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DIY Outdoor Lights for Summer

Mitchell Elworthy

When you think of summer, you think of backyard barbeques and get-togethers under the twinkling lights of your garden. However, sometimes achieving atmospheric ambient lighting in the great outdoors is easier said than done! You can get your lighting professionally fitted, but an easier and less expensive option is to DIY 12-volt lighting systems to your house. Safer to use and easier to install, here’s how you do it.

Key Outdoor Lighting Accessories

To install your own 12v lighting, you’ll need a few items:

  • Shovel
  • Wire Stripper
  • Screwdriver

A Transformer or LED Driver

Both transformers and LED drivers power your outdoor lights. An LED driver, however, will be needed for LED outdoor lights. Plug either into a protected outdoor power outlet, and the transformer/driver lowers the electricity voltage from 240 volts inside the house to a cool 12 volts for the backyard.

transformer

The 60w Weatherproof Transformer from Havit Lighting is a good example of a standard driver.

What is the difference between transformers and drivers?

A transformer runs on AC (alternate current) which pulses waves and traditionally runs halogen 12 volt AC lights.

A driver runs on DC (direct current) which has a constant current and traditionally runs LED 12 volt DC lights.

You should only use LED drivers for LED lights because otherwise, if you run an LED DC globe on a transformer, shooting waves of alternate current will cause your LED lights to flicker.

Which Transformer?

To figure out the size of the transformer you will need, simply add up the wattage of all the outdoor lights you plan to power with the transformer. For example, if you want to use ten 12-volt outdoor lights, you’ll need a transformer with an output of at least 120 watts. Always try to leave 10% of power and not overload also keep in mind it maybe be better to get a bigger wattage in case you decide to increase the wattage on the globes or add further fixtures later on.

LED driver

A high-power 30W, weatherproof driver by Havit Lighting   

Which Driver?

In most cases, using a low voltage DC input LED driver is recommended. To figure out what size LED driver you need, add up the total wattage of your outdoor LED lights (e.g. six x 5 watt LEDs = 30 watts), and select a driver which allows 10% of watts to be left over. So you'll need a 60-watt driver to allow room for more lighting later on or increasing the LED to a higher wattage. 

 

Low Voltage Garden Cable

low voltage outdoor garden cable

The 12v Copper Garden Cable 2 Core 3.3mm Thick Quality

This cable is specifically made to be buried underground. Connect it from the transformer to all the outdoor lights in your system.  

Which Cable?

When choosing an electrical cable you need work out how long the total distance will be from the driver to the last light. Because we are running 12v the voltage will get lost the further it has to travel so for long lengths we must use a thicker cable to compensate. A rough guide to go off will be below.

2mm cable 30

40 meters

2.5mm cable 40

50 meters

3mm cable 50

60 meters

3.3mm cable 70

80 meters +

If you are unsure, come into the store to buy your cabling and describe the lighting system you are trying to set up. Our helpful staff will help you choose the correct gauge and length of the wire.

Installation Steps

Step 1: Lay the cable outside

Start by staking the outdoor lights into the ground. Make sure the lights are 2 to 3 metres apart. Next, unspool your cable and lay it near your outdoor lights. Go around plants, boulders, and trees, so that your cable winds its way around to where all your outdoor lights are positioned. Eventually, you want the cable to make its way back to where your transformer is.

1.1 Bury the Cable

Use a shovel to dig 5 to 7 cm trench for the cable to lay in. You don’t have to remove any dirt from the trench. Just stomp your shovel in, pull back the handle and create a deep V-shaped trench.

Place the cable into the trench and use a short, blunt 1 cm thick piece of plywood to push the cable in. This will ensure you’re not slicing the wiring at any time. Be sure to cover the cable with dirt at the end.

Step 2: The Transformer

2.1 Connect the Cable to the Transformer

Your cable consists of two insulated copper wires. Peel the two wires apart from one another and use your wire-stripper to remove 1.5cm of insulation. Connect the cable to the transformer terminals. You insert one wire under the A-screw terminal and the other under the B-screw terminal. Secure the wires by tightening the transformers screws. If your unsure, the transformer will have instructions showing you how to do this part.

2.2 Stake the Transformer

Drive your pressure-treated stake into the ground next to where your outdoor power outlet is installed. Attach the transformer to this stake with screws. Secure your cable to the stake with insulated cable staples.

Step 3: Turn the Lights On

Use the transformers plug to connect the transformer to the outdoor electrical socket. Next, go to your outdoor lights and connect each light to the cable. Most DIY 12 volt lights have snap-on connectors to attach themselves to the cable with.

bollard light

The Guide 12V Bollard Light connects to your existing lighting system.

Safety Tips

  • Electrical wiring and fixed electrical equipment must be only installed by a licensed electrician.
  • Call your utility company before installing your lights so they can mark the location of underground wires before you dig.
  • Use a voltage tester on the electrical cabling before connecting your lights to the cable. The wattages should be around 12v.
  • If there isn’t one already, install a ‘while in use’ cover over your outdoor electrical outlet to ensure it is weatherproof.

Some Tips on DIY Outdoor Lighting

Deck Lights

Deck lights will require you to mark out and drill holes into your deck in order to install. Make sure there are no cables or wiring behind the board you intend to drill. Check out our 12 volt DIY deck lights here.  

Spike Lights

Spike lights are easy to DIY install - the only challenge - checking that your spike lights are straight! Install spike lights along your garden path or near large trees and bushes to ensure no one steps on them during the day. Check out our range of 12v spike lights here.  

Bollards

Brilliant for safety and style, bollards are perfect for lighting up your driveway or garden path. Check out our easy-to-install 12v bollards here.

Step Lights

Able to be used anywhere you can bury the electrical wiring for the step lights, step lights look best when grouped in a uniform, straight line. See our step lights here.

LED Strip Light

Perfect for backlighting elements of your garden, such as the backs of raised plaques and deck stairs, LED strip lights can also be DIY’d with outdoor electrical cables. We recommend this Instructables blog for more information specific to LED strip lights. For ideas on LED strip light installation, check out our blog ‘How to Decorate With LED Strip Lighting.’

Spotlights

Spotlights are great for highlighting decorative features of your garden, such as a water feature or statue. Alternatively, you can install a spotlight in a tree and use the spotlight for task lighting. Staple your electrical garden cable to the tree to connect the spotlight to your lighting system. This is perfect if you want to illuminate specific areas of your garden at night, such as a backyard shed or raised garden bed

Resources

This short instructional video by 4LED shows a shortened, simplified version of the outdoor lights DIY process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59WI09V2pg8



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Best LED Strip lights 2019
Mitchell Elworthy
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