One of the most effective ways to improve your curb appeal is to install low voltage outdoor lighting. Not only does it give your house a high end look on the outside, it also makes your room look larger from the inside once the sun goes down. How? Lighting the outdoor spaces creates a visual extension to your indoor space at night, like adding additional rooms. And lets face it, if you spend any time in the yard after dark, lighting changes everything. A lit landscape under the stars gives your home and garden a resort feel. (Been to Disneyworld? Lighting is everything!) And you can do this yourself! Follow along with our tutorial on how we did this, and learn how to install low voltage outdoor lighting to enhance your home’s exterior. Make your outdoor space as special as your indoor space!
How to Install Outdoor Lighting
Start at a landscape supply or home improvement store to buy everything you will need to install your lights.
First step : Plan out your lighting layout. Use a diagram or layout the main wire on the ground ahead of time to make sure you have the right lengths, and to plan out placement of each light. This is a good time to decide how far away from each subject (plant, wall, fence, etc…) you want to place each light, as the farther away from an object, the wider the beam will appear, but the dimmer the light. We wanted bright light and drama, so our lights are between 2-4 feet away from the intended subject, and pointed upward.
Our rough diagram for our front, side and back yard.
Supplies for Outdoor Lighting
- Wire cutter
- Wire stripper
- Wire connectors
- Landscape lighting wire
- Power Pack / Transformer
- Landscape lights w/ stakes – We chose LED lights as they are MUCH less expensive to operate than halogen, cooler to the touch, and last forever. Using the info provided on our lights to calculate, we found that for all 16 of our lights, LED’s would only cost us around $1 per month to operate. And LED light fixtures are virtually the same cost now as halogens.
Tip on choosing the gauge of landscape lighting wire – If your furthest point from the transformer is:
30-50 feet, use 16 gauge
50-75 feet, use 14 gauge
75-150 feet, use 12 Gauge
150-250, use 10 gauge
250-300 feet, use 8 gauge
Place the light fixtures where you want them – We learned to leave more slack than you think, because when you join all the cables you need more excess. Start where your transformer is going to be, and lay out the main line going past the spots where each light will be connected, as below.
There are different methods for connecting your lights onto the main line, for instance crimp on quick connectors, but the experts say the best way to make sure they don’t fail is to use wire connectors. We strongly suggest you choose this type of connector. (See below) Make sure you get the wire connectors that are silicone filled and waterproof, like these we found at Lowes from Kichler.
Wherever there is a light, cut the main feed cable, pull the ends apart about 6 inches down, and then strip 1/2 – 3/4 inch of the ends. You should now have 6 “ends”. Take one end from each of the three wires and twist the copper wire together. Make sure to twist the wire in the same direction as you are going to twist on the connector. For most people that is clockwise. Now twist on the connector until its as tight as possible. It’s similar to twisting on a cap on a bicycle tire tube. Silicone will leak out of the connectors, this is normal. This is what seals it against the weather. Repeat with the other 3 wires with another connector.
You should now have two connectors with three wires coming out of each. See photo below.
Here is a time-lapse video (we should have done normal speed – we know, it’s a little fast.) Hopefully this will help you get a feel for the steps above.
If you need to branch off your main line to go another direction, you can attach the branch off wire the same way as if you were connecting a lead wire from an individual lamp.
Now hammer in your stakes exactly where you wish your lights to be. If the stakes are plastic like ours were, us a scrap piece of wood to prevent cracking the stakes. Remember, the depth you pound the stakes in will affect the height of the light once you install it.
Attach the lights to the stakes.
Make trenches and bury all your cable. If you have rock or mulch, it just needs to run underneath so that it isn’t exposed to the elements, or causes someone to trip. If you are laying your outdoor lighting cable under soil, use a square edge shovel to dig a trench 2-3 inches deep, then push the wire into the bottom of the trench and cover.
Attach the end of the main line to the transformer. We had a “multi tap” transformer, so we had two main lines to attach. You might only have one depending on the transformer you buy, and how extensive your outdoor lighting layout is. Tips on buying your transformer : Make sure you read the specs on your transformer to make sure you have enough total wattage for all the lights. Usually you just add up the total watts of all the lights you are installing, then add 20 percent. This keeps the transformer only working at 80% of maximum, which keeps it from being overtaxed. For instance, if you have (quantity-20) 5 watt lights, that adds up to 100 watts. Add 20% and that = (at least) a 120 watt transformer. This is another good reason to use LED lights, as they use far fewer watts than halogen.
Mount your transformer according to specs, usually at least 12 inches off the ground.
So here are our finished low voltage lights… Such a difference! We love how they highlight our feature trees in the landscape, and add security to the yard as well.
Adjust your lights to the right position and angle at night, so you can see the whole effect. We used lights with a 2700 color temperature, which is a warm white. This is the most popular and also the most natural looking light. When choosing your lights, pay attention to beam patterns for different areas of the yard. We used 38 degree spots on our trees here.
On our plant wall we used 60 degree flood lights for a wider beam pattern. We love this softer pattern here because it really made our plant wall part of the outdoor room on the patio, and can be seen from our main living area indoors as well. See the tutorial on how we made this plant wall here!
On the house wall, here again we used the 38 degree spot for drama. You can either place your lights in front or behind your landscape plants, depending on the effect you are going for. Obviously placing them in front of your plants gives you a little more drama, but this is less effective if you have large shrubs that block a lot of the light path.
We used light fixtures from ‘Volt Lighting’ because we preferred them, but we also saw similar low voltage outdoor lighting at both Home Depot and Lowes.
Have you installed your own outdoor lighting? What advice would you give? We think you will also love our posts on 12 Inspiring Backyard Lighting Ideas and our own DIY Water Feature for Less than $30!