This is a story about an expensive mistake, the guilt of being crushed by a “first world problem”, the incredible service of a local company, and a storybook ending for me. This is NOT a thinly veiled attempt at getting you to invest in what I did – it’s a cautionary tale and a hopeful lesson so no one else makes the same mistake I did. This blog is exactly what I needed a few years ago and couldn’t find, so while this may be long-winded, I’ve truly written this so anyone else who finds themselves in the position I did is empowered to ask the questions I didn’t and feel informed moving forward.
Growing up, my childhood can be described as rocky at best. We were firmly in the poverty class and so were everyone else we knew. We went without most of the basics (including the love and affection every child needs) and when the holidays rolled around, we knew not to expect much for gifts. Christmas lights? Not a chance. No one could afford the extra hydro costs that heaped on the monthly bill. I remember the first time I watched “Home Alone” (a Christmas staple now) and I saw that big red brick Georgian house all decked out in twinkling lights. Bulbs framed every window, and draped across all the front yard shrubs. Music played in the background with the house full of people, and I thought to myself, “One Day”. I dreamt that one day I would have a house with Christmas lights, the sound of children underfoot, and real gifts around a real Christmas tree. I would have real shrubs in my yard, and those would have lights too. That is how I would know I “made it”.
Fast forward a few decades, and the life that Tiny Rachel dreamed of had come to fruition – A wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters, and a pup that looked like a teddy bear. We had finally got to a spot in life where we could entertain the idea of luxuries again, and so we begun to look into permanent exterior lighting. We had been saving for it for years, and at this point it was June 2020, and we were three months into pandemic life. Being home 24/7 gave us the push we needed to finally take the plunge on all-year round lights. The height of our home, the harsh Prairie winters, and the wicked winds in our area made traditional holiday light installation and take-down nightmarish. In fact, I was semi-convinced if I asked my husband to do it one more time, I might have to look for a new husband…
I started the process of looking for a company to install. I did some research, and had a few companies out to quote our home. One couldn’t accommodate our install for a few months, so we did not choose them. One provided a quote that was so low, we were instantly suspicious and passed on that. The third seemed reasonable – the installer/owner presented as knowledgeable and the lights/system looked great from our vantage point. Additionally, we were promised a 5 year warranty. We justified the price tag by acknowledging that this would mean no going 30 feet up a ladder twice a year in frigid temps to install and take down holiday lights, savings on our electricity bills as LED lights use minimal energy, and we would have so many lighting options for occasions all year long. Alright – game on.
The lights that (from here on out will be known as) The Company That Shall Not Be Named installed were essentially LED strip lighting. Light modules were placed in pods of three, and then covered with polycarbonate covers. These were installed under our soffits as shown. The installer had them up quickly, gave us a thorough rundown on how to use and customize our permanent lights, and we felt great about our decision. We paid the money we had been saving for years – and that was that.
A few days later, we had a minor issue with our lights glitching. We called The Company That Shall Not Be Named and the installer came back immediately to rectify the situation to our satisfaction. We were back in action, and enjoyed changing our lights to celebrate football game wins, holidays, and even loved the glow of white ambient lighting. My husband is a commercial pilot and I was home often solo with the kids and pup, so the exterior lighting provided me an additional sense of security while he was gone. This was it – this is what I had always dreamed of. I had made it. The joy these lights brought me was unmatched.
Fast forward to February 2022. We began having multiple issues with our lights. The app was very finicky and often wouldn’t connect, random pods would stay green/blue no matter what colour pattern we had on and if we turned the lights off? Those blue/green pods stayed lit! It didn’t alarm us that we were having issues, we anticipated the potential for electronics to need to be looked at and believed that was the peace of mind behind our warranty. So, we called The Company That Shall Not Be Named, as we were only 20 months into our 5 year warranty, and asked for someone to come out and fix the issues. We did not receive a response.
Now, we are a few years into pandemic life at this point and we get it – folks are overworked, customers are grumpy, there are supply chain issues out the wazoo, and everything takes longer. No problem, we understood. We waited a few weeks and called again, requesting assistance. No response. February, March, April – emails, phone calls, text messages – no response. A cursory look on Google confirmed our fears – it appeared that The Company That Shall Not Be Named had gone MIA and was no longer responsive to anyone for any reason. The reviews were horrific, and we were another customer on the pile.
I felt sick. It may sound like a “first world problem”, but I truly had been fantasizing about these lights since before I could even tie my shoes. We scrimped and saved and squirreled away our money as newlyweds with two small kids for YEARS before we could afford it. That money? Gone. Our lights? Not working. I felt so guilty at how crushed I was about this, because not only is beautiful permanent exterior lighting a luxury most don’t have, but the realities of our current world made this feel so stupid in comparison. I was angry at myself for feeling like this, and angry at The Company That Shall Not Be Named for putting us in this position. It was hard to reconcile the recognition of my privilege and what the symbolism of the loss of the lights and what they meant to me felt like. We tried searching for a reputable company to service our existing lights, but we had no success.
This is when I reached out to Gemstone Lights in Calgary. As our new subdivision filled out in the past few years since we moved in, it was obvious Gemstone Lights were the fan favourite. We often saw their trucks driving around, and 8 homes on our street ALONE had them installed. I had never felt like our current lights weren’t good enough, but Gemstone Lights were obviously a beautiful (and popular) choice. A markedly different product than we had, but I felt like if everyone else trusted them, it was probably safe to say we could too. I dove into researching them and as excited as I was about their company, I had that sinking feeling when I read all about the unique facets of their system that I hadn’t even thought to ask The Company That Shall Not Be Named.
I learned that Gemstone Lights was actually founded here in Calgary in 2016. The founder, Tate Leavitt, was *every person ever* and frustrated with hanging Christmas lights every year. After an exhaustive search, he concluded that nobody had a high quality permanent outdoor lighting system that was sleek, professional, blended into the home, AND handled our harsh Prairie winters. He got to work creating one and Gemstone Lights was born. He added a bluetooth controller and after many modifications and improvements Gemstone Lights was able offer a cloud-based Hub controller that would allow customers to enjoy multiple Gemstone Lights products controlled through one app while being anywhere in the world.
I learned that Gemstone Lights have an IP 65 waterproof rating, could withstand temps -40° F/-40° C, almost all of their products are built and assembled out of Calgary’s head office and manufacturing shop, AND are distributed to authorized dealers all over North America. Domestic production means minimal supply chain disruptions. The BIGGEST improvement I saw when I compared Gemstone Lights and The Company That Shall Not Be Named? Gemstone Lights had been in business for 6 years and had entire teams dedicated to service, warranty, tech, and installations – so the 5 year warranty they offer *actually* gets fulfilled. So, I emailed them and explained our predicament, asked if they could help us, and what our options were. My hopes were not high, and I knew we may just be SOL but it was worth a shot.
Gemstone Lights got back to me in less than 24 hours. “You’re not the only one”, they confirmed. Folks all over were turning to exterior lighting for many of the same reasons we did and unfortunately there were many unscrupulous companies out there waiting to make a quick buck. Gemstone Lights told me they deal with countless others who’ve reached out to them with non-functioning lighting needing servicing and yes, they are very skilled in removing existing lighting and installing their own. Phewf – this felt promising. They explained the features of their system, how their lights differed from others, and we scheduled an installer to come out and give me an estimate after assessing my home.
I was expecting to hear that this obviously superior company wanted eleventy billion dollars to replace my lights and recycle the old ones. So when the quote from Gemstone Lights came in $1,200 LESS than what I originally paid for my malfunctioning lights from The Company That Shall Not Be Named two years ago, I felt very hulk-smashy. How on Earth did I get it so wrong? I wished I could go back in time and warn Past Rachel of the red flags to watch for and the right questions to ask. Gemstone Lights and I talked at length about how common this situation was, and we decided to team up to give folks the knowledge and confidence to ask the right questions and make a sound decision if and when the investment in exterior lighting arises.
Gemstone Lights came to install, and the process was quite a bit different than my original one. They welcomed my questions, easily answered how their products differed and performed compared to others on the market, and eased my worries every step of the way. Aesthetically, Gemstones Lights were exponentially more appealing than my previous lights, and the features these had blew my old ones out of the water. We had warm white lights now! Admittedly, I didn’t even *think* to ask The Company That Shall Not Be Named if they offered warm white when we hired them (spoiler alert: they didn’t offer that). Our only option for ambient lighting previously was cold clinical white lighting we hated. Our Gemstone Lights installer taught us how every single one of their lights is numbered, and we can create custom patterns light by light by light. Minds blown.
Install took just shy of 6 hours with 2 installers, which included the removal of our malfunctioning lights and weatherproofing the small holes left by the old lighting system. I asked what would become of our old lights, and I was pleased to be told they’d be responsibly recycled. It was so refreshing to learn more about Gemstone Lights, and how it’s essentially a family business. Almost everything is built and assembled here in Alberta, Canada, and they even have an HQ (#170, 11080 50 St. SE, Calgary, Alberta Canada – T2C 5TY) you can go into and ask for a free demo to try before you buy. Technology isn’t perfect, but Gemstone employs an entire trained service team to attend to any issues quickly. Need help learning their app? Their tech team is on standby. After six years, Gemstone has established themselves as an industry leader and the standard to measure all other permanent exterior lighting companies by.
Again, this blog’s intention is not to entice you to rush out and invest in exterior lighting that you may not be financially able to – it’s to empower you to know the right questions to ask potential companies, what to watch for, what exists on the market, and how to ensure you’re making a wise investment. This was a dream since I was little, and I don’t regret my investment, I just wish I was better informed before hiring the company I did. These lights bring my family so much joy, and they make me grin ear to ear every time I see them. I want to share what I’ve learned because you’ve worked hard for your money!! Basically, these are all the things Past Rachel wished she had asked and learned more about when she first hired The Company That Shall Not Be Named:
- When was your company founded? How long have you been in business?
- Where are your lights manufactured?
- What is the average lifespan of your lights? (lumen hours, and years)
- Where are your controllers manufactured?
- Did you build your accompanying app yourself, or is it built by a third party?
- How often are app updates made? Is it Apple and Android compatible?
- How many users can use the app at one time?
- Does your app offer timers to set our lights to?
- What kind of lights do you use?
- How much power do your lights use?
- Do you have a true “warm white” ambient lighting option?
- Are your lights CSA and ETL approved?
- Is your product designed to withstand extreme temperatures and weather events?
- What is your warranty policy? Do you have a service team dedicated to warranty requests?
- What is the standard wait time for warranty servicing?
- What are the lumen and power specifications of your lights?
- How long can we expect install to take?
- Are your tracks prone to rust or degradation? Why not?
- Are your tracks colour matched to our soffits to ensure a seamless integration?
- How many colours and patterns are possible with your app?
- Can these lights be installed on various soffit & fascia materials like wood?
- How do you work with rain gutters, and things like irregular or non-existent fascia and soffits?
- Do you have testimonials we can read through? (Some companies post these on their website, and some do not – pay attention to that)
- Is your system compatible with popular home monitoring systems? (Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Control Four, etc)
- Can you add on to your lighting system down the road? Say for backs of homes, pergolas, fences, even campsites?
- Do I need to be home to control my lights?
- If my wi-fi goes down, does your product have backup bluetooth connection capabilities?
In addition to all of the above, be sure to check out any potential company’s Google reviews, as well as their official social media pages and those reviews. Ask on your local community forums for honest thoughts from folks in your community about prospective companies. When having lighting companies come out to your home for free estimates, ensure you ask exactly how pricing is quoted. One company’s quote may come in lower because they are providing less linear feet of lighting, lower quality lights, and a very basic app. Comparing quotes can be like comparing apples to oranges, so know exactly what to look for before choosing based on price alone.
It’s probably clear by now how favourable my opinion is of Gemstone Lights – partly because of the incredible company they’ve shown themselves to be, but due in large part to my misfortune in first having experienced an inferior company and product in every facet. The comparison for me was incredibly stark. I hope this blog served to give you the questions to ask the exterior lighting company you’re interested in to ensure you make a sound investment.
Please note: I am not being compensated if you book a quote, hire Gemstone Lights, or seek out any exterior lighting company as a result of my honest review in this blog post. It simply serves to share my experience only and there is no current or future benefit to me if you do any of the above.