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If you want to add depth to your already spectacular yard, especially in the evening and twilight times of the day, low-voltage lighting can add a dimension that is not possible otherwise and really finish a yard to look amazing during the evening when entertaining on a long summer night.
Low-voltage lighting allows your yard to be lit no matter the time of year or how much sunshine your yard gets. Solar lighting works well in sunnier climates, but battery life and brightness can be lacking for some fixtures. Wired low-voltage lighting can be installed throughout the entire yard and can be used as long as you want during the night.
Just as the name implies, wired low-voltage requires a electrical wire to reach from a power source, typically an exterior outlet on the home. The electricity is then processed through a transformer to make the typical 110V that your home uses to something much lower, typically 12V. Although the voltage is lower, all electricity can be dangerous. If the transformer is hardwired into house power, please make sure the power is off prior to any installation work. If the transformer is a plug-in type unit, please make sure it is NOT plugged in while installation is happening.
Start by laying out what you would like in your yard. This will allow you to have a sense of scale and know how much wire to purchase. If you need more lights, but have a small budget, don’t get the most expensive lighting package. No matter what your budget is, don’t spend it all on equipment. Leave room to purchase lights when they break. These lights are out in the weather and where things can happen. Lights break faster outside than your indoor living room lamp.
Once you know how many lights you will need add up the wattage of each light. This will tell you how many total watts you will need from your transformer. Purchase a transformer that provides more wattage than you need.
Once wire, lights, outdoor wire nuts, and the right transformer are purchased you can start to install your lights and wire.
Wiring will want to be hidden. Making a small trench in the ground that you can place the wire into will be helpful. This can be done with a small, powered trencher like the GeoRipper® minitrencher. Make sure to bury the wire deep enough in the ground that it won’t be nicked with standard gardening tools. 2-4” is more than enough.
If you are running a lot of lights or have a large yard, it may be best to make a circular connection with your wiring. This is accomplished by running wire from your transformer, through all your lights in a series (daisy-chain) and then back to the transformer. This will allow the furthest lights to get as much wattage as possible. If this is not done, sometimes the lights furthest from the transformer can be dimmer than those closest. Circular wiring will help to mitigate this issue.
For added ease of use, add a “dusk to dawn” light sensor. This will activate the lights when it gets dark and turn them back off when it becomes light again. Many transformers will have this functionality built in. If your transformer is in constant shade, consider installing a standalone sensor where it will get the most sunlight for proper operation. A timer can also be integrated into the transformer or added as a standalone item. This can allow you to have your lights on for a certain duration, like 4 hours, or from a certain time at night, like from 6:00 p.m. until Midnight.
Once all lights are installed, connected, and tested, backfill your trench. Reseed the areas of the trench that went through lawn, if necessary, and enjoy your new lights!