Design your Home Low Voltage Lighting System Design your Home Low Voltage Lighting System


Low voltage (12 volt) lighting systems are a popular way to provide safe, economical outdoor lighting around the home primarily because they are so  adaptable and easy to install. Low voltage lights use a transformer that "steps down" household current from 120 volts to 12 volts so the lights are perfectly safe even in wet weather. If you're considering installing a low voltage system around your property here's some thoughts on how to properly design your home lighting system.

First determine what you want your lights to do and where they should be placed

  • For, example, do you want your lights to provide ambient light around your yard or patio or highlight specific feature in your garden? Low voltage lights work well along walking paths or to outline driveways, providing enough light to see safely without creating areas of intense light.
  • Sconce lights on a deck or side of the house can provide useful light for relaxing outdoors late at night while flood lights near a deck can light up the entire area if you're having a party or want to eliminate shadows at the edges of your yard.
  • When determining where to place your lights remember wires need to be run from the transformers and between each light so try not to place lights on opposite sides of a sidewalk (where you will need to run wire under the sidewalk) or where they will get in the way when mowing your lawn. Wires running across open areas aren't a problem and the wires can be easily hidden in small trench 2" deep.
  • It always wide to consider your neighbor and be sure your light placement won't create any annoying glare in their house or yard.


Selecting transformers

  • While low voltage yard lights are often sold in kits containing fixtures, cable and a transformer, you may want to design your own lighting system that will allow you to choose not only the appearance of your light fixtures but how many of them you will have.
  • All the components are available individually at home or hardware stores. Low voltage transformers generally range in size (output) from 150 watts to 300 watts and to provide power to each fixture. A system containing 10 fixtures rated at 24.4 watts would require (at a minimum) a transformer that could deliver 10 times 24.4 watts or 244 watts in total.
  • However, light fixtures aren't the only things that consume power - resistance in the cables also uses up some power - so the longer a cable run, the less power will be available to the fixtures at the end. You can minimize voltage drop in your system by making the distance from your transformer to the last fixture no more than 50 feet long, or using thicker cable(10 gauge rather than 12) or including more than one transformer in your design.
  • Some people actually utilize voltage drop in their designs and take advantage of the fact lights at the end of the run will be dimmer than those closer to the transformer.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer whose work has appeared on numerous web sites, as well as in newspapers and books in both the US and Canada. He is often cited as an expert on home related topics and is a frequent contributor to DoItYourself.com.

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