How To Install Outdoor Lights

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Estimated Time: 
3-4 hours depending on how many lights you plan to install
Light Up Your Life!

Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how to light the inside of our house to add personality, ambience and to see what we're doing after the sun goes down! But you might be forgetting the one place lighting can have a significant impact - the exterior of your home.

Exterior lighting is truly multi-functional. The right lighting can help highlight a beautiful garden, showcase a trendy marble foot path, draw attention to newly painted shutters or even provide critical ambience for your summer dinner parties.

A few simple upgrades to your current lighting scheme can fix numerous issues you may not even be aware of. There's little doubt in anyone's mind that a well-lit house is a deterrent for crime, but who says those same lights can't be an opportunity for neighbors to wistfully wonder why heads turn at your house? You'll be amazed to find out what other areas of your house can be improved by a simple light installation. This project is easy, inexpensive and we know you'll love the way your house looks every time you pull into your driveway.

Jane Tip: Exterior lighting around your home can have immediate (and lasting) impacts on both your safety and your money as well-lit home exteriors are not only a proven crime deterrent, but also increase the value of your home.

Project Steps

Step 1

Know What You Need

 

Walk the full perimeter of your house and lawn with a flashlight. As you do, imagine the need... an evening barbeque on the patio, dinner party guests arriving or leaving, driving home late after a grueling transatlantic flight, walking the dog or ahem... taking out the trash (we all do it). All of these scenarios could require a different type of light (bright to ambient) in a different location. The following list provides some more options:

  • Downlighting - Get romantic by mounting lights above, from a high deck beam or in trees.
  • Uplighting - Show off your landscaping by angling lights up towards a specific area.
  • Cross Lighting - Get creative with symmetrical trees or deck posts and place lights on alternating sides to drive interesting light patterns.
  • Shadowing - Use walls as another surface by placing lights at ground level to throw a specific object's shadow. (Who knows? That shadow of the gnarled garden gnome could keep intruders at bay.)
  • Accent Lighting - Showcase your stone walkway or flower bed by placing an intense light on the object to contrast it with the dark background.
  • Silhouetting - Take a clue from old Hollywood and light the surface behind an object for a glamorous and striking effect.

 

Step 2

Light from the Outside-In

 

lights2Prioritize your lighting needs and determine what lights you need by using two criteria. First, decide the "purpose" (safety, utility, or aesthetics). Second, decide the "end result" (highlight, accent, or spotlight).This will help you decide your budget and time needed by project. But don't panic yet --- obviously the safety requirements are going to come up as top priority. Thankfully, exterior light fixtures come in a wide array of styles so that you can ensure your home is safely lit while pumping up the design factor too.

 

Jane Tip: Motion sensors can be an especially helpful for outside lighting to conserve costs by lighting an area only when needed - when someone is there. To avoid the distraction of pets and other animals triggering the motion light, make sure yours features pulse-count technology.

Step 3

Watts Matter

 

Before installing additional lights, locate the transformer (assuming your light kit has one - some might not) and add the combined watts of the proposed lights to make sure not to overload your transformer. Remember, a transformer can only work for the amount of wattage it's made to handle. Depending on how many lights you are installing, you may need to add another power source. You can add a transformer to the wall or on a stand-alone stake. Transformers should be placed at least 1' above the ground and lights should be located within 100' of the light source.

 

Step 4

Install and Illuminate

 

After you've decided exactly what you want to illuminate, purchase all the necessary materials. You'll see that you have many lighting options as there are a wide variety that come in kits with nearly everything you need and detailed instructions on installation. Take the time to measure the length of the area, calculate your wattage and transformer needs and get ready to shine!

 

Jane Tip: Outdoor lighting kits have a wide variety of colors, styles and complexity. There are solar powered kits that you simply stake into the ground and call it a day; there are plug-n-power units which come complete with all wiring, transformers and lamps that you'll need, and there are heavier duty "hard-wired" units that are a bit more complex to install. For this project, we're focusing our attention on the "plug-n-power" units.

Step 5

Pathway Lighting

 

lights5Depending on the kit you purchased, you'll want to begin by determining the layout of your pathlights. Mark the areas by simply laying the lamps next to their desired position. You'll need to dig a small trench using a Square Tip Shovel. If you have some sort of sod, you'll want to start by using the shovel to lift it up and fold it back. Don't remove it, just fold it over. Next, dig a trench approximately 3-6" deep. This will be where you'll bury the cords to keep them out of the way. Many exterior lighting kits have weather proof wiring, so you can bury the wire as is in most cases but double check the manufacturer's instructions of your particular lighting kit to be sure before doing so. Set your lights into their respective positions and connect the wires at the transformer first and then move to the lights. You'll want to double check that all the lights function prior to your burying the wire. Once you've determined that all is well, cover the trench, fold the sod back in place and you're done!

 

Jane Tip: Be careful not to give your house the "runway" look. Pathway lighting should be strategically placed to enhance a pathway's appearance and visibility, but not so much that you can see it from space!

Step 6

Accent Lighting

 

There are a number of pathway lighting kits that might also include a few accent lights. The installation is similar to the pathway lighting in Step 5, but you'll want to pay close attention to placement. Accent lighting means just that, so if you're planning on showing off an architectural or landscape feature in some manner, you'll want to adjust the lamp to give it the best light possible.

 

Jane Tip: Most exterior path and accent lighting kits are extremely low wattage, which is why you can bury the wire directly into the ground. Double check the wattage of your kit by thoroughly reading through the manufacturer's instructions.

There are a dizzying array of options for light fixtures for your home's exterior. Reviewing your exterior by area (walkway, driveway, landscaping) will help break it up into smaller projects. Also, knowing clearly what your desired end effect should be will make the choices easier. Investigate energy-efficient options such as solar lights or motion sensors to keep the costs down while enjoying the glow from your labor. Outdoor lights give you added safety, more value to your home and great ambience - so get started!

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2 comments

12
Apr

I installed outdoor lighting about 5 years ago. I haven't had to replace any of the fixtures except the transformers/timers. I have had to work on the lights about eight times due to the wire connections using those electrical connection caps made for outdoors (I've bought red ones, tan ones, blue ones - all rated the same). I was blaming the squirrels for having played with the wiring until I found the connectors melted in February. Melted connectors are scary to me. All of the wiring, fixtures, transformers and connectors were the recommended items for outdoor use. Can anyone make a suggestion?
23
Apr

Hello! Melted connectors can be a sign of high amperage and/or age. Over time electricity can cause the connector to heat up especially if you are up to or close to the limit as far as the wiring amperage. Electricity creates heat and over time it can cause plastic to melt and wear down. Combined with enviromental changes (i.e. Heat and Cold)this is most likely the problem. You can try to increase the amperage rating on the connectors, but if you are close on the rating for the wire the wire may start melting next. You can test this pretty simply if you can touch one of the wires after they have been on for a while---if the wire is hot, not just warm you are over the amperage for the wire and connectors. I would try and figure out the total amperage draw to the system. On the light bulbs that go into the lights it should list an amp rating, add them all up and you have the total amp draw. Compare the draw to the wire size (gage) amp rating for the connectors you are using and you should have the answer. Hope this helps.