By Timothy Trimmer, Landscape Lighting Expert at Professional Grounds, Inc.
Landscape lighting provides the greatest wow factor to any landscape. I’m proud to get a lot of compliments on my own yard because I work really hard to make it look good! By far the most common compliment is directed at how amazing the lights in my front yard make my house and landscaping stand out. The lights shine up to accentuate the front angles of my home and illuminate my soffits so they appear bright white. The entrance and walkway to my front door glow so invitingly and my ornamental trees seem to be lit from the inside out, giving them a really neat ‘pop’. It truly is amazing what a properly lit yard can do.
The placement of landscape lighting is important, but equally as important are the proper installation and use of materials for the job. At Professional Grounds, Inc. we use low voltage landscape lighting systems so, for purposes of this blog, we will be offering tips specifically for low voltage landscape lighting installation and maintenance.
Many homeowners find that after their lighting is installed and properly working for some time, quirks and inconsistencies within their lighting system begins to arise. Why is that? Below we have listed the top reasons you may be experiencing an access of blown bulbs, inconsistent brightness between fixtures, and other fairly common issues and how to remedy them.
Proper voltage at the light
Low voltage lights should fall between 10.8 and 12 volts. If your light has a voltage of less than 10.8 volts the light will be too dim. If your voltage is above 12 you will be replacing the bulbs often. Your voltage drops as you add lights and additional wire to each ‘run’ so you will need to adjust your voltage as necessary.
Adjust the voltage at the transformer
Make sure you adjust the voltage to the correct range. How do you do that? Hook up each run of lights to the 12 volt tap on the transformer and test the voltage at the light with a volt meter. If the volt meter reads 8.5 that mean you have lost 3.5 volts from the transformer. Good quality transformers have multiple volt taps so you would simply take the wire from the 12 volt tap and hook it up to the 15 volt tap and retest your voltage. Now your lights should be in the 10.8 to 12 Volt range. Proper voltage is essential to having maintenance free lights and most contractors don’t pay enough attention to it.
Don’t overload your transformer!
Transformers can only handle 80% of what they are rated for, so a 520 watt transformer can only handle 416 volts. The best way to check this is to measure the amps while the transformer and all the lights are on. Unique brand transformers have plug that you plug back into their transformers. This wire is pre-split specifically for this testing purpose. Use a clamp on voltmeter to test the amps and make sure it is below the amps that the transformer is rated for. If you exceed the max amps the fuse will blow before the transformer, but don’t panic, you can easily buy these fuses at home improvement stores, just make sure you buy the same size that came with the transformer and insure that it is a slow burst fuse. Slow burst fuses have a coil around the outside.
Whether installing a low voltage landscape lighting system yourself or hiring a professional to install your lights, make sure you do extensive research before you purchase any specific brand of light. There are great brands that last forever and other brands that only last 2-5 years. A creditable landscape company would only use top quality lights, so if you go with a pro for light installation be sure to ask what type of light they plan to install. A few up front questions could go a long way to saving you additional light maintenance and money replacing poorly installed lighting and products.