Low-voltage outdoor landscape lighting is a great option — otherwise, you are trying to string lights with power cords everywhere.
Q: I have a great yard and enjoy being out in it and entertaining friends. But once it gets dark, we move indoors. What are my options to enjoy the yard longer?
A: Low-voltage outdoor landscape lighting is a great option — otherwise, you are trying to string lights with power cords everywhere. There are some great advantages to landscape lighting; the best is that you get to enjoy your outdoor space and beautiful surroundings during both the day and night. And if you have a deck, you can usually light it with the same transformer.
Not familiar with low-voltage lighting? Let’s illuminate the subject with a quick Q-and-A.
What are the best reasons to use low-voltage lighting?
The first is safety. The 12 volts used for running this type of lighting system is very safe compared to systems that require 120 volts. The low current is harmless to its user and minimizes electric shock. Outdoor illumination also helps to keep criminals and other unwanted people away, thereby enhancing your security. Many experts recommend low-voltage landscape lighting in both residential and commercial applications.
The second reason is affordability. Low-voltage helps minimize utility costs, and bulbs are available and affordable with low maintenance costs. Due to its simplicity, less material goes into a low-voltage installation compared to other lighting systems on the market.
The third reason is return on investment. Low-voltage landscape lighting systems raise both the original and resale value of a home. And the low voltage translates to low costs and increased savings.
Lastly, low-voltage lighting improves the beauty of your home, given that the bulbs used have a higher color quality than those in other lighting systems. The smaller fixtures blend well with your landscape, and you get more flexible because you can utilize both up- and downlighting to enhance your yard’s features.
Can I do anything I want with low-voltage lighting?
The short answer is yes, though there are a few guidelines most professional installers follow.
The first is restraint! Too many lights and your yard will look like a night football game. The idea is to highlight focal points in a variety of ways. Uplighting, backlighting, spotlighting, path lights and even underwater lights all have a place.
Next comes quality. Low-voltage lighting fixtures can look good — for a little while. However, the plastic parts of these fixtures quickly get brittle and break, the wiring corrodes, and the metal oxidizes and looks old. Installing quality brass, copper and steel fixtures with long warranties and great reputations, along with using silicon-filled connectors, will keep your system lasting longer. Brass and copper lights acquire a patina and can actually look better with age.
Also, use LED lights whenever possible. They use very little electricity and last almost forever. Yes, they do add to the initial cost of the system but are a superior product.
What kinds of fixtures are available?
There are dozens of manufacturers who have lights available locally, and each one of them carries a range of fixture varieties and styles, from traditional to contemporary to Asian-inspired to modern.
Is there a warranty?
It depends on the fixture. Many carry a one- to five-year warranty, but some will carry lifetime. Check each fixture (or brand of fixture) to verify. Most professional installers will also carry a one-year warranty on fixtures and labor for repair if issues arise.
How much does low-voltage lighting cost?
An average system for a typical yard has 10 to 20 fixtures. Costs will vary but for a lifetime guarantee, you can estimate between $175 and $375 per fixture. The fixtures and difficulty of the installation are the main factors affecting price. And keep in mind that professional installation will be an additional cost.
How do I turn the lights on and off?
A transformer powers the lights. Integrated with this is a timer and/or photocell. You can set the lights to come on and go off at any time you choose or use the photocell and have them on at dusk and off at dawn. Or turn them on by a switch in your house. You have plenty of options depending on your wants or needs.
Kimberley Martin is the owner of Cyneburg Scapes and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS), and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s nearly 3,000 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.