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Lighting 101: Easy Landscape Lighting

Life is moving outside as the days get longer and warmer, and since most of us are still confined to home during the current outbreak, we’re focused even more on making the best of our spaces- particularly the outdoors.

This usually means hard work tending the garden, getting the deck clean for the season, and firing up the barbecue. Then darkness falls, and we’re not really able to appreciate the fruits of our labor unless we turn on the house floodlights.  Squinting past the glare of lights intended for security makes appreciating your careful landscaping almost impossible.  And let’s be honest- at some point we’ve all been the one stuck sitting in the floodlights at a friend’s house, attempting to enjoy conversation with a hand held up to block the glare.

The great news is that we don’t need to spend a lot of money, time, or worry about hiring an electrician to make a beautiful impact with landscape lighting. In fact, low-voltage landscape lighting is one of the easiest and most satisfying projects you can do. That’s because the system essentially consists of only three components: a transformer, wire, and fixtures. The transformer just plugs into an outdoor outlet, the wire from it is low-voltage so it doesn’t need to be buried, and the fixtures can usually connect quickly without the need for splicing or wire nuts.

So how do you actually design your own system? Here’s what we suggest:

First, you need to make sure you have an available outdoor outlet. It should be GFCI protected, meaning that somewhere on the circuit between your electrical panel and the outlet there’s a special outlet designed to trip and shut things off if there’s a short.

Next, you’ll want to walk through the spaces you intend to light. Think about the sorts of effects you’ll want to achieve- uplighting large or interesting trees, washing shrubbery or architecture with light, or creating pools of light along paths. Chances are you’ll want all three, so take a quick count of the numbers and types of places you’ll want light. Don’t worry- it’ll be easy to readjust and add to your system later.

Reach out to one of our designers to pull together your order. For uplighting you’ll want to select well lights, for accents you’ll want spot and flood lights, and for paths you’ll want path lights. (we’ve linked to some examples, although there are a huge amount of other options we have available for you)

Your Dominion designer will take quantities and types into account to help calculate the size of the transformer (this is what changes your household current from 120V to the more manageable 12V for the system) you’ll need. Transformers can also range in capability from the most basic on/off, to timers, photocells (light sensors), to smart capabilities that allow you to control your system from your phone or by using a digital assistant like Alexa.

Determine how much low-voltage wiring you’ll need (you’ll generally want more length than you expect), as well as any additional accessories like special mounting stakes for high-traffic areas and quick connectors to allow you to quickly and easily add and move fixtures without going through the effort of splicing wires.

Once you have everything in hand, you’re ready to upgrade your landscape with these simple steps:

1.       Install each of your fixtures where you want them- this usually means just sticking a stake into the ground.
2.       Run your wire (not connected yet) from your transformer along to each fixture. Try to keep the runs of wire as short as possible- the voltage in the wire will drop the further out it goes from the transformer, and while LED fixtures can usually handle this, you can still run into issues in extreme cases.
3.       Connect each fixture to the wire, and then connect the wire to your still-unplugged transformer. Plug the transformer in and turn the system on. Check each fixture to make sure it’s working- if not, double check the connections and bulbs. Once everything is functioning, wait until darkness falls to tweak how lights are aimed and spaced. Since moving and reinstalling fixtures is easy along the run of your wire, adjustments (and additions) aren’t difficult.
4.       Once you have you’re satisfied with your layout, cover over your wire with mulch or soil. It doesn’t need to be buried in conduit like household-voltage wire, so you’ll just want to cover it so you can’t see it and it won’t be damaged by mowing, yardwork, or folks tripping. 

Now all you have to do is sit back and enjoy your yard in a whole new way. You’ll be surprised with how much lighting can seem to expand nighttime spaces, bringing drama and a completely new perspective to plantings and hardscapes. 

Interested in giving it a try? We’re here to help. Just drop us a line and we’d be more than happy to consult over the phone, via FaceTime, or even in person.

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