Landscape lighting design guidelines include technical and aesthetic considerations, but first why even have outdoor lighting. Why consider low volt lighting outdoors? There are three main benefits:

  1. Landscape lighting will extend the usable hours of your home and property so you don’t have to cut your outdoor activities short when it gets too dark;
  2. Simultaneously increase the security, safety, beauty, and resale value of your home;
  3. Outdoor lighting allows you to accentuate the design features of your landscape by creating exciting visual effects including up lighting, down lighting, silhouetting, shadows and back lighting.

Most people use low volt lighting to light up pathways, patios and driveways essentially for safety reasons or just to be able to see where they are going in the dark. Others install spotlight type fixtures (usually not low volt) for security purposes. These are important benefits of lighting the outdoors, but low volt lighting can make a well designed landscape come alive at night and create drama and mystery.

Designed by JSL – John Stuart Leslie

Higher end landscapes will typically include low volt lighting in their design. The most basic form of landscape lighting is to light paths and steps for safety reasons. Next, specimen trees such as palms, fountains, columns and sculptural elements can be uplighted.

Then depending on the elements in the landscape, certain effects can be created such as backlighting a specimen Saquaro Cactus or casting its shadow on a tall blank side of the house or featuring the stonework accenting the fireplace. There are numerous special purpose lights available to use in a design. Knowing what is available can influence a design.

Area lights – Can sometimes be used as path lights but put out a broader cast of light to a larger radius.

Path lights – The fixture is usually on the edge of the riser allowing for more direction overhanging and lighting of the path vs. away from the path.

Directional lights – These are also called spot lights, but they swivel and rotate allowing for illumination of an object or feature. These also include flood lighting which creates a “wash” effect as opposed to a more narrow beam used to highlight something specific.

Down lights – Also called hanging lights, these are used best in mature trees where the branches can be illuminated and cast a shadow below. Downlights can also be bracket mounted to the underside of ceilings or beams on a pergola or ramada.

Well lights – Are surface mounted lights flush with the ground and used in decks and patios or in the garden areas where the fixture is used to cast a beam straight up and where the actual body of the fixture is below ground level and therefore not as conspicuous.

Step lights – Also called brick lights are mounted flush in the riser section of a step or on the vertical surface of a wall, seatwall or bench. Some styles are similar to sconces and will direct the light downward.

Recessed lights – Are like can lights used on ceilings, but are more designed for use in decks, patio covers and fences.

Barbeque lights – Can be mounted on the countertop and have flexible risers allowing for multiple directional lighting.

Here’s a basic step by step process to integrating low volt landscape lighting design guidelines  (ideally) into a new design:

  1. As the design develops consider lighting for security, safety and aesthetics and indicate where such as light would be appropriate. Do not bother picking out the exact fixture at this point.
  2. After the design is complete, visualize how the entire yard will look like at night. Is it balanced? Are you balancing uplighting with downlighting? Is one side of the yard over weighted with light compared to the other side?
  3. Specify wattage for each fixture and design the layout of the fixtures, transformer(s) and cable runs. Designate the location of the transformer to minimize voltage loss. Figure out where the cable is going to run and which fixtures are assigned to the various “runs” (separate lines coming directly from the transformer)

Choose the fixture manufacturer based on the type of fixture desired and stick with the wattage designated. You will have a very broad choice here in terms of quality as well as cost. A professional landscape design build contractor experienced in designing and installing low volt lighting systems will use professional grade fixture which are expensive when compared what you can get in the Home Centers.

If you want your low volt lighting to be professionally designed and installed so that it not only works without having dim lights at the end of the run, but that will last much much longer than an inexpensive Home Center system, hire a professional.

If you are a do it yourselfer and want to tackle your own lighting, don’t make the mistake most homeowners make and buy a 12-Light Kit that will usually come with an undersized cable, then string all the lights along a single run Daisy Chain fashion and wonder why the lights towards the end of the run are much dimmer than the others. Most lights in these kits are very low wattage such as 8 or 10 watts. That is much too low to adequately light up your  pathways and other landscape features.