First and foremost, a well-designed outdoor lighting system revolves around effects, not fixtures. Desired effects are then accomplished via selection of lamps, and, finally, the correct fixture choice. The components needed to make all these effects come together in one artful masterpiece are the skin and bones of the system, while the effects are the allure, the goal, and the resulting glamour.
Designing the System – What to Light
Though complicated blueprints have been utilized in the past, nothing more than a sketch marking fixture location is required for designing of an LED landscape lighting system. Further, in lieu of even a sketch, flag markers can be placed in the yard, allowing for even easier appreciation of lighting zones. Placement of flags can be as simple as walking the yard, envisioning effects, and labeling the flags prior to placement.
Though beautification is the end result of a well-designed LED landscape lighting system, be sure to consider safe passage for your family and for users unfamiliar with the layout of your yard, security (well-lit properties can be a prowler’s worst enemy), function and usability, and increased property value.
Care must be taken to address all areas of a yard: pathways and sidewalks, property borders, focal and architectural features (don’t forget the house for that resort-like feel!) including trees, sculptures, fountains, and specimen plants. To learn more about effects, visit here.
LED technology allows for much simpler design layouts than in the past, with less emphasis on voltage drop and therefore less concern with heavier gauge wire and multiple runs from multiple transformers. Since LED’s have a typical voltage range of 9v-15v and draw a much lower wattage than halogen bulbs, the size and resulting cost of transformers can be reduced.
Without the fear of lamp failure so common to incandescent/halogen systems, wiring methods as simple as the “daisy chain” can now be utilized and therefore alternate and complicated wiring methods are not addressed here.
What You’ll Need
A low-voltage LED landscape lighting system consisting of a few very important components:
A transformer – the heart of a low-voltage system, safely converts 120-volt (line voltage) power from your home to an economical 12-volt supply, and is simply plugged into an outlet (preferably strategically placed for easy access and best wire-run scenarios). A dedicated circuit is always best.
Low-voltage wire – UL listed, typically 14-gauge, 2-conductor is used for LED.
Connectors – silicone-filled and watertight are highly recommended and the choice of industry professionals.
Fixtures – Typically cast brass, copper, stainless steel, or aluminum; a high-quality fixture is a weatherproof housing for the LED bulb, equipped with mounting method, lamp socket, lead wire, and lens.
Bulbs (lamps) – Chosen based on power (lumens or watts), color (Kelvin Temperature), and beam spread (assuming highest quality as a given).
Mechanical or digital timers, set to come on and shut off at desired times, from gear-type to astronomical
Photo Cells enable hands-free, dusk-to-dawn operation (can be used in combination with a timer)
Tools – pick, shovel, wire strippers, wall anchors for the transformer, screwdriver, electrical and/or duct tape
Steps to installing low-voltage system
- Mount transformer to wall near outlet with heavy-duty anchors, following manufacturer’s instructions. Use a weatherproof outlet box if desired to keep moisture out. Install control of choice.
- Prepare fixtures for installation per manufacturer’s instructions, then place fixtures in their desired locations.
- Trench a maximum of 6” to run wiring to all fixtures.
- Connect fixtures with connectors and tape as necessary (tape can keep connections from being pulled apart) and insert stake into ground where applicable (some fixtures can be hung, wall-mounted, or underwater, and thus will not be staked).
- Attach wires to transformer.
- Test system, then bury wire.