An outdoor low voltage lighting system typically operates on 12 Volts and requires a transformer to change the 120 Volts in the home to 12 Volts to operate the system. There are two main methods of hooking lights to the transformer, straight line and loop, but the number of lights hooked to the transformer as well the distance the lights are from the transformer will affect how bright the lights glow.
AC Vs DC Lighting
We are all familiar with AC Alternating current which runs almost everything including your house. DC or direct current is what starts your car. Your cell phone for example recharges using AC converted to DC. DC lighting has the advantage of being very energy efficient. Since DC lighting can be powered directly from the AC current via a voltage converter, the added expense of installing an inverter is not necessary. Although DC lighting fixtures are more difficult to find, standard incandescent and halogen lighting fixtures can be easily connected to 12 volt DC power.
The major drawback to DC power is in the wiring. Direct current requires larger gauge wiring than AC power, which in large installations increases material costs considerably. If the wiring runs between light fixture and battery bank will need to be 35 feet or more in length, AC lighting should be considered to save on wiring and fixture costs.
Outdoor Low Voltage DC Lighting System Layout
When laying out a system for outdoor illumination you must first decide what the lights will illuminate. If they are to provide very bright lighting, enough to light up your entire yard then a 120 volt system may be required. To put together a system that offers subdued lighting used mostly for effect, an outdoor low voltage lighting system is what you are looking for.
In most installations of outdoor low voltage lighting systems, six to 10 lights may be possible and the closer together they are located, the less voltage drop you will experience. Additionally, the furthest light from the transformer will experience the most voltage drop. Some loss can be compensated by the size of the wire used, such as eight gauge or even 10 gauge, but remember there is only 12 Volts running through the lines and if more lights are going to be installed than the transformer can handle, additional transformers may be needed.
Types Of Outdoor Low Voltage Lighting
Incandescent lighting is the least expensive of the three types of lighting, but is also the least efficient. Halogen lighting tends to be more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but are approximately 30% more efficient than a DC incandescent bulb of the same wattage Fluorescent lighting is generally three to four times as efficient as halogen or incandescent lighting in a 12 volt system, but has a much more limited selection of fixtures available. While halogen and incandescent bulbs can use the same fixtures as regular 120VAC bulbs, fluorescent fixtures must contain 12 volt DC specific ballasts. If your electrically inclined yopu could purchase a regular 120 volt fluorescent fixture and substitute a 12VDC replacement ballast for the 120VAC originals, but in general it is probably best to purchase a DC specific fixture. There Are Minimal Hazards With Low Voltage Systems
Some of the advantages of outdoor low voltage lighting system is that they pose little danger to children or wildlife that may happen to touch the wires. The wires also can be placed in conduit if desired or buried in a shallow trench, unlike 120-Volt systems which require conduit and depending on local building code may have to be buried below the frost line.
To install the lights in a straight line, as the name implies, each light is connected to the wire, one after the other, supplying power to all of the lights, but if you check with a voltmeter, you will see the last light or two will show a drop in power. In a loop connection, one wire connects to the first light, then the same wire connects to the each successive light with the final light also connected to the other terminal. It is important to follow the outdoor low voltage lighting wiring diagrams as they operate on direct current and must be hooked to the correct terminal to avoid damage. There are many options to consider for integrating low voltage DC lighting into almost any outdoor electrical system. A consultation with an experienced DC electrical dealer can help in designing an optimal lighting system for any need.
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