Ten Good Reasons to Use Low Voltage Landscape Lighting
You have a lovely lawn and garden, but they disappear after sunset. You want to showcase your work of art beyond daylight hours and perhaps provide a little extra security for your home. But there’s such a confusing array of products and systems of landscape lighting that many people don’t know where to start. There’s everything from solar lighting to low voltage lighting to lighting that runs off of the 120-volt household current. There are path lights, hanging lights, flood lights, well lights, and many more. And there’s also a range of price points, everything from inexpensive stamped aluminum fixtures available at most box stores to brass fixtures, many of which have a lifetime warranty. Let’s examine some of the systems.
Solar Powered Lights
These systems use solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity to power the bulb in the fixture. Because they generate their own electricity from the solar cells, they do not use electricity from the mains so there is an obvious saving in zero operating cost. They’re easy to install and easy to relocate.
But are they the ideal landscape lighting choice? Well, there are a number of drawbacks to keep in mind. Solar lights are not as bright as electrical fixtures and because these systems need direct sunlight to charge properly, weather conditions also play a major part in how well these systems perform. Partial shade or overcast skies will result in reduced brightness and running time. Additionally, solar powered lights do not provide much in the way of security lighting. You’ll also have the expense and maintenance issue of changing the batteries.
High Voltage Systems
The high voltage systems, also referred to as “line voltage” or “standard voltage” systems, are those that run off 120-volt household current. These are heavier-duty systems most often used for security lighting and in commercial settings.
Installation requires that trenches be dug to accommodate a buried conduit and that is highly disruptive to an established garden. It also makes it a much more difficult system to relocate. Because of the high power supplied to the line voltage systems, you will need a licensed electrician to install or relocate the system and in some cases permits are required.
You could also expect the high energy consumption to be reflected in your electricity bill.
Low Voltage Systems
Low voltage systems are the environmentally friendly, low-maintenance and energy efficient choice for landscape lighting, for a number of reasons:
- These systems run from the 120-volt household current through a step-down transformer to 12 volts which is much safer. A high voltage system always presents the risk of dangerous shock. This risk is virtually eliminated with a low voltage system.
- A licensed electrician is not required to install a low voltage system. The step-down transformer is a sealed unit that simply plugs into your household outlet. The transformers are available in a range of sizes (wattage) to suit your power requirements.
- The cables to the light fixtures can run along the surface or can be placed underground. Disruptive trenching is not required.
- Low voltage systems are not necessarily permanently fixed in place as they are relatively easy to relocate.
- The light provided is brighter than that of a solar powered system and is constant because it is not dependent on weather and sunlight conditions.
- Unlike solar lights, you do not have to plan the placement of low voltage fixtures so as to install them where they will receive direct sunlight.
- Low voltage systems are versatile; you can mix a number of fixture types along the same transformer line.
- You can add a timer to your transformer to regulate when the lights go on and off for even greater energy efficiency.
- Low voltage systems are highly energy efficient, using a fraction of the electricity required for a high voltage system which translates into a fraction of the operating cost.
- Low voltage LED lights not only save electricity costs, but they also generate very little heat.
What Kind of Bulbs to Use
There are a number of different types of bulbs readily available for landscape lighting systems. Each type is available for a number of lighting types such as path lights, flood lights, spot lights, deck lights, strip lights, and many more.
Incandescent bulbs are the least expensive to buy but your initial cost savings will be quickly eaten up. Incandescent bulbs consume considerably more electricity to run and have a relatively short life span. They also generate a lot of heat (as anyone who has ever tried to unscrew a hot incandescent bulb will confirm).
Compact fluorescent bulbs are the screw-in version of fluorescent tubes. They are more expensive to buy than traditional incandescent bulbs but use less power. Fluorescent lights contain mercury, however, so they must be treated as a hazardous material when disposing of them.
Energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are very popular, and for good reason.
- They use only a fraction of the electricity required for other types of bulbs. And while they may be a little more expensive to buy, the extra cost is more than made up in energy savings.
- They have a much longer life than incandescent bulbs. You could expect upwards of 50,000 hours of use. This equates to running these bulbs for six hours a day year-round for 20-plus years before having to replace them.
- LED lights give off very little heat and the integrated LED fixtures are designed for heat dissipation.
- Because of the broad range of voltages and the lower total electrical load, design choices are almost unlimited. LED lights are available in a variety of colors, sizes and mounting options.
Integrated LED fixtures and drop-in LED bulbs combine all the advantages of beautiful lighting with low maintenance and low operating costs.
In later articles, we will examine the different types of effect lighting such as moon lighting, silhouetting, spot lighting, deck lighting and up lighting to name a few, and how they can be used to showcase and enhance your landscape.
Call Smart Earth Sprinklers, your irrigation system experts, for your landscape lighting needs. We will help you navigate the maze of lighting types to determine the best lighting to add function and beauty to your home. Call us today at (512) 694-1147.