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How to Install a Low Voltage Landscape Lighting System

Before you buy any materials, before you dig, before you call your utility company to make sure it’s okay for you to dig—if you want to install low voltage landscape lighting yourself, the very first thing you should do is plan. Take a look at the space you have and plan accordingly. Know what fixtures work best for however you choose to apply the light and be sure to highlight anything that needs accentuating, like your prize-winning rose shrubs or that fountain that people keep walking into. Having a plan is essential to installing landscape lights.

 

Someone call 811!

Know what’s really going on below. Dial 811 and you’ll be connected to your local one-call center. Every state has different rules regarding digging and 811 is a free service that can save you a lot of pain, heartache and expensive surprises by marking the location of other underground wires and pipes. Don’t dig without calling!

 

Nitty and Gritty

Lay out your light fixtures and wires the way you planned it in your head (or on paper). 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. The higher gauge wire helps decrease voltage drop, creates a more even voltage dispersion and helps you get the best out of all the lights on your line.

 

Use a shovel to bury wires across the lawn by cutting a slot into the ground and folding back the sod. Wires need be buried at least 6 inches deep to avoid damage when you aerate the lawn.

 

Transformer Location

The best thing to do with your transformer is to mount it on a post in a location that is both central to your landscape plan and near an outdoor ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). This allows you the ability to easily change the orientation of the photocell.

 

Strip off ¾ inch of insulation on the 10-gauge wires, twist the strands together and attach them to the transformer terminals.

Remember, the transformer will always be plugged in, so replace the standard outlet cover with a weatherproof one to better protect your transformer. You can find a weatherproof cover at any hardware store.

                                                                       

Rock Steady                                      

Because the ground stakes that are packaged with most path lights aren’t long enough to keep the light vertical over time, use plastic pipe to make bases for cone and path lights that are top-heavy. This base makes the light sturdier, provides housing for your wire and allows you to make extensions from ½ inch copper pipe. Just make sure not to glue any plastic parts together.

 

Next, 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 (the kinds that bite through the insulation and into the wire to make their connection), cut them off, strip off 1/2 in. of insulation, and install the connectors. This will protect your wires and make them last longer, saving you a lot of work later.                                                

 

Dig a hole deep enough to level with the top of the PVC pipe base. Level the light pole and pack in soil around the base.

 

Testing

Use a digital voltage meter (found at any electronics store for pretty cheap) and test each light fixture for its voltage level. Halogens should receive 10 to 12 volts each for consistency and to avoid premature burnout. If you get really low readings, you may have too many lights on a circuit or there’s a bad connection somewhere in they system. Minor voltage adjustments can be made using the voltage controls on the transformer.

 

Rules of Thumb

  • Avoid voltage drop by running 2 shorter lines rather than one long line. Remember, don’t place more than 100 watts of lighting on one line. Also, thicker gauge wire helps to reduce voltage drop.
  • Leave a little extra wire as you install the lights. This will allow you to move the light after installing it.
  • Get a transformer that has a timer and a built-in photocell and turn the mounting post toward the west, where the sun sets, so that your lights don’t come on earlier than necessary.