What is a low-voltage lighting system?
If you’re thinking about doing your own landscape lighting design knowing how to install a low-voltage lighting system is probably the most important part of the process. Without it, your lights won’t work. A low-voltage lighting system runs on 12 volts of power and is simple to install. The lighting system only requires three components. Even if you have never installed a lighting system before, the step-by-step guide below will help you correctly install it. Improper installation will result in voltage drops, where power is cut off from your fixtures. So, follow these steps and tips for optimal installation. That way, you will save power, money, and increase curb appeal all at once!
Components You Will Need
Installing a low-voltage lighting system needs three components. One component is a transformer, which converts 120 volts to 12 volts. This makes installation safer and easy. Transformers are plugged into a GFCI outlet and must have the capacity to support the wattage of all the fixtures in the system. There is a formula you can use to calculate what size the transformer must be. First, take the amount of wattage that each light has, then add them together. So, if you have 10 lights and they each use 50 watts, the total wattage is 500. Then multiply that total by 1.5. That number is the watts that the transformer needs to support.
However, you should get a bigger transformer than what is needed just in case you want to add more lights. It is best to use LED lights because the cost of a transformer depends on the wattage. Since LEDs use little wattage, you will save money. Next, you’ll need a low-voltage electrical cable. This will send the power from the transformers to your fixtures, which is the last component of the system.
Installing a 12V Landscape Lighting System
Now that you have all your components and understand how they each work, it is time to install the lighting system. Start by sketching your property with accuracy while walking around the entire area. The proper dimensions will give you a good estimate of the distances needed for running wires from the fixtures to the transformer. Your transformer should be hidden and close to the fixtures. If you are using multiple transformers, then create a separate plan for each. The first fixture should be no less than 10 feet from the transformer.
Knowing your wire runs is a must. Wire runs are basically the length of the cable that you will be running from the fixture to the transformer. Note that you shouldn’t use more than 8 fixtures per run. There are four types of methods that you can use for wire runs.
With the Daisy Chain method, you connect the fixtures in a chain, with the first fixture connected to the transformer. Your transformer should have multiple voltage taps to ensure each fixture has the right amount of voltage. Taps compensate for inadequate primary voltage sent from the transformer. Use this method if your fixtures are not grouped together so they can connect in a linear fashion.
Another option is the T-method. The only difference between this method and the Daisy Chain method is that the transformer connects in the middle, rather than the end of the chain. This method is used when you want to use less wire.
The Hub method requires a hub junction to which all the fixtures are connected. The hub is connected to the transformer. This method works well in small areas where the fixtures are grouped together.
The Combination method is ideal for when you want to combine the other methods of wire runs. It is similar to the Daisy Chain method. The only difference is that the transformer connects in the middle of the chain, not the end.
Tips for Optimal Installation
Voltage drops occur when not enough power runs to your fixtures, causing them to not work. If you want to prevent voltage drops then attaching less fixtures to a cable for each run is a good solution. Use more than one run if you have more than 150 watts in that area. It’s a good idea to have one wire for each zone because it is energy efficient. If you have any issues with the fixtures, it will make it easier to check the fixtures by going through each zone and pinpointing those issues.
Also, put landscape fixtures in different zones at roughly the same distances from the transformer. That way, the fixtures will all have the same voltage drops. So, when you increase the voltage for one run, the lights won’t burn out from lack of volts.
Anyone can put in a low-voltage lighting system so long as you are handy and follow the steps. Do a detailed sketch your property so you will know the length your wires need to be to run from the fixtures to the transformer. The less fixtures you put on a cable, the more power those fixtures will get. If any bulbs do burn out, then immediately replace them or it will shorten the life of the other bulbs.
Refer to the different methods for wire runs so you can minimize the amount of wires you use and still provide enough power to the fixtures. Putting in your own 12V low-voltage lighting system is quite simple, safe, and will let you display your beautiful landscape.