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How to Design & Install an Exterior Landscape Lighting System | Home Guides

How to Design & Install an Exterior Landscape Lighting System | Home Guides

Create spectacular effects with landscape lighting.

Create spectacular effects with landscape lighting.

Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images

Low-voltage landscape lighting brings your yard alive after dark. Designing and installing exterior landscape lighting requires planning and creativity. As a general rule of thumb, fewer lights are better. Highlighting some landscape features, providing safety and creating ambiance are just a few reasons exterior landscape lighting systems are a great idea for any homeowner. Most lights come in kits with easy to install instructions and design plans if you need a little inspiration.


Draw a diagram of your property and determine where you want to place exterior landscape lights. Visit your yard in the dark with a flashlight and shine the light on different landscape features to see how they look lit up. Choose a few focal landscape features such as a tree, fountain, entranceway or pathway that you may want to highlight. Also, consider areas where safety may be a concern.

Determine the types of exterior lights you think would look best. While there are only four main categories of lights to choose from including path lights, up lights, down lights, backlights and specialty lights, there are numerous options within each category.

Path lights sit low to the ground and offer a wide spreading light that is perfect for outlining gardens or walkways. Up lights turn your special tree into an alluring nighttime attraction while down lights are useful for areas where you may require some extra security such as a front entrance. Backlights placed behind interesting landscape features creates appealing silhouettes. Specialty lights include lights used to create a special mood such as flickering lights, strings lights or underwater lights.

Choose a light fixture style that matches your existing landscape theme and your home. Stick with the same type of fixture no matter how many different types of fixtures you use.

Determine the number of watts you will need based on the number and type of fixtures you are installing. The wattage is listed on the light fixture box and may run from 4 watts all the way up to 50 watts. Select the best transformer based on the number of watts that your lighting requires.

Find the best location for your light transformer. If you are using a photoelectric transformer it must be near an outlet that is exposed to daylight. If your transformer operates on a timer, it can be placed in a shed, garage or basement. Once you have sketched din your light fixtures, sketch in the low-voltage cord joining the lights together and ending at the grounded outlet.


Follow your diagram and set out the lights in their proper locations. Push ground lights partway into the ground.

Connect the lights to the voltage wire by clamping them to the wire. The clamp will penetrate the wire to form a connection. Use pliers if necessary.

Connect the voltage wire to the transformer by tightening the screws to the wire.

Wait until dark and assess the placement of your lights. Make changes as necessary.

Create a narrow, 4-inch deep trench for the voltage wire from the lights to the transformer. Bury the cable. If the fixtures are aboveground, you can staple the cable to trees, posts or walls using electrical staples.

Set the light timer, if you have one.

Things You Will Need

  • Flashlight
  • Exterior lighting fixtures
  • Transformer
  • Low voltage electrical cord
  • Pliers
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Square-nosed shovel
  • Electrical staples and staple gun


  • Check that the lights do not shine in neighbors windows.


  • Connect the system to a GFCI-protected outdoor electrical outlet.
  • Use caution when working with electricity.
  • Install transformers out of reach of children and animals.
  • Mark underground utilities before digging.
  • Consult a licensed electrician if you need a grounded outlet installed.

About the Author

Susan Patterson

Susan Patterson is a health and gardening advocate. She is a Master Gardener, Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and a Certified Health Coach with vast experience working with organic gardening and nutrition. Her passions include sustainable living, organic foods and functional fitness. Patterson has been writing and presenting on health and gardening topics for 10 years.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images

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