The outdoor lighting installation tips I will cover here are not usual for low-voltage landscape lighting, and you probably won’t find them on any other website promoting low voltage outdoor lighting. These are ideas and tips I have developed through trial and error. I believe if you make a mistake, you should learn from it. If you don’t, it’s called insanity! So what I have learned is because I have made mistakes, and now, I will share what I have learned with you.
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Low-Voltage Lighting TransformersThis is an old school timer, it works and gets the job done, but that’s about it. | SourceThis is a new style low voltage lighting transformer, it’s totally programmable for any situation, it also comes with a photocell.
| SourceThis a photocell light sensor, it’s about the size of a quarter. It’s best to buy a low voltage lighting transformer with a photocell so you’re not constantly adjusting the timer. | Source
Most do it yourselfers will buy a low voltage outdoor lighting kit the first time around, and it’s not a bad choice, but beware of the connectors you get in the kit. The connectors in the kit use a wire piercing type of connector which will only last about a year or two depending on your outside weather conditions. Moisture penetrates the plastic connectors and corrodes the wires and cause a poor connection or worst, high resistance in the wires causing the transformer to overheat and eventually burn out the transformer.
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Because low voltage lighting wires only have to be a few inches deep, spring clean up can cause some problems. The garden edges are usually cleaned up and reshaped with a nice sharp shovel or edger, so if your low voltage wires are running to shallow, there’s a good chance your light will not be working when you pull into the drive when you get home from work. A simple solution for this common problem is slipping the wire through a piece of thick rubber or pvc tubing where the wire enters the garden from the grass, this will help protect the wire from that nasty ole shovel, you can also add this wire protector at any other place you feel a shovel might damage the wires.
Using this method of twisting the wires together is the best practice for outdoor lighting, or any wire connection for that matter, it’s even better then soldering the wires together because the flux in the solder will corrode the wires over time causing a poor connection or high resistance in the wires. Homes are wired in this manner, if you have ever replaced a light fixture, you would have noticed the wires are twisted together then capped with a wire nut, I also use this method when repairing automotive wiring, it makes a great connection, and it’s permanent.
I recommend installing heat shrink connectors or heat shrink tubing at all connections, the tubing is easier to use and install, and doesn’t require any special crimping tools. As you splice the wires to install each light, slide a piece of heat shrink tubing over the wires, twist the striped wire ends together, and then slide the heat shrink tubing over the bare wires. Once the heat shrink tubing is covering the bare wires, use a heat gun or micro torch to complete the water tight connection. (See my video on heat shrink connectors and tubing)
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Having this function will save you the hassle of constantly adjusting the on and off times on the transformer. If you purchase a transformer that doesn’t have a photocell light sensor, you will probably be adjusting the on time about every 2 months, remember, I learned this through trial and error, it wasn’t a big deal at first, but it seems to wear on me after a few years.
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This is a 20watt low voltage landscape light place at the base of a crab apple tree. | SourceLED solar lights along the side of a pool, they don’t really light a path, but put a twinkle on the water. | Source
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If you plan on buying individual lights or if you plan on buying a kit, here is one important question you need to ask yourself: “How will the transformer turn on and off?” Most likely you don’t live in an area of the world where the sun rises and sets at the same time each day, so I recommend buying a transformer that has a photocell light sensor, the light sensor turns your outdoor lighting on at dusk and then it should have some sort of control so you can adjust how long the lights will stay on for. You can set the control so the light will stay on for 4, 6, or 8 hrs, or you can also have them come on at dusk and off at dawn.
I have a few tips for keeping your landscape lighting wires safe, one tip I’ll show you, most do it yourselfers would never think of. When planning your outdoor lighting wire route, place the lights where you would like them, then lay out the wires, try to keep the wires near walkways, driveways, and patios or places where a stray shovel won’t encounter the wire. But if you are trying to run a wire out to a tree in the middle of your yard, and you have to pass through the edge of a flower garden where the grass meets the garden, this is a dangerous spot for wiring.
Moonrays 95436 600-Watt Low Voltage Power Pack With Sensor and Weather Shield for Landscape Lighting