Bright ideas on low voltage

Bright ideas on low voltage

Setting the Standard in Excellence is not just a catch phrase—it’s a belief. It’s not meant to evoke a sense of competition, rather a philosophy on how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. Every day we’re given opportunities to Set the Standard. Whether it’s with prospects, other businesses, while on the jobsite, or driving our company vehicles, we are leaving an impression. It also encompasses how we treat our team members and the trickle-down effect our attitude has on those around us.

Professionalism, courtesy, respect, pride in craftsmanship, being responsive, standing behind our work, proudly displaying our membership with NADRA or your local building association are all statements about how we want to be perceived by our peers. Using better materials, taking a few extra steps to increase structural integrity, or keeping a tidy jobsite are examples of how we can be Setting the Standard. Ultimately, it’s about being better than we were yesterday and spreading that belief throughout our organizations.

When we market our companies, we are seeking to set ourselves apart from a prospect’s other options. As we present our projects, we all have special key points we believe make us the “best” choice. We continuously seek out ways to stay ahead of the competition with design features, board patterns, inlays, transitions, picture frame borders, and lighting, to name just a few.

As I sat fascinated by the award-winning decks from the NADRA deck contest that were on display in the last issue of Deck Specialist magazine, one feature consistently caught my eye. It was so recurring I actually started keeping track of it. LIGHTING. Yes, lighting. The majority of the winning decks showcased some sort of lighting. Whether it was underrail, post cap, post sleeve, stair riser, or landscape lighting, it made each one of those projects stand out. Lighting is a relatively inexpensive way to have your deck literally shine above the others in a neighborhood, making your projects a focal point for all to see.

I'm a huge fan of deck lighting. In this day and age of plug-and-play wiring systems that take all of five minutes to figure out, it’s a no brainer. We all remember a time when deck lighting was nothing short of a migraine waiting to happen. Electricians were required to do the wiring. Fixtures cost a king’s ransom, and if you or one of your crew weren’t electrical savvy, the project’s completion could be held up waiting for other tradesman to perform that portion of the deck. Then we moved to the early days of low voltage, with transformers the size of a bread box. Bulky wires, massive fixtures, and a tremendous amount of cutting. What takes a couple hours now would require an entire day for completion. Times have changed.

Today we have low-voltage LED fixtures, easy-connect wiring, and fixtures so easy to install that the project can be delegated to a laborer. Wires are thin and inconspicuous, connectors are basic and simple.

There are a vast number of lighting systems available in today’s marketplace. Developing a relationship with one or two manufacturers can become an essential tool going forward. For example, last summer while in the middle of a project, we had a client that really wanted a different shade of bulb. I called the manufacturer; they custom-made the product we needed and got it to us on short notice. We didn’t lose a days work. Everyone liked it so much that it has become a standard item for the manufacturer, and our local supplier is now keeping it in stock. That was service you can’t get from just an anonymous voice on the phone.

You are no longer stuck with that harsh white bulb that puts off an almost purplish blue hue at 6,000 Kelvin. The 3,000 Kelvin bulbs are a softer yellow, easier on the eyes. On another note, LEDs don’t emit heat and therefore don’t attract nearly as many bugs as an incandescent bulb—another great selling point.

Our fixture options vary more than ever before. Today, white, tan and black post cap lights are just the tip of the iceberg. With codes requiring stairs to be illuminated, it’s a great opportunity to offer clients a plethora of colors, styles, sizes and shapes—starting with the new micro- and mini-fixture riser lights or the more standard riser lights or side lights with interchanging diffusers to recessed round lights.

From there we can step up to all sorts of post sleeve lights, round, half round, dome, flat or square. We have several under-rail lighting choices. You can get under-rail lighting in strips that appear to have continuous or intermittent bulbs. They can be attached under either the top rail lighting up the railing system or under the bottom rail creating a beautiful glow along the decking surface.

Another great, inexpensive lighting strategy is incorporating the round recess lights into the surface of the deck along the railing. You can set them between the posts, which is really nice when you have post cap or post sleeve lights. They take almost no time to install and with the super easy splitters wiring is a snap.

Another unique feature is to install some lighting on the outside of the deck. When building a deck with a picture frame border the lights tuck nicely up under the overhanging board. It’s especially nice on low level decks. It allows the clients to highlight some landscaping features. They can also add a distinctive elegance to an upper level deck. It’s a subtle, low-cost way to really make your deck shine.

Please note that there are many great brand options on the market. It’s not my intention to push one over the other. My only advice is to start simple so you can get acclimated to installing lights on your projects and expand from there, dabbling in more complex projects. In my experience, the engineers, designers and field reps of many lighting manufacturers are more than willing to walk you through any issues that arise from an installation. We have even experienced examples of when they were willing to visit a site to ensure proper installation and operation or to help diagnose an issue.

A lot of people hate installing post cap or post sleeve lights on a deck with basic white vinyl post sleeves because of the additional work involved (ripping a corner or dadoing a groove in the post and then fishing the wires through the groove and blocking). This can be time consuming and aggrivating. A great solution is to use steel surface-mount rail posts. Not only do they have on average three times the strength of a 4x4 wood post, they are hollow. Prior to bolting them down, just drill a 1-inch hole through the deck and the solid blocking below—now wiring is a snap. In 30 seconds, you’re finished and life is good.

Every year the lighting industry evolves. This year transformers are making huge leaps into the tech world. We already have internal programmable timers, key fob-mounted dimmer switches, photo eyes that can be moved to different locations, and the ability to integrate different brands of LED lights into one system. Now manufacturers are coming out with transformers that will indicate if there’s a short somewhere in the system and at least one that is Bluetooth enabled, so you can sync it to your smartphone to program and control the lights.

With a little imagination and willingness to step outside of our comfort zones, low-voltage LED lighting is an easy way to stand out above the rest and really make a bold statement about being a custom builder.

Brendan Casey Deck Contractor and Builder serving Frederick Maryland and surrounding areas Brendan Casey of Casey Fence and Deck has over 35 years of experience in construction and helps fulfill the growing need for creative, custom and long lasting outdoor living spaces. Casey Fence and Deck has received multiple awards for their decks and Brendan has had several articles published.