A Low Voltage Landscape Light

Getting Started with Landscape Lighting

Installing a landcape lighting system is a great way to add beauty, curb appeal and safety to your home garden, walkway and entrance areas. If you have an existing system it's easy to enhance it

Here are some of the general ideas to keep in mind as you plan your system:

  • Decide what you want to light.
  • Select the appropriate lighting techniques.
  • Select the appropriate lighting fixtures and accessories.
  • Choose the power supply, either line or (more commonly) low voltage.
  • Select the appropriate bulbs.

Low Voltage Landscape Systems

A 12-volt low voltage landscape lighting system, which requires a transformer, has a number of advantages for the average or smaller property. Installing such a system is a simple do-it-yourself project with a much lower overall cost. Low voltage systems are also more energy-efficient and often offer more light output per watt. Plus, a low voltage system has a minimal risk of electrical shock, making them ideal for garden or childen play areas. 

Low voltage systems also offer minimum disturbance to lawn and garden areas. The cable can be buried without conduit and junction boxes or it can be left above ground and easily relocated as desired. As plants and trees grow, you can simply move the fixture back to maintain proper illumination. Low voltage fixtures typically mount to the ground with a stake.

120-volt Line Voltage Landscape Systems

On the other hand, a 120-volt line voltage landscape lighting system generally lights larger areas more brightly, and provides longer  beam throws. Commercial area lighting and security lighting, for example, usually require the powerful  beam throw of the 120-volt system. It is designed for permanence, and rigid installation required by  local and national electrical codes.

One compromise system, where feasible, is to install a 120-volt line and then add 12-volt branches or circuits using transformers. You may want to arrange for convenient switching from house locations such as the kitchen or master bedroom. If the installation is do-it-yourself, be sure to check all local electrical codes.

Landscape Lighting Techniques

Accent or Spot Lighting

These lights focus a controlled intense beam to highlight the focal points in your garden: flowers, small shrubs and statuary. This creates sparkling islands of interest in your landscape lighting plan.

Landscape Light Grazing Technique

Grazing

Positioning the light close to an interesting surface can bring out the texture of tree bark, a masonry wall, wood shingles or an attractive door. Grazing of smooth surfaces is not usually recommended.

Shadowing

Light the object from the front and below to project intriguing shadows on the wall or other vertical surfaces.

Silhouetting

When you conceal lights behind and below a tress or bush, you achieve that same wondrous effect as seeing it on a ridge silhouetted against the sky at dusk.

Pool and Fountain Lighting

Underwater lighting creates dramatic effects in pools and at fountains. Install a dimmer for turning lights up to add excitement. Note: Water may be used as a mirror by lighting the area behind the reflecting surface.

Downlighting or Area Lighting

Mount lighting units high up in trees or on the house to cast broad illumination over wide areas. Floodlighting enables you to entertain in your backyard or outdoor area after dark, and does double duty for security and safety. For highlighting flower beds, paths or steps, the downlight is positioned close to the ground.

Cross Lighting

Illuminating a tree or statue from two or more sides reveals the three-dimensional form in a striking perspective.

Uplighting

Lights aimed upwards (sometimes buried in the ground) create a highly dramatic effect akin to the theater. Use it with interesting trees, a statue or textured wall surfaces. Autumn leaves or swirling snow provide spectacular views. Focus the light on the key plants or objects in your yard. 

Pathway Landscape Lights Picture

Spread or Diffused Lighting

Where you require circular patterns of light on flower beds, larger shrubbery or ground cover, spread lights cover a wider area with low-level illumination. Some units, such as these bollards, cast softly diffused lighting for patios, decks, driveways and pathways. Wall brackets provide a similar lighting function. The path or flower bed should be more illuminated than the actual fixture.

Moonlighting

Like downlighting, but using soft light sources positioned very high up, this technique simulates the lovely effect of moonlight filtering through branches, casting attractive shadow patterns.

Landscape Lighting Areas

Close-By-House

Illuminating side and rear entries to the house, as well as walls with easy access widows, can discourage prowlers and thieves.

Driveway Lighting

Highlighting your driveway with light also improves safety and security, while the delineation creates an attractive pattern.

Rear Yard Lighting

Floodlighting from house or trees helps discourage intruders and vandals. Where you can't conceal the light source, select units which look attractive - not industrial. Arrange for automatic timers, photocells or motion sensors.

Front Entry Lighting

Provide a warm welcome after dark. Select a wall bracket which casts adequate illumination on front steps, as well as lighting the keyhole and house numbers.

Solar Power Landscape Lights Photo

Steps and Paths

Frequently neglected, but also important to avoid accidents in dark locations, are low path lights, post lanterns and lights attached to the house.

Garage

Ample lighting over the garage will enhance both safety and security, particularly when other lights are not on.

Types of Landscape Lighting Fixtures

Cylinder, Box Shape and Bullet Shape

These designs help focus and direct the light beams. Some also cut off glare and protect the lamp and socket from debris and moisture.

Spread and Diffused

These low-level units are designed to cast illumination in a broader pattern for; flower beds, perimeter plantings, driveways, steps and paths.

In-ground or Well Light

Burying these fixtures flush with the ground conceals the light source. Use for uplighting trees and shrubs, and grazing textured walls.

Spot or Accent

Versatile/adjustable fixtures used for uplighting, crosslighting, accenting and grazing; when mounted high up provide focused downlighting and moonlighting.

Wall Bracket, Ceiling Close-up, Chain Lantern

Mounted at entry doors, over garages and on porches, these Chain-hung Lantern stylish units cast light outward - either direct or diffused.

Outdoor Patio Post Light Picture

Bollard and Post Lights

These standing fixtures light pathways, steps, garden walks, deck and pool areas. They also provide attractive light patterns for driveways.

Swimming Pool and Fountain Lighting

These fixtures are installed in sides and at ends of swimming pools and bottoms of fountains. Wet niche fixtures can be removed for lamp changes, while dry niche fixtures require access to the back of the pool shell. Colored lighting is popular for this application.

Timers, Transformers and Other Accessories

Automatic timers, photocells, or motion sensors which turn lights on at dusk and off at dawn make landscape lighting convenient and energy saving. See manufacturers catalogs for other accessories which may be required.

Landscape Lighting Tips from the Pros 

Jeff Emerson, lighting expert from the LAMPS PLUS Professionals trade pricing program, offers these tips to achieve a professional look.

  • Conceal the landscape light source behind shrubs, etc., where possible - except where the landscape light fixture itself is a decorative element.
  • Don't over do it - a little light goes a long way at night.
  • Be creative in using a mixture of lighting techniques for drama and excitement.
  • Arrange for an automatic device to turn lights on and off, such as a timer or photocell.
  • Be considerate of your neighbors - aim lights so they do not shine into their windows.

Landscape Lighting in a Flower Bed Photo

 
Outdoor Lighting Light Bulbs

Finally, don't overlook the landscape light bulb. The wide variety of available bulbs (called "lamps" in the industry) means that you can tailor your choice to your needs. You may prefer soft illumination in some areas, bright in others. Watts are a measure of electricity consumed, but some bulbs yield more light than others of equal wattage. Remember the longer the distance of light throw, or the greater the intensity desired, the more light output will be required.

It may seem obvious that bulbs which deliver more light and are more efficient generally cost more. Some cost considerably more, but you must also compare the rated lamp life, since some lamps costing several times more usually last several times longer.

Efficiency and Energy Savings

Some types are more efficient than others. Low voltage, for example, can save energy by concentrating light beams, but it generally lacks the equivalent beam throw of line voltage. Newer 65-and 120-watt incandescent bulbs yield up to 25% more light. New compact fluorescent bulbs provide soft lighting and the highest energy savings. Mercury vapor bulbs offer strong illumination with energy savings, but project a cool color suitable only for greenery.

Quartz/Incand Tungsten-Halogen

Compact light source which provides a consistently bright light. Also available as a reflector (MR) and as a projector (PAR) type. These fit into smaller and less obtrusive fixtures.

Fluorescent

White long tubes are primarily used for walls, banisters and signs, compact fluorescent bulbs provide a soft light quality and the highest energy saving. (Some temperature restrictions apply.)

Mercury Vapor/High Pressure Sodium

This family, known as high-intensity discharge, provide intense light at low energy cost. Their color renditions limit use, and they do not go on immediately - they must warm up. Note: Most of the above types are available for either 120-volt or 12-volt systems, but you must specify the system. Fluorescent, Mercury Vapor and High Pressure Sodium are for 120-volt only.

Incandescent A

Standard type commonly used around the home. Inexpensive, but yields less light than other incandescents.

Incandescent B

Reflector type, either flood or concentrated spotlight. About twice the light output of A bulbs.

Questions About Landscape Lighting?

Just give us a call at 1-800-782-1967 or visit a LAMPS PLUS store near you. One of our American Lighting Association trained associates will be happy to assist you with all your landscape lighting needs.