Perhaps the best perk of owning a home isn’t the home itself; it’s the yard.
The world of landscaping can open up a wide variety of creative projects for the ambitious home owner. Some people put a ton of work into creating extravagant backyard settings, while others are content with a simple garden path. But regardless of your situation, including proper lighting in your landscape project is a critical component.
A great yard requires excellent lighting. What good is setting up that bespoke collection of holiday gnomes if nobody can see them at 8 PM? The gnomes deserve their recognition, and you deserve exceptional lighting. Landscape lighting comes in all shapes and sizes. But the one thing that is constant, regardless of the size of your lighting needs, is a low voltage lighting transformer.
A typical household runs on 120-volt (V) power. This is high voltage, and interior lighting calls on high voltage because it suits our needs indoors. Landscape lighting, however, is an entirely different animal. Because the lighting is spread over various lights, and spotlighting something as brightly as you would indoors is not required, the voltage needed is much lower. Converting the high voltage from inside the house to low voltage outside is achieved with a low voltage lighting transformer.
CONTENTS: Go Directly To Your Question Here, Or Continue Reading
- 0.1 What is a Low Voltage Lighting Transformer?
- 0.2 How Many Lights Can You Put on a Low Voltage Transformer?
- 0.3 Low Voltage Wiring Basics
- 0.4 The Best Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Transformers
- 0.4.1 Malibu Power Pack 200watt Low-Voltage Weatherproof Transformer
- 0.4.2 DEWENWILS 200W Outdoor Low Voltage Transformer with Timer and Photocell Sensor
- 0.4.3 VOLT 300W LED Low Voltage Transformer (12V/15V)
- 0.4.4 Lightkiwi U8810 600 Watt Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel (12V-13V-14V-15V) Multi-Tap Low Voltage Transformer
What is a Low Voltage Lighting Transformer?
Transformers are electrical apparatuses that convert electrical current from one voltage to another. Depending on the objective, the converted voltages can be increased or decreased. With respect to landscape lighting, the low voltage transformer is going to reduce the voltage and transform your home’s 120V system to the 12V your yard requires.
Transformers are manufactured with distinct power capabilities. Choosing the one that’s right for you depends on the sum of your landscape light’s watts. For example, if you’re working with six pathway watts at 50 watts (W) per light, the sum is 300W. In this instance, you’ll require a transformer that rates from 400 to 500W. A transformer that exceeds the amount of watts you need is always recommended.
In line with the transformer is a low-voltage electrical cable. This type of cable is buried underground and runs from the transformer to each fixture. Cables like this are available in 12, 14, and 16-gauge. The wire is thicker as the number moves lower.
For larger projects, a thicker wire is your best bet. If, for example, you have a 300W transformer and need to power 200 feet of fixtures, the 12-gauge is the cable for you. If you only require 100 feet, a 16-gauge is sufficient.
The relationship between the power of the transformer and the light it produces is evident when you have too many lights connected to a transformer with fewer watts. You might see this driving around a residential neighborhood at night; a home could have flickering lights, or some lights not working at all. This occurs because the sum of the watts of the lights exceeds the power of the transformer, and you end up spotlighting only a handful of garden gnomes as compared to the whole tribe.
How Many Lights Can You Put on a Low Voltage Transformer?
This is a common question in the “do-it-yourself” (DIY) arena. Some folks prefer to turn on the flood gates and have light pouring across their yards, like a Friday night football game in a small Texas town. Others are more austere and prefer their lighting to be delicate and ambient. While there is an “artistic and creative” component to all this, science and facts dictate how many lights you can put on a low voltage transformer.
The first place to look for guidance is back to the transformer. Every transformer will have a minimum and maximum wattage rating. The minimum tells the smallest number of watts the transformer needs to get the power juiced up, while the maximum is the highest number of watts the system can handle. Here is typically where folks push the envelope a bit. Too much pushing, however, and you risk a blown transformer.
If you are using an electric transformer, the light fixture total wattage must be equal (or ideally less) than the maximum wattage rating. On magnetic transformers, however, their design leads to inherent power loss. As such, the transformer needs to be considerably above the maximum wattage of the lights to function correctly.
Low Voltage Wiring Basics
Just because something is low voltage doesn’t mean you can’t end up in a bad place if you screw the installation up. Before jumping into the specifics, we’re going to review the different types of source wiring. As mentioned earlier, 120V lighting is house lighting. This produces powerful lighting, but it’s not ideal for your yard. If you do decide to put them in the yard, just know that they will cost more to maintain, are harder to install, and are less safe than the alternatives.
Before getting your hands dirty, the first step is to outline on a piece of paper the proposed “lighting layout.” This entails a rough sketch of where you want the lights to be, how they will connect back to the transformer, and any relevant obstacles (rocks, a pool, etc). Think of this as a broad overview.
A sketch like this helps when calculating the amount of lights, the transformer size, and the length of the wires you’ll need. Once the sketch is set, the next issue is voltage drop. Voltage drop occurs when a light lies at the end of a wire run and is not receiving enough power.
An easy way to think about this is a scenario with a path with five lights. Each light is 8W, brining the total to 40W. If you then add two additional “spot” lights at 20W apiece, total watts for all seven are now 80W.
Second, we’re going to be using an 80-foot wire. There is a handy formula that calculates voltage drop – Wattage x Footage x .0011. For this example, that’s 80 watts x 80 feet x .0011 = 7.04%. That percent is your voltage drop. If it is below 8%, that’s good. If it’s over 8%, shortening the wire run is necessary.
Finally, there’s the wire size. Wire size comes in different gauges, so if you’re running a system under 200 watts, using a 16-gauge wire is fine. Anything over 200 watts requires a 12-gauge wire.
The Best Low Voltage Landscape Lighting Transformers
Low voltage transformers are essential to keep your property well lit at night, and they can also serve as an enhanced security measure that helps to detract theft. The advantages are clear but now comes the hard part – deciding which one to choose.
Malibu Power Pack 200watt Low-Voltage Weatherproof Transformer
If you’re looking for a transformer that’s both reliable and high-tech, look no further. Installation appears to be easy according to the majority of online comments, and the Malibu holds up well in harsh weather. This model is weatherproof, but a protective outside casing is suggested for overly harsh climates. The Malibu also features a fully programmable timer with an automatic function that can be switched off at any time.
Lastly, this model has optical sensor technology, enabling it to sense the amount of light according to the time of day. The Malibu will turn the lights on at dusk and then shut them off again come sunrise. The protective door and durable panel keep moisture and dust at bay and provide this transformer a life of at least two to three years, if not more.
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DEWENWILS 200W Outdoor Low Voltage Transformer with Timer and Photocell Sensor
Dewenwills is a well-respected brand in the larger transformer world. One of the coolest features with this unit is the memory function. Electricity failures are common, no matter where you live. The Dewenwills memory function stores previous settings and naturally returns to them in the event of a power outage. Like the Mailbu, this model features a 1-9 hour timer and is corrosion resistant as well.
Some buyers complained that the manuals aren’t overly clear and installation a bit clunky. However, even more reviewers raved about the construction of the transformer and its sturdy nature. A handful of reviewers had previously purchased plastic transformers and were very happy with this metal option.
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VOLT 300W LED Low Voltage Transformer (12V/15V)
With a name like VOLT (in all capital letters), it’s hard to go wrong. Made with heavy-duty stainless steel and a lockable hinged lid, the VOLT happily accepts up to a 10-gauge wire and features some great clamp-connects that give it a low-profile feel outdoors.
When it comes to reviews, it seems that even the experts are happy to stand behind this transformer. A gentleman from Texas commented, “Listen, I’m a professional master electrician in Texas, and this is the only landscape lighting transformer I’ll be using in the future.” It’s one thing for a DYI weekend warrior to praise a transformer, but quite another for a seasoned professional working in the field.
Other buyers mentioned that the customer service is top-notch; VOLT responds quickly and accurately to any issues with shipping. Customers also pointed out that the interaction with phone reps was pleasant.
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Lightkiwi U8810 600 Watt Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel (12V-13V-14V-15V) Multi-Tap Low Voltage Transformer
Most transformers work with a standard 12V output. The Lightkiwi, however, can adapt to anything from 12V all the way to 15V if need be. This transformer features a magnetic circuit breaker, a very secure locking latch to secure the cover to the transformer, and a timer port with the option to add a smart WiFi plug.
The only downside to the Lightwiki is its size, which some people find to be overly large and cumbersome. But despite this, the Lightwiki is solidly constructed and runs exceptionally well. At the end of the day, most reviewers wanted an excellent product, and the physical size mattered little.
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NSi TORK TPX300 Low-Voltage 300-Watt Safety Transformer for Indoor/Outdoor Pool/Spa, Landscape and Submersible Lighting Products
The NSi is an excellent choice if you’re combining typical landscape lighting with underwater pool or spa lighting. This unit is designed to handle both, as well as anything in between, such as fountains and decorative lighting. The NSi has a grounded shield and an auto-reset overload protector, making it a very safe unit.
Installation is easy with built-in mounting brackets housed within a heavy-duty steel constructed case. The NSi is compatible with incandescent, LED, and compact fluorescent bulbs, and is affordably priced for all it does.
It’s not without some detractors, however. One reviewer pointed out that the back of the unit would heat up with only 2 LED lights at 10W apiece connected to it, so it’s important to be aware of the heat capacity before purchasing.
To read the latest reviews on this product, click here.
To Sum it Up…
Lighting up your yard is a labor of love. As this article demonstrates, the process begins with a plan, which means calculating the amount of lights and watts. Next comes the transformer to match the wattage, and the corresponding wiring to bring light to your home. The hardest part will be selecting the transformer, as the market is packed with some exceptional choices that we’ve laid out here.
Take note to choose a transformer that can withstand the weather. If you’re living in California, this will be less of an issue. But winters in Green Bay with a so-so transformer will not cut it. Invest in quality, and make sure the total watts of the lights do not exceed the transformer’s capacity, because blowouts are dangerous even with low-wattage bulbs. When done right, low voltage transformers can take your landscape project from boring to brilliant in no time.
Wanna learn about the different security options for your property? Check out our review of the Night Owl security system.