Most homeowners have what it takes to install basic landscape lighting. The job is simple enough; place some fixtures, run some wires, hang a transformer and connect everything. But you can’t just start placing components without a plan. We’ll review how to plan landscape lighting. Once you have the diagram (with accompanying documents) you will have a much better chance of winding up with the system you envisioned.
We are going to assume that you will be installing a simple LED system. This means you will not have to worry about voltage loss and all of the things you’ll need to do to avoid it. If you insist on installing an incandescent system this process will work, but you’ll need to brush up on some of our other articles before you begin.
LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. It is assembled into a lamp (sometimes called a light bulb) for use in lighting fixtures.
So What Then is an LED?
Technically speaking an LED is a two-lead semiconductor light source that is a p-n-junction diode. When voltage is applied to the leads, electrons are able to recombine with electron holes releasing energy in the form of photons thus emitting light. The color of the light is determined by the band gap of the semiconductor.
To address the question right off the bat, the answer is voltage loss. There are a number of causes of voltage loss but no matter what the cause it has to be mitigated. If voltage loss is not compensated for you will experience shorter life on fixtures and poor performance overall. We’ll discuss the main causes of voltage loss and how to deal with the problem with a multi-tap transformer.
What is a Multi Tap Transformer?
Technically speaking a multi tap transformer is a step up (or down) transformer that has multiple taps on either the primary winding or the secondary winding. A multi tap transformer provides flexibility in your input and output voltage requirements.
In the landscape lighting world, a multi tap transformer provides multiple terminals with outputs ranging from 12 volts up to 15 or more volts. The installer has the choice of employing as many of the taps as necessary to ensure even voltage to all fixtures.
By far the number one reason we’re asked to install outdoor lighting is to enhance the beauty of property at night. Every system we’ve installed has enhanced the beauty of the home and every single customer has been pleased. But it’s a no-brainer really, outdoor lighting really makes a home shine at night.
When you are low voltage outdoor lighting troubleshooting, voltage drop is a key element to check. Of course there are obvious items to check such as bad connections. But when it comes to ensuring your system will last a lifetime, managing voltage loss is key.
Voltage loss is phenomenon that occurs when electricity loses voltage as it travels down a wire. Your voltage drop will depend on how long your wire is, the thickness of the wire and the number of fixtures on the circuit.
Create an efficient layout
Your fixture should be wired in ‘zones’. This allows you to keep all fixtures in an area the same relative distance from the transformer. Group the fixtures close to the transformer (30′ or less) together, then group the ones that are slightly farther away (30′ to 60′) and finally group the ones the farthest distance (60′ to 100′).
Well maintained outdoor lighting systems last much longer than those that are not maintained. Outdoor lighting maintenance should be performed on a regular basis. Set a calendar and check the system on the first day of each season for example. Or check it the first day of every third month. No matter when you check your system you should check your system regularly to make sure the components are in good working order and not subject to premature failure.
We’ve seen some really poorly maintained systems in our day. Don’t find yourself having to deal with problems resulting from neglecting your lighting system. This video below show a fixture that was neglected. Over time ivy had grown over the fixture and the spike was bent over and the fixture was touching the ground. Then ants built mounds of soil around the fixture. Then the seals failed and the bugs got inside. Finally these bugs (maggots?) got inside and ate everything up. It was so bad the fixture could not be rebuilt. We just had to replace it. If the owner had just checked it every so often and kept it upright this never would have happened.
Avoid these outdoor lighting installation mistakes
There are many ways to mess up an outdoor lighting installation. Most pros warranty their work. They also know the installation pitfalls and realize the value of doing the job right the first time.
Every week we see mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers. These mistakes can drastically reduce the lifespan of a system but they are also easily avoidable.
We’ve put together a list of the biggest and most common mistakes we see in our outdoor lighting installation travels. Take care not to make these mistakes and you’ll be much closer to a long-lasting outdoor lighting system.
In the past we would never consider LED (Light Emitting Diode) as an option for landscape lighting. Only halogen bulbs provided the professional look that clients demanded. LED lamps were unreliable and frequently failed shortly after installation.
Now when consumers think of LED, many immediately think of the solar powered LED landscape lighting that are sold at big box retail stores. That lighting is unnatural and underpowered. Additionally the fixtures are frequently plastic or aluminum and are marginal quality which will not stand up over time. This is why they only carry a one-year warranty.
When it comes to professional grade landscape lighting, LED has become the number one choice for professional designers and installers. Reputable outdoor lighting firms only install LED fixtures that are made of solid brass and carry a lifetime warranty.
Let’s take a look at why LED is now the best choice for professional landscape lighting.
Most outdoor lighting systems call for a range of fixtures and styles. It is important to recognize which application will be appropriate for your specific area. Do your best to capitalize on the strong parts of your property. We have listed five of the most popular landscape lighting design techniques below. The best designers employ all of these approaches when they are presented with a comprehensive outdoor lighting project.