Don’t let the lack of natural light end your outdoor fun once the sun sets. There are several lighting options available, and you can find out which one suits your needs. The best part is that you don’t need to hire an electrician — you can do the work yourself. All you need are a few tools, some creativity, and the right lights. Keep reading to learn how to install your own outdoor lighting options.
Plan Your Project
You need light at night to see where you’re going and what you’re doing, but you don’t have to let the practical aspect ruin the aesthetics. Figure out what outdoor area you want to illuminate. Do you want to enjoy an evening swim in your in-ground pool? Do you host parties and want friends to gather around your patio? Or do you need to light up your walkway so people can reach your front door?
Walk around your property at night to see what areas could benefit from lighting. You don’t want to overload one area while ignoring another. From there, figure out what type of lighting would match your outdoor style.
Determine the Type of Outdoor Lighting Fixture You Need
Depending on your lighting needs, you have several weatherproof lighting options available:
Flood lights: Most flood lights have motion sensors, so when you walk outside in the middle of the night, you will trigger the light. This option is ideal for security and safety issues.
Path lights: For safety as well as ambience, path lights mark the way along a sidewalk, driveway, or backyard. You can also use a type of path light called up-light to light items from below. Homeowners use this type to highlight trees or stone walls. Spotlights are another type of path light, and these are great for small gardens.
Solar lights: Although not the most reliable lighting source since they are powered by direct sunlight, solar lights are still a good option, especially if you don’t have access to outdoor electricity. Solar lights have sensors that are separate from the actual lights. This allows you to put the lights where you want and put the sensors where they’ll get the most sunlight.
Underwater lights: These lights focus on fountains and water features. You can also use colored lights underwater.
Tip: Don’t break the bank when selecting lights. Although there are sturdy options on the market, you will need to replace them from time to time due to wear and tear, weather, and accidental damage. Choose a cheaper option if you cannot afford replacements.
Find Your Outdoor Lighting Power Source
You have two ways to get power to your outdoor lighting sources. Solar-powered lighting lacks long wiring and is the easier option to install. These offer more flexibility since you don’t need to connect wires to an outlet.
Low-voltage lighting, which you plug into an outdoor GCFI outlet, is the other choice. You can plug a transformer into the GFCI-protected electrical outlet, which steps down from the house current of 120 volts to 12 volts. Most transformers have a timer that allows you to program the lights to go on and off automatically. Many low-voltage lights are available in lighting kits, which include all the necessary items. To find out what size transformer you need, add up the wattage of all the lights. If you have 10 lights with 20 watts, you need a transformer with at least 200 wattage output.
Tip: Make sure your outdoor GCFI outlet has a plastic cover that protects the power cord. If you don’t have power already available outside, you might want to hire someone to install outdoor ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).
Get Your Tools
For the low-voltage option, you need a lighting kit, flat-blade shovel, wire cutter, wire strippers, and power pack. If your system is more than 200 watts, you will need 12-gauge cable, otherwise use 14-gauge cable. The lower the number, the thicker the wire and greater the capacity.
Before you start digging, check for any underground utility wiring. Call 811 for a national directory of utility companies so that these companies can mark the lines before you dig.
Tip: Since you’re dealing with low-voltage lights, you don’t need permits. You also don’t need to worry about electrocuting yourself. However, watch your transformer and make sure you don’t overload it.
Assemble the Lights
Locate the GFCI outlet outside of your home. Put the lighting power pack near the outlet, but don’t plug it in yet. You want to wait until you have assembled all the lights. Open the lighting kit, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for assembly. Take note of the wattage level. This is when you will need the 12-gauge cable if the wattage is higher than 200 watts.
Bring the lights to your desired outdoor location. Space each light to the distance you want. Lay the cable along the ground so you know where you need to dig. If you come across shrubbery or other obstacles, place the cable around it. Connect each light to the cable by using a cable connector.
Tip: Place the first light at least 10 feet from the outlet. From there, leave about 10 feet between cable connectors before connecting a light or changing the cable’s direction.
Dig the Trench
Take your flat-blade shovel and dig a narrow trench, about 3 inches deep. Follow the cable line, and add a perpendicular trench where you want each light. Push the cables into the trench. Put the light stakes partially into the ground.
Use wire strippers to cut the cable’s ends. Strip off about ½ inch of the rubber insulation. Connect the cable to the power pack or transformer and plug the power source into the outlet. Check the lights to see if you assembled them correctly. If everything works, push the light stakes further into the ground and cover the trenches.
The Bottom Line
The best exterior lights keep you safe well after the sun sets and enhance your outdoor decor. Once you figure out the type and style of outdoor lighting you want, you can tackle this summer project and install the lighting kits with the help of a just a few tools. You can have your friends over to show off your handiwork and tell everyone it was your “bright” idea to do the work yourself.