Troubleshoot and Repair

Titusville, FL 32780
(321) 209-3930

Outdoor Lighting, How To Design and Install

Add Attractive Security Features

Understanding Outdoor Low Voltage Lighting.
Low voltage landscape lighting provides both attractive and useful lighting, along with security features when combined with motion detectors.

May 8, 2015
Outdoor Lighting by

Install low voltage landscape lights that are dimmable, respond to motion, wireless remote, indoor and outdoor switches, in combination with photo sensors and timers.
Our lighting installs can be integrated with Insteon home automation devices. We specialize in smart yard installs and even manufacture our own smart light controller.
Smart lights provide excellent security features along with energy saving installations.

up lighs along house, area path lights along planters. low voltage lighting

Low Voltage Lighting

Typical installation of residential landscape lighting
1 multi tap 300 watt commercial grade transformer, photocell
200 feet 12 gauge wire
combination up lights, flood lights, path lights 5 to 10 lights with LED bulbs.
Typical cost $400.00 to $700.00 total price installed.

Low voltage lighting uses a transformer. A transformer plugs into 120 volt AC and provides 12 to 15 volt DC output for landscape lighting.

low voltage outdoor wide area spot lights, wall lights

Components for robust trouble free outdoor landscape lighting installation.

Choose the right kind and size transformer
Begin with a quality transformer. As both an installer and repair business we see many failed transformers. If you read reviews for those sold at the big box stores you may notice many premature failure stories. We have been installing the TechnoMagnet transformers for more than 15 years with zero failures. Proper placement is partly responsible.

Proper transformer location
Choose a location which will be above and away from as much snow and rain as possible. The location will require access to AC line voltage as a power source. The TechnoMagnetic can be wired directly or with a plug in cord. Most common locations are in the garage, or under the roof eve. Garage mounting requires a 1/2 inch hole drilled to pass the Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Wire to the outside. An outdoor shed with power available can be handy. Lights location is a consideration for placement.

120 volt AC Line Side Photo Cell
Wiring a photo cell is simple, and has advantage of better placement. The photo cell does not need be mounted to the transformer. Mounting on the transformer is convenient, providing transformer location supports this option. Under the roof overhang works well with photo cell on transformer installs.
Transformers mounted inside a garage, shed etc. usually require an external mounted photo cell. We will drill a hole, run half inch conduit, outdoor box outside with photo cell mounted on it, conduit to the transformer. #14 wire. Not as big a job as it sounds or much added cost. Planning is everything. Usually the transformer is already right on the other side of the wall from the photo cell anyway.
Do not install photo cell such that is sees direct sunlight, or much if any artificial light. My experience has seen early photo cell failure when facing direct sun light. Photo cell mounted where too much artificial light occurs may turn off. When the photo cell controls the light source it sees, it is possible the lights will toggle on / off.
Wiring a photo cell sounds like extra work; Existing systems where transformer has failed; Usually is the photo cell The photo cell is a switch for power to the transformer. This can be repaired. Open up the case, the photo cell is wired in series with the transformer power wires.
The 120 volt AC photo cell is wired on the line side of the transformer.
120-Volt Stem and Swivel Mount Photo Control
120 volt photo control

12 Volt DC Photo Cell
12 volt photo cells are available, and have their uses. They cost more, are less common control.
The 12 volt photo cell is wired anywhere along the output side of the transformer; in line with the landscape lighting wire. These can save the day when a suitable location is not available for the line voltage photo cell. Landscape lighting wire will typically be on or under ground. You need to run wite up and down a deck post, fence, more suitable building location etc. Mount well above ground, try not to face direct sun light or artifical light. The phot cell will control light fixtures located down wire.
Lumatrol 12 Volt Photo Control, Swivel

If you have a location where a corded transformer with case mounted photo cell will work; This one is well made.Keep in mind the photo cell will not operate the transformer properly in many garage settings. The photo cell will want full day light to operate as expected.
200-Watt Power Pack for Outdoor Low Voltage Lighting with Light-Sensor and Rain-Tight Case
200-Watt Power Pack for Outdoor Low Voltage Lighting with Light-Sensor and Rain-Tight Case

Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Wire size
Adequate wire gauge is a very important aspect for a robust job and good light output. With the lower watt LED installs, we still use 10 and 12 gauge wire size.
Small installs about 1/3rd wattage of 300 or less total transformer watts can tolerate smaller wire size like 14 gauge. I stock 10 and 12 gauge for our jobs. Line drop will be less when using larger size wire. Line drop is the power consumed in the wire. Note: 12 gauge wire is a larger more efficient wire size over 14 gauge wire size. DC voltage on a wire drops power (watts) just traveling down the wire. 3 - 4 lights in series, last light at end of wire, receives a lower voltage than the first light; Due to line drop (power lost along the wire, and taken from fixture / bulb up stream. Larger wire size greatly improves performance.

low voltage landscape light wire
10 gauge Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Wire
12 gauge Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Wire

Light Fixture and Lamp Output Selection
Lots of lighting fixtures are available for outdoor low voltage installs. Most of the low cost fixtures work very well.
Typical install includes a combination of up lights, flood lights, path and area lights. We use LEDs for all our install and repair. 5 to 7 watt LED replaces a 50 watt MR16 halogen, and even brighter. The newer LED retrofit lamps are available in warm, cool, daylight etc. They are available in all the regular beam angles. Even the newer 5 watt LEDs seem brighter than a 50 watt halogen.
We typically spend between $15 and $25 per fixture which comes with a halogen lamp bulb. LED replacements are available and we buy them and use in our installs and repairs. LED replacements are $5 to $10. Well worth tossing the halogens that come with the fixture.

Low-Voltage Cast-Aluminum 50-Watt Halogen Floodlight, Black
12 volt outdoor flood light fixture

Dimmable 12V 4W MR16 LED Bulb - 6000K Daylight White LED Spotlight - 50Watt Equivalent - 330 Lumen 45 Degree Beam Angle
outdoor rated 12 volt led in mr16 package

low voltage path light for landscape lighting
COOL WHITE Bulb T5 Wedge 1W 360Deg LEDs for Malibu 12V AC-DC Landscape
led landscape light as T5 wedge

LED vs Incandescent, Halogen?
Not all LED bulbs are equal. The reason I still buy the halogen fixtures; I'm buying a quality LED replacement that I know and have used, not one that comes with a fixture. LED replacements are available for the fixtures we are used to. This way we can put whatever watts LED bulb in a fixture depending on location requirement, controlling light affect. The idea here is fixtures that come with LED to begin with can be more costly and usually need bulb wattage swapped out anyway.
A typical 250 watt halogen install becomes 50 - 65 watts with LED.

How long do bulbs last? Quality and details of installation GREATLY extend average bulb life. This true of halogen, LED, incandescent, for all outdoor installs. Quality of wire connections if the big determining factor. We do not use the quick connectors that come with most fixtures. The quick connectors don't make a perfect connect, and alow moisture into the wire. Poor and decaying connection GREATLY decrease bulb life for any kind of bulb.

Wire Connections Make the Difference
Landscape light wire sits in moisture. Quick connects do not last. The connection area receives moisture, connection becomes poor. The new mechanical wire strippers allow the following connection be easy and fast. If it seems like over kill; at least you know your connections are strong and will last.
Remove quick connector allowing for a better wire connection

Cutting off the quick connector, strip twist, and tape. Best to strip at least 1 1/2 inch. We twist the wires as much as possible. Tape real well. The connection doesn't fail, you can see improved bulb life. Poor connections do cause early bulb failure. Bottom line is the more water gets in the wire, system will fail faster.

Wire Stripper
New style wire stripper makes quick work of this.
Self-Adjusting Wire Stripper

Strip wire ready for twist togeather connection

twisted wire connection

taped wire connection
Your low voltage landscape wire lays in the ground, the above connection sequence is not perfectly moisture proof; it is far better than the quick connects; also many times better connection.

Low Voltage Lighting using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) LED uplighting, path lights, area flood.

38 watts LED low voltage landscape lighting. Our fixtures come with halogen, but led after market replacements are both low cost and look better..

50 watt MR16 Low Voltage Cast Aluminum Floodlight, Rust

12V 4W Dimmable MR16 LED Bulb - Warm White 50Watt Equivalent MR16 LED Spotlight - Bi Pin GU5.3 Base - 330 Lumen 60 Degree Beam Angle for Landscape, Accent, Recessed, Track Lighting

Outdoor Low Voltage Light

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