How to Install Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Yourself
Installing low voltage landscape lighting in your yard is a great way to enhance the beauty and safety of your outdoor spaces. With the right planning and DIY attitude, you can design and install a professional-looking landscape lighting system without hiring an electrician. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install low voltage landscape lighting yourself:
Things to Consider Before Installing Landscape Lighting
Before starting the installation process, here are some important things to consider:
Determine Your Lighting Goals
- Do you want to highlight specific plants or architectural features?
- Do you need path lighting for safety and visibility?
- Are you looking to create ambiance with uplighting in trees and shrubs?
- Decide where you need lighting and the effect you want to achieve. This will determine where you place fixtures.
Choose Fixture Styles
- Path lights - illuminate walking paths
- Spot lights - highlight features
- Well lights - light up plant beds
- Step lights - light stairs
- Deck lights - illuminate decks and railings
- Select fixture styles suited to your goals. Combine different kinds for variety.
Pick Light Bulbs
- LED bulbs - most energy efficient, long-lasting
- Halogen bulbs - bright, warm light
- Incandescent bulbs - inexpensive, but short lifespan
- LED bulbs are the best choice for efficiency and longevity.
Decide on Low Voltage vs. 120-Volt
- Low voltage - safe, uses less energy, easy DIY install
- 120-volt - can be tricky as a DIY project, uses more energy
- Low voltage lighting is the clear choice for DIY installation.
Make a Lighting Plan
- Mark where you want lights and fixtures on a sketch of your yard
- Plan where the transformer and wiring will go
- Calculate total wattage to determine transformer size
Choosing Landscape Lighting Components
To install your landscape lighting system, you will need:
- Fixtures - match fixture style to lighting goals
- Transformer - converts high voltage to low voltage, size it to wattage needs
- Wire - 12 or 14 gauge, low voltage landscape wire
- Lights bulbs - LED, halogen, or incandescent
- Timer - sets automatic on/off times to control lights
- Photocell sensor - turns lights on at dusk, off at dawn
Purchase a landscape lighting kit for convenience or buy components separately. Outdoor lighting fixtures and bulbs are available at home improvement stores. Specialized online retailers offer a wide selection of high quality fixtures and components.
Installing the Transformer
The transformer is the power source for your low voltage lighting system.
Transformer Location Tips:
- Mount on a wall, post, or sturdy tree in an inconspicuous spot
- Place it within reach of a GFCI outlet to plug it in
- Keep it at least 9 inches above the ground
- Allow 3 feet clearance on all sides for air circulation
- Do not enclose it or bury underground
Wiring the Transformer:
- Run 120-volt wire from the GFCI outlet to the transformer location. Use 3-wire cable.
- Connect the 120-volt wire to the transformer input side.
- Run 12 or 14 gauge low voltage landscape wire from the transformer output side to your lights. Use wire nuts to secure connections.
Always turn off power at the circuit breaker before wiring the transformer. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Laying Out the Low Voltage Wires
Landscape lighting wire runs from the transformer to each light fixture. Planning the wiring layout is important for a clean installation.
Wire Layout Tips:
- Draw a wiring plan noting wire runs and fixture locations
- Wire in loops starting from the transformer
- Use the shortest wire route between lights
- Bury wire at a depth of 3-6 inches for protection
- Use wire staples every 5-6 feet if running wire above ground
- Leave 18-24 inches of excess wire at each fixture for adjustments
Group fixtures on the same wire run by area for ease of wiring. Avoid crossing open areas unnecessarily.
Installing the Landscape Lighting Fixtures
The fun part is finally installing the fixtures that will transform your yard.
- Refer to your lighting plan for fixture placement
- Focus lights on architectural features, plants, or other focal points
- Spotlight focal points from two angles for depth
- Use path lights and step lights to illuminate walking areas
- Up-light trees and shrubs for dramatic effects
- Follow manufacturers directions for mounting each fixture
- Avoid placing lights where they will shine directly in eyes
Adjust angles and aim as needed after installation. Light placement is often refined over time.
Connecting Fixtures to Low Voltage Wire
Connecting landscape lights to the low voltage wire runs from the transformer completes the electrical circuit.
- Leave 18-24 inches of excess wire at each fixture
- Cut the low voltage wire near each fixture
- Strip 1/2 inch of insulation from wire ends
- Use gel-filled wire connectors to join fixture wires to main wires
- Wrap connections tightly with electrical tape for waterproofing
- Test lights as you go by turning on the transformer briefly
Follow fixture instructions for proper wire connections. Bury connections in the ground or hide behind fixtures.
Turning on Your Low Voltage Lighting
Once all lights are installed and connected, it's time for the big reveal!
Turning on the System:
- Make sure all wire connections are terminated properly
- Turn on the power at the circuit breaker
- Plug in and turn on the transformer
- Set automatic timer, if using, for desired light times
- Adjust fixture angles and aim as needed
- Test to make sure all lights are functioning properly
- Perform occasional maintenance to keep lights working their best
Troubleshoot any lights that are not working by checking connections and bulb status.
With your new landscape lighting, you can enjoy your outdoor spaces long after the sun goes down. Invite over friends and family to show off your handiwork and backyard ambiance.