How to Install Landscape Lighting

For many homes, outdoor lighting is limited to a front door light and maybe one in the back. While that’s a good start, a well-designed DIY landscape lighting system opens up a universe of possibilities.

Landscape lighting adds personal safety for walking and it increases home security. Plus, path lights, spots, and floods are a creative expression to inspire visitors, and they set an enchanting mood at night.

What to Consider Before Installing Landscape Lighting

Before installing landscape lighting, decide on which of the three main types of landscape lighting is best for your home: solar lighting, low voltage lighting, or line voltage lighting. Install any one of these systems by itself or combine them as needed.

Solar Landscape Lighting

Pros

  • Rechargeable

  • Placeable anywhere

  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Sunny areas only

  • Fade out at night

  • Dim lights

Individual solar landscape lights have small built-in solar panels to capture light, tiny photocells to sense darkness, and batteries to retain the charge for a number of hours.

As an alternative, multiple (usually five to seven) solar lights can share a single solar panel. While the lights must be wired into the solar panel, the connected series as a whole can be placed anywhere, as long as the panel has sun coverage.

Solar landscape lights are perfect for defining the outlines of a path or driveway. Solar lights have no wires tethering them to the house. So, combined with a wired landscaping lighting system, they can extend the overall network to the most remote parts of the property.

Ranging from 10 to 55 lumens, solar landscape lights are dimmer than other landscape lights (compare to the 92 lumens output of a 30-watt low voltage system bulb).

Solar landscape lights need to be placed advantageously so that they receive the most amount of sun. This usually eliminates places like under shade trees or in dark side yards. Solar lights start strong but fade through the night. By dawn, the light is usually gone.

Low Voltage Landscape Lighting

Pros

  • Consistent light

  • Timer scheduling

  • Moveable

Cons

  • Light connections balky

  • Cable length limit

  • Light limits per cable

Low voltage landscape lights receive power from a transformer plugged into an outdoor GFCI outlet. The transformer steps down the power from 120V to 12V or 24 V.

Wired into the transformer is a 50- to 75-foot black or dark-colored cable that extends throughout the yard. Lights can be attached to the cable at any point with a push-pierce style connector that safely pieces the sheathing and touches the copper wire inside.

Low voltage landscape lights are safe to install, as well as safe to use and maintain. With timers built into the transformers, they are energy efficient. The lights remain on for as long as you schedule them, with no fade-out. Since the cable can run on top of the ground or be buried at just a few inches, low voltage lights are simple and easy to move.

But the electrical connections afforded by the push-pierce devices can be tenuous. Often, they might work for a while, only to fail a couple of seasons later. Cables limit how far the lights can extend on the property. The number of lights per single cable is not determined by voltage but rather by wattage on the terminal. The cable length used to greatly effect the brightness of the lights, with lights closer to the transformer being much brighter than the far end of the cable, however with LED lights this is no longer an issue. The light either works or the voltage drops below the required limit and the light stops working.

Line Voltage Landscape Lighting

Pros

  • Higher power

  • Brighter light

  • Protected cable

Cons

  • More difficult to install

  • Separate materials, no kit

  • Hard to move or alter

Line voltage landscape lights, sometimes called 120V lights, begin with 120V power just like the low voltage light systems do. But instead of stepping down the voltage, 120V continues all the way through the deeply buried cable.

Line voltage landscape lights provide a consistent light that’s brighter than low voltage lights. For spotlighting large areas or running many path lights, line voltage is a better option than low voltage.

Made of heavy-duty metal, line voltage lights tend to be more robust and last longer than plastic low voltage lights. The lights are overall brighter, there is less chance of failure, and you can even add extras like intermittent GFCI outlets.

The electrical cable is well protected and out of the way. If direct burial, the wire is required to be at least 24 inches deep; if using a PVC conduit, it is required to be at least 18 inches deep. But if the cable does happen to become compromised—for example, if you use direct burial UF wire instead of conduit and the wire is pierced—it will be a safety hazard due to the higher voltage. Once installed, line voltage landscape lighting is considered to be permanent: trench depth and conduit make the system difficult to move.

When to Install Landscape Lighting

Install DIY landscape lighting at any time of year when the ground is dry, clean, and clear of obstructions like snow, ice, leaves, or debris.

Many solar light systems need a full day of sunlight to establish a strong, initial charge. Because of this, they should be installed in spring or summer and early in the day.

For line voltage landscape lighting, frozen ground may make it difficult or impossible to dig trenches for the electric cable. For all types of landscape lighting, metal or plastic stakes must be driven into the ground for mounting the lights. Aluminum or plastic stakes may bend or break when pounded into frozen ground.

Designing Landscape Lighting

Pathway landscape lights are commonly installed outdoors to illuminate and draw crisp outlines next to pathways, around lawn or garden perimeters, around garden water features, and along outdoor stairs.

Spotlight landscape lights are flexible, and a host of light design techniques let you set the right mood:

  • Highlighting: Use the spotlight to feature a fountain, rock cluster, a plant, or anything else that’s noteworthy.
  • Silhouetting: Place the spotlight behind a feature and point the light toward the viewer. Keep the light close to the feature or tilt it up to avoid shining the light in the eyes.
  • Shadowing: Let long grass, palms, or hosta shadows dance across the side of the house, a wall, or a fence by pointing a spotlight upward at the feature.
  • Washing: Light washing works best with flat objects like walls, house siding, or sculptured topiary. The spotlight is positioned at a low angle to the feature, raking it with sharp shadows.
  • Moonlighting: Landscape lighting doesn’t always belong on the ground. Attach the light to a high place like a tree branch to cast a mysterious, soft moon-like glow on paths and foliage.

Choose the Best Location For Landscape Lighting

  • Find a power source: Solar lights have their own power source. But low voltage landscape lights should stay near an outdoor GFCI outlet. The transformer cord is usually about 6 feet long. For line voltage lights, a new power source will be established on the side of the house.
  • Install lights on firm but soft ground: Landscape lights are staked in place with PVC or metal stakes from 6 to 13 inches long. Stakes will not penetrate hard, compact soil. The soil should be firm but soft enough for the stakes to penetrate.
  • Locate the transformer or solar panel: For low voltage lights, position the transformer near the GFCI outlet. For solar lights, find a place where the solar panel will receive direct sunlight. Avoid artificial lights that may interfere with the panel.

Landscape Lighting Codes and Regulations

Permits

Generally, an electrical permit will not be required for solar landscape lighting or for low voltage lighting with an existing 120V GFCI outlet that’s up to code, including a waterproof outlet cover.

If there is no outdoor outlet, one must be installed and it must be permitted. Line voltage landscape lighting usually will require a permit.

Regulations

Some communities regulate exterior lighting. The purpose is to limit the negative impact of landscape and other exterior lighting on off-site areas. Glare and light trespass that spill onto neighboring properties can be a nuisance. If the light extends to the roadway, it can be a hazard.

Dark-sky initiatives aimed at reducing overall light pollution may also be included in local ordinances. Since these ordinances often include residential DIY landscape lighting, check your municipal code or ask your local permitting office for clarification.

Safety Considerations

When digging at any depth, it is always a good idea to call your area’s one-number locator service (usually 811), a statewide toll-free telephone number where you can request a location technician to visit your property.

In some areas, you might even be legally required to call the locator service for any excavation on private, non-commercial property at or below a certain depth (12 inches, for example). Landscape light stakes can extend as far as 13 inches below ground level.

Disclaimer: Curated and re-published here. We do not claim anything as we translated and re-published using google translator. All images and Tattoo Design ideas shared only for information purpose.

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