Choosing Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting

Here are some things to consider when putting together your low voltage outdoor lighting plan:

The first thing to consider is whether to choose low-voltage, LED or go with solar lights. Do you want to try using solar path lights in your garden or landscaping project? Solar path lighting options can be simple to set up and do not require much upkeep. They also don’t require an outlet. Solar lights have also become much more inexpensive over the last decade. These lights can can be a solution but there are some drawbacks. Solar lights do not work in shade or during cloudy weather and, although lighting technology is getting better, the light may be dimmer depending on the amount of sun the panel received that day. One thing to consider is to use solar light fixtures for accents or to mark the edge of a driveway or path, where you don’t expect them to light something critical to navigating the area.

Metal lighting. Low-voltage landscape lighting consists of a transformer, sometimes called a power pack, a cable and light fixtures. The transformer is used to reduce house current to a safe 12 volts and to control the lights. The cable is typically strung along the ground or can be buried. The cable connects the light fixtures to the transformer. The light fixtures are usually staked into the ground and attached to the cable with a clamp that makes the electrical connection. Kits with 50 feet of cable and six metal fixtures – enough for about 40 feet of path can cost between $120 to $200. Expect good-quality metal lights to last several years.

Plan ahead. Installing your first outdoor path lighting system can take as little as 90 minutes including unpacking, reading and understanding the instructions, measuring cable and doing the math to make sure everything is put together properly. On a dark night, use several flashlights to work out a plan before shopping for a system. Make sure your transformer and cable have enough capacity for all the fixtures you buy.

Lay out the cable first. The initial fixture should be 10 feet from the transformer and you must allow a foot of cable at the end. Install the transformer first then lay out the cable on the ground before marking the positions of the fixtures along the length that is available. It’s very important to measure these out and not just eyeball it. Lights look much better at night if they are spaced evenly and poles are vertical. Once you are thoroughly satisfied, connect the lights to the cable and cover the cable with mulch or bury them about an inch under ground.

Be safe. There are some things to be aware of when installing a low-voltage lighting system. In addition to the transformer, you will need an outdoor ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, one that automatically cuts off if there is an anomaly in the electrical flow or a surge. If necessary, find an electrician to install one. It is important to run low voltage landscape lights from an outlet and not from an extension cord – and be sure not to overload the outlet. If you plan on running cable across a path please be sure to bury the cable rather than running a cable across a path where it can be tripped over.

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