February 15, 2012

My outdoor lighting has stopped working: what should I do?

During the past months, New Jersey has been subjected to a variety of severe weather activity.   It is not at all unusual for us to start receiving calls from customers asking why their landscape lighting systems have stopped working.   With thanks to our friends at Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Colorado we are pleased to discuss some easy solutions to this common problem.

GFCI Outlet

GFCI outletIf all of the landscape lights in a system stop working, typically there is a problem with the power to the low voltage lighting transformer. The most common cause is the loss of power to the system due to a tripped Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI.  (Sometimes called GFI).  During stormy weather with heavy moisture and power surges created by lightning strikes/outages – GFCIs can sometimes trip due to their sensitivity.   That sensitivity of GFCIs is actually a good thing because it protects people from possible electrocution.

The second most common cause is that someone inadvertently unplugged the transformer or the timer, and forgot to plug it back in.   Sounds silly, but it happens all the time.  The next reason outdoor lights don’t go on is the timer isn’t working or is programmed improperly.

So if your landscape lighting is not working, first check that the transformer is plugged in to the wall (if you have an automation system) or into the timer and the timer is plugged in to the wall (if you have a traditional timer). Hopefully, it’s that simple.

Next, check the outlet where your low voltage lighting transformer is plugged in.  Unplug it temporarily and plug in a radio or small appliance to see if you have power there. If there is no power, find and try to reset the GFCI. If the outlet where the transformer is plugged in does not have the GFCI test and reset buttons, you will need to find it. Remember that the actual GFCI for the circuit could be located in the garage, bathroom, laundry room, or on another outlet on the exterior of the house.

Once you have located the GFCI, push the test button and then the re-set button – and recheck the outlet by the transformer to ensure that the power has been restored. If there is still no power, you will have to keep looking for the GFCI that controls the circuit for the landscape lighting.

In newer construction GFCI outlets are found in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, garages and on home exteriors. Some newer, larger garages may have as many as four or five separate GFCIs to accommodate power tools and central vacuum systems. Older homes may only have one or two GFCI outlets (typically in bathrooms) to protect the circuits in the garage, kitchen and exterior.

If you have reset the GFCI and the power has been restored, your outdoor lighting system should be good to go. If your lighting system is controlled by a mechanical timer, reset the current time of day being careful to remember the proper AM or PM setting.  If your system is controlled by a digital timer with battery backup or with Outdoor Lighting Perspectives’ Lighting Control Automation™, just restoring power to the transformer is all you will need to do.  If it has been without power for more than a few days, the correct time of day will probably need to be set.

If the GFCI would not reset, check the main electrical panel to see if a breaker tripped for that circuit. If a breaker has tripped, reset it and then try again to reset the GFCI outlet. If  there is a problem resetting either the breaker or the GFCI, it would be a good idea to call in an electrician. Electrical breakers and GFCIs can break down and malfunction over time, and may need to be replaced.  In fact, the more times that breakers and GFCIs trip, the more susceptible they are to tripping the next time.

The third important thing to check is the timer or controller.  Timer basics include making sure the time of day is correct, and that the timer is set to AUTO. Usually cycling through with the MODE button will allow you to set the timer to AUTO.  (Sometimes timers have been turned to OFF for the winter season, especially in back yards).    Also, if there are competing programs programmed in the timer, they may cancel each other out.  Removing the back-up battery, replacing it and starting the programming over from scratch usually will solve that issue.    Some other problems occur with the older technology – mechanical timers, photocells, and X10. Those control system issues have been solved with Lighting Control Automation – but you still have to ensure that the controller inside your house has power 24/7 for the system to operate properly.

So the next time you have an issue with your landscape lighting system, try these steps first before scheduling a service call. Please feel free to call us, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Northern New Jersey,  at any time if we can be of further assistance.

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