Let's spotlight the benefits of low-voltage lighting, a rapidly advancing and potentially lucrative addition to your electrical services. This technology enhances lighting design, offers significant energy savings, and boosts aesthetic appeal, making it a sensible expansion for your service offerings.

Low-Voltage Lighting: Tapping into Lower Volts for Higher Profits

Steve Maurer, IME
Let's spotlight the benefits of low-voltage lighting, a rapidly advancing and potentially lucrative addition to your electrical services. This technology enhances lighting design, offers significant energy savings, and boosts aesthetic appeal, making it a sensible expansion for your service offerings.

Suitable for both indoor and outdoor settings, low-voltage lighting appeals to residential and commercial clients alike, not only for its energy efficiency but also for enhancing curb appeal. We'll first delve into the reasons to adopt this technology, followed by installation tips.

Indoor Low-Voltage Lighting Applications
Low-voltage lighting (L-V Lighting) provides versatile and dramatic lighting solutions for both residential and commercial interiors. It can enhance under-counter areas, artwork, and architectural features more effectively than standard lighting options.

The technology's inherent safety features and compatibility with smart home systems add to its appeal. For residential settings, installation can be as straightforward as using a wall adapter. Low-voltage lighting not only adds aesthetic flair, as demonstrated by dimmable LED tape behind decorative elements, but it's also highly functional, suitable for wall sconces, vanity mirrors, and extendable reading lights.

Exterior Low-Voltage Lighting for Safety, Security and Dusk-To-Dawn Magic
I love my yard. It’s an oasis of pleasure right in the middle of a busy neighborhood. With trees and flower beds and even a wishing well planter, it provides us with the calm needed in today’s bustling world.

But in the evening, it’s transformed into a lightshow of magical proportions. As Mary and I snuggle on the garden bench in the cool evening breeze, the flickering glow of the LED torchlights is soothing.

In both residential a commercial settings, low-voltage lighting provides not only safety and walkway illumination, but can be fine tuned for a mystical lightshow as well.

I recently spoke with the team at WAC Lighting about their concept of Colorscaping. This innovative approach allows for lighting up walls, trees, shrubs, and both man-made and natural landscapes not just with white light, which can vary in color temperature and brightness, but also with virtually any color of the rainbow.

The entire lighting display can be controlled and customized by you using a smart app, among other lighting controls, allowing for a personalized and dynamic light show.

When you market your low-voltage lighting products and services, don’t forget to mention the wow-factor.

But, let’s march on to the “how” of low-voltage lighting installs.

Components and Considerations of Low-Voltage Lighting
Now it’s time for the nitty gritty of low-voltage lighting installation, particularly outdoor applications. Many indoor residential installs can be handled by a knowledgeable homeowner. Outdoor and commercial installations are often a light source of a different color so the remainder of the article will address outdoor installs for the most part. But much is also applicable to indoor low-voltage lighting.

Some of the considerations we’ll touch on are:

  • Transformer sizing and voltage drop
  • Wiring connections
  • Grounding and cable protection, and
  • Adherence to local codes

Transformer Sizing and Voltage Drop
When planning a low-voltage lighting installation, consider both the conductor types and the client's design preferences, including the desired number of lamps and fixtures.

Begin with a project scope to calculate wattage, and select a transformer that matches this wattage, adding about 10% for voltage drop. Consider using a larger transformer to accommodate future expansion.

Note that transformers and LED drivers are distinct; LED drivers are specifically designed for LEDs, supporting features like dimming and color changes, unlike general transformers.

So, be sure to use the correct power supply for application specifications.

Always calculate voltage drop to prevent premature failure of lamps and fixtures. Many manufacturers, like WAC Lighting, offer online calculators and expert advice for designing effective layouts. Some transformers feature multiple taps to balance the load and account for voltage drops over long distances, ensuring even the furthest lamps receive adequate power.

Wiring Connections

This should be fairly straightforward. But remember that even low-voltage installations need to be connected properly. Clean and tight makes it right! Make sure there aren’t any loose connections that will cause premature failure. In outdoor installations, even in direct burial applications, make sure the connections are watertight.

Clip type lever connectors, like WAGO connectors are suitable. However, I always tape the connectors to prevent accidental opening and to help make them watertight. And with any connector, make sure the conductors are clear to the end and any clamps aren’t pressing against insulation, but are firmly connected to the actual conductor.

Grounding and Cable Protection
Even though it’s 12 or 24 volts (AC or DC), make sure you’re following Code for grounding. It may be more for the protection of the circuit and equipment instead of people. But it’s still necessary.

For physical cable protection, make sure you’re using the correct jacketing for the conductors. Outdoor cable should be rated as such, and may even require direct burial jacketing.

Routing the cable properly to avoid damage is also crucial. And direct burials should fall within code requirements.

Personally, I like using direct burial conduit for many parts of an install. Not only does it protect the cable, but makes replacing damaged or old cables much easier.

Adherence to Local Codes
We all know and use the National Electrical Code (NEC) as our go-to resource for all things electrical, but don’t forget that local codes may take precedence in many installations, even in low-voltage lighting.

Local codes can dictate some changes in the installation practice, but they also can cover more than just work best practices.

Local codes also have jurisdiction regarding placement, type, and intensity of outdoor lighting. Many communities are more and more concerned with lighting “pollution” and may have rules and codes concerning that.

While it mostly applies to pole and wall lights, be sure to check with local officials and get your design approved.

It would be a shame to lay it all out and get it installed… just to have to dig it all up again.
Photo courtesy of WAC Lighting
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