12 Oct How to Install Low Voltage LED Outdoor Lighting
Outdoor lighting is a great way to increase the value and safety of your home; it is also an expectation buyers have when comparing potential properties. With LED, homeowners can now take a weekend to install their own outdoor lighting system without excessive costs. We recommend hiring a local electrician to do the installation, but for those DIY homeowners that know a thing or two about working with electricity here is a guide to help you install your own low voltage LED outdoor lighting.
- Make a Plan – This is more than a mental check list, we recommend you create a plan on paper before you even begin purchasing materials for this project. You want to create a rough layout before you begin to ensure you buy the right wire, transformer, and fixtures to achieve your design expectations. You’ll want to have a design in mind as you create this layout. Do you want pathway lights leading to your door? Do you have a tree you want to make the focal point of your light design? Do you have architecture you want to feature? Your light design will determine the type of fixtures and how many you’ll need to purchase. For guidance on how to design your landscape lighting, check out our Landscape Light Design Series.
- GIF Location – Next, you’ll want to find an outdoor GIF plug that is centrally located in relation to your lighting project. This will be the site of your multi-tap transformer. You’ll want to pick a plug that doesn’t have a lot of concrete below it so you can hide the wires with bark or ground cover.
- Turn Power Off – While 12 volts is a safe system, we do not recommend doing any installation with the power on. Before you begin working with the wires, transformer, or fixtures turn the power off.
- Run Your Lines – Next, you’ll set your transformer on a 12 volt tap and begin to run your lines to the different locations you want to illuminate. At this stage, run your wire above ground and make a loop at the location of each fixture that will be on that line. The loop will provide you about 8 to 10 inches of extra wire that you’ll use during installation.
- We recommend a 14 gage wire for the average LED landscape project, but you could use a smaller, 16 gage wire if you have less than a 100 feet to cover. If you’re worried about voltage drop due to the size and scope of your project, play it safe with a 12 gage wire. Simple rule of thumb, the larger the gage the more fixtures you can have on the circuit.
- Group Circuit Locations – For each run, group your fixtures based on location. For example, lay out your first run to all of your flower beds, then have the second run go to all your perimeter lights, while your third powers your pathway fixtures. This organizational structure will come in handy when you begin testing your work.
- A secondary way to group fixtures is a grid approach. Make a diagram of your landscape and cut it into four different quadrants. Organize yours runs based on the fixtures in each quadrant.
- Begin Installation – Now that you’ve run your lines you can begin installing your fixtures – make sure the power is shut off.
- Dig a small hole to install your stake mounted splice containment hub.
- Go to the first loop in your run, the one closest to the transformer, and cut the wire at the center of the loop.
- Pull the wires through the opening into the containment hub.
- With the wire cut in two, take the side closest to the transformer and peel the wire into the two leads: the power in and the common. Then take the other side, the wire leading to the rest of the run, and repeat this process. Now you should have two wires that form a V at the last two inches.
- With your wire cutters, strip each side of the Vs to expose about 6 centimeters of the copper wires.
- Now grab your fixture, and take the two wires at the base and strip 6 centimeters of those wires as well. With all your wires stripped and ready to get connected, make sure you have two wire nuts, electrical tape, and electroshield ready to go.
- Take one side of the V from the wire closest to the transformer and one side of the V from the wire running to the rest of the circuit and twist the exposed copper together. Then take one wire from the fixture and add it to the currently twisted wires. Take a wire nut, and secure the connections. Repeat this process with the remaining sides of the two Vs and the other fixture’s wire.
- Secure the wire connections with electrical tape, and spray them with electroshield for premium protection from moisture.
- Last, place the wires into the base of the containment hub, and secure the lid.
- Mount the fixture to the stake, and repeat steps a-i for the next three fixtures on this run.
- Test Your Progress – Once you’ve installed three fixtures on your run, grab your voltage meter to test your voltage drop. With LED systems, this issue is certainly minimized, but it isn’t entirely eliminated.
- Turn the power on, and use the voltage meter to test the first fixture. Make sure the voltage is between 11 to 12 volts, any higher than 12 volts and the draw will burn out the LED at an accelerated rate.
- Once you’ve tested the first fixture, test the third. It should be between 10 to 12 volts, anything below 10 and the fixtures will not illuminate.
- If you’ve found the voltage on the first fixture is lower than 11, you can increase the the transformer to a 13 volt tap.
Finish Install – Repeat this process to install each circuit that you’ve laid out on your plan. Continue to test your runs to ensure the first fixture on the run is at 11 to 12 volts and the last fixture on the run is between 10 to 12 volts. You can add as many fixtures as you like to each circuit as long as the voltage stays between our recommended ranges. If they don’t, either increase the voltage at the transformer or remove a few fixtures and run an additional circuit.