The Magic of Nightscaping
Landscape lighting should be an integral part of any home landscape plan. Not only does it provide security and safety, it spotlights your landscaping features and complements the overall aesthetics of your design.
If you want to light up your landscape but are unsure where or how to start, see the steps below.
But first, visit your local True Value hardware store for the tools, products and expert advice you need to install landscape lighting that shines.
Step 1. Lay Out Your Lighting
What do you want your outdoor lighting to do? Common uses include emphasizing landscape formations, shedding light on walkway areas and adding security.
Look out your windows and visualize what areas need to be lit outside. Walk around your yard with a flashlight to experiment with how lighting would look in your yard. Determine where lights should be positioned and how many you may need. All of these variables will create different moods and effects, so consider the possibilities.
You can light up dark walkways or paths by placing lights close to each other so that the illumination from each overlaps. Accent lighting near walls or underneath trees can create great highlighting effects. Placing lights in front of trees or statues and other features can create dramatic shadows on fences and walls.
- To add interest to your lighting plan, think about mixing up spacing and patterns.
- Remember that less is more. Don't add so many lights that they end up competing with each other.
- Be careful not to choose lighting locations that will get in the way of lawnmowers or foot traffic. Make sure your lighting won't beam directly into your home or, even worse, into your neighbor's.
- Try to plan your light installation when you're landscaping your yard or garden. When it comes to planning, it's much easier to do both tasks at the same time.
Once you have some ideas in mind, draw a plan that will help you visualize the results. Using a scale of 1/8" for every foot, include the location of your home's exterior outlets, trees, shrubbery, walkways, fountains, deck or patio, as well as any areas you want to light for safety. Don't worry if you're not an artist — even a rough sketch will do the trick.
- Check with your local municipality to determine if building codes will allow you to do what you want. Depending on what you have in mind, you may need a permit.
Step 2. Choose Fixtures
Once you've determined how many light fixtures you need, choose which kind you want. You may prefer unobtrusive outdoor fixtures, or you might have something more decorative in mind. Your local True Value hardware store expert can lend a hand when you're trying to decide.
Tier lighting and path lights are good for illuminating walkways. Lantern lights can also be hung along walkways, and can complement porches, patio areas, flower and mulch beds. Well lights and floodlights are great for accent lighting. When possible, use lights with rotating heads. These are very versatile and allow you to create a variety of effects.
Consider installing low-voltage lighting that operates at 12 volts instead of the home standard of 120 volts. Low-voltage outdoor lighting is safe — there's no risk of electrical shock to your kids or pets if the cable is accidentally cut by an errant lawn mower or other means. It's also more energy efficient.
Motion detectors can be useful in your landscape lighting. Use lights with built-in motion detectors or install independent detectors. Aim motion-detecting lights at your gate, front porch or along walkways. They will snap on when someone approaches, be it a welcome or unwelcome guest.
Step 3. Install the Lighting
You'll need to set up your lights and the necessary equipment to make them work before you think about putting them in place in the ground. Ready the power cable first.
All of your lights will be powered by a single low-voltage cable. Use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the closest exterior outlet to the first light, and then to each light in turn. The sum of these measurements is the amount of cable you'll need to power your lights. Most kits come with 50' of cable wire, but you'll probably need more.
- If your math skills are a bit rusty, use this simple trick: Run a piece of rope or string along the course and mark where it ends. Now just measure the rope or string.
- It doesn't hurt to buy a longer cable than you actually need. Plan for the future — you may decide to change your design scheme one day.
Choose the right transformer for the type and amount of lights you will be using. Transformers reduce standard voltage from 120 volts to a safe 12 volts for low-voltage lighting. Most low-voltage cable wire kits come with a transformer, so be sure it's adequate for your needs. Add up the total wattage of the fixtures you've chosen and choose a transformer with slightly more voltage. Again, plan ahead if you think you'll add more lighting some day.
- Keep the first fixture at least 10' from the transformer to allow for the required voltage drop. If your light is any closer than that, you risk premature bulb burnout and a cable that is running at more than 12 volts.
Hook up the low-voltage cables to the transformer then plug the wires into a GFCI electrical outlet. Now it's time to attach the cables to your fixtures — but don't set them into the ground just yet. Start with the first light, attaching it to the wire connectors around the cable then snake the cable between each fixture until everything's connected.
- Make sure the transformer hangs at least 12" above grade.
- It's a good idea to shield your electrical outlet with a storm-weather cover. If your lighting kit doesn't already come with one, you may want to buy one.
- If your transformer isn't equipped with a timer, consider buying one. It's a lot more convenient and secure to have regularly scheduled lighting.
Step 4. Turn Power On
After the lighting has been installed and a CFL bulb has been added to each fixture, switch on the lights to make sure they're working. If not, make sure all the connections and bulbs are secure. Because voltage dissipates, the bulbs might seem to dim a bit the farther they are from your house. If you find yourself wanting brighter lights, replace the cable with a higher-voltage model instead.
Step 5. Plant the Fixtures
Once you're sure all lights are working, it's time to plant the fixtures firmly into the ground. Use a rubber mallet to gently tap the fixtures into place. Using a shovel, dig 3" furrows for the cable to run from fixture to fixture. Lay the cable inside the furrows and re-cover securely with soil and mulch, where applicable.
- Make sure the cables are completely buried to prevent any tripping hazards or accidents with the mower.
Congratulations! Your new outdoor lighting will make your landscape shine. For your other home or garden projects, head to your local True Value hardware store for the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.
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