Landscape Lighting - Installing Low-Voltage Outside Lights
Installation of low-voltageoutside lightsis something that instantly pays dividends. Not onlydo they give your house a more welcoming, inviting and warm appearance, but they also adda layer of security and safety to your home. If this sounds like the kind of job you want to takeon yourself, then you'll need to become familiar with the components of a landscape lightingsystem. Included on this list are the transformer, low-voltage lighting cable, fixtures, andbulbs. Here's a quick breakdown on each of these components:
A transformer is an electrical device that converts (or transforms) a 120 volt current into asafer 12 volt current. This type of transformer is known as an electronic low-voltagetransformer. It contains an electronic device called an inverter. The inverter is what actuallyconverts a direct current (DC) to an alternating current (AC).As a rule of thumb, it's best to size your transformer based on the cumulative wattage all of the lights in the system will need, plus about 25% more for the cable. The additional wattagealso accounts for the prevention of voltage drop (or a reduction in voltage), which occurs thefurther the line is away from the transformer. So lights closest to the transformer will shinebrightest, and those furthest away will shine less so. The quality of the wires used in thesystem will also affect the degree of voltage drop.To illustrate further and for the sake of simplicity, let's say you have just purchased a systemthat includes 8 fixtures, each with a 10 watt lamp. The minimum amount of wattage you willneed is 80 watts (8 fixtures x 10 watts = 80). Next you need to multiply 80 by 1.25 (or 25%more). So, 80 x 1.25 = 100. This is the size of the transformer you will need. You canincrease the size of the transformer even further to account for additional fixtures you mayadd in the future; but generally it's not advised to exceed the load wattage by more than100%.
As you might guess, a low-voltage landscape lighting system requires specialized cables torun from the transformer to the fixtures. It is possible to install these cables without diggingup or otherwise disturbing an intact landscape. This is done by stapling the cable firmly intoplace and covering it with dirt or mulch. But the usual method is to bury the cable in a 3 - 6inch shallow entrenchment.#12 SPT cable is the most commonly used wire in landscape lighting designs. This cable iscomposed of tightly bound strands of copper. This distinction sets it apart from wire, which iscomposed of a single strand of copper. But you will frequently hear the term “wire” used for “cable” when describing the line used in the lighting system.SPT is an abbreviation for Service Parallel Thermoplastic, which describes the type of cable.#12 references the diameter of the copper strands, as set forth in the standard measurementguide of the American Wire Gauge (or AWG) in the United States. The larger the wire, thesmaller the number for the cable. This means a #8 SPT cable has a larger diameter than a#12 SPT cable, and therefore is able to carry a greater electrical load.