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“Indulgence” brings to mind a pampered day at the spa or a dessert concoction sporting acres of chocolate with the fat grams and calories to match, but there’s a different kind of indulgence you can enjoy every evening when the sun sets that doesn’t involve mud facials or “death by chocolate”—landscape lighting.
There are plenty of great reasons for adding landscape lighting even if you’re not the self-indulgent sort. What’s more pragmatic than safety and security? Light those dark walkways and places where the bad guys might hide. Highlight steps and grade changes so people don’t trip and use you as their way to wealth with the help of a jury of their peers.
The fun stuff about landscape lighting is all about bringing the garden to life after the sun goes down. If you’re lucky enough to have a mature Japanese maple or crape myrtle with interesting form and bark, uplighting will bring out that “wow factor.”
Graze walls of brick or stone with soft light and you’ll have textures that just don’t come out in the harsh light of day. Place lights high in mature trees to achieve the wonderful “dappled moonlight” effect.
Focal points in the landscape like fountains and statuary make an even greater statement at night with well-placed spotlights. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, your garden features and the current balance of your credit card.
Most landscape lighting for residential use is low voltage. That means you have a transformer that plugs into a GFCI outlet that steps the juice down from around 120 volts to only 12 or so. With only 12 volts, you may think you’ll have a strike a match to see if the light is on, but modern technology allows us to get incredible amounts of light from these systems.
There are other benefits to going with low voltage lighting. You don’t have to be a licensed electrical contractor to install these systems. The electrical supply wires can be buried or just placed under the mulch but don’t require conduit like 120-volt systems. Electrical connections can be made with wet-location wire nuts or specialty connectors and don’t have to be encased in a junction box, so it’s a simpler system for those of us who might be “wiring challenged.”
Twelve-volt landscape lighting does present some challenges. Since you’re only starting with 12 volts or so, voltage drop is a concern. Voltage drop occurs because of the resistance created by the wire as the current travels through it. Lose a couple of volts and your lights at the end of the wire won’t burn as bright. Wire runs are typically limited to about 200 feet each way from the transformer because of the voltage drop.
It’s also important to use stranded copper wire designed for low-voltage lighting to minimize the loss of juice. Manufacturers of low-voltage lighting have come up with multi-tap transformers with 13 to 15-volt taps to help with longer wire runs.
Low-voltage lighting runs the gamut from $80 kits to lights that qualify as art for thousands of dollars. The cheap stuff is just that—cheap. Consider at least the middle-of-the-road components with cast aluminum or high-grade composite fixtures and stainless steel- cased transformers. We live too close to the beach for the other stuff.