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Light Travels: The Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference

Last week, our Sales Representative, Scott, and I went down to Florida to attend the Florida ASLA Annual Expo and Conference in Boco Raton, FL. We had a great time connecting with so many talented landscape architects!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth and took the time to talk with us about Sterling Lighting’s fixtures.

 

Scott and Jim at their 2017 FLASLA booth.

 

Jim Heim

General Manager

Maintenance Agreements 101

Now is a great time to contact your customers and remind them of the value of routine maintenance on their lighting system. Regular maintenance will ensure their lights look great for years to come. And, of course, it’s a great way to stay in front of your customers, it provides extra revenue over the course of the year, and it can be a great opportunity to offer discounts for new work!

Why should your customers sign up for a maintenance plan? Here are some key service benefits you can offer them:

Averting system problems early.

Maintenance can reduce the possibility of a breakdown. While it is impossible to avoid all repair situations, preventive care can save a lot of money on unanticipated landscape lighting emergencies – especially those last minute service calls just before a big, backyard BBQ!

Clearing away the junk.

Over the course of the summer, grass clippings, mulch, silt and growing plants can block or limit light output. Uncovering fixtures, trimming plants, and cleaning lenses can ensure the system shines.

Improved efficiency.

This is specifically for the customers who still have halogen systems in place. Did you know that if one halogen bulb fails that the other bulbs on the system are put under greater stress and could fail prematurely? Keep the bulbs up to date and keep your customers delighted.

Identification of faulty parts.

During the summer, a system can experience wear. Even when using high quality products, lights can get bumped out of alignment or wires and connections can be exposed or broken. A quick trip allows for parts to be repaired or replaced as needed.

In the end, maintenance visits don’t just keep a system looking great all year long, they also help you avoid unhappy customers. So, when preparing your agreements, these are a few specifics you can include so you’re sure to be the hero!

  • Inspection of all parts, noting those that may need to be replaced or repaired.
  • Inspection for moisture intrusion.
  • Inspection and adjustment of tree and cable mounts as needed.
  • Inspection of fittings and connections.
  • Inspection and cleaning of LED components.
  • Cleaning of all fixture lenses.
  • Cleaning all fixture finishes (we recommend WD-40 for our brass products)
  • Adjustment of fixture positioning to ensure proper illumination.
  • Minor plant and tree pruning around fixtures to optimize night effect.
  • Testing and re-setting of system controls (timers/photocells)
  • Testing amperage at the transformer.
  • Evaluation of overall system performance.

With all these things in mind, you can go out there and keep your customers happy with their outdoor lighting for many years to come.

The Story of Sterling

When we started Sterling Lighting, we set out to solve a problem. We already owned a local installation company, but we didn’t trust the light fixtures we were installing. Initially, I had found an LED manufacturing “expert” that ordered premium fixtures out of California with a 20-year warranty on their products. We were on a roll with installations for Enlightened Lighting, when our worst nightmare happened—our lights started failing. After 12 months and 700+ fixtures, we had a 50 percent failure rate and warranty claims were taking four to six months to be fulfilled. We went into panic mode.  

How could we focus on our beautiful lighting systems when we spent most of our time repairing the lights we’d already installed? This not only cost us time and money, but also cost us the chance to build trusting relationships with our customers. So, my business partner, Damien Sanchez, and I set out on a mission to find the best fixtures, which led us to found Sterling Lighting.    

Sterling Lighting’s Founders: Josh Palmer, Damien Sanchez, and Patrick Harders

To begin, we researched our options and found that even the largest manufacturers were having major issues with LED. Since we couldn’t trust the products currently on the market, we started working with a group of engineers to solve the LED’s technical problems. We kept our first design line simple. We used the retro LED bulbs, but also built heat sinking materials into the fixture. These design changes gave us enough confidence in our product to replace all the faulty fixtures we had previously installed and to begin growing our new company.

In order to satisfy our commitment to offer our customers the best fixtures available, every day we implemented small improvements and tracked our development. We were shocked by how much progress we made. Soon we exhausted our possibilities with retro LED bulbs, so we began designing an integrated LED with the proper heat dissipation. Our goal was to design a light that gave the heat sink of an integrated LED with the ease of service of a drop in bulb.

Our new light design had five brightness settings and four different beam patterns—all in a single fixture. By early 2014 we finally had a premium-quality LED fixture that could be installed without having to worry about it failing. We continue to keep testing our fixtures and keep our hands in the dirt so we can continue to innovate and improve.

At Sterling Lighting, we are committed to developing beautiful new fixtures, while improving the quality and performance of our current line, and selling our products directly to you—no middleman involved. Our goal is to help your business become more successful, so you can have more time to focus on the important things in life.  

-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!