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Use this brief guide as an overview of landscape lighting systems and components. We encourage you to read this prior to shopping for your landscape lights. This will help you understand all of the terms used and which components are required to design and install a complete system.

Guide to 12 volt (low voltage) Landscape and Outdoor Lighting Systems

Low voltage compared to high voltage lighting:

Low voltage systems use a transformer to convert the high voltage 120 volt current of your house into a safer 12 volts. Low voltage systems can typically be installed by the homeowner or anyone with a basic "handyman’s” knowledge, while high voltage lighting systems require a licensed contractor to design and install. In most cases low voltage lighting can be powered from existing outdoor receptacles, eliminating the need for an electrical contractor. Check with your local Building Department to be sure that you are not required to use a contractor for your low voltage lighting system.

12 volt low voltage lighting is simple to install, and allows you the versatility to easily create attractive lighting to compliment your home, landscape, pool, or water feature. Safety is a major benefit of using low voltage systems; you don’t need to worry about dangerous high voltage shocks, and low voltage is designed for use in wet conditions. Wiring for low voltage lighting is easy to hide in shallow trenches or under low ground cover, and does not require extensive work to install. Low voltage lighting fixtures install easily with a simple "stake” or small mounting bracket.

Planning Your Design:

Start by determining the number and type of fixtures you will need by walking around your home and noting the areas you would like to illuminate. It is helpful to use a flashlight to simulate the effect of light in each area. You should sketch out a plan of your landscape lighting design on graph paper, showing trees, shrubbery, paths, decks, patios, and entryways. Mark the locations where you want to add the lighting fixtures. Measure the distances between the fixtures, and note this on the plans as well. You may also want to think about where you will locate the transformer, and if an outdoor receptacle is available to power it.

Choosing Low Voltage Lighting Fixtures:

Low voltage lighting fixtures come in many materials and finishes, and selecting the right ones for your home is one of the most exciting and satisfying parts of the whole process. Be sure to choose fixtures that are appropriate to the area in which they will be used.

Types of Low Voltage Lighting and Effects:

 

 

Path Lights: Path lights are usually staggered around a walkway to provide a nice lighted path to follow and to emphasize the design of the landscape.

Area Lights: Area lights are used to emphasize garden features, light paths, and highlight yard details.

Spot Lighting: Spot lights are used to highlight statues, trees, plants, and entryways, and typically focus a concentrated beam of light on one "spot” rather than illuminating a larger area.

Flood Lighting: Flood lights are used to highlight larger areas or features, and have a wider, more spread out beam of light.

Step Lighting: Step lights are used in wood or masonry deck construction to illuminate stairways and walkways.

Underwater Lighting: Used in ponds, fountains and waterfalls, these fixtures can be completely submerged underwater.

Inground or Well Lighting: Fixtures that can be buried so that they are flush with the ground.

 

Choosing the Transformer:

Transformers come in various sizes and types, depending on the number and wattage of the lights that will be connected to them. Once you have determined how many fixtures you will be using, and the wattage of each light, you can then determine which transformer to order. To determine the transformer size, add up the total wattage of all the lamps and add 10% more as a safety factor. (Transformer size = total wattage x 1.1) Transformers are also available with various features, be sure to select a transformer appropriate to the intended use of your lighting system. The two main types of transformers are Single voltage and Multi-tap. Single voltage transformers output 12 volts and are appropriate for smaller lighting systems. Multi-tap transformers typically have outputs for 12, 13, 14, and 15 volts, which allows you to compensate for voltage drops in larger lighting systems.

Lighting controllers: Photocells and timers are available as transformer accessories. Photocells allow a transformer to automatically turn on at dusk and off at dawn. Timers allow a transformer to be programmed to turn on and off at whatever time you set them for.

Selecting the correct cable for your system: Determine the length of cable needed by measuring the distance from your transformer location to light fixture furthest away. Include the length of cable that branches off the main line. Always add a couple of extra feet per fixture to allow for repositioning during installation. To see the proper layout of a lighting system, refer to the Installation Sheets available on the detail page for the appropriate fixture. Follow the charts below to select the correct gauge cable:

Cable Length Chart

Cable Gauge

100 Watts

150 Watts

200 Watts

250 Watts

12

150'

100'

75'

NA?

10

240'

160'

120'

100'

8

380'

250'

190'

150'

?

Maximum Wattage Chart

Cable Gauge

12

10

8

Max Wattage

240 W

300 W

480 W

 

Example: For this project, (5) 20 watt fixtures and (2) 35 watt fixtures will be used. This is a total of 170 watts. To determine which transformer to use multiply 170 x 1.1 = 187. A 200 watt transformer would be a good choice for this project, but if you may be adding additional fixtures in the future, it would be smart to invest in a slightly larger transformer (like 300 watts). This project will use 160 feet of cable and have a total wattage of 170 watts. To determine which cable gauge to use, refer to the cable length chart above and you will see that in the 200 watt column you will need to use 8 gauge cable.

Voltage Drops During Installation:
One of the most important things to consider while installing a low voltage lighting system is the effect of voltage drops. Low voltage lighting fixtures require voltage at the light fixture to be between 11 and 12 volts. The further the light is away from the transformer, the lower the voltage will be. Small lighting systems with 3-4 fixtures all located close to the transformer are not adversely effected by voltage drop, but larger systems with many fixtures and long runs of cable may be require more careful voltage testing at the fixtures. To compensate for voltage drop, multi-tap transformers are used to increase the initial voltage output. For example, if we hooked up a light fixture to a 12 volt transformer at the end of 100 feet of cable, the voltage at the fixture could be as low as 9 or 10 volts (a drop of 3 volts), far below the recommended 11 volt minimum. But if we use a transformer with a 15 volt output then the drop of 3 volts will result in 12 volts at the fixture (same drop of 3 volts). This is why it is important to use a volt meter to determine the actual voltage at the fixture, and to use a multi-tap transformer (multiple voltages available), when required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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