Project Guide

How to Install Landscape Lighting

1
Types of Outdoor Lighting
Illustration of three landscape lights surrounding a patch of dirt.

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. 

2
How to Install Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting
Low voltage pathway lights lining a walkway.

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.

3
Wire the Transformer - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
A person wiring a transformer for low voltage lighting.
  • 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.
4
Hang the Transformer - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
A person mounting a transformer for low voltage lighting.
  • 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.


5
Assemble and Place the Lights - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
A person assembling landscape lights.
  • 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.


6
Connect the Lights - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
A person connecting low-voltage lights.
  • 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.


7
Dig for the Cable - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
A person burying low voltage lighting cable.
  • Dig a 6-inch-deep trench alongside the cable.
  • Place the cable in the trench, but do not bury it yet.
8
Set the Timer - Low-Voltage Landscape Lights
  • 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.
9
How to Install Solar Landscape Lighting
A row of solar landscape lights lining a walkway.

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.
10
Determine the Layout – Solar Landscape Lighting
  • 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.
11
Install the Light Stake – Solar Landscape Lighting
A row of solar landscape lights installed along a pathway.
  • 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.

12
How to Install Line Voltage Landscape Lighting
A line-voltage pathway 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. 

13
Prepare for Installation - Line Voltage Lighting
A person cutting a hole in drywall during line voltage installation.
  • 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.
14
Install the Electrical Cable and UF Cable - Line Voltage Lighting
A person using fish tape to run a cable.
  • 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

15
Wire the Light Fixture and Switch - Line Voltage Lighting
A light switch being wired for line voltage lighting.
  • 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. 

16
Turn on the Power, Test Your Light and Have Wiring Inspected - Line Voltage Lighting
A person turning on power to test line voltage lighting.
  • 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.

Learning how to install outdoor lighting can be a great home improvement project for any time of year. Whether you choose path lights, well lights or directional lights, you can easily install the right landscape lighting wiring to support the lights that brighten and highlight your exterior decor.