Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting
Even on the best of moonlit evenings, trying to navigate through the garden via path and patio can be a challenge at best and, at worst, the cause of a nasty spill.
A house-mounted spotlight here or there can improve lighting and lessen the prospect of a fall, but has several disadvantages. Traditionally, house-mounted lighting is line voltage (120 volts) which can be a budget buster at the end of the month when you receive your utility bill. In addition, it is operated from switches located at the home’s interior that can be quite inconvenient when outside and in need of some quick light. Though, infrared motion detection switches have eased this problem to a great degree.
Consequently, an increasing number of people are discovering the benefits of low-voltage landscape lighting as an economical, effective and energy-efficient source of exterior lighting.
The biggest single difference between traditional forms of line voltage landscape lighting and its low-voltage counterpart is the electric current required to power the system. The former is powered by 120 volts — the same electricity used to power most homes. Low-voltage lighting, on the other hand, operates on only twelve volts of electrical current – about a tenth of its line-voltage cousin.
There are other advantages to low-voltage lighting, too. Aside from the fact that it uses less energy, many landscape lighting systems are sold in kits for user-friendly do-it-yourself installation. Gangs of people who wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead near electricity can be found installing a low-voltage landscape lighting system on any given weekend. Furthermore, they are affordable and can be installed in an afternoon – without the need for an electrician.
A low-voltage landscape lighting system consists of the transformer, low-voltage electrical wire and the light fixtures.
The device that converts line-voltage electricity to low-voltage is called a transformer. The transformer plugs into a 120-volt electrical outlet located near its installation location. Low-voltage wires that supply electricity to various light fixtures are connected to terminals located on the transformer.
Transformers are available in various wattage, which correspond to the number of light fixtures that will be powered by it. Generally speaking, the greater the number of fixtures, the higher the wattage, the larger the transformer.
The wire used to connect the light fixtures to the transformer is typically 12-gauge direct burial. Therefore, it is not necessary to run the wire in metal or plastic conduit. It can simply be buried in a shallow trench, though, we suggest that it be buried at least eight inches below the surface to avoid damage when digging in the garden.
The final components are the light fixtures. Low-voltage landscape light fixtures come in more sizes, styles, finishes and price ranges than ever before. Essentially, there are three basic types of fixtures: spot lighting, path lighting and general lighting.
Spot lighting consists of a floodlight that is used to direct light to a specific location so as to light a tree or group of decorative shrubs. A spotlight can also be used to highlight a specific architectural element of the home’s exterior.
Path lighting and accent lighting fixtures are by far the most popular style used by homeowners today. An evening drive around virtually any neighborhood will reveal this style of lighting surrounding paths, patios, driveways and carports. They can also be found sprinkled throughout flowerbeds and other planting areas.
Path or accent light fixtures could previously be identified by their ‘one-trick’ style – a multi-tiered ‘pagoda-style’ fixture with a green or black finish. While the pagoda-style remains popular, patch and accent lighting comes in more styles, sizes and finishes than ever before. A fixture with a floral or ‘tulip’ design with a verdigris patina finish has become increasingly popular in the last several years.
Keep in mind that, in addition to providing ample light, the fixtures that you choose should act as a design element to enhance the appearance of your home and landscaping. Thus, not only should the fixtures be attractive, their size (scale), placement and quantity used should be well thought out.
Accordingly, always begin with a pencil and paper to create a plan rather than a shovel and soil to forge a trench. The plan should detail each fixture location – by style. In addition, proposed transformer locations and existing electrical power sources should be detailed on the plan.
Most leading manufactures of low-voltage landscape lighting have informative, well-illustrated pamphlets that offer step-by-step instructions on everything from layout to installation.
One particular aspect of design that deserves particular attention is the maximum distance that the wire will travel. Bear in mind that the longer the wire travels there is a drop in voltage, which, in turn, creates a noticeable drop in illumination. Thus, to avoid this condition, several wires of varying lengths should be run from the transformer to avoid this condition.
When choosing a transformer, look for one that offers multiple accessories that can make your low-voltage landscape lighting more versatile and efficient. For instance, some transformers are equipped with a photoelectric (PE) cell that will automatically turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn. Another popular accessory is a variable rheostat (dimmer) that will control the intensity of the lighting to create the perfect mood on your deck, patio or gazebo.
Look for an outdoor lighting services to help you on this project.