Low-voltage landscape lighting is a simple improvement that can make a huge difference to your home. Not only does outdoor lighting provide safety and security for your home, but a well-designed lighting plan can make a dramatic change to your landscape.
Exterior lighting extends the evenings for outdoor activities. With a little planning you can bring out the colors of foliage, highlight shadows and the many textures your landscape has to offer.
Installed along walkways, steps, and driveways, or pointed up at trees, walls and fences the typical low-voltage lighting project can make use of various techniques to enhance your outdoor living area. Some lighting techniques include:
Lights are mounted high up in a tree or arbor and aimed downward for a soft and romantic feeling.
Lights are mounted on either side of a tree, gate or arbor to reveal detail and soften shadows.
A light is placed at ground level to throw an object’s shadow on a surface behind it.
Silhouetting lights the surface behind an object for a striking effect.
Intense light is focused on a specific object to contrast it against a dark background.
Uses circular patterns of light to illuminate flowers and low shrubs from above.
Uses a beam of light which just grazes the surface of an object to reveal its texture.
The typical low-voltage lighting system requires just three components: a transformer, low-voltage electrical cable, and the fixtures.
The transformer steps down the 120-volt house current to just 12 volts. It must be plugged into a GFCI-protected outdoor electrical outlet fitted with a “while-in-use” cover, and oversize plastic box that closes over the power cord. The transformer needs to have enough capacity to support the cumulative wattage of the lights in the system. Between fixtures, the cable is buried in a shallow trench.
As long as you have a nearby outlet, you’ll be able to give your home and yard a welcoming glow when the sun goes down.
So how do you install your low-voltage Landscape lighting?
Step 1. Plan your installation
Using some graph paper draw a scale diagram of the landscape you want to highlight. Now decide what type of lighting techniques you’ll use to achieve the desired effect. Draw a plan of the lighting project making a note to what components you’re going to need.
Step 2. Lay out the components
Place the components where they will be installed. Try to keep light fixtures away from areas where they may get damaged by mowers, traffic, water etc. Light fixtures can usually be placed about 8 to 10 feet apart.
Lay the low-voltage cable on the ground, following the line of light fixtures. Use 14-gauge cable for lighting systems that total 200 watts or less and 12-gauge cable for systems that are more than 200 watts.
When you come to an obstacle, such as a fence or shrub, string the cable under or around it.
Keep in mind any future plantings or improvements you plan on making as you don’t want to damage the wiring later on.
Step 3. Dig the Trench
Once you have everything laid out, move the light fixtures out of the way.
Take a shovel and prepare a trench for the wiring. It only needs to be a few inches wide and no more that 3 inches deep.
Step 4. Bury the electrical cable
Set the low-voltage electrical cable in the trench. Leave a bit of slacked cable at each fixture point for making the connection to the light fixtures. Making a 10 to 12 inch loop at each fixture gives you plenty of extra wire for connecting the fixtures later.
Smooth the soil over the trench, but leave the cable sticking up out of the soil near each fixture.
Step 5. Install the transformer
Run the cable up to the outdoor electrical outlet. Then use wire strippers to cut the cable and strip off ½ inch of the rubber insulation.
Slide the stripped wires under the two terminal screws on the bottom of the transformer. Tighten the screws all the way to hold the cable securely in place.
It’s a good idea to mount the transformer in a water tight box/container mounted to the side of the house.
Lift up the “while-in-use” cover on the outlet and plug in the transformer.
Step 6. Prepare holes for the fixtures
Set all the light fixtures back into position, checking to make sure they’re equally spaced.
Make a hole in the ground for the fixture’s stake with a large screwdriver or long steel punch. Never use a hammer to drive the fixture into the ground.
Step 7. Make the electrical connections
Slip the two connector halves hanging from the bottom of the light fixture over the cable that’s protruding from the ground and pinch them together until you hear a click. This allows the sharp prongs inside the connectors to pierce the cable and make contact with the wires inside.
Tip: If none of the bulbs lights up, you may have a faulty transformer or outdoor electrical outlet.
Step 8. Install the light fixtures
Insert the light fixture into its metal ground stake.
Using both hands, push the fixture and its stake into the ground until the top of the stake is flush with the ground. Make sure the fixtures are straight up this will add to the overall effect of the installation.
Tuck the cable and connector under the sod and stuff them into the soil, about 2 inches deep.
Continue installing the remaining fixtures in the same manner.
Step 9. Plug in the Transformer
After all the wiring is completed plug in the transformer and check to see that all the lights are working. If not re-check all fittings, connections and bulbs.
Step 10. Replace the sod
Once all the light fixtures are installed and working properly, smooth out the sod around the fixtures. Re-contour flowerbeds and tidy up the whole area.
If necessary, cut the sod around the light fixtures with the shovel.
Firmly press down on the sod, then use a garden hose to soak the area with water.
Tip: In regular use, promptly replace a burned-out bulb or it will shorten the life of the other bulbs.
There you have it. For relatively low cost and a little bit of effort you can easily change your garden into the envy of the neighborhood.