Landscape Lighting for Beauty AND Safety

We all know the benefits of “curb appeal” for our residential properties – especially when it comes time to sell. But you may not realize the importance of curb appeal for short term vacation rental properties…and it is essential!

When guests drive up for the first time and see attractive outdoor lighting, they see how much YOU care about your property - and gives a GREAT first impression. Lights around bushes, walkways, and trees provide a warm and inviting atmosphere. But just think – having good quality lighting around driveways, walls, and walkways can also serve as a safety for your guests! Nobody wants anyone slipping and falling in an unlit area.

What are your landscaping lighting options? They generally include:

  1. Solar Lights
  2. 12-Volt “Low Voltage” Lighting
  3. Traditional 120-Volt Exterior Lighting

All have their pros and cons, but what should concern you most is the QUALITY and DURABILITY of the lighting you’re considering. Let’s take a brief look at all 3.

Solar Lighting

This is the easiest and least expensive of the 3. You can buy lights, individually or in packs, and generally place them anywhere you want as long as they get some sunlight during the course of the day. Some are metal; most are plastic, and you can get them online or from any home improvement store. Some have high-quality batteries and power storage – some not so much.

As convenient as solar landscaping lights are, they tend to only light a few hours after dark, and most are flimsy and won’t last more than 1 or 2 seasons before you have to replace them. There are some higher quality lamps, but they are expensive and usually best when used as floodlights for a sign or other off-the-path lighting need. The other issue with most solar lights is the stake that holds them in the ground. They tend to break easily and are actually hard to find good replacements for!

IF you decide to use solar landscaping light, be aware that any placed along a walkway or sidewalk will get walked on and jostled by guests and their luggage. 

Aside from the price, the biggest advantage of using solar lights is there is no wiring or electrical source required. You can actually unbox, assemble, and set them up yourself in less than an hour!

Traditional 120-Volt Exterior Lighting

This is generally the most expensive type of outdoor landscaping lighting and it has its pros and cons. The biggest cons are availability, price, and installation. With the advent of better and higher quality solar lighting as well as 12-volt (low voltage lighting), 120-volt options have become less popular and more difficult to find for residential applications. There are, however, some very nice, high quality, and very durable COMMERCIAL grade outdoor lighting solutions to consider.

These are wired into your breaker box, connected to a transformer (usually mounted on an exterior wall with fixtures connected). These fixtures are COMMERCIAL grade, built to last and take a lot of potential abuse. But all of that quality and durability comes with a price. Average fixture costs can be as much as $250+, so perhaps this solution should be used for larger group cabins, or for those who really want a semi-maintenance-free lighting solution! 

As for installation, this solution does require installation by a licensed electrician or lighting professional and further requires the wiring to be buried deeper than low voltage solutions. But once you install, it should last you for years!

12-Volt “Low Voltage” Lighting

This has been and will continue to be one of the most popular outdoor landscaping solutions for property owners. They are readily available, are generally pretty easy for a homeowner to install, and have lots of options, features, shapes, sizes, and colors.

Like the 12- volt systems, they too have a transformer, but instead of needing to be installed as a circuit in the breaker box, these can be easily plugged into any standard electrical outlet. Most have timers or sensors to turn your lights on and off.

Be aware, some systems are more robust than others. Don’t be fooled by one with a low price. You might end up with a package that isn’t durable or long lasting. When it comes to low voltage lighting solutions, you get what you pay for!

Another note on these systems: though you have to bury the connective wiring, you’re not required to bury it as deep as you would for the 120-volt systems - but you might want to. These low voltage systems are only as good and durable as you install them. We’ve seen many cases where the wiring was exposed and pulled on, resulting in broken fixtures because of poor installation. Take your time installing it, or better yet, hire an experienced landscaping lighting professional to install. 

Lastly, these systems do require regular and routine maintenance to ensure the transformer is working properly, that the light bulbs light, and that the wiring is buried. A little routine maintenance goes a long way to protect this wonderful investment in your property!

Further information regarding regular 120-volt lighting VS. low voltage landscape lighting…

There are several differences between 120-volt and 12-volt (low voltage) outdoor landscape lighting systems. For starters, regular voltage systems operate on household 120-volt power and require connections to your home system as with any appliance. Low voltage landscape lighting systems use a transformer, which lowers the electrical output to the lights. In this case, special energy-saving fixtures are used that can operate efficiently off of a lower voltage. This is just one example of the differences between the two. Installation is another.

Transformers using 12 volts can be easily installed by the homeowner, whereas a 120-volt system requires professional installation by a licensed electrical contractor. In some states, you have to factor in the cost of a permit as well.

Burying the cables of the 120-volt system can also be problematic. In most cases, the wires have to be buried at least 18 inches deep and therefore must be placed in protective conduit or go the expensive route using wiring that can go directly underground without any protective encasing. In the case of the 12-volt system, wires can simply be “hidden” out of sight behind ground cover or borders or just be left exposed (which we don’t recommend!) The 12-volt system offers the homeowner more flexibility for future changes than the 120-volt counterpart.

Many homeowners opt for the 12-volt system for its overall increased aesthetic value. The 12-volt bulbs are smaller and can be less obtrusive in any landscape setting. The bulbs are also available in different low watt styles and can be obtained in many beam angles directing light exactly where you want it. This option allows the homeowner a wider variety of precise, artistic lighting effects at a lower operating cost. The higher watt bulbs of the 120-volt systems are excellent for their brightness but can be problematic because they create unwanted glare, reduce the ability to create subtle landscape lighting effects, and are much more expensive to operate. Additionally, flexible low voltage fixtures can be moved to different locations easily versus high voltage lights that need J-boxes and wiring to work.

These are all good arguments for the move to low voltage lighting, but there’s one more that is always the first concern. Safety. 120-volt systems must remain absolutely moisture-free, which is difficult with the wires running underground. There is always a potential for shock hazards in the event the wires are compromised and moisture gets in. This is not a concern when using the 12-volt system. These lower voltage systems are specifically designed for wet or dry locations and operate safely when exposed to moisture - proving yet again that low voltage landscape lighting may be the best choice for any homeowner.

Again, properly installed and configured, outdoor landscaping lighting can be quite beneficial for its aesthetic value and curb appeal but can also help mitigate risks of folks falling and injuring themselves while on your property!