I'm a bit of a lighting nut. Well designed and executed lighting dramatically increases the subjective comfort of a space, while a poor design just as easily turns a naturally comfortable space into one where you really don't want to spend any time at all.
For interior, night-time residential lighting, it's easy to go overboard. Walls are typically light, and too many or bright accent/point sources will quickly result in an over-lit room. Fortunately the outdoors are far more forgiving. So long as a sufficient quantity of lower powered sources are used, it's hard to go very wrong.
Many yards have no lighting at all, but the addition of a few strategic lights can convert what would otherwise be a dull or black landscape in the evening into a wonderland. Our lighting plan definitely exceeds the definition of "a few". We have 7 groups of lights totaling around 140 units. It's a large yard and the garden lights will run it's full length.
- Garden - 24V 3W spike lights (~60)
- House wall - 12V 7W up/down lights (5)
- Wooden deck - 12V 0.6W in deck lights (60)
- Pool retaining wall - 24V 3W lights mounted on the wall (8)
- Pool stairs - 12V strip lights mounted under each step (30M)
- Pool - 12V 8W white pool lights (2)
- Flower bed - 12V 3W spike lights (3)
I also installed dimmers to ensure the correct balance between the groups.
House wall lights
The lights we purchased for the exterior house wall are 240VAC models. Mains wiring in these parts requires a licensed electrician. To enable us to handle the installation ourselves, it was necessary to replace the 240VAC drivers that came with the lights with 24VDC drivers. We could then run our own wiring and use an off the shelf 24VDC transformer plugged into an existing socket.
Using low-voltage wiring also gives more flexibility, allowing the wires to be squeezed into the the existing mortar lines rather than having to run unsightly conduit along the wall.
Flower bed, garden, and pool retaining wall
The yard has a wonderful variety of flora, but none of it was visible at night before this project. To rectify that, I placed close to 100 LED spike lights throughout. Additionally, the were mounted to the pool retaining walls and pointed up - the rough texture of the stackstone provides great shadow depth when the light is projected from below.
The wooden deck we built extends around both sides of the house, down to the pool entrance, and has two levels. For safety and comfort, the perimeter is lit with small, in-deck lights. Each light is only 0.6W, and they are spaced a little under a meter apart.
The lights come in sets of ten and thankfully include screw together connectors, dramatically reducing the the number of connections that I need to crimp/solder. The wiring is only rated for those ten though, so it was necessary to run heavier duty wiring in parallel with them and join at regular intervals as
Installation in the deck is very easy. With the right sized hole saw, the lights can be pushed into place.
If you've read my earlier post detailing how the pool stairs were built, you may recall that one of the reasons for floating the stair edge was to allow for lights to be installed under the lip, providing a nice ambiance and enhancing safety by highlighting the stair edges at night.
The most appropriate type of lighting to use here is LED strip lighting. The stirp light consists of a long, narrow, flebible, copper-plated substrate with multiple SMD chip LEDs mounted along it and are very popular for use in cove or under cabinet lighting.
For our stairs, we need them to sit just under the stair edge. The strips come with an adhesive backing, but the quality is typically poor, and I used silicone to adhere the strips in place.
If you've ever dealt with LED strip lighting, you're likely aware that the quality varies enormously. Manufacturing of the strips (as opposed to the LED elements themselves) is not really a high tech endeavor. Consequently, there are a huge number of producers and many skimp on the quality of the materials and the manufacturing.
Poor quality products typically manifest poor color rendition and early failure, caused by low quality LED chips, insufficient copper, cheaper metals and poor solder joints.
The problem is that once you exclude the ultra cheap end, price typically doesn't correlate with quality. While it's true that the very top end, foreign branded products typically guarantee quality, you pay an enormous premium for that - the actual Chinese manufacturer is likely selling the same product at a tenth of the cost or less.
In this instance, the first product turned out to be of extremely poor quality, with poor solder joints and easily broken "copper" tracks. Thankfully the replacement was much better and after installing it under the lip and connecting to the power, the result was quite pleasing.
For the pool, we chose two, white 8W lights. These lights are designed for pool use, and use a transformer that provides proper galvanic isolation of the mains power supply.
The lights were installed in the pool shell at the same time that we plumbed it, and conduit was run between the pool and the main equipment pad.
Unfortunately the transformer died soon after the lights were switched on, but the manufacturer responded promptly to replace it, and the replacement has had no such issues.
The end result
All of the lighting wiring converges in the pergola adjoining the residence, where the individual transformers and dimmers feed power. Below is the final product once all the installation work was completed.