Extending Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting

Low voltage lights are user friendly. They're designed with the do-it-yourselfer in mind. So you don't need to be afraid to tackle a job like adding a few more lights to the system. The process is fairly quick and not too difficult.

However, you do need to keep some things in mind.

DON'T OVERLOAD THE SYSTEM. This is the most basic direction that you need to follow. Don't just add lights because you can. First, find out how much the transformer can take. Then find out how much it already has. (The transformer is the usually black box that plugs into the wall. The cables run out from it to the lights.)

Finding out how much your transformer can take is painless. It should be printed right on the transformer. Look for a number with a "w" next to it (for "watts"). This will tell you the capacity of the transformer.

The second step is hardly more difficult. It only requires a little math. Look at each bulb that is powered by the transformer and note how many watts it is. Add the wattages of all the bulbs together. This number should be less than the capacity of the transformer. If it's not, you're already in trouble. Now add to those bulb wattages the wattage of the bulb you want to introduce to the system. The new number should still be less than the rating of the transformer.

For example, suppose you have a 160 watt transformer that is hooked up to six 20 watt bulbs. The total number of watts for those bulbs is 120 (6 times 20). That's less than the rating of the transformer, so you're fine. If you add another 20 watt bulb, that brings the bulbs up to 140 watts. Still fine. Two 20 watt bulbs will bring the bulbs up to 160 watts, which is exactly as much as the transformer can power. Any more than that, and you could start a fire.

If you've decided you can go forward, you want to make sure to get wire of the proper gauge. Cut a small piece of wire from the existing system and take it to the hardware store to match it for thickness. Buy as much cable as you need, remembering that a too long cable can result in a voltage drop.

The hardware store should also sell a "low voltage cable connector"-a small plastic connector that will connect loose ends of cable together. It's about the size of a quarter and you can probably pick up a couple of them for under $5. The connector should come with simple instructions that walk you through the process of connecting the lines and snapping them together.

Back at home, use this connector to add your new cable to any point on the existing line.

Add the new light in and wait until dusk to set and aim it.

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