Illuminate Your Path

R. L. Rhodes
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The purpose of the hard paths in your lawn is to give people a solid surface on which to walk, while simultaneously keeping them from straying into areas you want to keep free of traffic. That’s easier said than done when they can’t see where they’re going. Lighting the path to your house or another entertaining area is an important way to make your landscape inviting to welcome visitors and safe for friends and family.

The steps below will help you plan out a lighting system for making paths more visible at night. A low-voltage system is a good way to make your lighting system more energy efficient.

Skill level

  •  Easy to intermediate

Time required

  •  2-4 hours

Materials

or…

Tools

Directions

Step one: Plan your path

Before installing anything, decide exactly where you want each lamp and mark each plot. Staggering lamps on either side of the path will allow you to get consistent illumination with fewer lamps and help keep your path from looking like a airport landing strip. Depending on the luminosity of the lamps, an interval of six to ten feet between lamps is probably safe. You’ll also want to think now about how you plan to conceal the cable so that it’s not exposed to hazards. The safest way is to bury the cable in a trench, so make sure that you have a clear path from the outlet to the end of the path. For a low-voltage lighting system, a trench about 6-inches deep is fine; for other voltages, you’ll want to bury the wire deeper. Note the layout of irrigation or sprinkler systems beforehand, and keep in mind the likely path of lawnmowers, tillers and other landscaping equipment.

Step two: Decide on a lighting system

Once you have a general layout planned, it’s time to start thinking about the needs of your system. How many lanterns will you need to install for adequate coverage? How much cable will it take to string power to each lantern in the sequence? Knowing those requirements will help you choose your materials — or invest in a solar powered system and skip straight to step four.

Your average low-voltage lighting system works by “stepping down” the current in a standard home from 120-volts to a mere 12-volts. That’s done by a transformer plugged into an electrical outlet. Most 12-volt transformers can output anywhere between 100 and 300 watts. How much wattage do you need? That depends on how many lamps you want to light. Each bulb will emit a portion of the total wattage. The more lamps you add to the line, the more watts you’ll need. Get a system with too little wattage, and you may find yourself with dim lights or no light at all. Find out the wattage of each bulb and add them altogether to find out the total wattage you’ll need. Ideally, you’ll want to ensure that the lights connected to a transformer tally up to 80% or less of the total wattage produced by the transformer. Anything above that, and you’re likely to see fluctuations in the performance of your lights.

Step three: Install the system

The lamps in some lighting systems require some assembly before you can install them. Follow the directions included with the kit. For lamps using halogen lights, be careful to avoid touching the bulbs. Oils from your hands can heat to high temperatures when the bulbs are lit, putting considerable stress on the glass, even to the point of shattering.

For instructions on properly wiring the system, see our project guide on installing low-voltage outdoor lighting. Before any project that requires digging, be sure to call 811 to check on the location of underground utilities in your yard. Once the system is completely wired, test it to make sure each lamp in the sequence is lighting.

Step four: Everything in its place

Once you have the system wired and each lamp connected, push the stake end of the lamp into the ground at the planned location. Some lamps have blunt foundations rather than a stake. In that case, use a trowel to dig a hole and plant the lamp as you would a post. Using the dirt you removed for the trench, bury the electrical cable and replace any ground covering or sod you removed before.

The Home Depot offers a variety of path and walkway lights and lighting kits.

 

 

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