Low-Voltage Outdoor Lighting

Lights are great for nighttime entertaining, and also offer a measure of security.


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For a small investment of time and money, you can make your yard available for nighttime entertaining -- and increase the security of your home. Low-voltage lighting systems are safe and economical. Because the cables carry so little voltage, many of the precautions required for normal electrical wiring are unnecessary, making installation quick and easy. You can choose to put the lights on a timer that will turn the lights on and off according to your specifications, or opt for a light sensor that will turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn.

Getting Ready:

Low-voltage lighting kits are readily available at building centers and hardware stores. Equipped with transformers, these kits can be augmented with additional fixtures to suit the needs of most sites. If you do not have an exterior grounded outlet, hire an electrician to install a grounded exterior outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). A shovel and standard tools are all you''ll need for most installations.

What You Need:

It is usually best to buy one of the many kits available. They will include most everything you need -- a selection of light fixtures, cable, and a transformer. Some of the following types of lights will be in the kit; others can be purchased separately.

  • Entrance -- General illumination along walks and driveways
  • Tier -- Along borders for a soft, decorative accent
  • Flood -- Strong beam for backlighting or highlighting
  • Globe -- General lighting without glare
  • Mushroom -- Source of light is hidden for a soft, glowing effect
  • Well -- Upward beam for accenting trees, bushes, and buildings
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From left to right: entrance, tier, flood, globe, mushroom and well lights.

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1. Mount the transformer near a grounded exterior outlet. If you are installing a light sensor, mount it out of the range of street lights and porch lights -- even the lights you are about to install. Locate it so it reads sunlight and darkness only.

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2. Run the cable to the spot where you will install a light. Attach the fixture to the cable. (Some units, like the one shown, have clips that attach to the cable. With other units the cable comes already attached to the fixture.) Plug the system in and test it. (Cover the light sensor with tape to simulate nighttime.)

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3. Finish. In flower beds, simply slip the cable under the soil or mulch. For places that will be walked on or mowed, dig a trench and bury the cable. To install each fixture, pierce a small hole 8 inches deep into the ground. Drive the stake into this hole, checking that the unit is plumb. Do not hit the light fixture with a hammer or exert undo force.

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