low-voltage lighting

Solar VS Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting

Having a beautiful yard isn’t only about the greenery that you can see during the day, it’s also about accenting it with lighting at night. While some of you only use landscape lighting purely for pathway lighting, you can also showcase or highlight your yard with ground lighting or spotlights pointing up towards a beautiful tree.

These days, most people tend to buy solar powered landscape lighting. The reason being that they are much easier to install since you don’t have to run cables and so forth as you do for low-voltage lighting. However, there are pros and cons to each type.

Solar Landscape Lighting

The major benefit for solar landscape lighting is that they are easy to install. You take them out of the box, assemble each one, pull the tag from the battery compartment so the batteries connect and finally, you stick it in the ground. Done!

There are a few cons and one of them is a major one for me, which I’ll talk about last. One of the minor cons is that you’ll need to replace the batteries every so often. Make sure you buy the right type of rechargeable batteries though. If you bought it at your local building supply store such as Home Depot, you’ll find packs of rechargeable batteries where you picked up these solar landscape lighting fixtures.

Have you ever had a corroded battery and you had to throw away the whole device, whatever it was? These tend to happen more often with my experience with outdoor solar lighting since these devices are used outdoors where you get temperature fluctuations from day to night and humidity issues. Almost in all cases, these lighting fixtures are placed in areas where you also have sprinklers watering the garden. I’ve seen many of these lights with moisture inside the glass, just below the battery compartment. But, the good thing is, these solar landscape lighting fixtures are much cheaper to replace compared to other types such as low-voltage lighting fixtures.

One type of solar lighting that many don’t use are the spotlight variety. The solar panel for these types are not part of the lighting fixture like they are for the pathway lights. The solar panel is a separate unit that’s plugged into the spotlight and you’ll need to place both of these units in the ground. The spotlight itself can be seen as part of the landscape design, but having a bunch of solar panels sort of clutter the area doesn’t look good in my opinion.

The major con in my opinion is the recharging of the fixtures with the solar panel. You’ll get the best recharge if the unit gets direct sunlight. So, if you only have these along the driveway with no tall plants, hedges, shrubs or thick trees blocking the sunlight, you’re good. But, if you plan to use these in areas that are mostly shaded, think again.

My neighbor has some in front of his front door but since that’s the north side of the house, it’s shaded almost all year long. At night, once these lights turn on, if they even turn on, they barely last an hour.

Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting

The right type of landscape lighting, in my opinion, is to use low-voltage lighting. You’ll get much brighter and consistent lighting compared to solar. With solar, you’ll notice that some of the lights will be brighter than others when you view the yard as a whole because it depends on how much power is left in the batteries. With low-voltage, power is consistent to ALL fixtures.

The brightness you’ll get from solar lighting may range from 5-15 lumens. The brightness you’ll get from low-voltage lighting in general starts at least with 100 lumens. Most actually range from 150-250 lumens. No comparison there. Low-voltage is the winner when it comes to brightness.

With low-voltage, you won’t have the placement issue of worrying if it’ll get enough sun to recharge the batteries. You can place these types of lighting anywhere you want. For example, I have spotlights placed between a stone block seating wall and a wall trellis that’s about 18in apart. The spotlights are pointed upwards towards the trellis at regular intervals and it looks great at night. These areas are shaded all day long and would never work with solar spotlights.

The major drawback to low-voltage lighting is the installation. You’ll need an outdoor outlet to plug in the transformer and then you need to run the wiring all over your yard. This can be extremely difficult if you have to run wiring underneath concrete pathways to get to the other side, but not impossible. If the concrete pathway is only a few feet wide, it’s fairly easy for any DIY’er. If it’s a driveway you need to get under, that’s much more difficult.

Even though it can be a daunting task to install low-voltage lighting, in many cases, it’s the only type of landscape lighting you should use.

What I Installed

While much of the article above shows that I favor low-voltage landscape lighting, I chose to use both types. My front yard faces south. In sunny Southern California and actually almost all of the US, the southern side of the house gets sun year round.  The northern side of your house will be shaded much of the year.

So, with my front yard sunny all year long, I chose to go with solar lighting. The areas we had chosen to place the lighting fixtures get direct sunlight either all day long or at least 50% of the day.

Areas where I put lighting in my backyard, I chose to go with low-voltage lighting. Most of these areas either get no direct sunlight or maybe 1-2 hours. And, when we entertain guests at our place, having consistent and brighter landscape lighting makes a difference in how our yard looks at night when we’re hanging out back there.

There are pros and cons to everything. I designed my yard using both types and it works well. If you feel that installing low-voltage lighting can be too daunting even though it’s the right type for your situation, I urge you to get it professionally installed. You do it right the first time, it makes it so much better in the long run.

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