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By James Dulley, Published September 04 2009

Low-voltage LED lights add security, cut costs

Dear Jim: I need some efficient outdoor lighting by my deck and backyard landscaping for security and entertaining. I am not an electrician, so I need something simple to install. What is your opinion of low-voltage lights? – Ronnie S.

Dear Ronnie: I am a fan of low-voltage residential lighting, and I use it in my own landscaping and gardens around my house. As you mentioned, the big advantage of low-voltage lighting is you can install it yourself and eliminate the professional installation expenses.

Another related advantage is the safety with low-voltage lighting. When you work in your landscaping and gardens as much as I do, you do not have to worry about the risk of electrocution when digging with metal garden tools. I think every avid gardener has at least one time accidentally cut through wire insulation while working in the garden.

The energy efficiency of low-voltage lighting is similar to standard line-voltage (120 volts) outdoor lighting. There may be slightly more electricity loss because of transformer inefficiencies and higher current in the wiring, but it is not a significant difference for most systems.

The newest and most energy efficient low-voltage landscaping lighting uses super-efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes) instead of standard incandescent bulbs. Each low-voltage LED fixture may use as little as three watts of electricity compared to about 10 times that much for some standard fixtures. The light quality from LEDs is very white and pleasing.

The most difficult part of installing a low-voltage lighting system is making sure the total wattage of all the fixtures on a line does not exceed the rated output of the transformer. The maximum

12-volt output wattage will be listed on the transformer and the instructions for the fixtures should list their individual wattages.

When selecting a low-voltage system or the components to put your own system together, select a transformer with a built-in timer. These are common in many kits and easy to find. With a timer, there is no chance of leaving the lights on all night and wasting electricity.

You will probably select a variety of path, deck and floodlights to meet most of your landscape lighting needs. For much of the general lighting where the fixture is not noticeable, inexpensive plastic fixtures are fine. For more exposed areas, decorative metal fixtures with stained and etched glass are attractive. Another attractive option is natural wood fixtures.

To edge a path, snap-together lighted plastic simulated bricks are effective. The electrical connectors are built into the bricks so you have to run wiring to only the first brick along the edge. To light a deck, several decking material manufacturers offer built-in post and baluster lights with hidden wiring.

The following companies offer low-voltage lights: Argee Corp., (800) 449-3030, www.argeecorp.com; Idaho Wood, (800) 635-1100, www.idahowood.com; Intermatic, (815) 675-7000, www.intermatic.com; Nightscaping, (800) 544-4840; www.nightscaping.com; and Troy Landscape Lighting; (800) 677-6811, www.troylandscape

lighting.com.


Dear Jim: I am building a house that will use passive solar heating. It will be a ranch-style house with many south-facing windows. What is the best way to plan the rooms for the best natural heat circulation? – Faith G.

Dear Faith: An open floor plan is generally best for passive solar heating. This allows the solar heated air, usually on the south side of the house, to circulate more freely throughout the rest of the house.

Design the interior walls with large openings between rooms. For efficiency and a contemporary look, build curved walls and smooth transitions between rooms. Bendable drywall is ideal for this. Since it is thin, two layers will be needed.


Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com