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Landscape Lighting: Low-Voltage (12V) vs Line-Voltage (120V)

May 20, 2020 August 10th, 2020 No Comments

There are two voltage choices for outdoor lighting – 12v and 120v – let’s examine the differences:

Low Voltage (12V) Landscape Lighting

Low voltage landscape lighting is the most common option for residential outdoor lighting. Some advantages of 12V landscape lighting include the fact that they are easier to install, less expensive, safer, and you do not need to be a licensed electrician to work with them. Low voltage landscape lighting lowers the risk of shock and is easy to install since the cable does not need to be buried. Additionally, there are far more choices of low voltage landscape lighting fixtures, bulbs, wattages, and designs. For most residential applications, 12V landscape lighting is superior, preferred and more common than 120V outdoor lighting.

Low voltage landscape lighting:

  • Operates safely in wet locations
  • Safe and less disruptive to install
  • Safe for use where children and pets play, dig, and chew
  • Cable does not need to be in conduit
  • Gives more variety in lighting fixtures and bulbs
  • Easy relocation of fixtures, when rearranging landscaping or making home improvements
  • More elegant designs and options available
  • Less expensive

Line Voltage (120V) Landscape Lighting

Line voltage (120V) outdoor lighting is most often used in commercial, security, and public-use applications. Line voltage outdoor lighting is labor-intensive and requires an electrician for installation. The 120V outdoor lighting cable must be buried 18″ underground, placed in conduit, and have sealed junction boxes at connection points. Outdoor lighting at 120V is mainly used for lighting large areas, using fewer but brighter fixtures, or in residential applications where there is extensive up-lighting on a large canopy of big trees (although modern low voltage LED fixtures have enough power for this application now too). Line voltage outdoor lighting fixtures tend to be very big and output a lot of light. Historically, the voltage drop on a long run of lights has been an argument for using line voltage. But with modern LED technology and multi-tap transformers, this is usually not an issue for low voltage systems unless the runs are extremely long (as may be the case on commercial properties, parking lots, etc.).

Line voltage outdoor lighting:

  • Requires an electrician for installation
  • Connections must be waterproof – shock hazard
  • Any cable must be buried 18″ deep or inside conduit – requires trenching
  • Line voltage fixtures are large. There are fewer fixture and lighting options
  • More expensive
  • Brighter fixtures–good for commercial, security, and public use applications.

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