Outdoor landscape lighting is a great way to add instant curb appeal to your home. A few well-placed lights can transform your once dark backyard into an inviting outdoor entertainment area. It can accent yard and garden features, and provide safety lighting around paths, stairs and seating areas. Low voltage lighting, especially LED, is safe and relatively easy to install.
Bottom line, it’s a great DIY weekend project and here are the basics to get you started.
From tools to design to installation, here are 3 steps that can give you pro level landscape lighting.
Step 1: Gather required materials and tools
- #10 gauge outdoor wire
- #12 gauge outdoor wire
- 1-1/2 in. x 12-in. PVC pipe
- 1-1/2-in. PVC cap with ½-in. female thread
- ½-in. copper pipe
- For each ground light: 1-1/2-in. PVC coupler with ½-in. tee for wire opening
- One box of weatherproof wire connectors
- Two ½-in. sweat-to thread copper adapters
- Extension ladder
- Garden rake
- Posthole digger
- Safety glasses
- Voltage tester
- Wire stripper/cutter
- Wrench setvolt me
- Volt meter
- A garden spade
- Aluminum tent stakes.
Step 2: Design it first, then buy it:
A successful low voltage outdoor lighting plan requires selecting the right fixtures, then placing and wiring them correctly. Use waterproof pond lights for illuminating pools, fountains and other water features; offset path lights for lighting walkways; cone lights for highlighting both walkways and the surrounding plants; tree-mounted spotlights for simulating moonlight; and flood lights for illuminating trees, buildings and other large elements.
Walk into any home or garden center and you’ll most certainly see a wide array of outdoor low voltage lighting to consider. You can buy individual lights or prepackaged sets, plastic or metal varieties, and moon lights that shine down from trees or up from ponds. You can choose from halogen or LED lighting, LED bulbs are a little more expensive up front, but last much longer than halogen bulbs. LED lighting also does not generate heat like halogen, which reduces the fire risk in dry conditions.
As you design and shop for your lights, keep in mind:
- Buy a larger transformer than you’ll initially need so you can add lights later as your landscape ideas expand.
- Avoid over lighting. Outdoor lights look best when used as tasteful accents, not a mini football stadium. If you flood sitting areas with bright light it will be distracting and unappealing.
- When lighting a path, decide whether you want to light only the path or both the path and the features around it. As a rule, the broader the field you want to light, the higher the light pole you’ll need.
- Install lights where they won’t be easily damaged by plows or shovels. Remember, too, that the plants you illuminate will go through seasonal changes. Not all plants must be evergreens, some plants such as hydrangea, dogwoods and sumac are intriguing lit up even when leafless.
Once you have your materials, your tools and your plan, it’s time to call 811.
Your local utility companies will mark the location of underground wires and pipes before you dig. It’s a free service and you’ll avoid dangerous and costly surprises.
Step 3: Install the lighting components
Lay it all out first:
Use 10-gauge wire for the main lines from the transformer to where the lights begin, then switch to 12-gauge wire between the lights. To bury the wires where they cross the lawn, use a flat-nosed shovel to cut a slot and fold back the sod. Bury these wires at least 6 inches deep so they won’t be damaged if the lawn is aerated. In protected planting beds, the low-voltage wire can simply be covered by mulch or soil.
Mount the transformer:
Install the transformer in a central location near an outdoor GFCI outlet. Mounting it on a post allows you to easily change the photocell’s orientation. Connect the 10-gauge main wires to the transformer by stripping off 3/4 in. of insulation, twisting the small strands together, then attaching them to the terminals. Since the transformer will always be plugged in, you must replace the standard outlet cover with an in-use weatherproof cover, available at most major home improvement centers and hardware stores.
Make a solid base:
The ground stakes that come with most vertical lighting fixtures are not strong enough (or go deep enough) to keep them nice and straight over time with changing soil conditions, erosion, etc. It’s recommended that you construct a base that will shore up top-heavy fixtures. Using the PVC pipe, construct and bury a footer that will house the wire connections and support your pole extensions (recommended to be made of 1/2- inch copper pipe).
Waterproof and seal your connectors:
Connect the wires with weatherproof wire connectors. These wire connectors have a shield on the bottom and a blob of sealant inside that make them weatherproof. If your lights came with press-on connections, cut them off, strip off 1/2 inches of insulation, and install the connectors.
Make sure the fixtures are straight:
Install the path light by digging a hole deep enough so the top of the PVC footing is level with the ground surface. Use a torpedo level to level the light pole and pack soil around the base. Use aluminum tent stakes to secure the unburied wire in the bedding areas, then cover it with mulch (and/or replace any sod you had to carefully slide and displace.)
Test each light:
Test each light fixture for its voltage level with a digital voltage meter. Extremely low readings indicate a bad connection somewhere in the system or too many lights on a circuit. Minor voltage adjustments can be made using the voltage controls on the transformer.
Once all the lights are tested and at the proper voltage, clean up the landscaping around each fixture and you’re done!
If calculating transformer size, choosing the right fixtures, or following the installation steps is something you just don’t have time for, give us a call! We’ll send one of our licensed, insured, and highly trained electricians to your home to determine exactly what you need. Check out our weekly and monthly specials, plus we waive the service call fee on ANY repair!L
At On Time Electrical, giving our customers safe, reliable, and affordable power solutions is our daily goal.
Call your 24/7 On Time Electrical specialists at (704) 675-7400 or contact us online anytime. With our A+ Better Business Bureau rating, we guarantee courteous, reliable, and trustworthy customer service each and every time! Locally owned and operated, we’re On Time Electrical. It’s electric!