Monday, June 22, 2015

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting Project

As part of my Landscaping Project I decided to re-do the low voltage outdoor landscape lighting at my home.  The house already had a nice system installed when my wife and I purchased the home but a dozen years ago.  After so many years of being out in the weather, most of the fixtures no longer worked.  After pricing individual replacement fixtures I decided to purchase a complete kit.  The kit came with 10 fixtures, 10 bulbs, 75' of wire and a 150 watt transformer.  I only needed 8 of the fixtures but having the extra 2 fixtures could be beneficial since items are sometimes discontinued.  If one breaks I'll have a replacement.

Malibu 10 pack light kit

Malibu 10-Light Outdoor Aged Brass Pro-Style Light Kit description from the Home Depot website:
    The Malibu 10-Light Outdoor Aged Brass Pro-Style Light Kit is an easy way to improve the look of your home's exterior. The kit includes everything you need to add attractive exterior lighting to a garden, path or patio: 6 path lights, 4 flood lights, a transformer and low-voltage cable. The kit's lights are made of corrosion-resistant metal and feature clear lenses.
    Durable metal construction is ideal for outdoor use
    Clear glass lenses deliver unfiltered illumination
    Lights install in the ground to deliver targeted spot and walkway lighting
    Waterproof and corrosion resistant for durability
    Brightness - 25 Lumens (pathlight)
    Brightness - 176 Lumens (spot light)
    CSA listed
    Walk lights use amber, 10 watt halogen bi-pin bulbs and flood lights use warm white, 20 watt halogen MR11 bulbs (included)
    Includes six 10 watt walk lights, four 20 watt flood lights, a 150 watt transformer and 75 ft. of 14-Gauge landscape cable.
I was already using 2 Malibu spotlights which matched those in the kit.  One of those wasn't working due to a cable cut.  The other was working fine.  All 3 of the old pathlights were broken.  The only other lights I kept from the original system were 2 floodlights.

Existing floodlights which I reused
I also kept the old transformer.

Pre-existing 250 watt Nightscaping outdoor lighting transformer

The primary issue I've found with these lights is the connection from the fixture to the main low voltage cable.  Most, if not all of these systems come with some sort of vampire connector.  Sharp metal prongs on the connector are intended to pierce the cable's insulation to make contact with the wire inside to provide 12VDC to the fixture.  They never worked well for me.  I watched a YouTube video which highlighted several different types of low voltage connections for outdoor lighting.   Twisted wire wrapped in electrical tape was included in the list.  I decided on my own slightly modified version of that method.  I laid out the supply line where I wanted it to be in my landscape.  I cut the cable at each point where I wanted a light.  I then cut off and threw away all of the pre-installed connectors on each fixture.  I used wire-nuts to make the connections.  Then I waterproofed the connections by filling the wire-nuts with silicon caulk.  I spray painted the red wire-nuts and silicon in flat black to camouflage the connections.

Old style connector which I removed

New style Malibu connectors which I also removed

Of course, I broke 2 bulbs while installing the new fixtures.  Fortunately, I thought ahead and bought 2 new replacement bulbs when I bought the kit.  Unfortunately, I left the small packet of bulbs at the checkout register when I left the store.  My attention had shifted from purchasing the lights to getting the box into the car before Susan realized how much I had spent.  The kit was only $190.   I figured I was well ahead of the game after I added up the cost for each fixture individually.  Individually they were $22.97 for each pathlight and $23.97 for each spotlight.  That's $233.70 for just the lights.  The transformer and cable was an added bonus even if I didn't need them.  I used the existing and more heavy-duty transformer.


Silicon caulk seals the wire-nuts from moisture.  It's a messy process and the silicon doesn't clean up with soap and water so be careful.

A painted and silicon filled wire-nut connection

The end result

The end result with floodlights
A weekend of trips to the home improvement store, assembling lights, stripping wires, caulking, and painting and my project is done, except for burying the cables.  A light dusting of mulch should do the trick to hide the cables from sight and complete the project.

Why are these projects important?  Because I can't do Ironman Chattanooga in 2016 unless my chores are done.

Thanks for reading.

Update (10/9/15): Knowing full well that the bulbs provided with the set wouldn't last forever I purchased some replacement from back in June.  Well, I was right.  Today I replaced one in each of the lights.  For the spotlights I chose an MR11 LED Bulb.  For the pathlights I chose Mudder G4 24-LED 2-Watt Bulbs.  I noticed right away is that the new bulbs are both significantly brighter than the original bulbs.  I hope they last.