Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Lights
ALL ABOUT OUTDOOR LIGHTS
Are you interested in installing outdoor lights at your home? Have you seen other houses looking stylish at night with tastefully lit trees and shrubs, and gently illuminated architecture? Do you want to know more? We’ll talk here all about outdoor lighting: what it is, how it works, and what components are used to create a beautifully-lit night landscape.
LOW VOLTAGE LANDSCAPE LIGHTING
The kind of outdoor lighting we’re talking about here is low-voltage landscape lighting. First, it’s important to recognize that landscape lighting is, for the most part, in the landscape. With fixtures placed on the ground, in trees, and sometimes mounted in the architecture, landscape lighting creates illumination from within the landscape. That makes it different from standard security lights mounted on a house or building. In those cases, it’s the building that lights up the landscape. With landscape lighting, it’s usually the other way around—it’s the landscape that lights up the building.
To safely operate in the landscape, most landscape lighting systems are low voltage. That is, instead of running 120 volt electricity through the wires, as is done in your house, the power is stepped down at a transformer and turned into 12 volt electricity that is safe to run through the landscape.
FIXTURES, LAMPS, AND BULBS
When talking about the light sources in landscape lighting, the metal housing that is staked into the ground or attached to trees or architecture is called the fixture, and there is a lamp placed inside the fixture that creates the light. Landscape lighting professionals don’t use the word “light bulb,” so if you’re looking for a replacement part, be sure to ask for a lamp.
There are three main types of fixtures that are used in landscape lighting: accent lights, path lights, and lights that are mounted in the architecture or hardscaping. Accent lights are mounted in the ground, shining light up on a tree, shrub, sculpture, or architectural element. They’re often referred to as“up lights.” Accent lights can also be mounted on a tree or a wall, shining light down on a point of interest, and are called “down lights” when used in this way. Accent lighting has different beam spreads, ranging from 15 degree spot lights to 60 degree flood lights. You can also choose different brightnesses to create even lighting between objects lit from up close, and those lit from far away.
Path lights are usually mounted on a riser and shine light down on a path or sidewalk. The risers are staked into the ground, and come in many different styles. As the most visible fixtures in the landscape, there are lots of options to ensure you get lighting that’s suited to your landscape design.
Architecutural lighting, hardscape lighting, and other specialty lighting comes in lots of different shapes and sizes to serve special needs in an architectural or hardscape setting. From hardscape lights that slide between wall blocks to lights designed to be inset into stairs, landscape lighting companies offer a wide range of lighting options designed to meet specific architectural needs.
THE TRANSFORMER & ELECTRICAL BACKSIDE
To transform the electricity in the landscape lighting system from the 120 volts coming into the house to the 12 volts necessary for the landscape lighting system, you’ll need a transformer. Lighting transformers come with lots of different options, from models that allow you to create zones, change colors and operate the system remotely from a phone app to simple models that plug into a timer or light sensor to turn on and off. The transformer is usually plugged directly into an outlet outside the house, and the wiring is run from the transformer to the fixtures.
With LED lighting, the electrical draw is usually small, so you’ll only need 12 or 14 gauge wire to run a system for your home. It’s imperative to use properly sized wire designed for landscape lighting: it needs to be waterproof and UV resistant so that it doesn’t break down in its outdoor environment. To make connections, use silicone filled wire nuts approved for outdoor use.
And with that, we’ve covered the basics of landscape lighting. It’s a pretty simple system, at the end of the day, which creates an amazing transformation in the nighttime experience of your home and landscape.