Dear PoPville – landscape lighting recommendation?

Photo by PoPville flickr user bajidc

“Dear PoPville,

I am landscaping my backyard and I would like to put in some lighting to accent the new design (small patio and some planters). Can anyone recommend someone that can help me put together a lighting scheme?”

We spoke about landscaping small spaces here but does anyone know who can help with adding lighting?

We also recently looked at a great backyard renovation here. If anyone else has an outdoor (or inside) renovation please send some photos and details to princeofpetworth(at)gmail(dot)com.

9 Comment

  • Landscape lighting can be a DIY afternoon project. The Malibu Lighting series (sold at HomeDepot and Lowes) is affordable. It’s not top of the line, but it serves its purpose. Their website will help you with design and circuits. It’s basic electrical work to connect your transformer to the electrical source. If you’re not comfortable with this, hire an electrician to connect the transformer.

    • ah

      I’d say Malibu is closer to bottom of the line.

      The OP didn’t suggest DIY, and that’s fine, although it’s something you can DY if you’re inclined.

      Check this site for some tips on getting started and then some:

      If you do decide to DIY, I’d go to a lighting store: Dulles Electric or Dominion Lighting and sit down with someone there to discuss your wants and needs. If nothing else it will give you a sense of what a quality system will cost–and it’s not cheap even if you do it yourself. But the quality will be a lot better and the lighting far less obtrusive. If you use Malibu lighting it will look like you went to home depot and did it yourself in one afternoon. If you can live with that, go ahead, but if you want something that looks good, or even professional, you should expect to pay $200-300 for a solid transformer and $50-150 for each fixture. If you have a company install something comparable, figure at least twice that. If that’s not affordable or worth it to you, understood: $2000-$5000 isn’t chump change and it may be hard to justify. But if you’re willing to spend that kind of money you can get something that will look 1000% better than malibu fixtures that will likely break within a couple of years and will never look good.

  • We used Outdoor Illumination. They know their stuff, but holy mother of god are they expensive.

  • I recently bought the malibu lights for our back patio. Their website has info/ideas. We are doing 10 small 7W downlights on side walls and a 20W uplight. The downlights were ~$10 each at home depot but I bought a pack of 10 for $30 on ebay (new, the seller had a fairly large inventory ~1 month ago, not an auction just “for sale”). You will also have to buy a transformer and cable. Both were best priced on amazon when I bought, although home depot has the cable by the foot whereas you buy 100ft online so check the math for your needs. Our total 11 light system (fixtures/cable/transformer/bulbs) was ~$120.

    It appears very easy to install, similar to under cabinet lighting in the kitchen, where you just snap the fixtures onto the cable. I’d also consider it a safer type of job compared to, say, changing a light fixture or replacing electrical outlets (where you are dealing with potentially live wires or a bad job could result in an electrical fire). The landscape light wattage is low and you are plugging the transformer into a normal 3 prong outlet, so limited risk.
    Some planning tips:
    -the transformer needs to have a higher capacity than all the lights you want to install, ie if you want to attach 90 watts of light then you’ll get the next highest transformer (ie 100 watts).
    -there are 3 gauges (thicknesses) of cable for landscape lighting, 12, 14, and 16 (where a higher number is thinner). From what I understand, you need a thicker cable if your run (distance from transformer to last light) is far. Some people online complained about the lights at the end getting dimmer, but I didn’t find any table or calculator for this, so I just bought the 12 gauge cable to be sure we don’t experience this.
    Good luck!!!

    • @Lolly thanks very informative!

    • ah

      Let me add a couple of corrections to this:

      -You are plugging into a normal outlet, but make sure that it can handle the load of a transformer. 100watts is way low. Most transformers draw at least 300w, and sometimes 600W or 900W. A typical household circuit will handle only 1500W from all devices. So you may need a new circuit.

      -The transformer rating should be 33-50% higher than your anticipated load. Or turn it around, and your load should not be above about 67-75% of the transformer rating. Keep in mind that in addition to the bulb rating, you have to account for loss in the wire. If you have long wire runs that can be significant. So if you’re looking for 200W of light, you need at least a 300W transformer, larger if you plan to expand. For reference, path light bulbs are usually 10W or 20W. Uplights for trees/bushes are usually 20W, 35W, or even 50W (although that’s pretty bright). Point being that even if you have only 3-4 path lights (short path!) and 4-6 accent lights you’re probably already closing in on 200W.

      -Each gauge of cable has different voltage drop. The lower the gauge, the thicker the cable (i.e. 12GA is thickest). You can use 16GA on a short run, and it’s a bit cheaper, but it’s probably not worth using it for the small savings–just use 12GA everywhere. Voltage drop happens more frequently because people will wire lights in a line (think xmas tree lights)–that’s wrong. You want to send the power to the middle of the run of lights and then have a branch (or branches) off of that to the lights, which gives all of the lights a more even voltage level and brightness.

      • I’d agree with this. My deck step lights and railing lights are 7W and the uplight is 15W. My landscaping light is for accent; I didn’t want a brightly light yard. I think anything over 15W should be banned in the city…you’re neighbors probably won’t be happy with 50W floodlights in the yard.

      • Do you have a reference for the info on transformer rating needing to be 33-50% higher than the total fixture load? Every source I’ve seen, including the Malibu planning guide, says to come as close as possible to the transformer rating without exceeding. But if true, it may explain some DIY’ers dimming issues.

  • Very helpful information. Thanks!

    I am not much of a DIYer, but I will check out the malibu lighting series. If anyone knows of any small landscape design companies that may help with planning that would be great too!

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