Light up the Night

Low-voltage lighting really makes your landscape shine. You can do it yourself or hire a professional.
Edwin Marty / Photography: Joseph De Sciose

The subtle glow of lights in this Savannah courtyard casts geometric shadows onto vine-covered walls and gives towering plants new dimensions. But these lights are also quite practical. Besides adding security, they also extend the amount of time the garden can be enjoyed. Lighting up a landscape allows its beauty to be appreciated anytime.

Sensible System
Mac Newell, owner of Savannah's Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, uses low-voltage lighting systems. "I'm a big fan," he says. "It's cheaper than standard lighting, safer, and works better." He has found that the key to using low-voltage lighting is getting high-quality fixtures. "The money you save buying cheap fixtures comes back at you when they break after a short time," he says. "Copper fixtures don't cost that much more, and they look a lot better." While hiring a professional ensures a quality installation and proper positioning, low-voltage lighting is easy for a homeowner to install, either in a new landscape or a decades old one. The fixtures are simple to move as plants grow, and they work well in almost any location, such as along walkways, by steps, or near landscape accents. Consider line-voltage lighting in a large landscape where there are multiple runs of more than 100 feet between fixtures.

Design With Lights
Mac offers a couple of pointers to help you get the look you desire.

  • Use halogen lights exclusively. They're brighter, last longer, and look more natural.
  • Install each fixture so the focus is on what you're lighting, not on the fixture itself.


Putting In the System

Once you know where you want your lights to be, you're ready to install them. Start by placing the fixtures in the desired locations, and then run the wire between them. Each light has two tabs that simply snap into the main wire. Connect the tabs, and bury the wire a few inches deep in soil or mulch. Next, attach the wire to the transformer, and then plug the transformer into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet. Set the timer to come on at the desired hour, and enjoy the show.

For more information on designing with low-voltage lighting, visit www.outdoorlights.com.

What's the Deal With Low-Voltage Lighting?

  • These systems reduce normal 120-volt household current to harmless 12 volts using a transformer.
  • This allows homeowners to easily install lights without having to obtain a building permit or hire an electrician.
  • A low-voltage kit includes a transformer, a timer, wires to connect the lights, and the actual light fixtures. You can also buy the individual components to customize your system.

"Light up the Night" is from the February 2006 issue of Southern Living.