Outdoor Lighting Options: Tips For Using Outdoor Garden Lighting

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Outdoor lighting not only highlights interesting features but provides your home and surrounding landscape with additional beauty and security. The key to using outdoor lighting is knowing exactly what garden features you want to emphasize and how you want to do it. For example, do you want to accentuate a flower bed, highlight a focal point, or are you more interested in lighting up a walkway or front entrance?

Landscape Lighting Design

Take a close look around your home so you can see what you have to work with before you get started. Take note of whether or not there are any electrical outlets nearby; otherwise, you might need to reconsider your outdoor lighting options. If there are no outlets in the area that you want to highlight, you can still provide low-key lighting. This type of light provides subtle hints of illumination wherever you need it through the use of lanterns, candles, and strings of light. You could also consider using solar-powered lighting in these areas.

There are many outdoor lighting options to choose from when it comes to your landscape lighting needs. Low-voltage garden lighting is one of the more commonly used forms. Low-voltage lighting is safe, easy to install, and relatively inexpensive depending on your needs.

Landscape lighting kits are widely available in most home and garden centers. These come in a variety of styles that offer different lighting techniques for whichever lighting effect you wish to achieve in your landscape lighting deisgn. With low-voltage lighting, you can achieve special effects through downlighting or uplighting methods.

Outdoor Lighting Options

Downlighting is generally used for security purposes and produces a more natural effect as it comes from above, like the sun or moon. You can easily imitate moonlight by placing the fixtures in one or more large trees. Careful placement at different angles should provide you with a good balance of light. Downlighting is an effective way to highlight walkways and driveways. The fixtures can easily be concealed within plants or low-voltage garden lighting that resemble lamp posts can be used. Just make sure that the lights are shielded to reduce glare.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to add drama to a specific part of the landscape, then uplighting is the way to go. This type of landscape lighting produces the opposite effect from natural light since it comes from below. Uplighting is often used for highlighting focal points, such as plants or other objects. Placing the fixtures near a wall and pointing upward creates a subtle effect. The object will be lit up enough to notice; yet, no details can be made out. If you want to create a silhouette of an object, simply place the fixture behind it. Moving the fixture towards the front of an object will have the opposite effect, producing shadows.

Using Outdoor Lighting

Low-voltage garden lighting is acceptable for most of your outdoor lighting needs. If you’re installing this type of lighting for the first time, the transformer should be mounted off the ground and near an electrical outlet. Fixtures can be placed wherever you want, according to your specific lighting needs.

Cables can be clamped into a suitable connector and easily concealed within shallow trenches that are anywhere from 3 to 6 inches deep. Mulch or some type of ground cover can also be used to help conceal these areas. Low-voltage lighting requires little attention other than routine maintenance, which includes regular cleaning of fixtures and replacement of blown or damaged bulbs.

Landscape lighting creates an inviting and safe environment for yourself and others. Using outdoor lighting is also an easy and effective way to spruce up your garden surroundings.

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Before you invest in any landscape lighting, ask yourself what your purposes are for wanting illumination in your backyard. Perhaps you want to set a soft, romantic mood during the evening hours. Maybe you have a bench or a shadowy garden corner you need to illuminate for security reasons. A path leading through the garden may require landscape lighting to mark its boundaries. You might want to highlight some features of your backyard like a water fountain or pond.

After you have defined your reasons for wanting to add landscape lighting, sketch your yard. Include in the sketch existing lights, buildings, benches, trees and shrubs, as well as the vegetation and decorations in the garden. Each of these items will reflect light or absorb it. Estimate the height of each of the objects, especially the foliage.

Step 3: Select Your Landscape Lighting Fixtures

It’s important to select the right fixtures for each designated area of your application. There are two key questions to answer here: Do I have an existing landscape lighting system? and How large is my layout?

Accent, flood and in-ground landscape fixtures by WAC Lighting can be controlled for color, beam width and brightness levels–though more on this later.

WAC Lighting manufactures both 120V and 12V landscape systems with two construction options: solid die cast brass and k-alloy aluminum. Both options are finished in bronze – solid die cast brass is available for enhanced protection against corrosion in coastal and marine grade environments. When deciding between 120V or 12V it is important to consider:

Supplying 120V to your entire landscape can be an expensive and tedious task, as installing 120V wiring in most places requires the wiring to be installed a minimum of 6ft below surface level in galvanized conduit. It is only recommended to use 120V if there is an existing 120V infrastructure in your landscape or if the fixtures selected will be installed very close to the home near an outdoor receptacle. For all other layouts, a 12V low voltage landscape lighting system supplied through a central power supply source is recommended.

Below is a list of common landscape lighting fixtures and a description of where and when to use them:

Path and Area Lights Ideal for illuminating walkways to create safe and welcoming passages for guests or to add a beautiful new dimension to your home.
Accent (Spot) Lights create dramatic effects when up lighting or subtle moods when used for down lighting. These adjustable fixtures are perfect for precision illumination on tree trunks, garden structures and specific architectural elements such as porch columns, eaves, and dormers.
Wall Wash A diminutive Wall Wash creates an even, wide flood of light on any surface including facades, fences and garden walls.
In-Ground Lights Great for path lighting down a long driveway, or illuminating a tall tree.
Hardscape Fixtures Choose low profile Hardscape fixtures, which are durable linear fixtures that can be easily concealed under architectural and landscape features, like stacked masonry walls, deck handrails, bench seating, outdoor kitchen counters/islands, columns, posts, and window ledges.
Submersible Highlight ponds, wells, or other water features and backyard streams.
Step/Deck/Patio/Indicator Illuminate outdoor entertainment areas where foot traffic is prevalent.
Indicator Lights Used to highlight the edges of a deck or patio. Indicator lights may also be used along the perimeter of a driveway or vegetation area to highlight the perimeter.

Step 4: Fixture Spacing

Spacing can be subjective– 6 feet of lead wire is typically provided across most landscape lighting products for final adjustment on the field.

Below is a list of common landscape lighting fixtures and a suggestion for spacing:

Lighting Types Spacing Tips
Path and Area Lights Try to keep around a 10’ distance between each path and area light. Keep in mind these are meant to guide users down a path, not fully illuminate the pathway.
Accent (Spot) Lights Small objects require 1-2 fixtures, while large trees with big canopies and multiple viewing angles may require up to 4 fixtures. The beam angle and light output on WAC Lighting Accent & In-Ground lights can be adjusted on the field, so it may be a good idea to order slightly more than you think you may need and adjust them on the field. Today you may be highlighting a sapling, but tomorrow that sapling may grow into a hearty tree.
Wall Wash Placing these 1ft to 2ft from the wall will cast a nice, even illumination. Spread them out approximately 6ft to 8ft apart.
Hardscape Fixtures Use a 3in size strip for short tight areas, 6in size to illuminate under deck hand rails, retaining walls, or steps. Larger sizes may be used where greater illumination is required.
Step/Deck/Patio/Indicator Illuminate outdoor entertainment areas where foot traffic is prevalent.
Indicator Lights Make perimeter borders of at least 2ft of spacing.

Step 5: Wire Runs, Power Supplies, and Final Layout

The final step is to bring your landscape lighting layout sketch to life. If you selected a 12V low-voltage system, it’s very likely you will have several runs extending from just one transformer to all of the landscape fixtures. From dry to wet, to underwater locations, your entire landscape lighting system can operate from just a single source. Most transformers will plug directly into a standard receptacle outlet. Based on the fixture runs and number of fixtures used in your project, select the appropriate transformer size with a maximum wattage capacity ranging from 75 to 600 watts. It’s a good idea to leave room for expansion so if you plant a tree or add a garden feature, you’ll be able to highlight it with an additional landscape fixtures without having to revise your existing setup. Make sure to include a timer and/or photo cell to automatically control your landscape lighting based on time of day.

Your final setup should be a list product which would look as follows:

Your landscape lighting plan will operate with energy efficient LEDs, using the most advanced technologies for either low voltage or line voltage systems. Our groundbreaking LED Landscape Lighting will make your outdoor spaces beautiful and safe at night. And, if you need any more inspiration, don’t forget to check out our outdoor lighting ideas.

For more outdoor lighting ideas, follow our favorites on Pinterest:

How to Install Outdoor Lighting

Start at a landscape supply or home improvement store to buy everything you will need to install your outdoor lighting. Or of course Amazon. See supply list below.

First step : Plan out your lighting layout. Use a diagram or layout the main wire on the ground ahead of time to make sure you have the right lengths, and to plan out placement of each light. This is a good time to decide how far away from each subject (plant, wall, fence, etc…) you want to place each light, as the farther away from an object, the wider the beam will appear, but the dimmer the light. We wanted bright light and drama, so our lights are between 2-4 feet away from the intended subject, and pointed upward.

Our rough diagram for our front, side and back yard.

Supplies for Outdoor Lighting Installation

  • Wire cutter
  • Wire stripper
  • Waterproof Wire connectors
  • Landscape lighting wire
  • Power Pack / Multi Tap Transformer
  • Landscape lights w/ stakes – We chose LED lights as they are MUCH less expensive to operate than halogen, cooler to the touch, and last forever. Using the info provided on our lights to calculate, we found that for all 16 of our lights, LED’s would only cost us around $1 per month to operate. And LED light fixtures are virtually the same cost now as halogens.

Tip on choosing the gauge of landscape lighting wire – If your furthest point from the transformer is:

Place the low voltage light fixtures where you want them – We learned to leave more slack than you think, because when you join all the cables you need more excess. Start where your transformer is going to be, and lay out the main line going past the spots where each light will be connected, as below.

There are different methods for connecting your lights onto the main line, for instance crimp on quick connectors, but the experts say the best way to make sure they don’t fail is to use wire connectors. We strongly suggest you choose this type of connector. (See below) Make sure you get the wire connectors that are silicone filled and waterproof, like these we found at Lowes from Kichler.

Wherever there is a light, cut the main feed cable, pull the ends apart about 6 inches down, and then strip 1/2 – 3/4 inch of the ends. You should now have 6 “ends”. Take one end from each of the three wires and twist the copper wire together. Make sure to twist the wire in the same direction as you are going to twist on the connector. For most people that is clockwise. Now twist on the connector until its as tight as possible. It’s similar to twisting on a cap on a bicycle tire tube. Silicone will leak out of the connectors, this is normal. This is what seals it against the weather. Repeat with the other 3 wires with another connector.

You should now have two connectors with three wires coming out of each. See photo below.

Here is a time-lapse video on how to install outdoor lighting, our method! (We should have done normal speed – we know, it’s a little fast.) Hopefully this will help you get a feel for the steps above.

If you need to branch off your main line to go another direction, you can attach the branch off wire the same way as if you were connecting a lead wire from an individual lamp.

Now hammer in your stakes exactly where you wish your outdoor lighting to be. If the stakes are plastic like ours were, us a scrap piece of wood to prevent cracking the stakes. Remember, the depth you pound the stakes in will affect the height of the light once you install it.

Attach the lights to the stakes.

Make trenches and bury all your cable. If you have rock or mulch, it just needs to run underneath so that it isn’t exposed to the elements, or causes someone to trip. If you are laying your outdoor lighting cable under soil, use a square edge shovel to dig a trench 2-3 inches deep, then push the wire into the bottom of the trench and cover.

Attach the end of the main line to the transformer. We had a “multi tap” transformer, so we had two main lines to attach. You might only have one depending on the transformer you buy, and how extensive your outdoor lighting layout is. Tips on buying your transformer : Make sure you read the specs on your transformer to make sure you have enough total wattage for all the lights. Usually you just add up the total watts of all the lights you are installing, then add 20 percent. This keeps the transformer only working at 80% of maximum, which keeps it from being overtaxed. For instance, if you have (quantity-20) 5 watt lights, that adds up to 100 watts. Add 20% and that = (at least) a 120 watt transformer. This is another good reason to use LED lights, as they use far fewer watts than halogen.

Mount your transformer according to specs, usually at least 12 inches off the ground.

So here are our finished low voltage outdoor lights… Such a difference! We love how they highlight our feature trees in the landscape, and add security to the yard as well.

Adjust your lights to the right position and angle at night, so you can see the whole effect. We used lights with a 2700 color temperature, which is a warm white. This is the most popular and also the most natural looking light. When choosing your lights, pay attention to beam patterns for different areas of the yard. We used 38 degree spots on our trees here.

On our plant wall we used 60 degree flood lights for a wider beam pattern. We love this softer pattern here because it really made our plant wall part of the outdoor room on the patio, and can be seen from our main living area indoors as well. See the tutorial on how we made this plant wall here!

On the house wall, here again we used the 38 degree spot for drama. You can either place your lights in front or behind your landscape plants, depending on the effect you are going for. Obviously placing them in front of your plants gives you a little more drama, but this is less effective if you have large shrubs that block a lot of the light path.

We used light fixtures from ‘Volt Lighting’ because we preferred them, but we also saw similar low voltage outdoor lighting at both Home Depot and Lowes.

Would you like to install outdoor lighting, DIY? We think you will also love our posts on 12 Inspiring Backyard Lighting Ideas and our own DIY Water Feature for Less than $30! Also check out DIY Light Fixtures you can make over at TBD!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Feb 26 Planning Your Low Voltage Outdoor Landscape Lighting

A dark yard is a sad place of missed opportunities. Your flower beds, pathways, trees, and even the garden fountain deserve a spotlight. If you’re ready to show off even after the sun has gone down, then some DIY landscape lighting is in your future. Although you can create a system of lights that runs on standard 120 voltage from your house, for a DIY installation it’s recommended that you use a low 12-volt system for safety and cost. Here are the key components, tips, and a few ideas on how to become the best-lit house on the block.

NOTE: Before you dig, or even plan to dig, call the number 811. This will alert the utility companies of your intention to dig so they can come out and mark the approximate location of your underground utility lines. Lines are sometimes buried just a few inches in the ground. A locator should come out within 2-3 working days to mark your property or the area you intend to dig.

Outdoor Landscape Lighting

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Related To:

How do you create a yard that's light years ahead of others? One way is to make the space usable at night. Since many people work or play till long after the sun goes down, they often don't have time to enjoy their backyard until the evening hours. Add outdoor lighting, and your garden is immediately transformed into usable space.

"Most people don't realize this, but the backyard is a whole new room that they haven't explored fully," says outdoor lighting designer Michael Sestak. "You have the option to go beyond that light bulb at the doorway." Good lighting can bring Zen-like qualities to any setting. You can rediscover the perimeter of your property, make it fun to entertain and highlight points of interest, such as sculptures or fountains.

Watch the video: Exterior Lighting Concepts An Architects Guide

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