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James Dulley, Published September 06 2013

Sensible Home: Low-voltage lighting safe for DIY installation

Dear Jim: I just finished redoing the landscaping and I need to install some lighting for highlighting it and for security. Is low-voltage lighting my best do-it-yourself choice? What type of fixtures are best?

– Bob M.

Dear Bob: If you are not a licensed electrician, installing solar or low-voltage lighting are your two do-it-yourself options. Solar-powered lights are the simplest to install and operate for free, but the light output likely will not be bright enough for entertaining or general security.

Low-voltage lighting is safe for do-it-yourself installation because it operates on only 12-volts. The transformer, which plugs into any standard electrical outlet, converts the 120-volt alternating current to a safe 12-volt direct current. All of the light fixtures run on this lower voltage.

Since a transformer is needed and there are more electricity losses due to the higher current needed at the lower voltage, low-voltage lighting is not as efficient as standard 120-volt lighting. When you take into account you are saving the expense of hiring an electrician, low-voltage lights make sense. Also, you can change or rearrange the lighting anytime yourself.

It is important to select the proper size transformer for the number and types of low-voltage fixtures you install. A transformer is sized by the maximum wattage output it can supply to the circuit at 12 volts.

If you purchase a complete kit, it will include the proper transformer. If you plan your own, total the individual wattages of all the bulbs on the line and it must be less than the maximum for the transformer. For many lights, you may need to run two circuits, each with its own transformer.

Transformers are designed to be weather-resistant and mounted outdoors. They also can be mounted indoors with the 12-volt wire run out through a small hole in the wall. This makes it easier to switch on and off. For one mounted outdoors, select a transformer with a built-in timer to avoid overuse.

Most low-voltage lighting uses small conventional light bulbs that are reasonably efficient. The newest light fixtures use LED (light emitting diode) bulbs that produce a nice white light. These bulbs are more expensive, but they use much less electricity and last much longer.

A combination of pathway, flood and deck low-voltage lighting should work well. Any of the fixtures are easy to clip on to the 12-volt copper wire. Try to avoid uplighting as much as possible to reduce light pollution, which creates problems for animals. Select fixtures that use “dark sky” designs.

The inexpensive plastic fixtures are durable and work fine. For more open areas, some of the metal ones are more decorative. Snap-together simulated brick ones are ideal for marking an edge along a pathway or garden.

The following companies offer low-voltage lights: Argee Corp., (800) 449-3030, www.argeecorp.com; Idaho Wood, (800) 635-1100, www.idahowood.com; Kichler Lighting, (866) 558-5706, kichlerlighting.com; Malibu Lighting, (888) 295-7348, www.malibulights.com; Nightscaping, (800) 544-4840, www.nightscaping.com; and Timbertech, (800) 307-7780, www.timbertech.com.

Dear Jim: I recently bought an older house and the windows have a slight bluish tint outdoors on sunny days. The Realtor told me the windows had high-efficiency glass in them. Should they be bluish?

- Ginger S.

Dear Ginger: They were probably being honest about the window glass. A bluish tint is not uncommon with older technology low-e (low-emissivity) glass. The 20-year-old low-e windows in my own house look this way.


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