Simplicity is the Key to Successful Lighting Design

If you’re in the business of outdoor lighting, you can sometimes feel like the man with the spinning plates at a carnival. In any given job, you have to balance an overwhelming number of variables: the exact placement of each and every fixture, the style of the lights, the installation team’s work orders, marketing and advertising for your business, providing customer service, trade alliance management, and more! The last thing you need is an unnecessary complication that screws up a simple task. For instance, we can all relate to how frustrating it is to send a service technician on an hour drive across town to fix a minor issue, only to have him turn around because he doesn’t have the right part.

When we used a variety of insert LED bulbs, that problem would happen constantly. To suit our homeowners’ needs, we had to carry three different types of 200 lumen bulbs – narrow, wide, and very wide beam spread. We also had three bulbs for the 400 lumen bulbs, and we were brave enough (or dumb enough), to have a 600 lumen LED bulb that had three different types as well. That meant that each truck had to be stocked with a minimum of 9 different LED mr16 bulbs at all times. We then had to deal with updating inventory whenever manufacturers upgraded the bulbs, which was an additional challenge.

To complicate it even further, we also offered 3000k, 2700k, and 4500k bulbs. Our trucks looked like the light bulb aisle at Home Depot! Couple this with the fact that many of our homeowners needed halogen bulbs, the G4, bayonet single and double contact, and a variety of other specialty bulbs, it was all too easy to slip up and send a guy out unprepared. As a business, we needed to focus on providing great service and landing new jobs, so the amount of time wasted on these repair trips was maddening.

SL01 Up Light. Sleek. Innovative. Simple.

Our solution to this nightmare was to simplify. We did this by creating a fixture that was as close to perfect as possible. We spent many long nights with our engineers designing an LED fixture that does not fail, and we are very proud of how well it performs. However, we all know that there will be times when a service call is needed, but those service calls are a whole lot easier with this ideal fixture. The SL01 Up Light LED insert has five different brightness settings and five different beam spread settings. That’s like carrying 25 different LED inserts in a single box! With a long-lasting bulb and an incredibly versatile replacement insert, we accomplished our goal of simplifying a complicated issue in a way that would make repairs easier for lighting technicians.

What we didn’t expect was that this simplification didn’t just make repairs easier, but it also made installations easier. In the past, when we had a homeowner who wanted their system a little brighter after the install was finished, we would have to change out every bulb. We then ended up with tons of spare light bulbs rolling around in our trucks. Now, we’re able to make that change with the flip of a switch inside the fixture! How much simpler can it get?

This solution is also a win for homeowners. When we’re consulting on a design, we can comfort them by explaining that we can easily change the brightness or beam spread after the install. We can even adjust brightness over the years as their trees grow and the appearance of the lighting system is altered.

In business and design, we always try to keep things simple, so you can focus less on service calls and stocking your trucks and more on growing your business and providing excellent service to your customers.

Patrick Harders

Co-Owner

Why We Chose NOT to Use LED Bulbs

LED has become the hottest buzz phrase in the lighting industry today. LED bulbs are cheaper, easy to replace, and easily interchangeable. However, for all the benefits, there are still many limitations. That’s why Sterling Lighting’s fixtures feature integrated LEDs instead.

Many people ask us how we came to this decision. It ultimately came down to one question: “What is best for our customers?” After considering our collective experiences with LEDs, our engineers’ advice, and the mistakes of others currently manufacturing LEDs, we knew that integrated LEDs were the best choice.

The Problem with LEDs

The biggest issue with LED bulbs is heat.  95% of LED bulbs installed in landscape lights today are not designed for an enclosed fixture.  Most LED mr16 bulbs are designed to have air circulate around them, such as for track lighting and recessed lights (this usage is very popular in Europe and Asia). These types of fixtures do not encapsulate the bulbs and therefore allow heat to dissipate.

Drawing heat away from the LED is a challenge that every engineer faces when designing bulbs. That’s why you often see heat sinks such as fins, air gaps, etc. built into LEDs. When LED bulbs are tested alone in an ideal setting, such as a laboratory, they perform very successfully.  The problem is that an open air, indoor test is much different than the real conditions of a sunny, 100-degree day when the bulb is inside an enclosed brass or aluminum fixture. The result is a dramatically reduced performance when installed on a property.

In fact, many bulbs will see lumen depreciation in the first few months and burnout in the first year.  This is not a new problem. One of the largest LED bulb companies told us that they experience a 3% failure of their bulbs in the first year. This number only continues to climb as time goes on, and it could reach a 25-30% failure rate by the third year.  For a landscape lighting professional who installs 100 systems a year with an average 20 lights per system, the number of problem bulbs quickly becomes overwhelming.

Our Experience with LEDs

We personally have encountered problems with LEDs as well. We began using LED bulbs in 2010. After testing bulbs from seven different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), we settled on the one we believed to be the highest quality. We were able to save 80% in energy efficiency and use less wire and smaller transformers, but ultimately, we experienced too high of a failure rate to make the bulbs worthwhile. Even though our OEM guaranteed that the LED was designed for an enclosed fixture, the heat buildup was too great and caused the bulbs to burn out.

Why Is There a Discrepancy?

This is a puzzling situation: If LEDs have major problems with heat dissipation, why are there so many LEDs on the market that are supposedly designed for closed fixtures? One reason is that some OEMs are willing to bend the truth in order to make a sale. There are also design companies that will roll the dice and use an LED bulb even though the OEM specifically states that the bulb is not designed for an enclosed fixture. Ignoring the realities of the technology and marketing LEDs for closed fixtures is simply not sustainable.

The Solution

In order to provide the best option for our customers given these limitations, we had a few choices:

  • Design an LED mr16 bulb that could be used in an enclosed fixture. This would have required a very low lumen output in order to reduce the risk of failure. (Which is why you see many low-lumen bulbs on the market.) However, 200-350 lumens just isn’t bright enough for many professional lighting designs.
  • Design our own fully integrated LED. While this option posed many challenges (perfectly matching the LED and driver with the fixture, ease of changing parts, lumen output, etc.), we knew this was the only way to ensure the quality we were looking for.

So, we took on the challenge and designed Sterling Lighting’s signature integrated LED with the best of both worlds: high lumen output, ease of changing parts, premium components and proper heat sinking. We know that this product is one of the best on the market, and we hope you’ll be as pleased with the overall performance as we are.

In an upcoming post, we will break down every decision in designing our fixture and compare our product to the others on the market. Stay tuned!