How to install 12v outdoor lighting

Written by philip schmidt
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Installing a 12-volt, or "low-voltage," lighting system is a great do-it-yourself project that you can easily accomplish in a day. In contrast to today's solar landscape lights, which are self-powered units that have no external wiring, a low-voltage system runs from a transforemer that is plugged into a household electrical socket, and all of the fixtures are connected to a feed cable that is buried during the installation. When planning your system, it's a good idea to choose a transformer that can accommodate several more lights (at least 25 or 30 additional watts) than your current needs. This gives you the option of expanding the system in the future without having to buy a new transformer.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Low-voltage lighting system
  • Drill
  • Wire strippers
  • Flat shovel

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  1. 1

    Determine the location of the system's transformer. It must be plugged into a GFCI-protected outlet and out of weather elements. Most people locate the transformer in the garage or on a sheltered exterior wall near a weather-protected outlet.

  2. 2

    Strip the insulation from the ends of the feed cable wires using wire strippers. Connect the wires to the appropriate terminals on the transformer, following the manufacturer's wiring diagram.

  3. 3

    Roll out the feed cable from the transformer down the length of the path for the fixtures, according to your plan. Position each light fixture as desired along the feed cable by laying on the ground. Double-check the layout of the feed cable and fixtures to make sure everything is where you want it.

  4. 4

    Cut a trench for the feed cable using a flat shovel. In turf areas, simply drive the shovel in a few inches, then work it back and forth to create a narrow groove. However, if you annually aerate the grass, make the trench 6-inches deep or more to protect the feed cable.

  5. 5

    Anchor the fixtures in place by staking them into the ground (most fixtures come with integrated stakes). To mount fixtures on decks, patios and other hard surfaces, use mounting bases supplied by the manufacturer.

  6. 6

    Dig a trench between each fixture and the feed cable; this is for the lead wires that connect the fixtures to the feed cable. Connect the lead wires to the feed cable as directed.

  7. 7

    Test the system by plugging in the transformer. Make sure all of the lights operate. To make sure the fixture layout meets your needs, test the system again after dark. Once you are happy with the location of the lights, bury the feed cable and lead wires in their trenches. Narrow trenches can be closed with foot pressure along the edges.

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