CUSTOMIZE LANDSCAPE LIGHTING
Outdoor light systems are wired up using either line-voltage or low-voltage power. Heavy-duty linevoltage wiring plugs into GFCI outdoor outlets, and the wires should be buried in a conduit. The more common low-voltage systems plug into a transformer. The wires of a low-voltage system are thin and can be buried discreetly in the soil.
Home centers sell multi-fixture DIY kits for lowvoltage systems. Or purchase individual fixtures, wiring, and transformer separately and customize a system. Small plastic fixtures cost as little as a few dollars. More durable metal fixtures are about twice as expensive.
Choose a transformer, or power pack, that offers a wattage output greater than the total wattage of all the light fixtures in the system. For example, let’s say a system includes four 7-watt fixtures, two 11-watt, and two 35-watt fixtures: 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 11 + 11 + 35 + 35 = 120 watts total. In this case, you would need to have a transformer that offers a capacity of at least 121 watts. (Some are also equipped with built-in timing and/or photocell devices—popular features for many homeowners.)
Determine the number and style of fixtures you need. Walk the perimeter of your home, noting areas to illuminate. Sketch the plan on graph paper, noting key features such as trees, shrubbery, paths, decks, and patios. (Space path lights a minimum of 10 feet apart. Depending on wattage, flood lamps will cast light 20 to 40 feet.)
Locate a 120-volt GFCI outlet for your power pack. Certain manufacturers offer “weatherproof” outdoor power packs. Professionals still do suggest keeping the transformer inside to avoid the elements, which requires you to drill through a wall to run the cable. The transformer should be mounted within 3 feet of the outlet and at least 1 foot above the ground.
Determine the length of cable you’re going to need for this project by measuring the distance from the outlet to the farthest fixture location. Include the length of cable that branches off the main line. Allow for several feet of extra cable. Cable for low-voltage systems is available in 8-, 10-, 12-, and 16-gauge sizes. The appropriate cable size depends on the maximum length of run from the transformer and the total wattage of the lights in the run. Check the cable manufacturer’s recommendations.
Dig a narrow channel for the cable at least 6 inches deep from the transformer to each fixture location. At each fixture location, create a loop of cable (about 2 feet) for the attachment of the fixture.
Place each fixture at its desired location, attaching the fixture to the proper mounting device. “Surface mounts” are used for placing fixtures on trees or structures. “Ground mounts” are stakes or spikes driven into the ground to support the fixture.
Connect the lead wire of the fixture to the cable run by splicing the wires together using wire nuts (apply a sealant and electrical tape to prevent corrosion, or solder the wires to ensure a strong connection). Cable connectors are a quick way to splice a fixture’s lead wire to the cable run; some manufacturers even supply the connectors along with the fixtures.
Plug in the transformer, connect all of your cable runs to the transformer terminals, and turn on the system. If there’s any trouble, recheck all wiring connections. Once the system functions properly, fill in the cable trench that you dug in step 5, and you’re ready to light up the night.