Creating the Right Look: Low-voltage landscape lighting for homes

By Mark C. Ode | Jun 15, 2023
I just finished a large outdoor low-voltage lighting project at my home in Peoria, Ariz. 

I just finished a large outdoor low-voltage lighting project at my home in Peoria, Ariz. I was like an impatient little kid as I waited for the sun to go down so I could see the results. An hour after sunset, the timer turned the lights on and it was incredible. 

Low-voltage yard lighting had been installed in 2004 before I bought the house, but it did not adequately highlight the home or new foliage around the yard. So, last year, we did a total landscaping project with decorative rocks and prewired the low-voltage lighting. I am sure all our neighbors thought we would never actually finish the job and get rid of the little yellow flags we used to mark the lighting. Since completing the installation, we have received compliments from many neighbors.

The work we did

We highlighted the four front stucco pillars of the two-story house using flush ground-mounted LED high-illumination and high-­efficiency well lights with a wide-angle lamp. We used 10-inch, extended-height, brass-capped path and area lighting for the walkway and steps up to the front door. The previous lighting was an  ineffective louvered light set into the steps leading up to the house, which did a poor job of illuminating the walkway and stairs. I was always warning people to be careful on the steps. 

For the larger palm trees in the front of the house, we used flush ground-mounted LED high-illumination and high-efficiency well lights with a wide-angle lamp, similar to what we used to highlight the pillars. For smaller bushes and the small decorative wall in front of the house, we used outdoor low-voltage, directional, ground-mounted, brass bullet luminaires with wide-angle lamps.

There are two tremendous ficus trees in the backyard with many medium-size palm trees and numerous decorative bushes. We have a raised planter wall combination across the entire backyard, with a 7-foot fence behind the planter. Numerous small bushes and medium-sized fruit trees are growing in the planter. For these, we used more of the same outdoor, low-voltage, directional, ground-mounted brass bullet luminaires with wide angle lamps for each of the fruit trees and the larger bushes in this planter. The ficus trees have flush, ground-mounted, LED high-illumination and high-­efficiency well lights with a wide angle.

For the single, double and triple palm trees around the fenced-in pool area, we used the outdoor, low-voltage, directional, ground-mounted brass bullet luminaires with wide-angle lamps for each group. At night, the highlighted palm tree groups are reflected in the pool, which gives the low-voltage lighting in the pool an almost otherworldly look. This was not planned, but is an incredible addition to the overall effect.

Article 411

For a project such as this one, I will direct you to Article 411 of the National Electrical Code. I used a low-voltage lighting system assembled from listed parts, but I could have purchased a complete listed one as an assembly. Both are covered in Article 411. 

A lighting system assembled from the following listed parts is permitted: low-voltage luminaires identified for use in an outdoor installation; a power supply identified for use to supply low-voltage lighting; luminaire fittings identified for use outdoors; and flexible cord or cable that is listed, suitably rated for the amount of current, specifically listed for low-voltage and suitable for direct burial. 

Since the low-voltage lighting was located outdoors and wet contact is likely to occur, the operating voltage of low-voltage lighting systems and their associated components does not exceed 15V AC or 30V DC.

The low-voltage lighting around the pool must be installed not less than 10 feet horizontally from the nearest edge of the water, unless permitted elsewhere in the Code. Section 680.23(B)(6) addresses low-voltage luminaires as follows: listed low-voltage luminaires, not requiring grounding, not exceeding the low-voltage contact limit and supplied by listed transformers that comply with 680.23(A)(2) shall be permitted to be located less than 1.5 m (5 feet) from the inside walls of the pool. Otherwise, the lighting must be located at least 5 feet from the edge of the pool.

An electrical contractor can contact low-voltage lighting manufacturers and wholesalers, who will help with getting started. By following their advice and the NEC, a safe, low-voltage installation can enhance the value of the home while providing decorative lighting and security.

Mark C. Ode

About The Author

ODE is a retired lead engineering instructor at Underwriters Laboratories and is owner of Southwest Electrical Training and Consulting. Contact him at 919.949.2576 and [email protected]





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