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Sprinklites Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting & Micro-Sprinklers Review
Also reviewed on this page: One Stop Gardens 3 Piece Decorative Solar Light Set.
The Sprinklites Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting & Irrigation System is most definitely a unique product. They are a combination of outdoor decor, garden lighting, water feature/fountain, and micro-sprinkler; all in one unit. The Sprinklites consist of a set of highly detailed acrylic sculptures, shaped like butterflies, hummingbirds and dragonflies. Each garden light sculpture is between 5 and 7 inches across, so they are large enough to be seen easily, but not so large that they become a distraction in the landscape. Each sculpture contains a set of very bright LED lights that slowly change colors from red, to violet, then blue, aqua, green, yellow/orange, and back to red. They can also be set to display a single non-changing color. A light sensor turns them on at dusk and off at sunrise. The outdoor lighting can also be set to run continuously all day and night, they are bright enough to be visible in subdued daylight such as a shaded area. In addition to the decorative shape and light features, each unit has a small micro-sprinkler or stream nozzle that attaches to it, allowing it to serve as a decorative watering device or fountain. The micro-sprinkler feature is completely independent of the landscape lighting, the garden lights will turn on at dusk even if the sprinklers are off. The sprinklers may be run at any time of the day or night and only need to run when you need to water. The Sprinklites may also be used as a decorative fountain. If you don't want to waste water when using them as a fountain you will need to purchase a small fountain pump and a bowl of some type to catch the water and recycle it. When used as a fountain the Sprinklites may be controlled like any other fountain: they may run continuously, be controlled by a timer, or controlled by a motion sensor so they only run when someone is nearby.
To be very honest, I was not very excited when I first was asked to review the Sprinklites. When it comes to irrigation they are definitely a specialty nitch product! I was more than a little skeptical about them, but I must say that they won me over in a hurry once I got a set and started playing with them. I installed them next to my spa and it is mesmerizing to watch the outdoor lights change colors at night while sitting in the spa! Since the area around my spa already has irrigation, I have them set up so they squirt tiny streams of water into my spa. So far everyone who has seen them loves them. Normally when I test a new product I offer to send it back after I am done with the review. That is not going to happen with the Sprinklites. I love them and I'm not sending them back!!!
Sprinklites as an Outdoor Garden Decor:
Strictly as a simple garden decor or yard ornament the Sprinklites look great. The 7" clear acrylic bodies on stainless steel rods catch the sunlight during the day and are attractive. They are not "in your face" noticeable to the extend that they might detract from an attractive landscape planting. But the real show comes as the greens of the landscape fade in the twilight and the garden lights built into the Sprinklites come on. These are not cheap low-output LED units. They put out a bright light that is noticeable from a considerable distance. They definitely will become the focal point of the landscape after dark. When left in the default color-changing mode they slowly shift from one color to another and are fascinating to watch. At first you don't really notice the shift in colors as it is slow and the colors morph into one another rather than abruptly changing. Once you notice it is hard to stop watching them. My 5-year-old grandson is a typical young boy with an attention span of about 15 seconds. He didn't even notice that they changed colors until I pointed it out. Then he sat and watched them for about 5 minutes, calling out the name of each color as they shifted. What more can I say to describe the hypnotic effect they have? I think that is the longest I've ever seen him sit still!
Sprinklites for Irrigation:
Sprinklites, from an irrigation perspective, are an adaptation of the micro-sprinkler. Micro-sprinklers are small sprinklers designed to water a very small area, typically a single plant per each sprinkler. Micro-sprinklers are not very efficient for watering entire planters, they perform best when used as supplemental watering for specific plants. For example; let's look at a front yard that is planted primarily in low water use plants, but in a small, high-visibility area of the yard there is a focal point planted with tropical accent plants. A typical irrigation system for this type of yard would have a single valve drip system that is used to irrigate the low water using plants. But the tropical accent plants need more water than the others, and would prefer a nice spray to cool and wash down the leaves as opposed to a drip system that waters only the root areas. Micro-sprinklers are ideal for this situation, the installation of a micro-sprinkler spraying on each of the high water use plants will allow them to grow lush and thrive. Another common use for micro-sprinklers is to water potted plants, especially ones where the pot may be periodically moved and you don't want a tube attached to it, or where it would be difficult to hide an ugly water tube snaking up the side of the pot. In this situation a micro-sprinkler can be installed next to the pot so that it sprays water into the pot. Since an accent planting is the focal point of the landscape, the Sprinklites fit in perfectly at this location. By only providing extra water to the water loving plants that need it they reduce water waste.
The big disadvantage of most micro-sprinklers is that they tend to be high maintenance. They need to be mounted above the ground level, so this means they are typically mounted on long upright plastic tubes, which are pretty ugly. Even worse, the tubes are fragile and tend to get bent, knocked over, and/or accidentally broken so they must be attached to a stake, and then you have an ugly stake to look at. For this reason most landscape architects and irrigation experts, myself included, won't even consider using micro-sprinklers. The Sprinklites solve this problem by attaching the micro-sprinkler to a permanent and durable support structure- a decorative yard ornament mounted on a stainless steel rod. Now the micro-sprinklers are no longer ugly!
Sprinklites as a Water Feature or Garden Fountain:
This is how I use the Sprinklites in my own yard. There are a number of ways you can use them as a water feature if you have some creative talents. As mentioned I hooked them up to my spa so that they act like a fountain spraying a stream of water into the spa. You could also set up a bowl for them to spray into, then use a small pump to recirculate the water. They could be used to spray an arc of water over a walkway, using a motion sensor to activate them (this is often seen at amusement parks and at shopping malls.) Some gardeners with a sense of humor actually spray people with small streams of water as a gag, Sprinklites would work perfect for that- if that's your idea of fun! (Fountains that spray people are actually a very old joke, examples of them in Europe date back at least to the Roman era.)
Field Test of Sprinklites:
Gary Hartz is the retired engineer who invented Sprinklites. When I received an email from him asking me to review them I was not very excited about it. To be honest I really didn't see the point of them. They sounded to me like a solution in search of a problem. But I try to keep an open mind about new products, and upon thinking about it I could see that they might be useful as a supplemental irrigation source as described earlier in this review. So I agreed to take a look if he would send me a set.
My first impression of the Sprinklites came when the box containing them was delivered on my porch and I reached down to pick it up. The box was HEAVY! My first thought was that it must be a package of brick samples. (I'm a landscape architect, I actually do get samples of things like paving bricks.) I opened it up and found out why it was so heavy, the Sprinklites parts are very substantial, plus there are 6 heavy steel stakes used to hold the Sprinklites in place. I have to admit I was expecting a set of cheap Christmas light-type yard ornaments similar to those I had seen at a local big-box discount store. So I was immediately struck by the quality of the Sprinklites.
The acrylic ornaments themselves are detailed, almost sculpture quality work, and made of very heavy, thick acrylic. They look very much like clear glass crystal. There are 6 Sprinkle ornament/sprinklers in the set: 2 hummingbirds, 2 dragonflies, and 2 butterflies. Each acrylic ornament has a set of 3 LED lights imbedded into the middle of the ornament. When the lights are turned on the light "flows" through the acrylic ornament so that the entire ornament glows. The ornaments are mounted on the end of a 18" long stainless steel rod that can be easily bent to position the ornament at just about any angle desired. At the base of the stainless steel rod is a small plastic control box with a push button that allows you to select a specific color for the ornament light, or you can set it to slowly morph between colors. Each of the 6 ornaments are staked in place with one of the previously mentioned heavy steel stakes. An optional threaded steel extension rod is included in case you wish to raise the ornament higher up. The total height of the ornament with the extension is a little over 36 inches above ground. The ornaments and stainless rod assemblies may also be attached to a fence, pole, trellis or any thing else you wish to use as a support.
The lights are low voltage LEDs and a UL listed plug-in type transformer is included in the kit. Just plug it into a ground-fault protected outdoor electrical socket. The low voltage wiring for the lights is all designed similar to extension cords with plugs, you just plug them in to each other and then a water resistant screw style casing secures them so they don't get wet or pull apart. It is all very well designed, simple to install, and high quality. A photocell unit is included that turns the lights on at dusk and off at dawn. The photocell unit is located near the lights, not at the transformer. This way the lights turn on and off based on the light level at the lights, not the light level at the transformer. A timer can be used, but is not included as it isn't particularly needed. The LED lights are so energy efficient that they use less power than a timer would use, so it is cheaper to just leave them on all night than it would be to use a timer to turn them off.
The micro-sprinklers fit into the "mouth" of each ornament and a vinyl tube is snaked back to the water source. In addition to the micro-sprinklers the set also comes with tiny stream nozzles. These stream nozzles shoot a single tiny stream of water rather than spraying the water like a sprinkler. When using the stream nozzle the water shoots a considerable distance (over 10 feet) unless you throttle the flow. The stream nozzles are ideal for fountains or for shooting water into flower pots. You can throttle the flow to control how far they shoot by partially closing your water supply valve. Another option for throttling the flow is to crimp the vinyl tubing slightly using a piece of bent wire. For a more accurate and elegant solution you can buy very small valves that fit on the 1/4" tubing, they are often sold at stores that handle drip irrigation supplies. All the other necessary parts to install the Sprinklites are included in the kit and installation is very easy. I did a "dry run" set-up of the lights (but not the micro-sprinklers!) in my family room just to familiarize myself with all the parts and test them. I then took it apart and installed the entire system in my yard in a couple of hours. I think I could have done it in less than an hour, but the existing planting in the area where I put it is very dense and I had some trouble getting the wires and water tubes through the dense foliage (see photos.) Here's a tip; I found that if I taped the tubes and wires to a long pole I could use the pole to shove them under the plants which was much easier than trying to push them through with my hands. I already had a water faucet outlet and electrical power outlet in the area where I installed the Sprinklites, if you need to install either a water valve or power outlet that will take considerably more time and skill. If you decide to do something fancier like hooking them up as a fountain to a recirculating pump that will of course take a lot more time and planning.
My Sprinklites have been operating nightly for over a year and I haven't had any problems. Shortly after I installed the Sprinklites I noticed that one of the lights was stuck on a single color rather than changing colors. I simply reset it by pushing the button on the light control unit, the problem has not recurred. It's possible I accidentally caused the problem myself while playing around with it. The micro-sprinkler spray pattern is not very uniform, but this is typical of most micro-sprinklers. I wouldn't try watering more than a single plant with each micro-sprinkler. The wires and 1/4" water tubing are also susceptible to damage from gardening activities. Care needs to be taken to not cut or break them. One solution would be to run the wires and tubes between the Sprinklites inside a piece of 1" polyethylene tube, so that the polyethylene tube serves as a protective sleeve. Then bury the tube leaving only the ends sticking up out of the ground. If you want to seal the ends of the sleeves to keep out dirt and critters, try latex caulk. Secure the sleeves or tubes in place with wire staples, a piece of a wire coat hanger works good as a staple or you can buy metal staples at drip irrigation supply stores. I recommend that you don't use plastic stakes, they pull out of the ground too easily. If you have a lot of minerals in your water you may notice some build up on the acrylic figures and the micro-sprinkler nozzles. You may need to periodically wipe clean the figures. Mineral buildup on micro-sprinklers is a normal occurrence, they are hard to clean so the normal procedure is to replace them periodically. If you do want to try cleaning them try using a calcium deposit remover solution and soft toothbrush. Mineral buildup is not a problem unique to the Sprinklites, it is common for all types of sprinklers and drip emitters in areas where the water has a high mineral content.
Update: After a year of operation the Sprinklites are still operating perfectly. Shortly after installing the first set I bought a 2nd set, all of them have been operating continuously and still work well. The acrylic bodies have not yellowed at all. The only other problem I have had is that the long, thin beak/nozzle on one of the hummingbirds broke off. A couple of times the lights appeared to be stuck on during the day, however on examination both times I discovered that the photocell that turns them on and off had become buried under leaves. Once I cleared away the dead leaves the normal operation returned. I do not run the mini-sprinklers (the areas where I installed them are fully watered by a separate drip system that was already there when I installed the Sprinklites, so running them as irrigation would over-water the planter.) Therefore these results don't apply to the mini-sprinkler feature of the Sprinklites. As mentioned most mini-sprinklers of all brands need to have new nozzles installed every year or two, and I would expect that to be true of the Sprinklites as well.
Overall I am very pleased with the Sprinklites, they work acceptably well as micro-sprinklers and are excellent as a decorative light feature and landscape ornament. They have held up very well. They will definitely attract attention! While they are expensive, they are commercial quality lights and have held up very well.
Decorative Solar Lights:
Shortly after testing the Sprinklites I noticed similar products sold under a variety of brand names at hardware stores and discount stores for around $15.00 to $30.00 for a set of 3. Despite the price range and different brand names on the box, all of them appeared to be the same product, just packaged differently for different stores. Given the fact that they are much less expensive than the Sprinklites, and look somewhat similar in appearance (at least at first glance) I was curious about how they would compare. So I bought a set branded "One Stop Gardens 3 Piece Decorative Solar Light Set" ("Solar Lights".) The Solar Lights consist of 3 color shifting solar-powered lights. They do not incorporate sprinklers or water features, they are simply decorative solar lights. The clear plastic lights are shaped like a hummingbird, butterfly, and a dragonfly. They turn on at dusk, then run until the batteries are drained. They recharge during the day using a solar collector mounted on the stake. The Solar Lights change colors similar to the Sprinklites but the color cycle is much faster. The effect is not nearly as hypnotic as the very slow morph of the Sprinklites. When assembled with the stake driven 8" deep into the ground, the top of the Solar Light is 22" tall (compare to the 36" height for the Sprinklites.) A solar collector is located 9" below the light, the lights need to be installed so that the solar unit is above any foliage. An on/off switch is located on the bottom of the solar collector of each unit. Two screws hold the lid of the solar collector body in place, inside there is a single AA 600 mAh Ni-Cd rechargeable battery.
I installed these Solar Lights in my front yard, away from overhanging foliage so that the solar collectors would get full sun. The first thing I noticed is that the entire assembly is very light and flimsy. They utilize a plastic stake tip to allow them to be pushed into the ground. Above that is a rolled-aluminum-plated steel tube that extends up to the solar collector and then another similar tube extends up to the plastic light fixture. While installing them one of the plastic stake tips snapped off. Once installed and fully charged, I was surprised to notice that the "hot-spot" of the Solar Lights seem almost as bright as the Sprinklites. However the light does not diffuse through the plastic body nearly as well, so at night you see the single light hot spot rather than a body that glows like the Sprinklites. (The Sprinklites also have a hot spot where the LEDs are, but it is not nearly as pronounced.) The clear plastic animals are considerably smaller than the Sprinklites. For example the Solar Light hummingbird has a wing span of 5" compared to the 7" wingspan of the Sprinklite hummingbird. The plastic bodies of the Solar Lights also have less surface area (for example, narrower wings and bodies) which makes them not nearly as noticeable during the day when the lights are off. The Solar Light stakes do not bend without crimping, so you can't position the lights by bending the support tube like you can with the Sprinklites. If you want the fixture angled you must pull up the stake and reinsert it into the ground at an angle. When installed the solar collector is about 13" above ground, so it needs to be installed in areas of low groundcover. I've had a lot of problems with my groundcover growing over the solar units and blocking the sunlight to them.
The One Stop Garden Solar Lights have not held up well at all. As noted, one of the units broke during installation and had to be repaired prior to use. Within 2 months another one had stopped working and the remaining two only stayed on for a couple of hours after dark. At 6 months the clear plastic animal light fixtures had yellowed noticeably. They were no longer clear, and the dull surface of the wings no longer sparkle during the day when the sun shines on them. As I write this it has not been quite a year, and none of the Solar Lights work anymore. The batteries in all of them were dead and would not charge. Replacing the batteries with new batteries has restored operation to them. However the new batteries cost almost as much as I paid for the original Solar Lights, and the plastic is still yellowed and ugly looking. At one year of age the aluminum-plated stakes are starting to rust in several places on each light. Given the low price I didn't expect much from the Solar Lights, my experience with other discount solar lighting products is that they come with very low quality batteries. Most I have tested need new batteries after about 9 months to a year, with better quality replacement batteries they often go well over a year between battery changes. I was very disappointed over the yellowing of clear plastic in the Solar Lights. That problem is not repairable. Over all, I expected the One Stop Gardens 3 Piece Decorative Solar Light Set to hold up better than it did.
Disclosure: I was given the original set of Sprinklites free in return for testing and evaluation, with no guarantee of a good review (as said before, I didn't think I would like them!) I purchased the One Stop Gardens 3 Piece Decorative Solar Light Set.
Text and Images by Jess Stryker unless noted. Copyright © Jess Stryker, 1997-2011. All rights reserved.