Landscape Lighting Basics
Landscape lighting is an effective way to enhance the nighttime curb appeal of your home, while also adding a measure of safety and security. Landscape lighting is commonly placed along walkways, steps, decks, patios and driveways. Similar fixtures called, architectural lights, are used to illuminate the house itself, plus other prominent features, such as trees, walls and fences.
Note that landscape and architectural lighting come in both 12-volt low-voltage, and 120-volt line voltage systems. Do-it-yourselfers should only install low-voltage fixtures. Expect to pay $300 to $500 for a basic 12-volt system consisting of six to eight pathway lights, two or three architectural fixtures, a transformer and low-voltage cable.
There are also solar-powered light fixtures, which are affordable and extremely easy to install. However, they're only effective, of course, when there's plenty of daytime sunshine to recharge the solar cells. And even then, solar fixtures produce relatively weak illumination.
Space pathway lights 12 to 20 ft. apart and staggered them to avoid the look of an airport runway. The idea is to create pools of light for safe passage, not total, whitewash illumination. It’s also easy to over-light a home by installing too many light fixtures. The objective is to mimic the look of strong moonlight, not bright sunlight. Typical placement includes one fixture on either side of the front door, one at each corner of the house, and transition lights in between.
Other common landscape lighting mistakes include: shining lights into windows, aiming lights directly at front doors, and using excessively powerful bulbs. In a majority of instances, fixtures with 20-watt bulbs will produce sufficient light.
Each 12-volt system comes with detailed installation instructions, but here are the main steps to installing low-voltage pathway lights:
Place light fixtures on the ground at the desired locations, then lay low-voltage cable alongside the fixtures.
Use a flat-blade shovel to cut back the grass, and dig a shallow trench.
Loosely lay the cable in the trench. If it’s too tight you won’t be able to connect the light fixtures. (Use 14-ga. cable for systems totaling 200 watts or less, and 12-ga. cable for systems over 200 watts.)
Run the cable to an outdoor electrical receptacle. If your home doesn’t have a GFCI-protected outdoor receptacle nearby, hire a licensed electrician to install one.
Connect the cable to the transformer, then plug in the transformer into the receptacle.
Poke a hole in the ground for each fixture with a large screwdriver, then connect the fixtures to the low-voltage cable. Since the transformer is plugged in, the fixture will immediately light up.
Finally, use both hands to firmly push each fixture straight into the ground.