A closer look at app-controlled landscape lighting

Photo: Unique Lighiting
Photo: Unique Lighiting
LM0516_Vista-Professional-Outdoor-Lighting-2R Photo: Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting
App-controlled outdoor lighting systems rely on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Photo: Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting

App-controlled landscape lighting systems allow homeowners to adjust their lighting through a computer, smartphone or tablet.

Do your clients want the ability to control their landscape lighting? Because there’s an app for that. App-controlled landscape lighting systems have been on the market for about two years, and some contractors are seeing an increase in clients interested in the ability to operate their lighting systems from the convenience of a computer, smartphone or tablet. Manufacturers are responding to this demand by improving technology and introducing more products that are easy for contractors to install and easier for homeowners to operate.

“Most of the major manufacturers now have some sort of lighting control,” says Chris Davey, senior marketing manager for Unique Lighting Systems, a lighting manufacturer in Riverside, Calif. “There has been so much development on the control side of the lighting industry in the last year or two. It’s been a race to see who can outpace each other.”

With an app-controlled landscape lighting system, the app controls the system’s transformer, which sends commands to the system’s different zones. Through the app, the homeowner can dim or brighten the lights, change the time the lights turn on and off or change the color of the lights if the system has that feature. Most products operate through a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, depending on the manufacturer.

For example, the app-controlled transformer manufactured by Vista Professional Lighting in Simi Valley, Calif., operates via Bluetooth. Danny Cuñado, product manager, says the company chose Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi to make installation easier for the contractor. With Wi-Fi, the contractor needs access to the homeowner’s wireless IP address to set up a connection. With Bluetooth, the contractor can virtually plug in and go. While installation may be easier, the downside to a Bluetooth connection is it has a shorter range than a Wi-Fi connection, which can be a problem on large properties or on properties with large transformers.

“All you have to do is get into Bluetooth range and use your phone—the whole point of building it this way was for ease of use,” Cuñado says. “The downside is we don’t have the range of Wi-Fi.”

Experts say app- controlled lighting systems are a great upsell for contractors.
Experts say app-controlled lighting systems are a great upsell for contractors. Photo: Unique Lighting Systems

Unique Lighting System’s newest app-controlled product builds on the company’s original wireless control system with the addition of an internet gateway and a mobile app. Homeowners have the ability to remotely control up to four scenes, including water features, gates and seasonal lighting displays.

“Every lighting system has to have a controller, so for every job that’s installed, the contractor has to select some sort of control,” says Rusty Baptist, Unique Lighting Systems product manager. “We view our app-controlled system as an upsell.”

Scott Erickson, owner of Erickson Outdoor Lighting in Mound, Minn., says he has seen an increase in the number of clients requesting lighting systems they can operate with their phones. Erickson, whose company offers outdoor lighting services to a 95-percent residential clientele, says the app-controlled products aren’t something he’s pushing just yet, but he has installed a few systems for customers who have asked for them. Erickson says the system installation is straightforward, but he has run into technical glitches, such as the transformer not picking up the signal or noise on the line. He notes he’s had good experiences with manufacturers’ technical support staffs, which have been able to walk him through any issues he’s come across.

“I’m dabbling with it a little bit,” Erickson says of the app-controlled systems. “They are really cool and they work, but they can be tricky. I am not pushing it because I think my time is better spent in other areas, but I will offer it if it’s needed to sell the job or if it’s that much of a difference maker.”

For example, he sold an app-controlled system to a high-end neighborhood in Minneapolis so the community could change the color and the look of the lighting based on different events or holidays.

“I pushed that project because it was a pretty flashy neighborhood, and I knew it was a customer who didn’t have budget restrictions,” Erickson says, adding that app-controlled lighting system transformers can cost up to three times more than a typical transformer.

As homes integrate smart technology, landscape lighting apps are a logical next step.
As homes integrate smart technology, landscape lighting apps are a logical next step. Photo: Unique Lighting Systems

Cuñado confirms the app-controlled transformers cost more, and the price fluctuates based on the size and scope of the project. For example, Vista Professional Lighting’s transformers range from 75 watts to 600 watts, and the price will increase accordingly. The company offers training programs to help contractors learn about the systems and suggests contractors sell them by emphasizing their convenience and ease of use. Cuñado says he has seen contractors sell them both as an upgrade and as part of the original installation package.

“It does cost a bit more, but you’re paying for that convenience,” Cuñado says. “It’s a much lighter transformer; the installation is easier. That’s how we sell it to the contractor, and that’s how they sell it to the homeowner.”

Phil Colarusso, owner of Luminated Landscapes in East Aurora, N.Y., is a bit skeptical about the current landscape lighting app frenzy. Colarusso, who has provided landscape lighting services to a 95-percent residential clientele since 1989, compares the trend to the movement toward LED lighting. When he started experimenting with LED about five years ago, he would spend $125 on a bulb that was “absolute junk.” But manufacturers have come a long way, Colarusso says, and now provide quality LED bulbs. He predicts a similar progression when it comes to app-controlled landscape lighting systems.

“A few years ago we took baby steps with LED, and now we’re running so fast there are a lot of skinned knees,” Colarusso says. “We are in the infancy of apps in this industry. There has been a big learning curve, but manufacturers are stepping up to the plate.”

Colarusso has an app-controlled landscape lighting system on display in his showroom but has yet to have a client buy in to the idea. He predicts the trend will pick up speed as the technology improves and more homeowners become familiar with it. Manufacturers agree that, with the growing use of smart devices and apps to control things as diverse as garage doors, heating and cooling systems and doorbells, the landscape lighting system is a natural next step.

“I think everything we do these days is becoming more and more automated,” Cuñado says. “It’s something we’re all getting used to as technology evolves. We love these gadgets that make things easier for us.”

photos: Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting; Unique Lighting Systems

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