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Outdoor Garden Lighting Magic - Control With Your Smartphone

Updated on December 19, 2017
Kichler 12-Volt Path & Spread Light | image credit: amazon
Kichler 12-Volt Path & Spread Light | image credit: amazon

Outdoor Garden Lighting Magic

If you enjoy your backyard garden you can extend your enjoyment into evening and nighttime with creative outdoor garden lighting. Think of your outdoor garden as a stage -- populated by trees, shrubs and plantings, walkways and garden statuary. Convey a sense of magic and drama by artfully using lamps to create highlights, shadows, silhouettes and moods throughout your garden.

This hub takes you through planning, installation and controlling your magical garden with your smartphone.

Outdoor Garden Lighting -- Become the stage designer your outdoor garden scene

Just like a set designer for a stage play, think first about your audience. You, your family and guests become the audience for your outdoor garden scenes. Find the point from which your outdoor garden scenes will be viewed. That might be your patio or deck seating. Now sit down in a comfortable chair there and, in your mind's eye, create your night time garden stage.

Pick out a backdrop for your garden scene. It could be a wooded area, or a row of tall shrubs; or perhaps a nicely designed fence enclosure. Imagine soft lights casting just the right amount of light around your backdrop. Make a note of the type of lamp that would best create that lighting, and the best spot to install the lamp to get the effect you want.

Garden features for highlight lighting

Now look for focal garden features -- such as a particularly pretty planting arrangement, or a garden statue. Imagine a soft light placed in just the right place to cast highlights and shadows on your statue, highlighting the particularly interesting features of the the statue.

Perhaps you have an outdoor art object placed against a wall or fence.

Think of soft lights playing over the object, bringing out its features for the enjoyment of your guests.

Low voltage outdoor garden lighting

Low voltage outdoor lighting is the simplest system and the easiest for DIY installations.

You'll need a transformer to step down your home's 120-volt line voltage to the low voltage required by the outdoor lamp fixtures. A wide variety of outdoor lighting equipment is available for 12-volt circuits -- accent lighting, spread lighting, spot lighting in many designs. And you'll need low-voltage underground wiring that can be buried in relatively shallow trenches connecting the lights to the transformer.

Outdoor lighting kits are available that come complete with transformer, wiring and lamps. But you'll get a much wider choice of equipment by custom designing your lighting plan and choosing exactly the lighting components that give the effects you want.

Plan and install your outdoor garden lighting system

Develop a sketch of your outdoor garden lighting plan. Indicate each lamp on the plan with a circle. Make a note of the power rating (watts) of each lamp. Add up the total wattage for all lamps. Your transformer's power rating must be at least equal to the total wattage of all lamps, or be no more than three times the total wattage. You may want to divide the load and have two or three low voltage circuits each with a separate transformer. Now draw a line on your sketch representing the 12-volt power cable. It should run from the transformer to the closest lamp, then to the next lamp and so on -- similar to stringing lights for a Christmas tree. Remember that the total wattage on the line should not exceed the rating of the transformer.

If you use a straignt run, there will be a voltage drop along the run -- the longer the run, the more lamps on the run, the larger the voltage drop. The lamp at the end of the run will not be at full brightness. If you're o.k. with that, fine. If not, instread of a single run, make two runs. Or use other wiring configurations -- such as a loop, a "T", or a hub-and-spokes configuration.

Once you're satisfied with your plan, you're ready to purchase your components and install them. Lay out the 2-conductor, low voltage underground cable along the ground following your plan. Dig a shallow trench along the cable and lay the cable in the trench. Don't bury it quite yet.

Mount the transformer near an outside GFCI-protected wall outlet. Connect the low voltage cable to the to the transformer following manufacturer's instructions. Connect the individual lamp fixtures to the cable following instructions.

Plug the transformer into the GFCI outlet. Now check your system to make sure it works and produces the lighting effects you envisioned. Once you are satisfied, backfill the trench and cover the GFCI outlet with a plastic waterproof cover.

How to control your outdoor garden lights

Here are several ways to control your outdoor garden lights:--

  1. Hard wired light switch. Have an electrician hardwire your GFCI outlet to a convenient light switch inside your house.
  2. A timer on your transformer. Set the times during the day you want your outdoor lights to turn on and off.
  3. Photocell switch. Use a photocell switch on the transformer to turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn.
  4. Use your smartphone. Make your outdoor garden lighting a part of your home automation network.

Use your Smartphone to control your outdoor garden lights. If you already have Internet service and a router you can command your outdoor lights over the Internet from your smartphone. You'll need an INSTEON Hub and a compatible outdoor on/off switch. Plug the outdoor low voltage transformer into the on/off switch, and plug the switch into the GFCI wall outlet. Go inside your house and find a wall outlet near your Internet home network router. Connect the router to the automation controller using an Ethernet cable. Now plug the controller into the wall outlet.

As long as you're working on your simple home automation setup, it's easy and advantageous to add lighting control. You can purchase an affordable INSTEON Starter Kit -- light dimming. This package contains an INSTEON Hub that you will need to control your outdoor garden lights, plus a couple of indoor lamp switches or dimmers in the same package. If you use INSTEON home automation components, you'll get the increased reliability and flexibility that comes from dual automation signals throughout your house -- electric powerline and RF signals over a designated frequency.

Professionally installed outdoor lighting or DIY?

Should you have your outdoor lighting professionally installed, or should you do it yourself?

Professional outdoor lighting experts can help you design your and install your garden stage. You'll get expert advice, lamp and wiring recommendations, and installation . A good designer can help create lighting ideas you many not otherwise have thought about. Professionals can assure that your lighting is installed according to building codes.

On the other hand, if you are a bit creative and you enjoy working on DIY projects around home, you can design and install it yourself. This will require more planning and research or your part. Be sure to  check building codes to see what is required in your community.


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