Installing Landscape Lighting

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Illuminate your home’s exterior and improve security with landscape lighting

Installing Landscape Lighting

The right landscape lighting can enhance the trees, shrubs, flowers or other features in your yard and provide security along a walkway or around a deck.

The three types of outdoor lighting are:

Solar powered lights, require no wiring and must be installed in full sun to provide illumination at night.

Low voltage lighting, operates at 12 volts, is safe to work with, energy efficient, and easy to install and move. To install this type of system, just follow the instructions that come with your kit.

Line voltage lighting, operates at 120 volts, the same voltage as the appliances in your home. To install these fixtures outdoors requires the use of conduit to protect the wires and an electrical junction box, often included with a fixture, rather than an outlet, to power the fixtures, which must be hardwired into your electrical system. 

This project guide will show you how to install a line voltage landscape light, which provides brighter light from fewer fixtures than low voltage or solar powered lights. Be sure to follow all manufacturer installation instructions that come with your light fixture. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with electrical projects, hire an electrician to install landscape lights for you.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THIS PROJECT

1
Determine your fixture and switch locations
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• Decide what feature you want to light, such as flowerbed, shrub or other landscape ornament and select your light fixture.
• Decide where to put the light switch to operate your new fixture. For this project guide, we will assume it is located on the inside of the exterior wall, directly above where the cable will exit the house and enter the conduit.
• Measure from the fixture location to the location at your house where you will install the light switch and from the switch location to the circuit breaker panel box. This will give you the amount of UF cable you need. Remember to add 30 percent to the amount you purchase to ensure you have enough cable to complete the job.

2
Install the light switch box
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• Use a stud finder to locate the wall studs on either side of the location for your new light switch. You may want to install the remodeling box for the switch between two studs, not adjacent to a stud, at about 60 inches up from the floor.
• Hold the remodeling box up to the wall in the location where it will be installed. Trace around the box with a pencil to mark the area to be cut.
• Use a utility knife to score the drywall paper along the outline of the box.
• Use a drywall saw to carefully cut out the hole. Go slowly to ensure you don’t cut any wires behind the wall.
• Push the remodeling box into the hole for a test fit. It should fit snuggly, but you shouldn’t have to force it.

3
Dig the trench
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• Dig a trench with a shovel from the location at the house where the power cable will exit to the fixture location, at least 18 inches deep in most areas for the UF cable that will carry the power to the new light.
• For specific instruction on how to run outdoor conduit, see our How To Install Electrical Conduit Outdoors project guide.

4
Drill a hole in the ceiling or floor for the cable
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• If you’re running cable through the ceiling, carefully drill a hole with a 1/8 inch drill bit through the ceiling above the new switch location. If you’re running cable through your basement or crawl space, drill into the baseboard or floor right next to the baseboard.
• Insert a straightened coat hanger into the hole.
• In your attic or basement, look for a 2x4 beam adjacent to the protruding coat hanger. In an attic, the beam is the top of the wall, known as the top plate. In a basement, it’s the bottom of the wall, known as the bottom plate.
• If the 2x4 is under a piece of plywood or covered in some other way, measure 2 ½ inches from the coat hanger toward the 2x4 and drill there. That should put the hole in the middle of the plate.
• Check with a flashlight to be sure there are no electrical wires or plumbing pipes behind the walls where you will be working.

5
Run the cable
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• Note: These next steps are easier to perform if you have an assistant. Station your assistant at the new wall box opening, while you go into the attic or basement. If you don’t have an assistant, you’ll need to go back and forth between the attic or basement and the wall box.
• In the attic, use the spade bit to drill a hole through the top plate, directly above the new electrical box location. If you are running cable through a basement or crawlspace, drill a hole in the bottom plate directly below the box.
• Feed your fish tape into the wall opening, pushing it up into the hole you made in the top plate. If you are running cable through a basement or crawl space, push it down to the hole in the bottom plate. You may need to insert the end of a coat hanger into the hole and pull the end of the fish tape through the hole.
• If you encounter a fire block, proceed with Step 6. If you do not encounter a fire block, go directly to Step 7.

6
Running cable past a fire block
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• A fire block is a horizontal beam of wood running between the wall studs. You can drill a hole through the fire block or create a notch to accommodate the wire.
• To drill a hole, insert a long flexible drill bit through the opening for the electrical box and position it on the center of the fire block. Drill slowly with a little pressure applied on the bit, but let the bit do the work.
• To cut a notch, cut into the drywall at the location of the wall block.
• Use a sharp chisel and a hammer to cut a ¾ x 1 inch deep notch in the fire block as a conduit for the cable. Pull the cable past the fire block following the instructions in Step 7.
• After you have fished the cable through the notch, cover the notch with a metal plate to protect the cable from nail damage.
• Patch over the drywall hole. See our Patching Large Holes in Wallboard project guide for step-by-step instructions.

7
Pull the cable through the wall
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• From the attic, basement or crawl space, use electrical tape to secure one end of the cable to the hook on the fish tape.
• At the wall opening, carefully and steadily retract the fish tape, pulling the cable to the wall opening. Be careful not to create friction that can tear the cable’s sheathing and avoid kinks that could damage the cable. Leave about 6 inches of cable hanging from the wall box.
• Using the same methods, run the UF cable from the wall box down to the opening to the outside, through the conduit, into the trench where it does not have to be in the conduit and to your light fixture.

8
Wire the light fixture and switch
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• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to wire and mount your light fixture.
• To wire the light switch, cut and strip the ends of the black wires and connect them to the two brass terminals. When connecting a wire to a terminal screw, turn the loop on the end of the wire in the same direction as the screw threads, to ensure it is secure.
• Connect the white wires to the silver terminal screws and the ground wires to the green grounding screws.

9
Connect the cable to the GFCI circuit breaker
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• Turn off the main circuit breaker at the panel box
• Be aware that even with the main breaker off, the wires coming from the power company are still energized. Be careful when working in the panel box.
• Attach the green and white wires to the ground/neutral bar.
• Attach the red and black wires to the GFCI circuit breaker.

10
Turn on the power, test your light and have wiring inspected
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• Turn the power back on at the panel box and circuit breaker.
• Test that your light switch and light fixture are working properly.
• Before burying the UF cable, call the electrical inspector to schedule your wiring inspection.
• Once your wiring has passed inspection, bury the cable.