Light Up Your Lawn

Decorating, Home & Family, Outdoors
on May 1, 2005

Outdoor activities don’t have to be confined to daytime anymore. Path lighting not only casts a decorative glow on garden beds and walkways, it also illuminates the darkest nights, extending the use of your yard into the evening. And it’s easy to install with low-voltage components.

While low-voltage lighting began as security lighting, it has evolved into an attractive enhancement that complements the exterior of a home.

A low-voltage system consists of a transformer, low-voltage cable and fixtures. The transformer plugs into an outdoor receptacle and reduces standard line voltage into safe-to-handle low voltage used by the lights. The cable runs from the transformer into the yard and easily can be concealed beneath mulch or planting material. The cable connects a series of fixtures together throughout the landscape. Each fixture has a lead cable, which passes through a fitting that you install in a stake with a screwdriver.

Your yard is your stage, so consider all the possibilities. Start with a rough sketch with dimensions of your yard, and pinpoint where you’d like to add lighting.

Look for ways to enhance the landscape by adding a light in the garden beds to highlight a shrub or tree, or showcase an architectural feature of your house. While walking around the yard, consider where light is needed for safety. Take the weather and seasonal changes into account, too. Don’t install lighting where a snow shovel might damage it or where heavy rain falls.

But don’t overdo it with the lights. You’re not trying to replicate daylight. The goal is to create a subtle effect. When in doubt, use fewer rather than more fixtures. For example, a walkway can look like a runway with too many evenly spaced fixtures, so instead, place them in a staggered pattern or randomly.

Once you’ve decided the location of light fixtures and how many are needed, bring out a long garden hose to simulate the cable. Lay the hose along the cable route, working it away from the transformer to see how much cable you’ll need.

Bring your sketch and notes when you shop for the fixtures, which are found at home and lawn centers and hardware stores. The systems and fixtures, also called lanterns, are sold individually and as kits. A typical low-voltage landscape lighting kit includes six to eight fixtures, low-voltage cable and a transformer. The fixtures are made of plastic, aluminum or metal and come in a variety of styles and finishes. There also are surface-mount systems designed for installing on a deck.

You’ll also find solar-powered and motion-activated units. The latter turn on automatically when people walk near them and turn off when they leave the area.

Choose a style that complements your home. Keep in mind that lights with components sold separately might offer more flexibility in the layout design.