The adoption of smart-home technologies, or gadgets that control appliances through wireless internet connections, is on the rise. Nearly 37% of U.S. households own a smart-home device, according to Statista, a market and consumer data company. From doorbells to thermostats, garage door openers, appliances, lighting and security systems, a homeowner can automate nearly everything in their home through one device.
About five years ago, Joel Mayor, who co-owns Texas Outdoor Lighting with Beth, his wife, realized this technology could offer the same convenience in landscape lighting systems.
“I have always been a bit of a tech geek and started seeing some homes have smart home systems to control their interior and exterior lighting,” he says. After an electrician friend told him about a smart lighting product he had been impressed with, he started using it in his own home.
First, he tested the device to confirm it would work with the company’s preferred LED light products. Then, he tried the app in combination with their lighting system and exterior-mounted transformers.
“After the first night, I knew this was going to be a home run as the responsiveness, dimmability and easy-to-use app were far better than any other smart-home devices or apps I had tried before,” he says.
Today, the company installs smart-home systems on about 90% of its lighting projects. This offers clients a simple, reliable and cost-effective way to interact with their lighting systems, according to Mayor.
Joel and Beth launched the company out of an old blue Saturn in 2007. Today, the veteran-owned company has 12 employees who work on projects ranging from $5,000 installs to multimillion-dollar estates across the Lone Star State.
Smart technologies eliminate the hassle of seasonal changes to activation times and give clients the flexibility to control their landscape lighting anywhere and anytime.
“With the smart-home system, clients can schedule on/off times, dim/brighten the lights and even tie other smart devices around the home into this app like Sonos or some Nest products,” he says.
Few customers call requesting a “smart system” specifically for their landscape lighting, but once Mayor demonstrates how a phone app can control landscape lighting, they get excited and immediately add it to their project. Owners of a historic home in downtown Austin, Texas, were an exception. Their primary goal was to increase safety and security, but the system also had to tie into an existing smart-home system.
Initially built in 1897, the 6,800-square-foot home is on about two-and-a-half acres. The job included installing fixtures around the house and porches. As a result, much of the wood, stone and gutters were more than 100 years old.
“We had to be really careful with installation. They didn’t want us just cutting and coring into this without putting a lot of thought into how we can create the best lighting effect while making minimal alterations to the site,” he says. “The LEDs had to be dimmable, and we had to be very careful when designing and wiring the system so that our various lighting zones around the home work correctly together.”
Designing around technology
While the owner’s objectives focused on safety, security and convenient control features, they hadn’t considered the aesthetic benefits of a well-designed system. Through the sales and design process, Mayor helped them realize it was also possible to create a dramatic and beautiful lighting scene at night by showing off this incredible home and its unique features while meeting their requests.
Phase one of the project kicked off in 2021 with lighting to highlight the main facade of the home, front lawn and both driveways. The family’s kids enjoy playing outdoors. So, Mayor ensured the yards were well-lit and the parents could dim or brighten tree lighting areas independently of moonlighting sections.
This portion of the project included nearly 150 fixtures across multiple zones. By prioritizing simplicity in lighting specific zones based on use it is easy to differentiate which is which.
“In the design phase, I have to put myself in the owners’ shoes and think about how they will use this system and what areas/phases/zones they want to interact with,” he says. “Since safety and security were their main concerns, we installed several remote switches around the home. We included these by their bedroom nightstands and even in their vehicles so they can easily turn the entire lighting system on full bright with the push of a button.”
To meet the client’s needs and aesthetically enhance the property, Mayor used a variety of fixtures made for a 5.5-watt, 3,000-Kelvin LED module.
Typically, the lowest temperature Mayor uses in lighting designs is 2,200 Kelvin, a warm white, amber color. While the Kelvin temperature range extends to about 6,000 K, which appears as cool blue-white light, he prefers 3,000 K. At this temperature, the result is a pure white color with little yellow or blue.
“This little LED can be used as a horizontal or vertical core light with a variety of tops,” he says.
For example, the facade required several fixture types to create an even symmetrical light. Along the porch, they drilled small micro cores into the floor to highlight the brick walls. On the taller facade areas, they hid micro flood fixtures behind the plants. For the second story, they strategically placed flood lights in the gutters and LED tape lights in some areas to hide light sources well.
“That allowed us to throw the light exactly where we needed it or to place it on a stake and use the flood optics and shroud to evenly wash a large wall or second story feature,” he says. “We even used them for the downlights and hanging lanterns for some walkways and features in the lawn.”
The front home facade section of lights dims throughout the night to 10%, so the homeowners have very little light trespass in their bedrooms. The balance of the landscape lighting zones remain brighter until sunrise for added security.
“After installation, they were immediately sleeping better at night knowing their home was safe and secure throughout the night,” he says.
Bringing devices together
Once Mayor installed a device connecting the fixtures to the home network, the entire home also became “smart-home ready,” so it also interacted with some of their exterior sconce lights, chandelier at the main entry and the attic light on top of the home.
“This way, every night at sunset, all of the interior lights come on at a certain intensity with my landscape lighting, and it makes the home come alive,” he says.
In 2022, the homeowners gave the thumbs up to the next phase, which includes 100 fixtures concentrated in areas around the pool, guest house and private entry on the back of the home. In addition, the guest house is automated to allow the owners to control their parking area and back porch areas from their phones or remote switches that are out of sight.
The family also has a sound system on-site, which will be integrated into the overall smart-home system, he says. “This allows them to easily create a fun, entertaining or romantic scene where our lighting brightens or dims, and their favorite Pandora station turns on with the quick press of a button.”
Although Mayor is a self-described “tech geek,” he says the system he uses makes it effortless to install and sell to clients. He tells customers that his oldest son (now 15) has set up and scheduled the systems on-site from a tablet device since he was 11. The personal story reassures clients how easy it is to use and integrate with other systems or more lights.
“It’s very intuitive technology, and most of my clients, who are well over 60, love it,” he says.
There are a variety of smart-home products available on the market. Mayor recommends buying several products and experimenting with them at your home or shop. He suggests choosing a company that has been around for a while and is well-established. Newer brands may not have yet worked out all of the bugs or be as easy to integrate. Buy a few smart-home products and try them out at your house or shop.
Once you find a system you like and learn how it works, selling is the easy part, according to Mayor. He has found smart-home systems for landscape lighting sell themselves offering companies an opportunity to differentiate from the competition by staying on par with trends and lifestyle demands.
“It’s actually quite rare nowadays that we find a client that doesn’t want this smart-home feature. I show them in person when I’m on-site how easy it is to connect to my home lighting system and alter the lighting in real-time,” he says. “It’s not a very expensive add-on, so most clients feel this is a no-brainer.”