Solar and Twelve-volt Landscape Lighting and the Pros and Cons of Each
A quick browse through the world of landscape lighting will show you the huge variety of choices to make. And what I want to do here is give you the basics for beginning to make those choices.
Solar Landscape Lighting
What They Are
This is a very small light, run by a low-power batter that is charged by a small voltage solar cell. The solar cell charges up the battery and when night falls a photo-electric cell turns on the small light.
What They're Used For
Mostly pathway lighting or other small area lighting. The reach of these lights is short - and they have to be placed right next to the area (about 3-4 feet from the fixture) that you want to illuminate.
Pros and Cons
These are inexpensive relative to other systems. Their use is (so-far) limited to pathway lighting or throwing very small beams of light.
They wear out or crack and are not repairable. So when the bulb goes, or the battery deteriorates from constant charging-discharging cycles, the fixture is thrown into the garbage. Solar cells crack or water gets into the system and shorts it out. Think short term for these inexpenive units.
The main advantage is that they work out of the box, are quick to install and low cost pathway illumination.
You may want to investigate something like these Westinghouse solar landscape lighting systems that are a little higher value than the cheapie big-box store units.
12-Volt landscape lights
What They Are
These are the landscaping lighting systems preferred by landscaping professionals. It is a heavy duty system run by a transformer. The transformer takes 120v house current down to 12-volts. This is a really good thing because you really don't want to be working with 120V outside (needs an electrician and code requirements) but homeowners can easily run 12V wires around the house.
They also look great and come in a wide variety of styles
The lights are hard-wired, so they can be placed anywhere you can reach. The bulbs come in a wide variety of strengths and the fixtures are designed for extended use in any situation in the garden. From being hung in trees, to lighting pathways and acting as strong floodlights, these systems work nicely.
Two important hints:
1) Protect your wire from squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents from chewing on them. Run them through 3/4 inch black plastic hose and bury the hose a few inches deep across lawns and garden areas so they're out of sight.
2)Before you buy your transformer (cheaper isn't better) do some quick calculations about the size you'll need. Add up all the lights you think you'd like to use. Then multiply that number of light bulbs by the total amperage of the light bulbs. (12 light bulbs at 50 amps equals 12 x 50 or 600 amps) You need a 600 am transformer to handle the load of lights you want to run.
But - my advice is the same as I give folks building a pond. Figure out
what you need and then double it. You're going to be really, really surprised how much you like outdoor landscape lighting and you'll want to add a light here, a light there and pretty soon you'll need a second transformer. Better to start with the proper sized transformer that will expand as you expand your lighting.
Pros and Cons
These are expensive (more so than solar lights) but durable. They can be sized to do a great many more things than the solar lights.
You do have to ensure you get the right size for your load and future electrical loads.
Make sure you get one with an outdoor rating (some transformers are for indoor hookup while others can be plugged into an outdoor socket) if you intend to use it outside.
The main disadvantage is that they are more expensive and take up some installation time. The main advantage is that they are long-lasting, have a permanent value to your landscaping and can fill a much wider range of landscape lighting needs.
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