low voltage lighting overview
Low voltage exterior lighting provides a nice alternative to dazzling floodlights. they can be strategically placed to accentuate the plants and features you want to highlight. They can be used for safety: to illuminate paths, steps and dark areas. when cleverly placed, they can look as beautiful and natural as the landscape itself. And since they’re low-voltage (you can literally add wires and lights to the system while it’s running), they’re safe to use and install. here we will show you the special tips and tricks that professionals use to install them.
selecting the right design and components for your landscape lighting installation
figure a: low voltage exterior lighting plan
A successful low-voltage exterior lighting plan requires selecting the correct fixtures, such as low-voltage bulbs, and then placing and wiring them correctly. use waterproof pond lights to illuminate pools, fountains and other water features; offset path lights to illuminate walkways; cone lights to highlight both walkways and surrounding plants; tree-mounted projectors to simulate moonlight; and projectors to illuminate trees, buildings and other large elements. Drop by any home center or garden center this spring and you’re guaranteed to stumble across a stunning display of low-voltage outdoor lighting. You’ll find $69 pre-packaged sets and $100 individual lights; plastic and metal accessories; lights that you can illuminate from the trees and from the ponds. The bottom line is that you get what you paid for. we decided to pay about $90 each for metal “architectural grade” low voltage halogen lights. Halogen bulbs give off a whiter, more focused beam than standard lights, almost like natural sunlight. and the bulbs last longer, some up to 10,000 hours. the metal construction of the fixtures also means increased longevity for them, and we loved the natural burnished look.
as you design and purchase your lighting system, keep in mind:
- Buy a larger transformer than you’ll need initially so you can add lights later as your landscape (and imagination) expands. if you’re installing 400-watt lights, buy a 600-watt transformer.
- avoid over-lighting. exterior lights are best seen as accents, casting pools of light. Flooding seating or planting areas with “stadium lighting” can make them look washed out.
- When lighting a path, decide whether you want to illuminate just the path or both the path and surrounding features. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the field you want to light, the taller the light pole you’ll need. path lights with a 20 watt halogen bulb at 24 inches. height should be spaced every 10 feet.
- Consider seasonal factors when planning to install low-voltage lighting for your landscape. install lights where they will not be easily damaged by plows or shovels. And keep in mind that some plants, like hydrangea bushes, sumac, and dogwoods with colorful stems, look great in the light, even when they’re leafless.
For safety reasons, call 811 to have your utility companies mark the location of underground cables and pipes before digging for low-voltage lighting. the service is usually free and you will avoid dangerous and expensive surprises.