How to Design Landscape Lighting?
OLP of San Antonio & the Hill Country, LLC/Flickr
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Landscape lighting describes a large and varied family of outdoor lighting fixtures. These versatile, weatherproof lights can be used to illuminate pathways, flower beds, trees, fences, driveways, stone walls, doorways, and more.
Some landscape lighting systems operate on "line voltage, " the 120-volt current from your house. For DIY installation, though, we highly recommend low-voltage systems that operate on just 12 volts. They're less expensive, easier to install, safer, and use less energy.
There are dozens of low-voltage lighting fixtures and accessories available in a variety of styles, sizes, colors, and finishes. Nearly every system, regardless of its complexity, is composed of four basic parts.
Transformer: The power behind every low-voltage system is the transformer. It plugs into a GFCI-protected outdoor electrical outlet and steps down the house current from 120 volts to 12 volts. Most transformers are equipped with a 24-hour timer that allows users to decide when the lights go on and off automatically.
Transformers are rated according to the maximum wattage output. Models range from about 44 watts to 900 watts. To determine which size transformer you need, simply add up the wattage of all the lights in the system. For example, if you plan to string together 10 18-watt light fixtures, then you'll need a transformer with a wattage output of at least 180.
Low-Voltage Electrical Cable: The cable used for landscape lighting is specifically made for burial underground. It runs from the transformer to each light fixture in the system. Low-voltage cable is commonly available in 12-, 14-, and 16-gauge. The lower the number, the thicker the wire and the greater its capacity.
Which cable to use depends largely on the size of the transformer and the length of cable you need. For example, a 300-watt transformer can power 100 feet of 16-gauge cable, or 150 feet of 14-gauge cable, or 200 feet of 12-gauge cable. Check with the lighting manufacturer to determine the proper-size cable to use for your specific system.
Pathway Lights: Designed for installation along walkways and driveways, this type of fixture represents the most stylish and elegant of landscape lights. Shiny copper or plated-metal fixtures stand out, while green-, black- or brown-painted fixtures can blend in with the surroundings.
Accent Fixtures: The unsung heroes of any landscape lighting design are the accent lights. These specialty fixtures, which are often hidden from view, include floodlights, spotlights, up lights, and wall-wash fixtures. They're used to shine a light on trees, shrubs, walls, flower beds, fences, ponds, and other landscape features.
Putting in a typical low-voltage lighting system requires three major steps: laying the cable, installing the transformer, and connecting the lights.
Laying the Cable: Start by laying the light fixtures on the ground where you intend to install them. Space the fixtures 8 to 10 feet apart. Next, unroll the spool of low-voltage electrical cable and lay the cable beside the fixtures. If you come to an obstacle, such as a boulder, tree, or fence, string the cable under or around it.