Highlight your house and yard when the sun goes down while boosting home safety and security. Check out these ideas for adding landscape lighting and using energy-efficient, low-voltage outdoor fixtures. Everything you need for the project is available at your local True Value® store.
Step 1: Plan Your Lighting Layout
What do you want your your outdoor lighting to do? Do you want to emphasize your landscaping, shed light on walkways or add security?
Walk around your yard with a flashlight to experiment with how lighting would look in your yard. Determine where lights should be positioned and how many you need. These variables will create different moods and effects, so consider the possibilities.
You can light up dark walkways by placing lights close to each other so that the illumination overlaps. Place accent lighting near walls or underneath trees to create great highlighting effects. Place lights in front of trees or statues to create dramatic shadows on fences and walls.
Remember, less is more. Don't add so many lights that they end up competing with each other. Be careful not to install lighting in locations that will get in the way of lawnmowers or foot traffic. Make sure your lighting won't beam directly into your home or, even worse, into your neighbor's.
Try to plan your light installation when you're landscaping your yard or garden.
Once you have lighting ideas in mind, drawing a plan will help you visualize the results. Include the location of exterior outlets, trees, shrubbery, walkways, fountains, deck or patio, as well as any areas you want to light for safety. Don't worry if you're not an artist—even a rough sketch will do the trick.
Check with your local municipality to determine if building codes will allow you to do what you want. Depending on what you have in mind, you may need a permit.
Step 2: Choose Your Fixtures
You may prefer unobtrusive outdoor fixtures, or you might have something more decorative in mind. Your local True Value store associates can lend a hand.
Other ideas include tier lighting and path lights, which are good for illuminating walkways. Lantern lights can be hung along walkways, complementing porches, patio areas and flower and mulch beds. Well lights and floodlights are great for accent lighting. When possible, use lights with rotating heads. These are very versatile and allow you to create a variety of effects.
Consider installing low-voltage lighting that operates at 12 volts instead of the home standard of 120 volts. Low-voltage outdoor lighting is safe — there’s no risk of electrical shock to your kids or pets if the cable is accidentally cut by lawn mower or other means. It’s also more energy efficient.
Motion detecting fixtures can be a useful addition. Use lights with built-in motion detectors or install independent detectors. Aim motion-detecting lights at your gate, front porch or along walkways. You can save even more energy — and money — by using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) inside and outside your home, such as motion detector fixtures. CFLs use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer.
Step 3: Plan for Cable
One important aspect of making your landscape lighting ideas work is to determine how to properly install them. A single low-voltage cable will power all of your lights. Measure the distance from the closest exterior outlet to the first light, and then to each light in turn. The sum of these measurements is the amount of cable you’ll need to power your lights. Most kits come with 50' of cable wire.
It doesn't hurt to buy a longer cable than you actually need. Plan for the future—you may decide to change your design scheme one day.
Step 4: Use the Right Transformer
Transformers reduce standard voltage from 120 volts to a safe 12 volts for low-voltage lighting. Most low-voltage cable wire kits come with a transformer, so be sure it’s adequate for your needs. Add up the total wattage of the fixtures you’ve chosen and choose a transformer with slightly more voltage. Again, plan ahead if you think you’ll add more lighting someday.
Keep the first fixture at least 10' from the transformer to allow for the required voltage drop. If your light is any closer, you risk premature bulb burnout and a cable that is running at more than 12 volts.
Step 5: Install Wiring
Connect the low-voltage cables to the transformer, then plug the transformer into a GFCI electrical outlet. Attach the cables to your fixtures — but don’t set them into the ground just yet. Start with the first light, attaching it to the wire connectors around the cable, and then snake the cable between each fixture until everything’s connected.
Make sure the transformer hangs at least 12" above grade. It’s also a good idea to shield your electrical outlet with a storm-weather cover.
Step 6: Turn It On
Switch on the lights to make sure they’re working. If not, make sure all the connections are secure. Because voltage dissipates, the bulbs might seem to dim the farther they are from your house. If you find yourself wanting brighter lights, replace the cable with a higher-voltage model.
Step 7: Install Fixtures
It’s time to plant the fixtures into the ground. Use your rubber mallet to gently tap the fixtures into place. Using a shovel, dig 3" furrows for the cable to run from fixture to fixture. Lay the cable inside the furrows and re-cover securely with soil and mulch, where applicable. Make sure the cables are completely buried to prevent any tripping hazards or accidents with the mower.
Well done! Your new fixtures will make a big impact on your home's curb appeal, with the added bonus of increased safety and security.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.
- Pen and paper (for sketching layout)
- Exterior light fixtures (low-voltage)
- Motion detectors (optional)
- Low-voltage cable
- Measuring tape
- Rope or string
- GFCI electrical outlet
- Storm-weather electrical outlet cover
- Transformer timer (optional)
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs
- Rubber mallet
- Flat shovel