How to Install Low-Voltage Decorative Outdoor Lighting

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RH:  Today’s first House Call takes me to this stately suburban neighborhood in the sprawling metropolis of Dallas, Texas.  I’m meeting Cynthia Hirsch who wants to showcase her beautiful home by day and by night.  So, we’ll put in an easy to install outdoor lighting system that’ll make her house glow and sparkle after dark.  So, just sort of show me what . . . or give me your thoughts as to what you wanted to accomplish here. 

CH:  Well, what I’d like is to see more of the house light up but in a soft manner. Right now we have some flood lights here and they tend to give off an awful light of light.

RH:  Now, you got some trees out here.  This one in particular. This is a nice tree.

CH:  Um-humh.  It’s a pecan tree.

RH:  Pecan tree.  Any thoughts of illuminating that?

CH:  Well, it’s the largest tree that I have in the front yard so I would like to try and highlight it as much as possible.

RH:  Out here on the driveway I noticed a couple of ruts.  Looks like people are kind of missing the turn out here.

CH:  Yeah.  It seems that my father in particular has trouble turning into my drive and he can’t see the actual turn so we end up with sprinkler heads being taken out and my grass often being tromped upon so it would be great to have some lights that at least, you know, allow people to see where the driveway is but also again, be kind of a pathway into the house.  Have that estate feel to it.

RH:  Cynthia and I are going to install an energy efficient, low voltage lighting system that should meet all her needs.  We first sketch out a plan, determining the location and particular lighting requirement needed for each section of the yard. I suggest we use several ground level well lights to cast a soft glow on the front of the house. We’ll also use on of these fixtures for the pecan tree as well. To accentuate a pair of smaller trees in the front yard we’ll use vertical beam lights. They are similar to the well lights but cast a more directional beam. Finally we’ll line the driveway with decorative lanterns.  Now, this is the power supply for your low voltage lighting system. We’re going to mount it on the outside of the house right here and it’s what makes low voltage lighting so safe because it reduces the household current 110 volts down to 12 volts. We want to mount this on the wall up here. It needs to be at least 12 inches above the ground. I think we’ll put this one right up here. So let’s start by taking the mounting bracket. We’ll mount the bracket right in the mortar joint where it’s easier to drill holes. I make a couple of starter holes with a spring loaded center punch and then use a carbide tipped masonry bit to drill holes. After inserting lead anchors we attach the mounting bracket with screws. There’s some slots in the back. That’s it.  Excellent. Okay.

CH:  Yeah?

RH:  Um-humh.  Next we attach the low voltage electrical cable to the terminals on the power supply. One cable will carry power to the lanterns along the driveway and well light under the pecan tree. The cable will then cross the driveway and power the vertical beams under the small trees as well as additional lanterns on the other side of the driveway. A second cable will carry low voltage current to the well lights flooding the front of the house and nearby lanterns. Now we want to run some wire along the edge of the driveway right here.  Using a garden spade we pry up the sod just enough to tuck the wire neatly out of sight and then gently push the grass back in to place. To up light this tree we’re going to use this.  This is called a well light. It actually gets buried into the ground and it’s flush which is a big advantage when your mowing your lawn. You don’t have to take it out.  A couple things to keep in mind as far as placement goes. Generally speaking, this needs to be about three or four feet from the trunk but also you want to kind of look up and pick a spot on the tree that will allow the light to go as far up into the tree as possible. All right?  So, I’m thinking that maybe about right here.  We use a clamshell post hole digger to dig holes for the light fixture.  Going to use that . . . exercise in the house.  Next we again use the spade to cut a wedge shaped groove in the sod, then insert a short length of cable and press the sod back into place. Then we place the light into the ground. Yeah, that’s good.  And connect it to the power cable with a connector that has sharp prongs that bite through the insulation making contact with the wire inside as the top ring is screwed down. Once the cables are connected together we fill in the space around the light with sand.  Now this is the fixture you picked out for the driveway here, the path light.  I like that very much. Now there’s a couple of rules about spacing on these.  They need to be about 10 feet apart, at least 10 feet apart.

CH:  Okay.

RH:  And generally speaking, this part of the lamp right here should be set back from the edge of the driveway at least six inches so cars dont hit it.  So, I think overall if we’re back about 14” or so that’d be about right.  So, about right there.  These couldn’t be simpler to install. Just simply push the stake into the ground like that.  Now, we’ve got to get the wire from here, over to here and that’s simple enough to do.  We go back to our shovel. If you can come around on this side over here.  Okay.  Okay.  Our wire’s coming down here.  Then it comes over here to the well light and then continues down here to the path light that we put in.

CH:  Right.

RH: Now we have a small problem. We’ve got to cross your driveway here. So, to do that we’re going to take advantage of this expansion joint. This is put in to keep the concrete from cracking. What we’re going to do is pry this out. We remove the wooden strip from the joint and are left with an ideal trench for running a cable across the driveway. Okay, Cynthia, just lay the cable now right in the bottom of the expansion joint. Here’s a new piece of expansion material. We’ll lay that right on top. Check to be sure that it’s flush.  It’s pretty good, huh? We fill any gaps on the sides of the strips with sand and use a broom to work it into the crevices then sweep away the excess. Having bridged the driveway we can now light the smaller trees on the opposite side. Now, this is a 20 watt halogen vertical beam light. That’s going to up light this small tree right here. What don’t you go ahead and put this in. About six inches from the trunk would be about right. We want to cast a lot of illumination on the trunk itself. Next we move on to the front of the house. To flood the front walls of the house with light we’re going to use these 50 amp halogen well lights once again. These have a sealed beam so that even though water may collect on the surface right here it wont damage the light. Well, everything is in. Do you like the fixture?

CH: I think they look great.

RH: Yeah.  They go really well with the house.  We’re going to have to wait I’d say maybe another hour or so to get the full effect here. We’re also installing a light sensor which will automatically turn the system on and off. Now you can mount this anywhere but the important thing is you want to avoid mounting this in heavily shadowed areas or areas where you have artificial lighting at night. In this case, this spot will be fine.  We can choose a dusk to dawn schedule or set it to remain on for a specified number of hours after dusk. To complete the installation we’ll pop on the cover and plug the unit in. Cynthia’s new lights are low voltage but they have a megawatt impact that makes her home glow and sparkle.

Learn how to install low-voltage exterior lights; includes details on installing ground level well lights and decorative lanterns.

This homeowner wanted to showcase her beautiful home by day and by night. She already had some floodlights on the house but wanted a softer look.  Also on her wish list, was a way to highlight the driveway at night so people would not miss the pavement and drive onto the grass.  The solution was an easy to install low-voltage outdoor lighting system that would bring dramatic yet pleasant illumination to the house, driveway and trees.