Tips for Lighting Your Home's Exterior Tips for Lighting Your Home's Exterior

Low voltage (12 volt) lighting systems can provide an inexpensive and easy to install yard lighting system . However, even with simple to install low  voltage lighting systems you still need to some up front planning when designing and installing your home lighting system. Here's some tips on planning your yard lights to ensure your system provides the overall effect you want.

Up front planning

  • Take a walk around your yard at night and decide what you want to light. Pathways, stairs and decks are an obvious choice, but you may also want to provide some highlight lighting for features in your yard such as a tree, a fountain or a flower garden.
  • Familiarize yourself with the types of fixtures available so you can understand what your options might be when putting together your system. Low standing path light s are designed to help guide your way in the dark, deck and rail lights can provide ambient light when enjoying company on your deck and flood lights can be used to highlight specific features of your yard.
  • Often the secret to achieving the lighting effect you want is to avoid over lighting anything since you generally want your home lighting system to provide subtle light.

Design your system

  • Once you know the looks you want to achieve, you can choose your fixtures and count up the number of lights your will need. Decide where you're going to install your transformer then measure distances from the transformer to your light locations. You want to try to keep the distance between the lights to less then 25 feet to avoid voltage drop (the loss of power as a result of resistance in the cable) and you need to consider the size of your transformer.
  • A transformer powers your low voltage lighting system by changing (stepping down) household current from the standard 110 volts to 12 volts, but different transformers have varying output capabilities, commonly ranging from 150 watts to 300 watts. You can calculate how many lights a transformer can handle by adding up the watt requirements of all your light fixtures, i.e. a 300 watt transformer theoretically could handle 30 lights each requiring 10 watts (10 X 30 = 300).
  • However, voltage drop restrict any transformers ability to reach the theoretical limit so it's best to design your system using a transformer that has about 15% more capacity than your number of lights theoretically require.
  • Using multiple transformers in your overall system design (for example designing your system in clusters of lights) will allow more complex lighting systems and help eliminate voltage drop.
  • You can also minimize the effect of voltage drop by using a larger cable in your design. Most low voltage systems use size 12 cable so by using a size 10 cable that has less resistance you can ensure more power is transmitted through the wires.
  • Many low voltage systems are now using LED lights rather than older style incandescent or halogen bulbs. LED's require less power than the older type of bulbs and have the added benefit of a much longer life.

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

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