If an outdoor lighting installation was put in before 2013, it could well be a line-voltage system powering halogen bulbs with 120-volt house current. If it’s older than 2010, it’s nearly certain that’s what it is. These systems were state of the art as recently as then, and still serve to produce spectacular outdoor lighting designs for homes, businesses, and institutions. Technology marches on, though, and homeowners and property managers are increasingly aware of the opportunities presented by converting halogen systems to light emitting diodes (LED).
First, conversion gets rid of the main downsides to the older systems, which are related to the high voltage powering them: heat, risk, big electricity bills, and high maintenance. Halogen bulbs run hot, hot enough to create a fire hazard in some situations. In systems where these bulbs are powered by 120-volt line current, the wiring is a potential shock hazard if exposed or contacted with a gardening tool. Hot halogen bulbs burn out and have to be changed frequently. A typical life expectancy is 1-2 years (2,000 – 5,000 operating hours), so an installation with as few as 50 bulbs (some in hard-to-reach spots) makes bulb-changing an ongoing chore. Finally, halogen bulbs are hot because they don’t convert electricity to light very efficiently. A lot of the power purchased to make light is instead turned into heat.
LED bulbs, in contrast, run cool, on low voltage. They last much longer, more like 3-10 years. There’s no shock hazard from low-voltage LED wiring, even to kids and pets. LEDs, in contrast to halogen bulbs, turn electricity into light without wasting much as heat, so electric bills are much, much lower.
Conversion from halogen to LED may be more straightforward and less costly than you think. The best-case scenario is more likely with newer professional installations, for which the conversion would consist of an inspection, and replacing bulbs. That’s it. The older a system is, the more probable it becomes that more work will have to be done. A high-voltage system conversion is almost the same as a new installation, excepting support fixtures and other non-electrical components. Between these extremes are a range of possibilities, for example, a low-voltage halogen system with a “daisy chain” wiring layout that needs correction.
It used to be that most would agree that halogen offered a richness and tone that LED couldn’t match, but the LED technology has rapidly progressed and diversified, so that it’s arguably the qualitative equal of halogen and incandescent, and plainly will very soon be the superior qualitative choice. It’s a good time to call in an experienced contractor and take the next step.