How to Install Landscape Lighting
Time Required: Over 1 day
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.
This project guide will show you how to install low-voltage landscape lighting and solar-powered lights. This guide also gives an outline of what is involved in installing line-voltage lighting; however, it is recommended that this type of lighting be installed by a professional electrician.
There are three types of outdoor lighting:
- Low-voltage landscape lights operate at 12 volts, are safe to work with, energy efficient and easy to install and move. To install this type of system, simply follow the instructions that come with your kit. LED landscape lights also fall into this category.
- Solar landscape lights require no wiring and must be installed in full sun to provide illumination at night.
- Line-voltage lighting operates at 120 volts, the same voltage as the appliances in your home. Installing these fixtures outdoors requires the use of conduit to protect the wires and an electrical junction box, often included with a fixture, which must be hardwired into your electrical system.
Be sure to follow all manufacturer installation instructions that come with your light fixtures.
Safety: If you don’t feel comfortable with electrical projects, hire an electrician to install outdoor lighting for you.
Most low-voltage lighting systems include a transformer that is plugged into a regular outdoor electrical outlet. The transformer reduces, or "steps down," the 120-volt household current to 12 volts. Most transformers are rated to handle a load of 100 to 300 watts; the higher the rating, the longer the cable—and thus the more light fixtures—you can connect to the system. If you want to add more path lights, you may need a bigger transformer; if so, it's probably more economical to buy a whole new system in a landscape light kit.
- Attaching the cable for the lights to the transformer is an easy task of screwing the wires in place.
- Details vary by manufacturer, so follow the directions that come with the transformer.
- Mount the transformer on the wall next to a GFCI outlet.
- For most types of siding, you can make the attachment with a wood screw. Drive it into the plywood or the sheathing underneath the siding.
- For masonry, drill a hole for a lag shield, then screw into the shield.
- Light fixtures usually require assembly. You'll need to snap the sockets in place at the very least, and you may need to do some simple wiring. Follow the manufacturer's directions.
- Lay the light fixtures in the approximate spots where they will be installed and run the cable across the ground from light to light.
- Attach the cable connectors. Put half the connecter on each side of the cable, and snap it together to connect the lights.
- Turn the system on.
- If you find the lighting to be very dim, the cause is probably due to a transformer that is not able to supply enough power.
- Check with your salesperson when buying the transformer to check that it will do the job for the number of lights you plan to use. If not, find a model with a higher wattage capacity.
- Plug the transformer into the outdoor receptacle and set the timer.
- Cover the GFCI outlet with a plastic cover, usually sold separately.
- Test the lights; if they work correctly, bury the cable.
Solar landscape lighting looks great and offers you convenient installation without having to fuss with wiring. You also get flexibility on where you place them since solar landscape lights don’t rely on an outlet for power.
A great experience with solar lighting depends of careful advanced planning:
- Consult the manufacturer's packaging or website for suggested lighting applications and spacing before you choose your lights.
- Plan your fixture layout carefully. While solar lights don’t require constant direct sunlight, it is best to place them where they will receive at least six to eight hours per day of bright sunlight. You may also have to plan for using more lights spaced more closely together to illuminate a pathway.
- Be sure to edge your walkway if you are planning for pathway lights, or trim back foliage in other areas where you may be planning to add solar landscape lighting. Starting with a clean canvas will ensure nothing shades your lighting plan.
- Using a tape measure and a string or chalk line, create a layout line along the pathway. Be sure your line is no more than 6 inches from the edge of the path.
- Mark the location of each light fixture along the layout line with landscape paint.
- For each light, remove the cover tag over the solar battery, then put the top of the light back together, if necessary.
- Assemble the lights according to instructions. Usually, this requires placing the light top into the support and then attaching the ground stake to the bottom of the support.
- Expose the solar lights to full sun for 12 to 14 hours before starting installation. This will allow the battery to fully charge and uncover any lights that may be defective before you install them.
- If the ground is hard or dry, lightly water the soil along the pattern line and allow it to soak in for a few hours.
- Don work gloves and push each light stake into the ground at a paint mark. The lights should install easily; do not force the lights into the ground as this might damage the light stake.
- Then, place the light stakes into the softened ground.
- Use a level to check that each light is sitting straight and vertical.
Tip: Most solar lights install in generally the same fashion but be sure to follow all manufacturer’s instruction for your solar landscape light.
Line-voltage lighting can be installed as a DIY project. However, since it is a complex project and the end result has to be professionally inspected anyway, most people opt to have the work done by professional electricians.
These steps will give you an overview of what is involved, but be sure to carefully consult and follow all manufacturer directions if you opt to do the work yourself.
- Decide where to locate your light fixture and the light switch to operate it.
- Measure from the fixture location to the place on 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.
- Install the light switch box in the wall between two studs, about 60 inches up from the floor. Trace the outline of the box carefully so you will know the correct size hole to cut into the drywall.
- You’ll need to dig a trench at least 18 inches deep from the location at the house where the power cable will exit to the fixture location.
- Next, drill a hole in the floor or ceiling to run the electrical cable.
- Run the cable and then pull it through the wall. If you encounter a fire block, you’ll have to drill a hole or notch to accommodate the cable.
- Follow similar instructions for the UF cable.
For specific instruction on how to run outdoor conduit, see our project guide on installing outdoor electrical conduit.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to wire and mount your light fixture.
- Next, wire the light switch.
- Then, connect the Cable to the GFCI Circuit Breaker.
Safety: 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.
- 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.