February 23, 2023

Blog: Professional vs DIY vs Solar Garden Lighting

Garden Lights: Professional vs DIY vs Solar

As the warmer weather approaches, so does time for outdoor gatherings! But why settle for just a basic backyard BBQ when you can turn your garden into a luxurious oasis that will make all your friends jealous? Garden lights are a must for any chic soirée, but with so many options on the market, it can be hard to decide which route to take. Here’s a quick run-down of the pros and cons of professional, DIY, and solar garden lights to help you decide the best route to bring your garden to life at night!

Professional Garden Lights

The Pros:

· They last longer since they’re made with higher quality materials

With professionally installed fittings, these are often tried and trusted by the electrician installing them, and they are usually backed by an extended warranty period. Some warranty periods on professional fittings are 10 years.

Hunza fittings are usually machined from a single piece of metal instead of folded sheets which means thicker metal and fewer fault points.

Switch Lighting also produces its fittings locally, ensuring they are designed for rugged NZ conditions near the sea and exposed to our harsh environment.

· More variety in terms of style and design

Professional fittings are often vast in variety to allow designers the opportunity to create a unique finish on each project. It's highly unlikely you will see someone with a similar design or layout to you when using professional fittings.

With high-end fittings, the design turnover is also low, meaning that it is highly likely you will still be able to buy the same parts or the same fitting for many years.

· Installation is included in the price

Often, garden lighting prices are on a 'fitting rate', meaning cabling, supply of the fitting and installation are all included in the fitting price. This means there are no unknown costs or hidden fees for junctions or cables.

The Cons:

· Can be more expensive than other options

The fittings from a professional are often more expensive due to construction materials used, warranties and R&D costs. Fittings that are manufactured and designed locally also carry higher costs than fittings that are ordered in bulk from China.

· Requires maintenance over time

Fittings that come with warranties do require maintenance, just like a car. They are active fixtures exposed to the elements, so it is only natural that there is a degree of maintenance required to ensure that they continue running for many years.

Some fittings require less maintenance than others, such as copper and brass; this has partly to do with their aging patina, which is the desired look of this metal. Still, stainless and aluminium require maintenance to ensure minerals do not enter the pores of the metal and create rust and other undesirable effects.

A simple wash with soapy water and spray down is usually enough every few months to ensure your fittings continue to look their best, especially in salt-spray areas.

DIY Garden Lights

The Pros:

· Can be less expensive than other options if you have some basic knowledge about wiring and electricity

With some basic wiring skillset, you can install garden lighting yourself, as they are usually powered by extra low voltage; this is a job that is safe to do.

Suppliers often have options for pre-terminated cables to make the entire installation plug-and-play.

Philips Hue offers a great range of DIY exterior lights you can collect from your local hardware store that allow full control over colour, brightness and timing controls via their app. Philips Hue also allows for Apple Homekit Integration; all you need is an exterior outlet installed by an electrician to power your garden lighting installation.

· Offers more creative freedom in terms of design and style

When installing DIY garden lights, you are the boss and the installer, offering ultimate freedom in design and style. It is best to complete the installation in stages or at night time if it is your first time to ensure that you are getting the effects that you want as you build your landscape lighting knowledge.

Installing the garden lighting yourself does allow you to chop and change the lighting with ease as the garden matures or if you decide you want to change something.

· Satisfaction of completing the project yourself

The satisfaction of completing the garden lighting effects you achieve by yourself is unmatched. It is very rewarding to be able to show off your work to guests and family members, knowing that you did it all yourself. It may even inspire you to continue lighting parts of the garden where you thought it wasn't needed.  

The Cons:

· Runs the risk of being unsafe if not done properly

Even though you can install extra low voltage fittings yourself, you must remember that you are still working with electricity. With voltages similar to a car battery, not a lot can go too wrong when using simple plug-and-play systems. However, problems can arise when using more advanced fittings or completing terminations using tools and terminal joints.

Loose connections and exposed cables can still cause heat and fire issues even at low voltages, so ensure that you are confident and don't be afraid to ask; most professionals are more than willing to offer advice. If opting for higher-end fittings, be aware that some fittings will fail if connected to a live circuit. To ensure this does not happen, always ensure the circuit is off when connecting lights. Polarity is also essential when connecting fittings manually, without plug-and-play leads, as incorrect polarity can also cause fittings to fail.

· Requires regular maintenance such as replacing bulbs and cleaning

Depending on your commitment to making your lights last, DIY fittings require regular maintenance and cleaning. Often constructed from powder-coated aluminium, a soft wash and rinse are essential to ensure that the powder coat does not delaminate from the aluminium, once oxidization occurs between the layer of aluminium and the powder coat, the paint will fall off. This is a common problem with cheaper outdoor fittings, not essentially an issue with lights that are amongst plants, but it does make a large difference when it comes to fittings that are exposed, such as deck or bollard lights.

  · Can be time-consuming depending on the complexity of the design

If you are short on time, or you are the type of person that feels that time is money, then the DIY route may not be the best option for you. If it is your first time installing garden lights, then there is a high chance you will be completing multiple trips to the shop to collect forgotten parts and return surplus parts.

You will also be spending a large amount of time correcting and adjusting the installation once installed. Without knowing what to expect when it comes to the light throw from a fitting, it can be very hard to determine the correct location and quantity of fittings to get the finished result you are looking for; you need to accurately be able to determine the best colour temperature, beam angle and light output for the desired effect. It is relatively simple to install lights into a garden, but it will take time to get the x-factor you are looking for.

  · It can be hard to find the time to finish it and expensive to have faults fixed

As with all DIY, often the beginning gets off with a hiss and a roar, and excitement to start a new project often fizzles out. Going down the DIY route means there is little accountability to finish, and you may never get the result you are looking for. If you progress down the path of DIY and encounter faults or issues, it is also more expensive to get this fixed as the electrician will need to trace out everything you have done to find the fault so that they can familiarise themselves with the installation you have completed and ensure all repairs needed are fixed.

Solar Garden Lights

The Pros:

· No wiring required, which makes them much easier to install

With solar garden lighting, their installation is as simple as staking them into the ground; as long as sufficient light reaches the place where they are installed, the installation is completed.

Solar garden lighting is exceptionally simple and can be completed by anyone without prior electrical experience or expertise; with better LED and battery technology, solar garden lights are also becoming more reliable.

· More environmentally friendly option

With no need to pull energy from the grid to supply the fittings with power, solar garden lights are self-sufficient. This means no cables, no transformers, and no grid power.

Solar fittings are more environmentally friendly during use and installation, but if environmentally friendly is a concern, be very conscious of how you dispose of the fitting when it has come to its end of life.

· Low maintenance – only needs to be cleaned occasionally

Solar fittings are often constructed from plastic, meaning there is no chance of rusting (except for fixing screws etc.); the solar panel should be cleaned occasionally to ensure that the sunlight coming into the fitting is maximised.

Spending a little more on your solar garden lights will often result in longer life as the components used are much better at fairing the weather.

The Cons:

· Might not provide as much light as other options

Solar light fittings are often much dimmer than wired fittings; this is done to extend the run time of the fitting; you also are often unable to determine the output level of light from the packaging. We suggest starting with one fitting or one pack of fittings to ensure you are happy with them before buying more.

Solar fittings are often only built with exposed diodes, so there is no lens or focusing capacity in the fitting; professional-grade solar lights are available but come with a larger price tag. Cheaper solar lights are also designed with a cool white colour output which is often not very inviting and does not provide the best illumination for plants, making them feel cold and lifeless.

· They require direct sunlight to work well

Solar fittings are solely dependent on their light input during the day. This does mean that the light output, both in strength and output time, varies from day to day and from fitting to fitting. If one light fitting is exposed to more sun than another, they will have different brightness and run times, resulting in an undesired look; As the fittings get older, this will become more pronounced.

· You cannot control on and off times

Solar lights have inbuilt switches to control when they turn on after sundown; this means that you have no control over their switching; if you are entertaining and want them to come on at a specific time, you do not have this control. Also, as their power stored will be used in the first part of the night, often, you will not have garden lighting early in the morning, especially during winter where the days are shorter and the nights are longer.

All three options have pros and cons, but hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of what will work best for your needs! If you want something low-maintenance and easy to install, solar might be the way to go. If you’re looking for maximum impact with different styles and designs available, professional lights are probably your best bet. And finally, if you want something in between or are short on cash, consider doing it yourself! Whatever route you choose, follow these tips, and you’ll be sure to have stunning garden lights that will make your backyard the talk of the neighbourhood!