Installing landscape lighting

What you’ll need

  • edger
  • screw driver
  • shovel
  • trowel
  • wire cutter

There are many options on the market for low-voltage landscape lighting, which can be found at most home centers and other retail outlets. Landscape lighting can be used to highlight areas of your yard, as well as provide safety at night by illuminating walkways and paths. Best of all, it is very simple to install.

Layout your project

First, determine which areas of your landscape you want to highlight with outdoor lighting. For example, you can find lighting to illuminate a walkway, deck, patio, trees, shrubs, the side of a house, doorway, pond or driveway.

Locate an outdoor electrical outlet, and measure the distance required to run wiring from your electrical source (outlet) to each area where you will intall a light, from the first to the last one. Be sure to factor in a foot or two extra for each light. It is a good idea to make a drawing and write down the measurments.

Choose the lighting

You should shop around and compare prices and styles of lighting before making your purchase. Consider color, shape and material (plastic or metal).

Once you find a style and price you are comfortable with, determine what types of lighting you will use for each area. Flood lights can be used to highlight a tree or several trees. Tier lighting, which looks like mini lamp posts, can be used to light various areas of the landscape. Well lights can be used to highlight a structure or a wall. There are also special lights to illuminate driveways and walkways, as well as mounting lights for decks. Refer to your layout for guidelines, and don’t hesitate to ask sales personel for assistance.

Finalize the purchase

Once you have settled on the style and types of lighting you wish to install, you can move on to purchasing a power pack (transformer) and cable. The transformer will reduce a standard 120 volt outlet to a safe 12 volts.

You’ll need to add up the total wattage of your lighting, and purchase a transformer that meets or exeeds that total. For example, if you are intalling lights with a total of 140 watts, then you will need a 150 watt transformer.

Next, purchase enough cable to reach all the areas of your layout. Be sure to purchase cable that is weather-resistant and that is recommended for use with outdoor lighting. Choose the proper guage wire that will meet the output of your transformer, length of your layout and the wattage requirements of your lighting (total).

Begin the installation

Installing the lighting is easy, and can be done in a day with a screw driver, wire cutters and shovel. Please remember to check any local building codes before installing your lighting.

Start by assembling each light according to the manufacturer’s directions, and placing it in its approximate location in the landscape. Don’t worry about exact location…we’ll get to that in a minute.

Install the power supply

You don’t need to be an electrician to install the power to supply low-voltage landscape lighting.

Start with the outdoor electrical outlet you’ve identified as your power source for the lighting (step 1). Next, determine where you will mount the transformer (read and follow manufacuter’s directions carefully). For safety reasons, it needs to be off the ground, so be sure you mount it off the ground and close enough to be able to plug it in to the outlet.

Next, connect the cable to the transformer according to the manufacturer’s directions. You may need wire cutters to prepare the cable so that it makes proper contact with the connectors on the transformer. Once you have the cable connected, you can mount the transformer. Do NOT plug it in yet.

Lay the cable

Run the cable from the transformer to each lighting location, and continue until you reach the last light. For now, you will simply lay the cable on the ground. As you lay the cable, be sure and leave a foot or two at each light so that it will be easy to move them in case you wish to change the layout. Simply “loop” a foot of cable at the lighting location.

Next, use your shovel to dig a trench along the layout where you wish to bury the cable. You don’t want to bury it too deep; 2-3 inches is sufficient. Remove additional soil in the area of the lighting to bury the extra cable and connector. Don’t cover it with the soil yet. Wait until you are satisfied with each lighting location.

Remember to read and follow manufacturer’s directions.

Connect the lights

Low-voltage landscape lights come with simple connectors that easily make contact with the cable. Place the cable in one half of the connector, lay the wire for the lights in the other half of the same connector, and clamp it together with screws. Inside the connector are small, brass “stabs” which pierce the wires’ coatings in order to make a proper electrical connection. Make sure the wire is aligned so the stabs pierce the center of the wires, and not the outside edges.

Finish the project

Plug the transformer in the electrical outlet and turn it on. Check to see if all the lights are illuminated. If you see some lights on and some off, then recheck your connections.

Once all the lights are illuminated, wait until the evening to check the lighting. You may need to reposition some lights to achieve the look you want (which is where the extra wire comes in). Once you have all the lights in their desired locations, bury the cable and connectors in the trench and cover it with soil.

Check to make sure the cable is completely buried to avoid any accidents. Cover the area with mulch or another type of ground cover.