Path Lighting

Light the way for safe-footing with path lighting and cast a decorative glow on garden beds and walkways with easy-to-install low-voltage lighting components.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

Path Lighting

Outdoor living isn't confined to daytime anymore because you can use the high power of low voltage lighting to extend the use of your yard into the evening. 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 is made 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 can be easily concealed beneath mulch or planting material. The cables connect 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. Give family members a flashlight and experiment by walking around your yard at dusk and then later in the evening when it's completely dark. Look for ways to enhance the landscape by adding a light in the garden beds to highlight a showy shrubbery or tree, or showcase an architectural feature of your house. As you walk around your yard consider where light is needed for safety and deter intruders. 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.

Don't overdo it - too much outdoor lighting is not a good thing. You're not trying to replicate daylight, the goal is to create a subtle effect. When in doubt, use less rather than more fixtures. For example, a walkway can look like a runway with too many even spaced fixtures, instead place them staggered 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 out the run of the cable route working it away from the transformer to see how much you'll need.

Bring your sketch and notes when you shop for low voltage fixtures, which you'll find 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, available for about $100, includes 6-8 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 are also surface-mount systems designed for installing on a deck.

You'll also find solar-powered lights that rely on sunlight to operate, which you simply place in the ground and motion-activated units that turn on automatically when someone walks near your home, and turns off when they leave the area. Choose a style that compliments your home and one that has components sold separately so you have flexibility in your lighting design in the future.

Don't want to do this job yourself? Find a contractor in your area to do the job at Home Advisor, a free referral service connecting homeowners with pre-screened contractors.

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