Outdoor areas make use of numerous elements—trees, shrubbery, flowers, walls, pathways, and so on. One element you might not consider as much is lighting. Low voltage lighting can reduce your energy consumption, but it needs to be used well to get a good aesthetic. Here, we’ll discuss how to use low voltage landscape lighting to create an attractive outdoor space.
Difference Between Low Voltage and Line Voltage
First, let’s look at the differences between low voltage and regular line voltage lights.
Most lights use line voltage, i.e. whatever voltage you’re getting through your regular electrical wiring. Generally, this is 120 volts. Line voltage lights are simple to plug in, but they do tend to be more costly in the long run. When used in landscape lighting, you need to make sure the lines are buried and properly insulated. Otherwise, the high voltage poses a hazard.
Low voltage bulbs require less voltage, typically 12V or 24V. This does not mean a low-voltage bulb will use less electricity in and of itself—whether 12 volt or 120 volt, a 35 watt bulb will always use 35 watts. The difference is low-voltage bulbs make more efficient use of energy, giving the same level of lighting as a regular bulb, if not more. As such, you’ll probably need fewer bulbs, making low-voltage lighting more efficient to run.
The main advantage to low-voltage lighting is its safety. Low-voltage fixtures are far less likely to short in wet weather, and they might not require certified installation. You also tend to get more low voltage landscape lighting options than high voltage, making them very versatile.
Low voltage lighting landscape lighting typically requires a transformer to lower the voltage to the light. This transformer may be installed remotely or on each fixture. In the case of the former, you’ll probably have to install it yourself (or get a professional to do it) whereas the latter option will be built into the light.
Top Brands for Low Voltage Landscape Lighting
Some of the top brands for low voltage landscape lighting are:
Each of these brands comes highly recommended. When shopping for low-voltage fixtures, make sure the voltage is 12V or 24V, not 120V.
Also keep in mind that most low voltage landscape lighting configurations will require:
- A transformer
- Bulbs and fixtures
- Stakes to hold fixtures in place
Landscape Lighting Tips
Landscape lighting is more than just hanging up a few lights where you need them. It’s about highlighting details and increasing safety without overdoing things.
For starters, there are three functions of landscape lighting:
- Ambient light: Ambient lighting creates a general glow throughout the area. These are often set up high, and may consist of spotlights and floodlights.
- Accent lights: Accent lights highlight features and details. Well lights and spotlights work for these purposes.
- Task lighting: Task lights are purely practical, and they provide enough light to a space to perform specific tasks.
In landscape lighting, you’d use ambient lights to create a soft, general glow; accent lights to highlight trees, wall textures, and other landscaping features; and task lights for areas where visibility is key, such as pathways or doors.
As you choose lights, you want to make sure they don’t cause glare. If they’re too big and bright, they can actually reduce visibility if they’re not properly positioned or shielded. Glare is not only problematic for your visitors, but it can also be an issue for your neighbors as well.
Positioning lights in different ways will achieve different effects. Some common lighting effects seen in low-voltage landscape lighting are:
- Path lighting: Small lights lining paths and walkways. Be careful not to use too many—you want just enough to light the way, but not so many that they draw attention to themselves.
- Shadowing: Using a spotlight or well light to cast a shadow of an object on a backdrop. For instance, you might want to use shadow lighting on a tree, casting a shadow back on your home’s wall.
- Silhouetting: Silhouetting is the opposite of shadowing. To create a silhouette, place a light behind the object, making sure it won’t be seen from normal vantage points.
- Uplighting/downlighting: Uplighting uses a well light or spotlight to shine upwards on a feature to highlight it. Downlighting does the opposite—the light shines down, illuminating the object or surface from above.
- Moonlighting: Moonlighting could be considered a form of downlighting in that you have a light positioned high up in a tree. That light shines down through the branches, highlighting them for dramatic effect.
- Washing: A light positioned on a wall to illuminate as much of it as possible is a wash light. This type of lighting adds to the ambient glow of an area.
- Grazing: Sort of a toned back form of washing, grazing uses lights to highlight small sections of a wall or surface, showing off the texture without creating a massive glow.
The right combination of lighting techniques will create an attractive, well-lit space that highlights interesting features without being too bright.
Installing Low Voltage Landscape Lighting
Once you’ve selected your lights and have a general design for your landscape lighting, it is time to start the installation process. Many low voltage landscape lighting fixtures are straightforward to install, but it does take a lot of work.
Finally, some places require a certified technician to install low voltage lighting. For instance, Mobile, Alabama residents would need someone with low-voltage electrical licensing to handle installation. Check your local laws and see if you need to hire a licensed electrician.