How to Install Low-Voltage Outdoor Lighting

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

Finally today, we drive along the coast to St. Augustine, Florida, North America’s oldest community settled by Europeans.  We head out to the cool, wooded suburbs to meet Louie Bartoletti, a golf course designer who spends much of his time creating some of America’s most challenging fairways.  Today though, he and I are teeing off on a home illumination project. 

RON:  So what are we doing today?  I know it involves some lighting, some outdoor lighting...

LOUIE:  Well in the back, I got real nice...

RON:  Louie explains that it’s not only his deck that needs lighting, but also the pathway leading to it.

Want to show me? 

LOUIE:  Sure, c’mon, let’s go this way ...well, we wanted to do a little bit of path lighting here,  down the right side here. I got a couple of steps coming down and this step really creates some problems with the kids.

RON:  Oh yeah, this could be a problem in the dark.  So the idea then is the path lighting would sorta just follow this curve around here?

LOUIE:  Correct.
RON:  Anything else?

LOUIE:  Well we wanted to do some tree lighting right here. There was gonna be a ground light to shoot up this tree here for illumination.

RON:  Oh I like that, yeah highlight this.  Uh, you know what’s nice about this is you’ll also appreciate this from inside the house. You’ll look out and see the trees highlighted, that’s very pretty.

LOUIE:  Great!

RON:  After our walk-about survey, we sit down and draw out the deck area. From this we can determine how many fixtures and how much wiring we’ll need.

Now these are some of the styles you can choose from. These are all driven into the ground with stakes on the bottom, what kind of appeals to you...

LOUIE:  I really like this one here

RON:  Well we took our drawing to the home improvement center, and got everything we’re gonna need for this job. Now this is the fixture that Louie picked out to go along the pathway. Uh, it’s metal, aluminum, will never rust, and what I like about this system is that it is very easy to assemble, just 3 pieces. This post goes in there, this cap goes on the bottom down here, and then everything is held in place with two set screws. 

We just tighten down these two set screws and we’re ready to go.

We begin placing the lights, remembering that our first priority is to make the pathway and steps visible at night. .

You had another step down here you were concerned about…

LOUIE:  Yes, a couple of ‘em

RON:  OK, so let’s put the second one in down there.

LOUIE:  Alright this should light up these three steps nicely here.

RON:  And then that one, why not up by the gate, yeah.
Yeah, maybe down just a foot or so

LOUIE:  So it doesn’t hit when the gate opens? 

RON:  Yeah and we don’t get a shadow.  Perfect.  OK, now we’ve got, I think we’ve got pretty even illumination from the top of the walkway all the way down to the bottom.  And most importantly, we’ve got our two steps lit.

LOUIE:  And it’s spaced nicely.

RON:  These are 3-tiered pagoda style fixtures.  Now you notice these fins, right here?  They cast the light downward into soft pools.  They’re ideal for placing along the edge of a hedge like this, so we’ll put the first one right here.  That’s going to illuminate this area back in here, the landing, and then over here, we’ll place one on this corner, again at the edge of the hedge, to throw some light down on the step. 

This is yet another version of low voltage outdoor lighting. These are spotlights, they have a very directional beam and they’re designed to highlight things like  trees, plants and architectural details. This is a 50 watt version here, this is a 20 watt. Some of these come with stakes you can put right into the ground or a mounting plate like this that can be attached to just about any surface with screws. And this one over here is designed to be buried into the ground.

This underground up-light requires us to first dig a hole. Then pour in about 4 inches of gravel to help with drainage.  Louie inserts the light and makes sure that it’s aimed up at the trunk and hits the canopy.  We fill in our hole, leaving the wire connector exposed. 

I decide that this next up light should be concealed underneath the deck.  Louie hands me the light from above while I get ready to screw it to the joist from below. 

Our final up-light has a stake base, which is simply pressed into the soil.

Now the last type of fixture that we’re going to use on this project are these surface mounted deck lights, they’re going to go right on the railing, right down here, and we’re going to put several of them around the deck.  One here – Louie why don’t you put two on that side over there, as we decided in our plan, and I”ll put this one over here.  OK, put one here. 

Just two wood screws and these lights are good to go.

The cover just snaps right on. 

The low voltage power for these lights is carried by this weather resistant cable, made for underground use.   Each light fixture attaches to the cable with a simple screw-on connector.   What could be easier?

Burying the cable is done most easily by using a flat garden spade.  We push the spade into the ground at a forty-five degree angle, then raise the spade handle until it’s nearly vertical.  This creates a v-shaped trench into which the cable can be placed.

Our lights and wires are all in position and ready to go….all they need now is some juice.

Now this is gonna supply all the power for the outdoor lights we’re putting in today. It’s called a transformer and what it does is reduce the household voltage, the normal household voltage of 120 volts, down to 12 volts and that is what makes this system so safe.

This is also the control center for the outdoor lighting system, from here you can turn the lights on and off manually, or you can set them to come on and off automatically.

Well it’s about time for our moment of enlightenment, if you will.   We restore the power, wait a few minutes for dusk to arrive and hit the switch. And do we have light!

You know I’m really pleased with the way this turned out.

LOUIE:  Beautiful.

RON:  Is it what you’d thought it would be?

LOUIE:  And more.

RON:  Really?

LOUIE:  Yeah.  Well, it did everything I expected, we got the steps ...highlighted, and these accented trees are just gorgeous.  It creates a very nice, comfortable feeling back here now.

RON:  Well it was a pleasure working with you

LOUIE:  I enjoyed working with you.

RON:  Let’s do it again sometime, let’s build a golf course together. 

LOUIE:  Love to!  Thank you very much.

Learn how to design and install outdoor low-voltage lighting; includes details on walkway lights, deck lights and spot lights.

Ron's mobile workshop heads down the Florida coast to St. Augustine, North America's oldest community settled by Europeans. In the cool, wooded suburbs Ron meets Louie Bartoletti, a golf course designer who spends much of his time creating some of America's most challenging fairways. Louie has asked Ron to help him with an outdoor lighting project. The two of them figure out what they will need for the project and then they get to work.