Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting

Low voltage lighting systems have a number of advantages that make them the obvious choice for residential settings. The alternative-high voltage or line voltage-is often best left to larger scale commercial and institutional settings.

The basic disadvantages of a high voltage system may be summarized briefly. The lines must be buried 18 inches deep or be heavily shielded. This makes them difficult to move. All fixtures must be completely waterproof because of the potential for shock. The lamps are larger, so the fixtures are larger. The lamps are more expensive to operate and often too bright. A licensed contractor must install these systems and you'll need a building permit.

By contrast, the disadvantages of a low voltage system are minimal. Unlike high voltage systems which can plug directly into house electricity, low voltage systems require a transformer. Also, with low voltage systems, it's much easier for voltage drop to occur over long line, resulting in dimming lights.

These concerns are a small price to pay for the advantages listed below:

Do-It-Yourself - This is a prime advantage. You don't need a license or a permit. Just buy the components individually or as a kit and get to work.

Ease and Flexibility - Low voltage cable doesn't need to be buried, merely hidden. That saves trouble up front. And if you decide to move the lights to accommodate a growing shrub or other landscape change, that's easy to do. You don't have to be married to your design; you just have to like the way it looks at the moment. This gives you more room to experiment as well before settling on a final look.

Safety - The lower voltage makes these systems much safer to work with. The prospective consequences of a shock aren't nearly as devastating. You don't have to worry about putting them in locations where they'll get wet (i.e. anywhere outside). Many are even designed for underwater use, a much scarier proposition when dealing with 120 volts.

Precision - The lamps may be less powerful, but that also means you can be far more precise in your lighting effects. You can highlight smaller areas with pinpoint accuracy while leaving what you want to in the shadows. This also makes it easier to achieve effects such as crosslighting that require multiple beams. You don't have to worry as much about the problem of over lighting just because you added in a lamp or two.

Hideability - Smaller bulbs means smaller fixtures. And smaller fixtures means it's easier to find a place to hide them. Decorative fixtures, of course, benefit from being out in the open. But most fixtures aren't there to draw attention to themselves. They're there to put the light on something else. For these fixtures, the ability to scoot them under a bush or behind a post is a definite advantage.

Cost - The lamps are less expensive to purchase and they consume less electricity when used.

Low Voltage Lighting Resources

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting:
Guide to setting up and installing low voltage outdoor lighting. http://www.rd.com/familyhandyman/articles/200006/lowvolt/main.html
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