after installation?

A good lighting design is based on many things, including design talent, voltage drop, cable runs, circuits, fixture type, materials, quality, transformer type, bulb or LED type, wattage, cable size, connections etc. 

A good lighting design is not only an art but a definite science, and the person or company doing it needs to have a thorough knowledge and history of the logistics involved. Shining a light on a house or a tree requires no expertise, and a good designer knows this. Leading designers and installers in this industry do not use nighttime demos.

An effective demonstration uses state-of-the-art light editing software with which the designer can view your project on the computer in advance and can apply different lighting effects to different areas. The designer can also use the software to calculate project costs, cable runs, wattage's, and voltage drop. Light editing software is a great way to show a client how the actual fixtures will look in place, as well as the design concepts and lighting effects on their property, all before the first light ever goes in the ground.

What are some things you don't want in a lighting system?

A. One spot light mounted under an eve on the exterior of your house

REASON: You would never want a parking lot light shining down on your patio or in front of your home. A down light mounted on your home's exterior is probably not as bright, but it's just as intrusive. When this method is used under the peaks of a home, the light pattern is down in front of the fixture. Most of the time the underside of the peak itself is in a shadowed area behind the fixture. Additionally, the fixture mounted to the house is unsightly during the day and creates its own shadow that can be seen at night. This look is very commercial and generally should be avoided.

Down-lighting is best done in trees with tree branches, leaves or other plant material to soften the light and create interesting shadows on the ground. One light shining down on your patio does very little, if anything, to create an atmosphere of elegance at night. Numerous down lights under peaks on the front of a home have a very commercial. It also allows the company to charge you more for basically the same style of light they are installing on the ground and will require repeated costly service calls.

Some companies do favor this down-light approach on peaks of homes because they want a service call for a simple bulb change that is too high or dangerous for the homeowner to handle. Down-lighting of peaks should generally be reserved for a Cape Cod-style home and even then on only one peak. Because of the lack of the right fixtures for the right job and also because of a lack of design talent or experience, some lighting installation companies even try to market this bad practice as some type of look that’s unique only to them.

B. Fewer fixtures because you don't want to over-light your property

REASON: In a good low-voltage architectural and landscape lighting design, more of the right fixtures in the right spots are better than fewer fixtures. More fixtures do not mean over-lighting. You can have fewer fixtures, and depending on the fixture design, the bulb type in those fixtures and their placement, you can still have an over-lit property. You should have more fixtures placed throughout your design for better coverage and elegant aesthetics. Be aware of any lighting company that says "You don't want to over light your home with to many fixtures"

More fixtures allow the designer to light what is needed where it is needed. Fewer fixtures only make the installer richer; his expenses are lower, and your bill is high for what you are really getting. Besides we have seen many great designs that use more fixtures that actually cost less than other designs using fewer fixtures. Go for value in a design, not fewer fixtures.

What are things to look for in a good path or area light?

1.  No glare, no glare, no glare!

2. Authentic Sundown® Outdoor Lighting quality fixtures. Avoid substandard imitations of Sundown’s quality fixtures.

Examine a light whose top or shape resembles of one of ours. For example, on a path or area light, even if the fixture is brass or copper, check key components like the supports holding the top on. Are they steel or another material that is not uniform or not specifically made for that fixture or is it brass? Will they will pit, corrode or fail after a while. Are they crooked or welded on? Supports for legs that are welded on can easily bend or break with time because the amount of surface on the support that is in contact with the weld is so small.

All of our path and area lights use threaded brass supports for the tops and are specifically designed and engineered exclusively for our lights. Our heat, dust, moisture and bug-resistant bulb housing easily threads onto its base, allowing for a secure, no-tools-needed bulb enclosure that also levels the top on the fixture. Our path and area lights are designed and engineered to use the MR-16 halogen light bulb, the time-tested preferred bulb in professional architectural and landscape lighting.

Check to see if the path or area light uses cheap plastic housings (enclosures). These can melt, crack or break around the light bulb after being subjected to the elements and the bulb’s heat. Do those plastic enclosures sit snuggly around the bulb, or can you move or turn them? Is there protection around the bulb, or is there looseness or space between the plastic and the metal that might allow the elements to penetrate the bulb compartment? These factors can dramatically shorten bulb life.

For example, be careful of cheap look-alikes of our Tropic™ torchlight. Does your torchlight have supports holding the top on that are made of steel or another material? Such supports will deteriorate with time. Does your torchlight use thumb screws to hold the top on? These are often painful to use, hard to line up with the holes, and difficult to refill. Does your torchlight use cheap bayonet automotive bulbs as a light source? Are the bulbs’ long stems one inch thick, walled single pieces of copper, or do they have couplers of some type connecting two separate pieces?

The Sundown original Tropic™ halogen torchlight uses our Sunquick™ Technology for easy threaded removal of the top for safe, easy, no-mess refilling of its oversized citronella reservoir. It uses a single one-piece copper stem that comes standard with our 15 inch Mega Stake™, the finest ground mounting system in the industry. Look for value in a light fixture, not just low-ball prices or cheap imitations. Our lights are meant to last forever and perform beautifully. Many imitate but can never duplicate the value of a Sundown fixture.

Are brass and copper fixtures better than aluminum, plastic or steel?

Yes. Companies that produce fixtures made out of aluminum, steel or a composite material do not usually warrantee the fixture from corrosion, pitting, rusting or finish erosion for more than a few years. The reason is quite simple; a steel, aluminum or composite fixture that is painted will fade, peel, corrode, pit, rust, or fail.

Brass and copper fixtures have quickly become the choice for good professional landscape lighting. They are heavy duty, look beautiful and will not rust in any climate, even when they are painted; alternately, unpainted brass and copper age naturally and blend into any landscape.

If you do choose a colored fixture, new state-of-the-art color blends are available. These blends are created by dipping the brass or copper fixture into a solution that causes a chemical reaction. This produces a color finish highly resistant to peeling, chipping and fading. Since there is no paint involved in this process, and the color is part of the fixture, the color will last a lifetime.

When someone sells a client steel, aluminum or composite fixtures, it's because the fixtures are generally more inexpensive, and they are trying to maximize profit at the client’s expense. The labor cost to replace a failed steel, aluminum or composite fixture is never included in any manufacturer's warrantee, so chances are that even if the fixture fails within the warrantee period, it will still cost the client money.

That is why the entire Sundown line of lighting fixtures is either brass or copper, and you will not see fixtures from us made of aluminum, steel or a composite material.

What is voltage drop, and why is it important to me?

Ask your lighting designer / installer the same question and see if they can answer this one. Ask them what can cause it. It is everything in a lighting design. In simple terms, voltage drop is when the required amount of electricity at the fixture is inadequate for the bulb (lamp) to operate or light according to the manufacture's specification. This will lead to a dramatic shortening of bulb life, dim bulbs and even fixtures that are out altogether. This can be caused by many factors:

  • A poor design with many fixtures on one run (daisy-chain)

  • Inadequate cable size or type at different points in your system

  • A poor connection that is loose, wet or poorly cut and spliced

  • Lower than normal power at the source (house) outlet or circuit

  • An inexperienced installer who uses cheap lighting as an add-on business to landscaping or sprinkler systems

  • Transformers that don't have multiple voltage outputs to consistently provide enough power to do the job and are not designed specifically for architectural and landscape lighting

Is the lighting effect more important than the fixture?

Yes. Without a good designer/installer, the best fixtures in the world will not produce a high quality lighting design that will last for years.

By the same token, you will not have a quality lighting design that will last for years, no matter how good the designer is, if the fixtures themselves are poorly made and prone to rust, looseness or exposure to excessive moisture.

When you hear a manufacturer or a designer/installer state that the fixture itself is not important, that only the effect is important, or that the fixture should be invisible, show them the door. They are most likely using inferior equipment and don't want you to know it. You want a fixture that looks as good by day as the effect it gives at night.

Does a lighting system require any maintenance after installation?

A lighting system has many components to it, all of which must work well together to achieve the intended effect, so the system will require maintenance. No matter how good a fixture is, and no matter how good the installer was, a lighting system requires maintenance at least once a year to make it look as good as it did the very first night you viewed it.

Halogen bulbs lose their luster as the reflector around the bulb yellows or fades over time. The bulb loses much of its brightness and tends to yellow long before it actually burns out. For this reason, reputable companies will change all bulbs on a yearly maintenance plan whether they have blown out or not. It is also best to use a fixture with a warm colored LED bulb

However, do not mistake standard maintenance issues with major premature bulb failure, fixture outages, breaker tripping, or dim lights. These are more likely the result of poor design, installation, or equipment (fixtures, transformers and other component) failure.

As in any complex system around your home or office, a lighting system has many different components, including fixture material, bulbs, lenses, sockets, in-ground connections, wiring, seals, gaskets and transformers. These things are constantly exposed to the harsh elements. Starting with good equipment like brass and copper fixtures is definitely an advantage to keeping maintenance costs down for years, and Sundown fixtures are only made of brass and copper and our newest line of fixtures don't use sockets.

Gardeners and groundskeepers cut cables and bang lights out of position, and let's not forget children and their ability to move the world. Maintenance could include transformer and fixture inspection, lens cleaning, re-aiming, lubricating, re-lamping (new bulbs), and general troubleshooting. Some unscrupulous installers will use inferior equipment, such as bulbs with short life spans, banking on the future service calls to repair your lighting system.

With proper maintenance, a system will last for many years, even a lifetime, as long as you start with good equipment. If a company tells you that your system won't need any maintenance after it's installed, they are either unknowledgeable or untruthful, neither of which you want as you seek a professional lighting designer/installer.


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Thursday10:00AM - 4:00PM
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Landscape Lighting Installation | Chicago Suburbs - Google

Sundown Outdoor Lighting designs, manufactures and installs outdoor lighting systems in the greater Chicago, IL metropolitan area for the last twenty one years, including the cities of Frankfort, New Lenox, Mokena, Homer Glen, Orland Park, Tinley Park, Lemont, Downers Grove, Bolingbrook, Oak Brook, Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Woodridge, Darien, Lombard, Lagrange, Flossmoor, Olympia Fields, Manteno, Brookfield, Westchester, Hinsdale, Naperville, Oak Park, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Yorkville, Aurora, St. Charles, Oswego, Joliet, Plainfield, Morris, Ottawa,                 and other Chicago area suburbs. We have also designed and installed systems in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Maine and Arizona.