If you are a Florida homeowner looking to perform some of your own home improvements, adding low-voltage landscape lighting to your outdoor space is a great way to both enhance your home’s curb appeal and improve its safety measures. Lights installed along driveways, walkways, and steps make for easier travel after dusk, while soft lights scattered throughout a garden or around the base of a tree can create a simple and romantic feeling without breaking the bank.
Luckily, installing these low-voltage light systems is easy and can be done by even the least experienced handy man or woman. There are only 3 parts to a typical low-wattage lighting system–a transformer, low-voltage electrical cable, and the light fixtures–which limits the amount of time and level of difficulty it takes to properly install this simple landscape addition.
Before You Get Started
Prior to beginning, it is worth noting that you will need a GFCI-protected outdoor electrical outlet complete with a safety “while-in-use” covering. These special electrical outlets, known as ground-fault circuit interrupters, work by tripping in the event of a ground fault, thereby cutting off the flow of electricity to a person’s body to reach the ground.
The transformer, which must be able to accommodate the total wattage of the light system you intend to install, will plug into the GFCI.
1. Assemble and Lay Out the Components
Put your light fixtures together and insert the bulbs, being careful to not touch the halogen bulbs directly since the oil from your fingers could have an adverse effect on the bulb’s life span. Then line the landscape light fixtures along the path where they are to be installed, hiding them within bushes and shrubbery when possible to create an attractive space. This works best when placed between 8 and 10 feet apart, with the first fixture placed at least 10ft. from the transformer for maximum results. Also avoid placing lights within 10ft. of a pool, spa, or fountain.
During this first step, also run the low-voltage cable from the transformer–which is not yet mounted–to the fixtures, following the path of your light fixtures. When you meet an obstacle such as a tree or bush, lay the cable out around it or beneath it.
Note that for lighting systems accumulating to 200 watts or less, a 14-gauge cable is acceptable, while systems totaling higher than 200 watts require a 12-gauge cable.
2. Till the Soil
Move the light fixtures slightly out of the way so that you can turn over the turf with a flat-blade shovel. Slide the blade into the first layer of grass, approximately 12 inches away from the sidewalk, and lift up the handle to separate the soil from the ground. Fold over this section of earth and continue this process until the entire path is finished. This trench is where your wire will be placed.
3. Bury the Cable
Next, place the low-voltage cable into the newly dug trench (about 3 inches deep), leaving some slack at each fixture. This will make it easier to connect the light fixtures later. Once the cable is in the trough, cover it with the soil and smooth it out with the edge of the shovel. Be sure to leave the cable sticking out near each fixture.
4. Plug in the Transformer
Run the cable to the outdoor electrical outlet and then cut the cable with a pair of wire strippers. Strip off up to 1/2 inch of the rubber insulation.
On the bottom side of the transformer are two terminal screws. Slide the wires beneath these screws. Then tighten the screws fully to securely hold the cable wire in place.
Next, the transformer needs to be mounted. This can be done by either directly mounting it to the wall of the house, or by placing a wooden stake into the ground near the outlet and screwing the transformer to the stake.
Now is the time to lift the “while-in-use” cover located on the GFCI outlet mentioned above and plug in the transformer. You can also now plug in any accessories, such as timers or photocells.
5. Make Holes for the Fixtures
Move the light fixtures back to their intended place, making sure they are spaced out evenly. Position fixtures as close to walkways, stairs, or other areas as possible, making absolute certain that no part of it hangs over or spills out onto the surface. A fixture that is strung across walkways will be tripped over, and could possibly be ruined.
To make the hole in the ground for the fixture’s stake, use a large screwdriver or a steel punch. A hammer is not advised, as it could easily break the stake.
6. Establish Electrical Connections
Take the 2 connector halves that are hanging from the bottom of the light fixture and slip them over the cable that is bulging out of the sod. Pinch the halves together until you hear a “click” noise.
The transformer is plugged in, so the fixtures should light up if the connection is good. If you do not have light at this point, unsnap and re-snap the connector. If there is still no light, check the bulbs for faults. If there are still no lights, a faulty transformer or inefficient electrical outlet could be to blame.
7. Install Light Fixtures
Place the light fixture into its ground stake. Push the fixture and attached stake into the ground using both hands, until the top of the stake is level with the ground. Do your best to eyeball it and make sure the fixture is even and not resting at a tilt.
Bury the cable and connector beneath the soil, about 2 inches deep. Continue this process until all fixtures are buried.
8. Smooth out the Sod
Once all the fixtures and stakes have been buried and are working properly, replace your sod and smooth it out evenly around the fixtures. Use a shovel when necessary to cut the sod, and use the shovel to pack the earth back down around the fixtures. You can use a water hose to soak and pack the ground around the fixtures for even better results.