Five years ago, Baltimore deck builder Dave Lombardo would buy 10 packs of LED deck lights from The Home Depot, string them together, and then tiptoe off the deck lest one flicker out. But in the past few years, LED deck light technology has been transformed. Not only are they more energy efficient than halogens and incandescents, they come in hundreds of styles, don’t usually require an electrician for installation, and offer one surprising perk for homeowners: Bugs don’t flock to them.
“One or two different options for deck lighting have now become hundreds,” says deck builder Mick Feduniec of Deckscapes in South Carolina. “When we show clients, they’re just wowed by them. It’s without a doubt becoming more popular.”
Feduniec switched from incandescents to LEDs a year ago and since then, he says demand for lighted decks has quadrupled.
Until recently, LEDs posed challenges in terms of cost and light color, says Mike Onderko, senior product manager for Trex, which recently added deck lights to its line of composite decking and railing. “[They were] very bright white, almost like the old generation of compact fluorescents,” he says. Now, most LEDs create a yellow glow.
In addition to warmer tones, manufacturers of LED deck products are making installation a snap. For example, as compared with a traditional incandescent system, StairLighting System cuts installation time in half with its “plug-and-play” wiring, and Trex 1-inch-by-3/4-inch light fixtures install with a 1-inch Forstner bit, doing away with hole saws and jigsaws.
“Instead of having to cut, tape, all that stuff, you just find ‘A’ and then that plugs into ‘A’ on the other one,” says Feduniec. “Our [contractors] love it; it takes a lot less brain work to put together and has a much cleaner look.”
Another plus is that LEDs run on direct current, which does not require complex wiring schemes to avoid voltage drop, where lights get dimmer the further they are from the power source. So, you can string 50 lights on one DC transformer and still have a consistently bright deck, claims Scott Holland, president of StairLighting System.
Deck lights are low voltage, so transformers are necessary and can be expensive; however, one 60-watt transformer can support 240 LED riser and rail lights, 120 LED recessed lights, or 60 LED post caps versus a maximum of 30 incandescents, says Onderko.
And LEDs last longer—much longer. DeckLighting Systems uses 100,000-hour LED bulbs; even if they stay on 24/7, it would be about 12 years before they burn out, says Holland. More than 75% more energy efficient than incandescents, “you can light a deck for pennies a month compared to dollars,” he adds.
Furthermore, LEDs don’t attract pesky insects. Because heat output is insignificant, LEDs do not mesmerize bugs the way incandescents do, according to Lombardo, owner of American Deck & Patio, who says it’s not light that attracts them, it’s heat.
However, while manufacturers claim to sell LED deck fixtures at a comparable price, Bothell, Wash.-based builder Jerry Bannister says lamp price is the downside. “It’s much more expensive to pick up that little $15 bulb than it is to pick up a $1 incandescent,” he notes.
Perception is another hurdle both manufacturers and builders are trying to overcome. When manufacturers introduced LEDs to the residential market five years ago, at first, Trex’s Onderko says, “they were always kind of cheesy looking and cheap,” but that’s less true now with warmer light colors and more lumens per watt.
Despite the obstacles, the future looks bright for LEDs. “I would make a prediction that if you went shopping for a light bulb in 10 years, you won’t find anything but an LED,” says Kentucky-based architect Joseph Rey-Barreau. “For deck lighting, rather than having single sources of light, you can have a linear source. The possibilities are infinite now that you have that whole new way of thinking about light.”
Evelyn Royer is Assistant Editor for Building Products magazine. This article originally appeared in Building Products.