Light your home for everyone to see
Installing outdoor light fixtures will illuminate a gorgeous pathway into your home. All light fixtures are designed so you can buy a complete family of outdoor lightings that match each other. There are many styles of outdoor lighting for you to consider. See the different types of outdoor lighting as well as how to install. Of course, if you need help, ImproveNet can connect you with local electricians who specialize in landscape lighting.
Types of Landscape Lights
There are wall mounts, decorative fixtures that radiate the beauty of your home. You can also have posts or pier mounts, which can be placed atop a brick pier or on a six-foot post to light up a driveway entrance. Welcome lights also help you see who you are welcoming into your home.
Landscape lighting is the perfect accent to any outdoor space. There are two main types of landscape lighting: low voltage and line voltage. Low voltage is 12-volts and can be installed by you; line voltage is 120-volts and should be installed by a professional. Area lighting normally shines light in a full 360-degree circle. It is perfect for lighting flower gardens and rock formations. Path lighting accents your landscaping while lighting up walkways. Directional lighting is used to shine light towards trees, or cover the side of your house or a wall.
When planning the layout of your outdoor lighting system, keep in mind that your want to see the light and not the light source. Even with area and path lights, they should be shinning on something upward, such as a step or a rock.
Outdoor Lighting Installation
Low-voltage landscape lighting is an ideal do-it-yourself project. It's a remarkably simple, perfectly safe electrical job that leaves your home safer and more inviting after dark. With prices ranging between $100 and $500, it's also fairly affordable.
You'll find two basic product categories in most home centers. At the low end are the familiar packaged kits, consisting of a transformer, cable and six to eight plastic fixtures. These kits are a snap to install and are actually quite durable. But these days more and more homeowners seem to prefer an a la carte mix of cast aluminum fixtures. Cast aluminum looks richer and the lights are usually brighter, but that's only part of the appeal. When you buy the pieces individually, you get exactly what you want.
Our Choices and Yours
Our installation is simple by most standards. We basically wanted to light a row of bushes across the front of our house and to make our short walkway more inviting. The first light in the sequence is a mini-spot, used to accent a viburnum bush. The last is an interesting little tulip light, which accents the walkway. In between are five three-tiered pedestal lights. When determining the size of the transformer, just add up the watts assigned to each fixture. We used six 18-watt fixtures and one 20-watt fixture, for a total of 128 watts. We could easily have used a 150- or 180-watt transformer, but opted for 250 watts because we may someday add more lights in a side yard flower bed. When it comes to cable size, distance is the issue. The longer the run, the more voltage drop becomes a problem. Manufacturers offer size/distance charts, but we chose the heavier 12-ga. over 16-ga. wire, because we needed almost 90 ft. of cable. We paid $312 for everything, and the job took less than a day, including buying the materials.
When you've determined your best layout, mark the cable route. If digging in grass, lay out a garden hose and follow it. If digging in a rock-covered area, use a garden hoe to mark the run and expose the soil. Do this along the entire run, from the transformer location to the last fixture. With a narrow strip of soil exposed, use a square-nose shovel to slice into the ground about 5 in. Before removing the shovel, push it forward and back to open a V-shaped trench. When you have the trench made, drop in the cable. Where it hangs up, tap it in with a wooden shim. There's really no depth requirement for 12-volt systems, but a couple of inches of depth offers the cable some protection and keeps it from becoming a tripping hazard.
Twilight brand lights come in three pieces: a stake, a riser pipe (not used with the spotlight) and a lamp head. Each lamp head has a lead cable, which passes through the riser, and is fitted with a cable-piercing connector. To install a common, three-tiered head, begin by driving the stake into the ground. Stay several inches away from the buried cable and concentrate on keeping the stake plumb. Slide the lamp head onto the riser tube and tighten its set screw with a Phillips screwdriver. Finally, install the riser on the stake and tighten its set screw.
To make the lead/cable connection, expose several inches of buried cable, lay the cable across the fixture's connector fitting and thread the cap over the fitting. As you thread the cap down, it pushes the cable onto two sharp metal prongs. The prongs pierce the cable and contact the wires. With the connection made, bury the lead along with the cable. To install a tulip light, begin by driving its stake into the ground until its top is at grade level. The tulip lamp stands 21 in. tall and consists of a slender metal riser that sweeps up and over, ending in a bell-shaped lamp. The fixture is prewired and the riser has an insert fitting at its lower end. Just insert this fitting into the receiver fitting atop the stake and tighten the set screw. Then, make the cable connection in the usual fashion.
In our case, this was the last fixture on the run, so we installed the connector and cut the cable about 1 in. past it. We covered the end of the cable with electrical tape. The spotlight connects in the same manner. The only difference is that it has a pivot fitting in place of a riser tube. To point the light exactly where you want it, loosen the wingnut and pivot the head up or down. Then tighten the nut.
Installing the Transformer and Sensor
The transformer will need to be installed next to an outdoor receptacle. Begin by installing two deck screws in the siding, 3-5/32 in. apart. Leave the heads standing proud about 1/4 in. Then, hang the nylon transformer box on the screws. Bring the cable up to the bottom of the box and trim it to length. Split the cable about 2 in. and strip 1/4 in. of insulation from each wire. Crimp the provided ring connectors over the wires, and attach each connector to its transformer terminal. Tighten with a Phillips screwdriver.
All that remains now is to install the light sensor. The sensor is attached to a 4-ft. lead that is factory-wired to the transformer. Placement is key. It needs to be out in the open, but beyond the reach of any strong, artificial light, especially car lights. When you've picked the best spot, screw the sensor to a wall.
- Lay the cable into the trench. Where it hangs up, carefully push it down with a wooden shim.
- Hold the stake as straight as you can, and drive it into the ground until its top is even with grade level.
- Attach the lamp head to the riser tube, and tighten the set screw with a Phillips screwdriver.
- The stake's receiver fitting has a slot for the lead wire. Fit the wire in this slot and screw the riser to the stake.
- Lay the cables across the fixture's cable-piercing fitting and thread the cap over the fitting. Turn the cap until it's tight.
- Insert the tulip light's riser fitting into the stake's receiver fitting and tighten the set screw.
- A spotlight's pivot connection allows you to aim the light for the best effect. When satisfied, tighten the wingnut.
- Strip 1/4 in. of insulation from each transformer wire and crimp the ring connectors onto the wires.
- Connect the ring connectors to the transformer terminals and tighten the screws with a Phillips screwdriver.
- Attach the sensor fitting to the house or a nearby fence with two screws. Avoid direct artificial light.
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