I could see this one turning into a new habit.
Our guy Scott was in the process of cutting and laying the 6×6 timbers for the patio’s frame, when the figurative light bulb popped on. I mean – as I started to see the patio take shape, I got the idea to squeeze in some landscape lighting. The design, that is – the construction plan had been flushed out through a few meetings over a week or so, but it did not include any landscape lighting.
While I had planned all along on doing the Post Lamp (which I blogged about), I really hadn’t planned on doing anything in the way integrated low voltage lighting. While we did ultimately decide to do the patio, hiring it out and all, with pavers from a specialty supplier – the goal was to still keep costs relatively low.
So … even a few extra hundred dollars was looked at, but ultimately that’s exactly what it came in at – right around $300 to install In Patio Landscape Lighting. Simply put, I realized if I didn’t do it now, then I wasn’t going to ever do it.
Did I know much about low voltage landscape lighting going in? Not much, well – Pegasus Lighting did do a post for us >> LED Outdoor Lighting. The rest I pieced together rather quickly by way of a few trips to each of the home centers, a visit with a local decking supplier, and via a few calls (yes, phone calls) into the various manufacturers I was looking at.
In the end, I chose a system from Malibu , which is sold as far as I can tell exclusively at the Home Depot. Now, I know what you are thinking – while my Malibu system was very affordable, my buying decisions were actually based more on my wants than on anything relating to cost. Though again admittedly – my design scheme was still relatively simple and low frills.
As always this post is more about What I Did (and maybe it can help you), then being any sort of definitive Tutorial on “How to Install Low Voltage Landscape Lighting.”
Research, Prep, Planning and Purchase
Having had a look at what was around in so far as lights themselves, and after focusing much of my attention initially on lights often referred to as “bricks” or “half bricks,” I knew I wanted to light the “stairs” in the patio, at minimum. And because folks would be walking and possibly kicking around in these locations, I absolutely knew I wanted flush mounts … as opposed to any sort of “cup” style light.
After playing with some possible options, and in some cases – actually purchasing and bringing them home (so I could hold them in setting), I decided on the Malibu Outdoor Lighting. Low Voltage LED Deck Lights (6-Pack). Yep, a deck light kit and yes, that is an affiliate link back there. While I didn’t love that they are a one-piece, in other words – including no changeable bulbs, I took solace in the fact that most say LEDs of this size will last up to 20 years. Being small too, requiring only a minimal 1-inch mounting hole, well, that didn’t hurt either. (More on using this light kit soon.)
* Low Voltage Means You’re Using a Transformer
Sizing the Transformer – The transformer (aka power pack) is sized based on the total wattage of each light in your setup added up, plus a little extra for headroom to be safe. The packaging on the Malibu power pack I purchased contained info on sizing right on the box. Because these systems are so easy to add to, and though my entire set up would only contain 12 lights total, and adding up to something like 30 total watts, I did still decide to spend the extra $10-$20 for a beefier 200-watt unit. This is it here >> Malibu Low Voltage 200-Watt Digital Transformer. (I could have gotten away with something far smaller, 50-120 watts, and even though I do have plans to add to the system soon, more wattage just made me feel, idk … better.)
Locating the Transformer – Location of the transformer is important too. Some have coordinating stands, but mine did not. All seem to account for mounting units directly to the house and plugging into a weather-protected GFI outlet. I choose instead to mount mine on inside the house. (Yeah, I know.) I simply pulled an additional wire from my alarm circuit – an outlet box for it sits immediately below my main service panel.
Basically, I added a new outlet to that existing circuit using a handy box mounted to a stone wall. Of course, I do have some notes with this and maybe there’s a tutorial to come on it, one day. For now, though, all you need to know is that because my power pack was inside the mechanical room in my house, I did not install a GFI outlet, or consequently plug the power pack into a GFI.
It is interesting to note too that on laying out landscape lighting, most specs seemed to say the first (or nearest) light in the run should not be closer than 10 feet of the transformer. (Not sure why exactly that is.)
* Other Considerations in a Landscape Lighting Plan
One of the biggest considerations with laying out for low voltage lighting is something called voltage drop. The result of this is dimming of lights often at the farthest points away from the power pack. Based on the specs I read, I attempted to counteract this in two ways. 1.) By running a heavier 12-gauge wire and 2.) By installing my wiring in a loop. That is – one end of my lighting run connects to the transformer, then travels to all light locations, but eventually loops back to be tied into the transformer again.
Placing the power pack at a centralized location also helps keep the distance wire must travel shorter.
Another interesting note about landscape wiring, most specs seem to have wire not being buried below a depth of 6”. *shrugs*
Important! Also, on looking at the landscape wire, each “leg” is very discretely but very distinctly labeled. One leg of the wire is ridged while the other is smooth – and the lights’ leads (that I worked with) too seemed to have a similar configuration. In a looped installation, only ridged legs go to ridged and smooth go to smooth. It matters as to it may affect polarity.
Other Odds and Ends
Because I knew I’d be incorporating oil rubbed bronze, black and a patio set with a rusticated finish, I decided to quickly spray paint my deck lights. I used Krylon’s Rust Protector and not so much because I was concerned with rust, but because Krylon had given me some to try … in an Anodized Bronze color. (Note: Little round pricing labels did a great job masking the lights themselves.)
Adding, in a lot of cases, is as simple as purchasing a new light, many are pre-fitted with a low-voltage lighting connector. Most connector designs (from what I could tell) have pins that when twisted on, or simply pressed down, bite directly into the wiring. I have a pretty good feeling that I will be adding in the near future, extending my footprint some. I made sure that wiring ran not only to the locations I wanted in the patio, but also out and underneath it as well. That is – so adding lights on the yard-side of the patio would be easy in the future.
My deck lighting kit contained 6 lights (pretty decent value buying these kits) and I bought two packs.
To install them in my timbers, I did the following:
- I laid them out physically both along the steps and at regular intervals at a step down at the lower end of the patio. I adjusted until everyone was happy.
- I found the mid-point on my timbers in these locations. The midpoint was actually a little lower than I wanted to go with the lights, but I needed them low enough that they lined up with the patio base layer of sand. i.e. I needed them to sit below the pavers, which were about 2 5/8″ thick.
- I pre-drilled at the hole locations with a one-inch paddle bit. I’d use this to finish the drilling on the back side of each drilling too.
- I drilled all the way through the timbers using a (new) Irwin Speedbor 1 in. Steel Ship Auger 3043013 << love these – “like butter!” (Note: I was using a 1″ bit because that in fact was the outside dimension of each of my lights.)
- Based on a recommendation from a landscape lighting dude, I snipped off the connectors that came pre-attached to each light. I would instead connect with waterproof wire connectors (which I wrote about in my Installing a Post Lamp post).
- I actually cut back the leads on each light to about 4″, but I staggered the lengths after I split the legs with a utility knife. After making the needed connections, I buried the access wire and the wire nuts entirely into the hole I had drilled through the timber(s).
- I added silicone both to the backside of the light and also I filled the hole in the back of the timber where wiring entered.
- I pressed each light into place with the palm of my hand as to not damage my spray paint finish.
- I trenched and buried landscape wire using a pick mattock. I added a landscape staple at every light location and covered the entire run of wire with landscape fabric, as to protect it from the paver base which would be going down over top of it.
- Note: I also added two dockside-type 12-watt lights I found on discount at Lowe’s on the outside of patio’s frame. A light “fanning” diagram on the box helped dictate where to place these. These followed a more traditional installation method.
That’s it – I fear if I gave you details on installing the power pack, this already long post would be, well, longer. My lights are run off of a dusk-to-dawn sensor which came with the power pack. I mounted it to the inside of the box where I plan to place a stone garden. So far, after about a week of full-time use, everything seems to be working … brilliantly.
Good one. ~jb