Buying Low Voltage Exterior Lighting

When you select these lights, remember that you'll have to maintain them as well as install them. Choose sturdy fixtures that are rated for outdoor use or underwater use if appropriate. You want to make sure what you're getting can stand up to the weather. Visit a garden or lighting center and spend some time getting to know what sorts of fixtures are available. Compare similar types from different manufacturers where possible.

The fixtures should come with instructions on how to install them. You'll also need to buy a low voltage transformer and enough cabling to run to the fixtures. Remember though, the longer the cabling, the greater the voltage loss, and the greater the chance that the lamps will run dim.

Be careful not to underload or overload the transformers. Running them at about 80% capacity is a good rule of thumb. So a 100 watt transformer should be hooked up to about 80 watts worth of lamps. Don't run the transformer at less than 60% capacity. That results in hot bulbs with short lives.

The easiest way may be to buy a kit that includes transformer, cabling, and fixtures in one easy package.

To get an adequate amount of light, plan on one low voltage fixture for every 6 to 8 feet of pathway or perimeter. Use three per tree for downlighting or uplighting.

Here are some other things to think about as you consider how many and what type fixtures to buy.

Don't Over Light - This is a basic, common mistake. You don't want your garden to look like a football stadium and you don't want the pathway to look like a landing strip. Remember, lighting everything equally doesn't draw attention to anything in particular.

Go for Contrast - Contrast is the antidote to over lighting. Decide where you want the dark areas to be as well as what you want to light. Purchase lamps that are powerful enough to light the desire areas while leaving the rest in shadow.

Go for Variety - The same technique won't work everywhere. And even if it does, it won't be as interesting. Downlight some elements, uplight others, and spotlight a few. You want to give yourself and visitors lots of different things to look at and lots of different ways to look at them.

Go for Unity - On the other hand, too much variety can be overly dramatic or disharmonizing. If you uplight one shrub, downlight the one next to it, and spotlight the third in the row, that may provide variety at the expense of a unified composition. Think about the big picture as you consider what to light. You want to light enough elements that the whole scene ties together.

Don't Annoy - Make sure your lights aren't shining into a neighbor's window or glaring into a visitor's eyes.

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