Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Kyle Whitley
Outdoor lighting is an excellent way to provide a warm, welcoming, and attractive environment for both your home’s exterior. There are a number of ways in which outdoor lighting can be configured to meet the needs of your property and family. Let’s take a look and see how to add outdoor landscape lighting to your home.
Table of Contents
- 1 Landscape Lighting Overview
- 2 Landscape Lighting Basics
- 3 Decide Where Landscape Lighting Should Go
- 5 How will the outdoor lights be powered?
- 6 Make the Electrical Connections for Low Voltage Outdoor Lights
- 7 Install the Light Fixtures
- 8 Finishing Up Your Outdoor Lighting Install
Landscape Lighting Overview
The following is a brief overview of some common types of outdoor lighting:
- Outdoor hanging fixtures: These fixtures are suspended from overhead wires or pendants to illuminate exterior walkways, decks, or patios.
- Outdoor floodlights: These fixtures are installed to illuminate large areas such as entire lawns, decks, and patios. Many outdoor floodlights also have multiple heads that can be mounted at different angles for maximum coverage.
- Outdoor wall sconces: These fixtures are typically installed in a vertical position to provide light at a more specific height than can be achieved with standard outdoor lamps or flashlights.
- Outdoor chandeliers: These fixtures provide light on large areas such as entire lawns, patios, and walkways using a large number of decorative lanterns on a rotating arm. There are also small chandeliers designed to fit within closets or corners for added convenience.
There are three basic modes of installation: wired low voltage, solar/battery, and 120v wired.
- wired low voltage fixtures are installed by connecting to an existing electrical system like a wall outlet using a transformer to lower the voltage to 12v. Low voltage light fixtures typically have switches or buttons that allow you to control the light’s operation.
- solar/battery fixtures are designed to connect directly to a power source (ie sun or battery) and do not require any wiring at all. They usually have buttons on switches on the fixture to turn them on and off.
- wired inline fixtures run off of 120v standard home electricity and connected via a junction box or directly to a circuit panel in your home. These types of lights are generally installed by licensed electricians since they can be difficult to install. They have switches or knobs that allow you to control the light’s operation.
Landscape Lighting Basics
Turning on your Outdoor Lights:
Outdoor Manual Lighting: This type of lighting uses electrical wiring for power and uses an electrical switch to turn on or off the fixture. The advantages of wiring your own lights include the versatility of the light source, the ease of installation, and the ability to control both intensity and color temperature (i.e., adjust from a warm glow to a cool white).
Outdoor Lighting with motion sensors/timers: These types of light switches are controlled using a sensor located in the fixture or on the lighting switch. These light switches usually incorporate a battery backup. The benefit of a motion-sensing system is that it will turn on automatically when anyone steps in front of the sensor, and will automatically turn itself off after 1 to 5 minutes depending on the system specifications.
Why Choose Outdoor Landscape Lighting
Electronic outdoor lighting continues to become more affordable and popular because of its increased efficiency and convenience. Electronic controls allow homeowners to operate lights from a remote location and control color temperature, brightness, and fade time of lights.
Control software is also available allowing homeowners/landscape designers/builders to create customized scenes for special occasions or weather conditions. There are even mobile apps that you can use on your mobile phone to turn on and off your outdoor landscape lighting.
Decide Where Landscape Lighting Should Go
The type of outdoor lighting you decide to use depends on the particular environment you are trying to create. Generally, outdoor lighting is ideal for areas that you to keep lit for extended outdoor activities, such as your deck or patio. You also may want to add light to accentuate features of your home, such as your landscaping or architectural features.
Make a Plan
Before you do anything else, you should make a plan. Take a few moments and view the area you are wanting to add outdoor lights to and make a sketch of that area. A simple sketch will help you make proper placement of the lights and how difficult the installation might be.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
When it comes to choosing outdoor lighting fixtures, the bigger they are, the more your project will cost – and it always costs more than you want or expect. When buying fixtures or accessories for your project, look at their size in relation to their intended location. Don’t over light an area, it will make plants and landscapes looked washed out.
Bigger isn’t always better in outdoor lighting. Sometimes a small discreet light on a handrail or stairway will provide better lighting than a large overhead light.
Consider the area to be lit and the season
Do you want to light up a particular area such as a path or walkway, or everything around it?
Keep in mind the placement of the lights if you have to deal with heavy snow or snow shoveling. What about leaf pile up and consider how those plants might look once their foliage has dropped.
If you are using solar lights for your outdoor lighting you will need to consider how much direct sunlight the area gets. You need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight to charge solar lights daily.
Set a Budget and Buy the Lights
Where you choose to install your lights, how many you buy and when you are ready to do it depends entirely on your budget, the time you have to spend on it, and of course your needs. If you have a tight budget and need lighting fast, go with the least expensive light source.
You can get prepackaged low voltage sets from a home center or garden store for less than $100. But like most things in life you get what you pay for. If you decided to go the low-voltage route, choose a transformer with more power than you require. That way you can possibly add on in the future.
If you have a larger budget and want more lighting options at a higher price get more lights, with upscale finishes and additional features. Some examples would be smart home integration, mobile apps, and led lighting.
The best method is to determine what features are important for your project (for example color stability, color variation, etc.) and try to fit as many of those as possible into your budget.
How will the outdoor lights be powered?
You must connect power to your lighting system. There are three main options for doing this:
- Wall Outlet Power: In this option, you connect an electric extension cord directly from a wall outlet to the light and plug it into a regular 120v outlet. You will usually see this type of connection on string lights used for external illumination.
- Solar Power: These lights are powered by small solar panels on the outdoor lights. They will have a small rechargeable battery that will store the sun’s power during the day, so it can be used at night. These are by far the easiest to place since you are not tied to a wall outlet or hardwired power lines. Just remember you need plenty of sun to keep them charged.
- Low Voltage Wiring: For the most options on placing your outdoor lighting, you must run wiring for then which may be beyond the edge of your deck or patio. This means running the wire through walls, through floors, and perhaps under a lawn or dirt if needed. This type of lighting requires a transformer to step down the power from 120v to 12v. Often this is low voltage wiring that doesn’t have to be buried deep in landscaping as traditional 120v power would.
Make the Electrical Connections for Low Voltage Outdoor Lights
When you are ready to install the lighting, it is easy to make electrical connections with basic hand tools. Many outdoor light fixtures and accessories have flexible mounting straps or stakes that allow them to be easily secured in place.
Often lights can be easily attached to multiple surfaces with simple hand tools like a screwdriver, but power tools will of course help speed up the installation
Tools Needed for Installing Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting
- Wire strippers
- Wire cutters
- Waterproof wire connectors
- Low voltage wire (usually 12 gauge or 14 gauge)
- Lawn edger or shovel
Connecting the Low Voltage Wires
Layout your low voltage lights in the locations you decided on in your earlier sketch. Run the low voltage wire from the transformer to the first light. Cut the wire and then run the next piece to the next line, and so on until you have ran wire to each of the lights. Make sure you have enough slack at each light at least 16″ -18″
Most low voltage lights come with quick connectors, but experts tend to believe that you should toss those and connect your wires using waterproof wire connectors. I tend to agree since your outdoor lights are almost 100% going to be in contact with water at some point in time.
Splicing the wires together is pretty simple, but you will need to follow a couple of steps:
- Strip about an inch of insulation off of each wire. You should have wire coming to the light, the lights wires, and wires going to the next light
- Pull the ends apart at each end about 6″
- Strip off the ends of each wire about 3/4″
- You should have six ends now, twist one wire for each end into a waterproof wire connector
- You will now have two connectors with three wires each.
Check out the video below on how to make these connections.
Connecting the Transformer
After you have run all the wires to each light and completed all of your splicings you will now need to connect your wire to your transformer.
You will need to again strip about 1/2″ -3/4″ of insulation off of the wire and pull it apart about 6″. Then attach the wire to the transformer. There are usually screw in poles to attach the wire too.
The transformer should be mounted off the ground about 12″ and usually to a hard surface like the side of your home or a post that is near a 120v wall outlet.
Call Before You Dig
The wires you ran previously will need to bury about 6″ underground. This can be done with a lawn edger or shovel.
As always check your local electrical codes and utilities before laying any power wires in the ground around your home. Call 811 in the United State to make sure you aren’t going to dig up your cable, water, or power lines.
Install the Light Fixtures
For most projects, the easiest way to start is to pick out a fixture and lamp. Depending on the type of lighting you are trying to create, you may need to consider the placement of each component and figure out where they will be located in relation to one another.
The inside or front of a house generally has lower ambient light levels than an outside area such as a driveway or patio. This means that fixtures near those areas might not provide enough light for certain tasks. Keep this in mind when deciding where you want fixtures installed so that they provide illumination where it is needed such as in the treads of stairs or around handrails.
Choose a Light Source
Lamps come in three basic shapes: tube, globe, and floodlight.
Tube lamps are typically used for security lighting or small accent lights.
Globe lamps are designed to throw light in a general direction and can be used in a walkway or landscape lighting.
Floodlight lamps are used for lighting up large areas of your yard for security or safety when entering or exiting your home. They are also great for providing light for large areas such as around your pool or backyard.
Most if not all of the lights mentioned above are now available in incandescent or LED bulbs. I tend to use LED bulbs for everything now, since they last so much longer than incandescent bulbs.
Finishing Up Your Outdoor Lighting Install
Whether you wire your own lights or choose an easier pre-wired, or solar system, installing landscape lighting is a fun project that can be done by anyone with patience and in small steps.
So let’s get out there and add some outdoor lights to your home landscape.