Safe and efficient landscape lighting is easy to install
Q: I am not an electrician, but I want to add high-quality landscape and security lighting. How effective and efficient are new do-it-yourself fiber optic and all-metal low-voltage lighting kits? - S. R.
A: New residential fiber optic and high-quality low-voltage (12-volt) outdoor light kits are efficient and are ideal for the do-it-yourselfer. Low-voltage lighting kits range from the inexpensive plastic sets sold at almost all hardware stores to high-quality ornate cast metal ones designed to literally last a lifetime.
Do-it-yourself fiber optic lighting is the newest type of kit for home use. Fiber optics are efficient and simple to install (no heavy electric wire to handle). It is also extremely safe because there is no electricity flowing to each light fixture in your yard. Instead of running heavy copper wire to a small bulb in each outdoor fixture, thin durable (plastic) fiber optic cable is used.
Only one efficient light bulb is needed in the main unit. For the best efficiency, Lumenyte offers kits with a high intensity discharge light bulb (metal halide) in the main unit. The light travels along the small plastic fiber optic cables to each of the outdoor fixtures. Fiberstars offers a typical kit that includes six-pathway or four-flood fixtures with a main unit.
With fiber optic lighting kits, there are no electrical connections to get dirty and only one bulb to replace. First determine where you want the light fixtures to be located in your yard. Cut the plastic fiber optic cable to the correct length. Using glue included in the kit, glue on the end cap and slip the fiber optic cable into the light fixture.
Contour fiber optic kits are ideal for marking a pathway or lighting around a pool where electricity is a hazard. These kits use special 18-strand side-glow fiber optic cables. The entire length of the cable glows. For a unique effect, for pools or gardens, install a slowly rotating color wheel in the main unit.
There have been many improvements in do-it-yourself outdoor low-voltage lighting kits over the past several years. There are many more high-quality all-metal designs, automatic timers, dimmer controls and literally hundreds of new decorative styles.
If you ever tried to install a low-voltage lighting kit from several years ago, you will appreciate how easy the new fixture connectors are to attach. If you live in an area that is damp, select a kit that uses sealed connectors so that they will not become corroded or need cleaning. With only 12 volts, just a slight amount of corrosion can reduce the light output.
The highest quality low-voltage light kits use all-metal construction — some with real frosted and cut glass for attractive and efficient lighting. Some also have durable polycarbonate (bulletproof glass) lenses — great around children. Inverted glass tulip-shaped lights with a thin curved post (stem) and metal leaves are ideal for accenting flower gardens. Some taller decorative lights have planters built into the base.
Choose fixtures with tiny halogen bulbs and built-in reflectors (MR codes) for bright directional accent lighting. Halogen bulbs produce a very white light similar to natural sunlight. Small standard incandescent or super-efficient 5-watt fluorescent bulbs are good for pathway or area lighting.
To edge a sidewalk or driveway, Argee offers low-voltage lighted plastic brick kits. The snap-together bricks have built-in connectors so no extra wiring is needed. The swivel connectors are colored and designed to look like real brick mortar joints. Also available are real concrete interlocking bricks and blocks with built-in low voltage lights for retaining and decorative walls.
To light a deck, Idaho Wood makes real red cedar mini-low-voltage lighting kits. There are various sizes and styles designed to mount on the deck, rails or steps. Also available are mini-light kits that are mounted flush with the deck and can handle the weight of a person. The kits include templates to saw the correct size opening in the deck. There are similar brick-type kits for patios and driveways that can actually support a car.
Write for Utility Bills Update No. 571 — buyer's guide of 15 fiber optic and low-voltage lighting and brick kits, styles (25 shown), features, prices, sample layouts and landscape lighting tips. Please include $2 (with checks payable to Jim Dulley) and a business-size SASE. Mail to: Jim Dulley, Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708. For instant download, go to http://www.dulley.com.
James Dulley is a mechanical engineer who writes on a wide variety of energy and utility topics. His column appears in a large number of daily newspapers.
Copyright 1996 James Dulley
18 ILLINOIS COUNTRY LIVING FEBRUARY 1998