The Choice of a Mains-or Low-Voltage system is Fundamental to any Garden-Lighting Project. Your Choice Will Be Influenced By What Luminaries Are Available Locally And How Much You Want To Spend, But It can Have A far-Reaching Effect On What Can Be Taken At The Very Earliest Stage Of Planning An Extensive Garden-Lighting Installation, Since It May Involve Considerable Work And Will Be Difficult To Reverse Later.
Installing an electrical circuit outdoors introduces a wholly different set of rules. Mains voltage has the advantage that all the equipment and materials will be tired-and-tested, and will be readily available, but an exterior system will involve power cables of the correct rating, possibly in conduit and certainly so if it is to be buried. The luminaires and junctions will need to be waterproof, and it may be necessary to install a subsidiary distribution board if you have a large garden.
All this will be considerably more expensive to purchase than an interior system, and will almost certainly require professional installation to be sure of safety. A mains-voltage system should be considered if the project is likely to include taking power out into the garden, to run water pumps or electric cooking facilities, for example, but if not, there is really no need to go to these lengths now that low voltage is becoming so much more readily available.
In places where there is good range of luminaries on the market, low voltage is a very attractive alternative. It may still appear to be expensive to install, since it will require stepped-down power, but the savings in other areas should more than compensate for the initial cost of the luminaries and transformers. This may be one large transformer, groups of smaller ones, or transformers integral to each luminary. The choice is largely dependent on the size of the project and is fairly easy to calculate; for example, one 100W capacity transformer can run 2x50w or 5x20W lights. Once installed, the advantage are many: the luminaries are smaller and can be much more discreet, the lamps have a longer life span and are cheaper to run, and the cable can be lightweight, needing no special safety precautions. There are a number of low-voltage outdoor-lighting sets available, most of which use some form of clip-in cable which enables the user to connect or disconnect a luminary at will, without any fiddly wiring.
COMBINING BOTH SYSTEMS
In large gardens, a sensible solution might be to run mains voltage to a number of selected distribution points and then run low-voltage sub-systems from them. One advantage might be that mains power would then be available in remote parts of the garden, for such things as water pumps or for providing light and hear to a garden house or a swimming pool.
In the garden, we are even more concerned with the creation of atmosphere than we are inside the house. Gardens can be both mysterious and exciting, particularly at night, and any lighting scheme should seek to exploit this. There is no point to the exercise if all we are going to do is floodlight the place as if it were a car park. And remember the golden rule: if possible, no light source should ever be visible directly.
In the next Article we will be covering the lighting effects & ideas for both urban and classic design.
So stay Tuned!