how to install landscape lighting

How To Install An Outdoor Spotlight

Outdoor spotlighting is one of the crucial elements for lawns and yards. It increases the security of the household and magnifies the beauty. And after-dark, a proper set of landscape lighting will turn even a simple-looking garden into an appealing sight. But properly installing an outdoor spotlight is kind of a tedious process. So, how to install an outdoor spotlight properly?

The installation process varies between different types of lights. For solar lights, Install them in open places under ample sunlight. For lower voltage lights, be sure to install them close to the pathway or where you need light, and for high voltage lights, be sure to use well-insulated cable, and ensure there are no open points where rainwater can cause a short circuit. Finally, and most importantly, always connect the light through a GFCI if it needs to be connected to power.

There is a lot more to installing an outdoor spotlight. And we will go through them all in this article. But, honestly speaking, the proper installation method starts from the planning stage, even before purchasing the light. And while you are at it, cover any exposed cable and especially cable joints with an exterior light box.

Caution: Make sure that there are no open points for water to seep into the light, no matter which type of light you are using. Most lights come with a proper IP rating, but regardless, always read the specification and manual.

Outdoor lighting installation:

I hope you’ve already decided on the type of light you think will work best for you. This section will talk about the installation methods of them. We will include the ins and outs of all the different light types.

How to install solar outdoor spotlight:

First thing first, the solar outdoor spotlight can be found both with and without cables. We will talk about the wired variant in a later section. This section will include only the solar outdoor spotlight with a built-in solar cell.

This type of light is the easiest to understand and install. This type of light is basically a stand-alone light fixture. They don’t require any external power to operate, so you can place them anywhere you want and organize them in any layout you want. To install the lights:

1. Check the battery connection:

Most lights have a cover disconnecting the battery when it is shipped. You may need to remove the cover. Open each of the lights and make sure the battery is connected. Then reassemble the light.

2. Test the light in sunlight:

Leave the light exposed to direct sunlight for at least 12-14 hours and turn them on and off before permanently installing them. This helps you ensure that there is no defective light. Besides, most lights need a full charge before operation anyway.

3. Mark the installation location:

Mark the locations for the placements of the lights. The selected locations must check the following boxes.

  • There is no shrubbery around that can block the light in a few days
  • No overhead tree canopies are blocking the sunlight (at least 8 hours of direct sunlight is necessary)
  • The lights aren’t in the way of anything or too far away. Maintain at least 6-inch clearance from any pathways

You should also refer to the product’s manual for manufacturer’s instructions about spacing and guideline

4. Prepare the location:

The selected locations may need some preparation. First, remove any shrubbery and overhead tree canopy. Then water the soil at least 4-6 hours beforehand and let the gound soak the water. It will make the ground wet and soft.

5. Install the light fixtures:

If you haven’t reassembled the lights, now would be the time to do so. Most lights require attaching the light to the support first and then attaching the fixture to the support, but you should look it up in your manual.

Finally, push the fixtures into the ground. They should go into the ground pretty easily; you shouldn’t need to push them too hard. And when pushing it in, you should apply force on the stake and not on the light itself.

6. Orient the light:

If your light is directional, make sure that the light is facing the right way. Some solar lights have a separate solar panel that can be oriented separately from the light itself.

If that’s the case, turn it so that the panel faces towards the sun for most of the day. Again, it is one of the most important things to check and ensure.

As obvious by now, this type of light does not need an exterior light box. It is self-sufficient.

How to install landscape lighting with cables:

Installing landscape/garden lights is considerably trickier, especially if you use high voltage/line voltage lights. So, don’t approach it unless you have experience working with electricity and electric wiring. This can easily cause damage if you are not knowledgeable and careful. Get experienced electrical instead.

But, if you know the electricity pattern of your area (3 phase or 2 phase, as well as line color-coding) and are Eager for a DIY, this can be a great project. But be aware that you are working with live electricity. So, here’s how you do it:

And here’s a video from Lowe’s Home Improvement titled “How To Install Landscape Lighting” which you can check out. 

1. Mark the locations of the light:

The installation process begins with marking the installation locations. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for spacing and placement of the lights. Next, remove the foliage and shrubbery as needed. 

2. Run the wire:

Temporarily place the light where you will be installing them, but don’t install them just yet. Run the wire from the electrical outlet to the last light.

Your light may or may not come with pre-installed cables depending on the product. If yours do, you’ll have it much easier. Otherwise, you will need to run the wire and connect the light manually.

Regardless, you Should have at least 12-18 inches of extra cable between each light. This will give you flexibility if you need to change or move any of the lights later.

3. Test the lights:

First, flip the circuit breaker and then connect the lights with the cable and cover the connection points momentarily. Make sure the open electric line does not touch anything, anyone, or the ground.

Then connect the other end to the power outlet or to the transformer (if you are using low-voltage lights, and then connect the transformer to the power outlet as well)

Turn the breaker on, and check if all the lights are lighting up as expected.

Important Note: Always use a GFCI outlet for landscape lighting. It can potentially save lives in case of an unfortunate leakage.

4. Dig the moats for the cables:

After disconnecting the current flow, take a lawn edger or a shovel and dig a 6-18 inches deep moat for the cables. 6-inches for 12V/low voltage lighting and 12-18 inches for line voltage spotlights. 

Go slowly and try not to damage any other electric line, water pipe, or something like that. And while digging the moat, keep the dirt on the side because it will be needed to fill the gap after installing the lights.

5. Place the light in position:

If everything is working correctly, turn off the breaker and disconnect the cable from the outlet. Then connect the lights permanently and cover the joints with multiple layers of electric light or heat-shrink, covering plenty extra on either side of the connection point.

Use a blow torch to shink the heat-shrink, but definitely do it gently and slowly. Don’t accidentally burn the cable or the shrink.

Then push the light steaks into the ground; again, you shouldn’t need to push very hard. If the soil is wet enough, the steak should just go in without much effort, and if you need to push it in, make sure to apply the force on the steak instead of the light head.

6. Bury the cables:

When all the lights are placed in position, put the cables in their moat, coil the extra length of wires together in one or two loops, and put them in the trench. 

Then bury the cables with dirt and add grass or something similar on top to help cover up the moat line quicker.

7. Connect the transformer:

If you are using a high voltage/line voltage landscape light, you can skip ahead to the next point.

For a low voltage garden light, you will need to use a step-down transformer to reduce the line voltage down to 12V. 

The best practice is to use a GFCI to connect the transformer and have the transformer near the GFCI. And both of them should be under some sort of shade so that they are not exposed to rain.

And also, put the transformer, the GFCI, and any extra cable inside an exterior light box. It will protect the parts from water damage, and in turn, may potentially save your life.

8. Finalize the connection:

The last step will be to connect the transformer/light line to the GFCI. Make sure that the GFCI is connected directly to the house’s main line with its own circuit breaker, rather than being dependent on a subline.

Double-check that the connections look good, and turn on the breaker. Flip the switch on and check to see if all lights are working. Ensure that the exterior light box is secured in place and locked.

Always use a GFCI for outdoor connections, especially for connections that involve rainwater, watering the lawn or pathways, and sharp objects like the blade of a lawn-mower, such as garden lighting. You never know when and how an accident can happen until it happens. Read more why

Installing wired solar outdoor spotlight:

If you are using a solar light with a cable, the installation process will mostly be the same; the only difference will be on the very end. You won’t need to connect it to the power output. Instead, the last step will be to stick another steak, the one containing the solar panel and battery pack.

Installing this one is much faster and risk-free than genuine cabled garden lights. But on the contrary to them, you can not place it wherever it is the most convenient for you. Instead, you will need to install it where it will get the most amount of direct sunlight.

Install this pole the same way you installed the light poles and turn it to face the sun most of the time.

And you don’t need an exterior light box for this kind of lights.

Wall-mounted outdoor lighting installation:

The other kind of outdoor lighting that requires a different installation method is wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted lights. Here’s how you can do it easily.

1. Choose the location:

To install this type of light, the first thing you will need to look out for is where to install them. Because it’s not like you have the whole garden where you can place them, you will need to think, plan, and strategize the locations you want to light up.

It’s typically mounted near the porch, in front of the door, gate, or around pathways. These lights are also available in the form of solar light and line voltage lights.

You can install the solar lights at spots where they will get 6-8 hours of sunlight. However, they have a considerable constriction. Since they are mounted on a wall, ensuring that they get ample sunlight throughout the day could be tricky, that’s where planning comes into play.

And for cabled lights, having an outlet nearby helps in the connection process. But you can always run cables underground, so that’s not a huge problem, barely an inconvenience.

2. Test the lights:

Before installing any lights, always check the lights individually, and make sure that all of them are working correctly. Replace any defective lights before going through the hassle of installing and uninstalling them.

For solar lights, before really testing them, you should check and remove any safety cover from the battery and then leave them in the direct sunlight for 12-14 hours. This will worm up the battery. And then, you can proceed to test the lights.

3. Mount the lights:

If all of the lights are working as intended, mount them in their designated spots. You can use wood screws when installing the lights on wood.

Or use a power drill to drill holes and then use a lag shield and screw set to mount the light on the concrete wall. 

If you need to install the light on a metal surface, you can use rivets for the best result.

4. Finalize the installation:

With the light mounted properly, connect the power cables, bury extra lines underground if needed, or use cable clips to mount the wires along the wall if the distance isn’t much.

Always use a GFCI to connect the cable. 

Or for solar light, as mentioned above, turn the light in a way where it gets 6-8hours of direct sunlight every day, and you get the most out of the light after night.

Questions about installing outdoor lighting

This section will answer some of the common questions regarding outdoor light. If you have questions in mind, chances are they are answered here. And if you have a particular question that isn’t answered here, feel free to reach out to us.

What kind of exterior light box do you use for landscape lighting?

For weatherproofing, you can use a metal box, usually made of aluminum, or a plastic box made of clear acrylic or polycarbonate. Metal boxes are hardier and provide greater security, while the plastic box is rust-proof, risk-free(no accidental electric shock), and see-through.

But do you need a box to cover the light? The answer is mostly no. You don’t need an exterior light box for the lights. Most lights already have a reliable water-proof rating. So, you shouldn’t think of protecting the light from the elements. Instead, you should focus on outdoor lighting installation and follow the steps carefully.

How far apart should you place landscape lighting?

Generally speaking, you should place your landscape lights six to eight feet apart because that provides the best brightness for both pathways and the garden. But you can put them closer for a greater contrast to the rest. You should plan it ahead of time. Definitely refer to the user’s manual for instructions about your specific brand and model.

Functionality is not the only focus in outdoor lighting installation, the look of it also is.

Do landscape lighting need an exterior light box?

Yes, they do. While you can install exterior lights without a box, it is highly recommended not to. An electric box help to prevent an accident, keep the cabling in control, and provide extra protection to the joints and sensitive part. So you should absolutely install a box for the lights if you don’t already have one.

Safety should always be the first priority in outdoor lighting installation, especially since it is a permanent installation.

Can you wire an landscape lighting setup to a plug?

You can, but you really should not. Most outdoor lights require more current than a standard plug and socket combo can safely provide. So, while it will work for some time, it will create additional pressure on the socket, and upon extended usage, it will heat up and cause an accident.

Plus, if the cable ever gets damaged, it can short-circuit and potentially ruin the indoor lines as well. So you should always use a GFCI for outdoor lighting installation and put the light inside an exterior light box to ensure safety.

How many lumens do I need for landscape lighting?

To light up a pathway, you will need 200 – 600 lumens, depending on the distance between them. For landscape light, 100 – 500 lumens depending on the brightness you want, and for object lighting, 100 – 1000 lumens, depending on the object, size, distance, color, etc.

What is the best choice for outdoor lighting installation for someone new?

The best choice for a newcomer is to go with solar. It is a green technology and harms the environment significantly less. but at the same time, it is surprisingly easy to install. Thus it is a great method for a newcomer to understand and get into outdoor lighting installation, and, in extension, gain some knowledge in the field.

Conclusion:

Landscape lighting is one of the essential elements for the dream lawn. It can really set the mood right when the sun goes down. A well-lit pathway makes walking on it that much more interesting. A properly lit yard, preferably with colored lights, can easily be a conversation starter in itself.

And not to mention the security it provides. Thieves and burglars will definitely think twice before approaching if the lawn is well-lit. Plus, the light will make it much easier to spot them and potentially identify them.

With some well-planned and thought-out colored lighting, a typical garden tree will suddenly become almost magical and shine brilliantly. When you dive into the world of landscape lighting, the sky is the limit. So, we recommend giving it a whirl. And if you go solar, outdoor lighting installation can also be a quick little fun project.

And remember, always use a GFCI connection rather than a regular power outlet and install it inside an exterior light box.

But that’s it for today. Be sure to let us know about any questions you may have about the outdoor light.

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