Why Is Low Voltage Used For Landscape Lighting?

March 19, 2019

Why Is Low Voltage Used For Landscape Lighting?

 

All the effort that you’ve put in to make your house, the patio, the lawn, the pathways in it, the flower beds, the backyard, the fence and more stand apart from the rest, remains hidden once the sun sets. A well-designed landscape lighting system can change that completely. Not only will it add a new dimension to the house through the evening and night, but you will also be able to use the space productively once it’s well lit. You will be able to host get togethers outside, instead of fitting everyone in the house. The architectural features of your house, the trees and flowering plants in the garden will also get a chance to shine bright.

 

Once you’ve made up your mind that investing a bit on an aesthetic landscape lighting design is the way to go, there are a few things that you need to become aware of. Firstly, the size of the space that needs to be covered will help you determine whether a do it yourself (DIY) is feasible or if you require professional assistance. If you decide to go down the DIY path, then low-voltage lighting is the recommended option for you. To put it simply, low voltage lighting is relatively easy to install, it’s safe and isn’t expensive.

 

The alternative is to use line voltage. It’s typically used in outdoor lighting of commercial or public usage spaces. You can use it for residential landscape lighting as well, however, it will cost you significantly more than low-voltage landscape lighting. In addition, you will need to hire a professional electrician to take care of the installation. The reason line voltage simply doesn’t make sense for residential outdoor lighting any longer is because low voltage modern LED lighting fixtures, in combination with multi-tier step-down transformers, are capable of matching the power of a line voltage based setup.

 

Advantages of Low Voltage Landscape Lighting

Safe

This is probably the most important reason why low-voltage landscape lighting is recommended for residential properties. You will obviously be spending some time in the outdoor space. It’s likely that you have kids at home, who will be playing in this space. Then there are your guests. A low-voltage lighting system with 12 volt power ensures that they will be protected from shocks, in case they mistakenly touch something. On the other hand, if you opt for line voltage, which has 120 volt power, the consequences of an accident will be severe.

 

 

Ease of Installation

Setting up a line voltage landscape lighting system requires several safety measures such as burying the wires at least 18 feet deep and ensuring that the wire connections can be accessed via junction boxes. So, it’s advisable that you hire a professional to oversee the entire process.  In case of low voltage landscape lighting, you can set it up on your own. It’s essentially a transformer-cable-light fixtures setup, which is relatively easy to learn. Plus, working in a low voltage setup is safe, so you can afford to do it yourself.

 

 

Cost Effective

You will have to buy a transformer for a low-voltage setup, which isn’t required for the line voltage system. While the cables you would need for line voltage lighting are more expensive than those needed for low-voltage lighting. In addition, you should be using LED light fixtures in the low voltage system, which cost more than incandescent lights but last significantly longer. LED light fixtures also consume much less power, so your electricity bill will be lower as well.

 

Even if you don’t use LED fixtures, in a line voltage system you would require bulbs and fixtures that are 50 watts or more. Whereas in a low voltage system, you can use bulbs and fixtures as low as 2-10 watts.

 

 

Aesthetics

Since, low-voltage landscape lighting has become the de facto choice for residential properties, manufacturers have developed a significantly wider variety of light fixtures for low-voltage systems. In terms of color and the lenses, there are many more options in a low-voltage system as compared to a line voltage system. This allows you to be more creative in designing the effect of the lights. You can move away from the garish halogen flood lights and create a more intricate lighting system.

 

 

The Key Components of a Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting Setup

Transformer

The transformer is the most important element in the low-voltage lighting system. It steps down the standard 120 volt current is household to 12 volt for the landscape lighting system. Ideally, you should buy a transformer that has a 24-hour timer, allowing you to set a specific time for the lights to be automatically switched on and off.

 

The other thing you need to keep in mind is to buy a transformer with a power output slightly higher than what you need at the time of setting up the landscape lighting system. For example, if the total wattage of the light fixtures you plan to install comes up to 500 watt, then buy a 700 watt transformer. This will enable you to add to your lighting system later on, without having to invest in a new transformer.

 

 

Light Fixture

There’s a plethora of light fixtures available in various price ranges. Selecting the right collection of light fixtures is important, because they will ultimately be responsible for the aesthetics. Hence, you need to first chalk out a clear plan and make a list of the types of light fixtures you require. One way of doing this is asking yourself a few simple questions.

  • Is there a pond or sprinklers in the garden? If yes, then the light fixtures to be placed near the pond and in the arc of the sprinklers need to be waterproof.
  • Do I want to light only the pathways or the features around them as well? If you want the field of the light to be broader than just the pathway, then you would require higher light poles and possibly cone lights. If you want the light to focus only on the pathway, then you could opt for offset path lights.
  • Does every part of the outdoor space need to be lit or should the lights only accentuate the space? If you prefer the latter option, then you won’t have to buy powerful halogen lights.

 

Basic Light Fixtures

  1. Flood light
  2. Path light
  3. Spot light
  4. Wall wash light
  5. Well light
  6. Submersible pond light

 

You can get path lights in a variety of styles and in packs of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. You can also get complete kits, including flood lights, path lights, spot lights and a transformer. All light fixtures are available with LEDs, which is the ideal option for residential landscape lighting.

 

Now that you have a better idea about the types of light fixtures suited for the outdoor space around your house, you also need to take into consideration their longevity. A light fixture in a plastic casing won’t last as long as one with a metal casing. Obviously, the the metal fixtures will cost more, but will eventually balance itself because of its longevity.

 

Finally, remember that it’s your space and you should let your imagination guide you.

 

 

Low-Voltage Electrical Cable

The cable connects the light fixtures to the transformers. Generally, the 12-gauge, 14-gauge and 16-gauge cables are used for residential landscape lighting. Note that the 12-gauge cable is thicker than the 14-gauge cable and has greater current delivery capacity. Similarly, the 14-gauge cableis thicker than the 16-gauge cable and equipped to handle more current.

 

For example, if your transformer is 300 watts, then in case of the 16-gauge cable, it can power only 100 feet, for the 14-gauge cable it can power 150 feet and for 12-gauge cable it can power 200 feet. So, you need to calculate the total length of cable required to connect all the light fixtures and then select the right gauge of cable you need to buy, keeping in mind the transformer wattage.

 

One more thing. Since, you will have to bury the cable, you should get in touch with the utilities company and ask them to mark out the locations of the cables and pipelines under your property. This will ensure that you accidentally don’t damage one of them.

 

 

How to Install Low Voltage Landscape Lighting?

The installation process essentially comprises three steps — one for each of the three key components of the system.

 

First You Have to Lay the Cable

  • Begin by placing the light fixtures in the positions where you have decided to install them.
  • Take the spool of cable and lay it beside the light fixtures, all the way till where the transformer will be installed.
  • If you come across an obstacle while laying the cable, like a tree or part of the fence, then just either slip the cable under the obstacle or around it.
  • After laying the cable till the transformer’s location, use a shovel to dig a shallow trench (about 3 inches deep) along the line of the cable that’s been laid out. Just like in case of the cable, if you meet an obstacle then dig the trench around it.
  • Now place the cable in the trench and press it down into the ground. Don’t use the shovel to press the cable, as that might damage the cable.
  • You will have to cover up the trench with the soil that you’ve dug up and then tap on it with your boot to pack in it tightly. However, you do this at the very end, when the transformer has been installed and the light fixtures have been connected. This will save you some time in case you need to make any last minute changes.

 

 

Next You Install the Transformer

  • Low-voltage cables are typically double stranded.
  • You need to peel apart about 5-6 inches of the two strands.
  • Next, you have to use a wire cutter to remove an inch of the insulated cover off the top of each strand in order to expose the copper wire underneath.
  • Slip both strands into the transformer via the slot at the back.
  • Inside the transformer, you will find two screw terminals marked ‘A’ and ‘B’. You have to slide one exposed end of the copper wire into each of the terminals and tighten the screw to secure its position.
  • You can fix the transformer on a wooden stake that’s been pressure treated (the ones usually used in fences). Alternatively, you can fix on an exterior wall, ideally a little distance away from the main house.
  • However, make sure the electrical outlet you use to power the transformer is a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, as it will protect you from electrical shocks.
  • Once the light fixtures have been connected and tested (which has been elaborated in the next section), you will have to cover the transformer with a weatherproof cover.

 

 

Finally, You Connect the Light Fixtures

  • Generally, landscaping light fixtures are equipped with what’s known as snap-on connectors.
  • These connectors enable you to simply snap the prewired prongs onto the cable. The prongs bite into the cable and come in contact with the copper wire underneath.
  • However, even though the connectors are super convenient, they aren’t ideal. The reason being that the wire remains partly exposed and could be affected by water or other elements.
  • You need to cut off the connectors, expose about half an inch of the wire from under the insulated cover and install weatherproof wire connectors, which have a sealant and base shield.
  • Once this is done, switch on the transformer and test each and every light fixture.
  • When you’re satisfied that all the light fixtures are working fine, you have to install them as required. So, if it’s a well light you must have hole dug deep enough for it to sit comfortably. For path lights you will have to stick them into the ground deep enough to ensure they are stable.
  • Next, you cover up the cable as mentioned earlier.
  • Finally, you need to set the transformer timer and select the switch on and switch off times for the lights.

 

We hope these tips come in handy when you’re all set to light up your landscape area. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll a wonderfully lit outdoor space!

 

 

All the effort that you’ve put in to make your house, the patio, the lawn, the pathways in it, the flower beds, the backyard, the fence and more stand apart from the rest, remains hidden once the sun sets. A well-designed landscape lighting system can change that completely. Not only will it add a new dimension to the house through the evening and night, but you will also be able to use the space productively once it’s well lit. You will be able to host get togethers outside, instead of fitting everyone in the house. The architectural features of your house, the trees and flowering plants in the garden will also get a chance to shine bright.

 

Once you’ve made up your mind that investing a bit on an aesthetic landscape lighting design is the way to go, there are a few things that you need to become aware of. Firstly, the size of the space that needs to be covered will help you determine whether a do it yourself (DIY) is feasible or if you require professional assistance. If you decide to go down the DIY path, then low-voltage lighting is the recommended option for you. To put it simply, low voltage lighting is relatively easy to install, it’s safe and isn’t expensive.

 

 

The alternative is to use line voltage. It’s typically used in outdoor lighting of commercial or public usage spaces. You can use it for residential landscape lighting as well, however, it will cost you significantly more than low-voltage landscape lighting. In addition, you will need to hire a professional electrician to take care of the installation. The reason line voltage simply doesn’t make sense for residential outdoor lighting any longer is because low voltage modern LED lighting fixtures, in combination with multi-tier step-down transformers, are capable of matching the power of a line voltage based setup.

 

Advantages of Low Voltage Landscape Lighting

Safe

This is probably the most important reason why low-voltage landscape lighting is recommended for residential properties. You will obviously be spending some time in the outdoor space. It’s likely that you have kids at home, who will be playing in this space. Then there are your guests. A low-voltage lighting system with 12 volt power ensures that they will be protected from shocks, in case they mistakenly touch something. On the other hand, if you opt for line voltage, which has 120 volt power, the consequences of an accident will be severe.

 

 

Ease of Installation

Setting up a line voltage landscape lighting system requires several safety measures such as burying the wires at least 18 feet deep and ensuring that the wire connections can be accessed via junction boxes. So, it’s advisable that you hire a professional to oversee the entire process.  In case of low voltage landscape lighting, you can set it up on your own. It’s essentially a transformer-cable-light fixtures setup, which is relatively easy to learn. Plus, working in a low voltage setup is safe, so you can afford to do it yourself.

 

 

Cost Effective

You will have to buy a transformer for a low-voltage setup, which isn’t required for the line voltage system. While the cables you would need for line voltage lighting are more expensive than those needed for low-voltage lighting. In addition, you should be using LED light fixtures in the low voltage system, which cost more than incandescent lights but last significantly longer. LED light fixtures also consume much less power, so your electricity bill will be lower as well.

 

Even if you don’t use LED fixtures, in a line voltage system you would require bulbs and fixtures that are 50 watts or more. Whereas in a low voltage system, you can use bulbs and fixtures as low as 2-10 watts.

 

 

Aesthetics

Since, low-voltage landscape lighting has become the de facto choice for residential properties, manufacturers have developed a significantly wider variety of light fixtures for low-voltage systems. In terms of color and the lenses, there are many more options in a low-voltage system as compared to a line voltage system. This allows you to be more creative in designing the effect of the lights. You can move away from the garish halogen flood lights and create a more intricate lighting system.

 

The Key Components of a Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting Setup

Transformer

The transformer is the most important element in the low-voltage lighting system. It steps down the standard 120 volt current is household to 12 volt for the landscape lighting system. Ideally, you should buy a transformer that has a 24-hour timer, allowing you to set a specific time for the lights to be automatically switched on and off.

 

The other thing you need to keep in mind is to buy a transformer with a power output slightly higher than what you need at the time of setting up the landscape lighting system. For example, if the total wattage of the light fixtures you plan to install comes up to 500 watt, then buy a 700 watt transformer. This will enable you to add to your lighting system later on, without having to invest in a new transformer.

 

 

Light Fixture

There’s a plethora of light fixtures available in various price ranges. Selecting the right collection of light fixtures is important, because they will ultimately be responsible for the aesthetics. Hence, you need to first chalk out a clear plan and make a list of the types of light fixtures you require. One way of doing this is asking yourself a few simple questions.

  • Is there a pond or sprinklers in the garden? If yes, then the light fixtures to be placed near the pond and in the arc of the sprinklers need to be waterproof.
  • Do I want to light only the pathways or the features around them as well? If you want the field of the light to be broader than just the pathway, then you would require higher light poles and possibly cone lights. If you want the light to focus only on the pathway, then you could opt for offset path lights.
  • Does every part of the outdoor space need to be lit or should the lights only accentuate the space? If you prefer the latter option, then you won’t have to buy powerful halogen lights.

 

Basic Light Fixtures

  1. Flood light
  2. Path light
  3. Spot light
  4. Wall wash light
  5. Well light
  6. Submersible pond light

 

You can get path lights in a variety of styles and in packs of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. You can also get complete kits, including flood lights, path lights, spot lights and a transformer. All light fixtures are available with LEDs, which is the ideal option for residential landscape lighting.

 

Now that you have a better idea about the types of light fixtures suited for the outdoor space around your house, you also need to take into consideration their longevity. A light fixture in a plastic casing won’t last as long as one with a metal casing. Obviously, the the metal fixtures will cost more, but will eventually balance itself because of its longevity.

 

Finally, remember that it’s your space and you should let your imagination guide you.

 

 

Low-Voltage Electrical Cable

The cable connects the light fixtures to the transformers. Generally, the 12-gauge, 14-gauge and 16-gauge cables are used for residential landscape lighting. Note that the 12-gauge cable is thicker than the 14-gauge cable and has greater current delivery capacity. Similarly, the 14-gauge cable is thicker than the 16-gauge cable and equipped to handle more current.

 

For example, if your transformer is 300 watts, then in case of the 16-gauge cable, it can power only 100 feet, for the 14-gauge cable it can power 150 feet and for 12-gauge cable it can power 200 feet. So, you need to calculate the total length of cable required to connect all the light fixtures and then select the right gauge of cable you need to buy, keeping in mind the transformer wattage.

 

One more thing. Since, you will have to bury the cable, you should get in touch with the utilities company and ask them to mark out the locations of the cables and pipelines under your property. This will ensure that you accidently don’t damage one of them.

 

 

How to Install Low Voltage Landscape Lighting?

The installation process essentially comprises three steps — one for each of the three key components of the system.

 

First You Have to Lay the Cable

  • Begin by placing the light fixtures in the positions where you have decided to install them.
  • Take the spool of cable and lay it beside the light fixtures, all the way till where the transformer will be installed.
  • If you come across an obstacle while laying the cable, like a tree or part of the fence, then just either slip the cable under the obstacle or around it.
  • After laying the cable till the transformer’s location, use a shovel to dig a shallow trench (about 3 inches deep) along the line of the cable that’s been laid out. Just like in case of the cable, if you meet an obstacle then dig the trench around it.
  • Now place the cable in the trench and press it down into the ground. Don’t use the shovel to press the cable, as that might damage the cable.
  • You will have to cover up the trench with the soil that you’ve dug up and then tap on it with your boot to pack in it tightly. However, you do this at the very end, when the transformer has been installed and the light fixtures have been connected. This will save you some time in case you need to make any last minute changes.

 

 

Next You Install the Transformer

  • Low-voltage cables are typically double stranded.
  • You need to peel apart about 5-6 inches of the two strands.
  • Next, you have to use a wire cutter to remove an inch of the insulated cover off the top of each strand in order to expose the copper wire underneath.
  • Slip both strands into the transformer via the slot at the back.
  • Inside the transformer, you will find two screw terminals marked ‘A’ and ‘B’. You have to slide one exposed end of the copper wire into each of the terminals and tighten the screw to secure its position.
  • You can fix the transformer on a wooden stake that’s been pressure treated (the ones usually used in fences). Alternatively, you can fix on an exterior wall, ideally a little distance away from the main house.
  • However, make sure the electrical outlet you use to power the transformer is a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, as it will protect you from electrical shocks.
  • Once the light fixtures have been connected and tested (which has been elaborated in the next section), you will have to cover the transformer with a weatherproof cover.

 

 

Finally, You Connect the Light Fixtures

  • Generally, landscaping light fixtures are equipped with what’s known as snap-on connectors.
  • These connectors enable you to simply snap the prewired prongs onto the cable. The prongs bite into the cable and come in contact with the copper wire underneath.
  • However, even though the connectors are super convenient, they aren’t ideal. The reason being that the wire remains partly exposed and could be affected by water or other elements.
  • You need to cut off the connectors, expose about half an inch of the wire from under the insulated cover and install weatherproof wire connectors, which have a sealant and base shield.
  • Once this is done, switch on the transformer and test each and every light fixture.
  • When you’re satisfied that all the light fixtures are working fine, you have to install them as required. So, if it’s a well light you must have hole dug deep enough for it to sit comfortably. For path lights you will have to stick them into the ground deep enough to ensure they are stable.
  • Next, you cover up the cable as mentioned earlier.
  • Finally, you need to set the transformer timer and select the switch on and switch off times for the lights.

 

We hope these tips come in handy when you’re all set to light up your landscape area. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll a wonderfully lit outdoor space!


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