How To Install Pathway Lights

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Estimated Time: 
4-5 hours
Can you dig it? The Easy Way to Install pathway Lights

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Where we did this project: This day-long project was part of our "First Impressions" video series, easy, do-it-yourself undertakings that can boost the curb appeal of any home in a big way. This project used a low-voltage transformer/plug with a timer, a set of hammered metal-style light fixtures, and a wire and connector set.
Who we did it with: Lana, our MSN Jane-in-Training
How long it took us: 4-5 hours
How much it cost us: $200
Jane Quotient: 2 out of 5

Looking for a front-yard upgrade that'll have visitors beating a well-lit path to your door? The answer is an easy to install pathway lighting set.

Minivan or cute convertible? Comfy shoes or sassy heels? Practical or pretty? Too often, we're forced to choose between form and function. But when it comes to the route that leads to your front door, you can have it both ways: a pathway lighting system that combines the safety and security of good exterior illumination along with decorative elements that enhance your landscaping.

DESIGN PHASE

Selecting the Right Lights for Your House

Our Jane-in-Training, Lana, wanted a simple set of lights to lead visitors to her front door and reinforce the Tuscan theme she'd established with her driveway, garage door, and carriage lights. Like many people, she had no experience working with electricity, but soon discovered that installing a low-voltage lighting set is both safe and easy to accomplish, as long as you follow a few simple precautions.

SAFETY TIP: Most pathway lighting sets use low-voltage systems, making them easier to work with and safer. However, you should NEVER work on any electrical system or device while it's plugged in. In this case, we only plugged the system in after we were finished connecting all wires and were ready to test it.

pathway lights2PLANNING PHASE

Kit or Components?

Measure your pathway, determine how many fixtures you'll need and start shopping. Look for a style that complements your decor and doesn't draw too much attention to itself. Remember the lights need to look good in the day and the night.

Buying a complete set of lights and bases, connecters, wire, and transformers is the easiest way to go, but don't settle for a kit in the wrong style or with too few fixtures. Determine where your power source is (typically an outdoor outlet). If your kit doesn't include enough wire to run all the way to your source, buy the components, including some additional wire.

Purchasing the individual components is a bit more work, but depending on the selection at your local store, it may provide more choices. If you buy components separately, however, be sure to check with the sales clerk to ensure the parts will work together.

Tools

Tool Name Brand Size Power Cost
Claw hammer or garden trowel Stanley 16 oz. N/A $19.97 ea.
Pocket level Stanley N/A N/A $13.97 ea.
Rubber mallet Stanley 18 oz. N/A $12.95
Screwdriver Husky 2x4 in. N/A $3.67
Square shovel or garden spade
Tape measure Stanley 25' N/A $24.97
Wire strippers Ideal 10-18 Awg Wire N/A $8.00

Materials & Supplies

Material Quantity Size Cost
pathway lights, including bases and bulbs. Manor House, Venus in Antique copper. 3 18" $19.98
14 gauge electrical cord 50'
Low-voltage transformer 1 100W $75.00

EXECUTION PHASE

 

pathtopLight placement

Measure the path and evenly place the lamps on the ground where you want them. Generally, the fixtures should be close enough to the walkway to offer ample illumination, but not so close that people might trip over them. For Lana's house, a light every 6 feet did the trick, placed about 3 inches away from the edge of her driveway.

Step 1

Get digging

 

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Start by digging the trench to bury the wires. We used a square shovel to create a six-inch deep slit where the lawn met the driveway. By working the shovel blade straight down, we were able to fold back a section of the turf, which allowed us to fold it back down later, saving the grass and neatly hiding the trench.

Step 2

Make a Trench

 

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With the turf pried back, we dug and cleaned the trench using a claw hammer (you can also use a trowel or other garden tools). Your trench should be about an inch wide and 3-6 inches deep. Save the dirt you remove so you can bury the wire later.

Step 3

Install Lamp Bases

 

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Install the lamp bases into the ground exactly where you want them. Use a rubber mallet to pound the bases all the way in, leaving just enough room to thread the electrical connecting cord through the bottom. Feed the cord through the base, and then attach the fixture to the base. Each lamp should feel sturdy and square; use a pocket level to make sure they're completely plumb (vertical).

SAFETY TIP: If your bulbs are halogen, avoid touching them with your bare fingers. The oil from your hands sticks to the glass, which can shatter when it grows hot. Use a cloth or a pair of thin gloves.

Step 4

Getting Connected

 

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Install the lamp bases into the ground exactly where you want them. Use a rubber mallet to pound the bases all the way in, leaving just enough room to thread the electrical connecting cord through the bottom. Feed the cord through the base, and then attach the fixture to the base. Each lamp should feel sturdy and square; use a pocket level to make sure they're completely plumb (vertical).

Safety Tip: If your bulbs are halogen, avoid touching them with your bare fingers. The oil from your hands sticks to the glass, which can shatter when it grows hot. Use a cloth or a pair of thin gloves.

Step 5

Transformers—not Just Kids' Toys

 

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Connect the main power cord to the transformer. Since we were using individual components and had more cord than we needed, we cut the main power cord to length, split the wires apart for six inches, stripped the tips back a half-inch to bare wire, then connected the stripped ends to the transformer, using the transformer's simple screw-down connection.

Step 6

Ready, Set, Flip

 

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Plug in the transformer, flip the switch, and check that all the lights work. This is your last chance to troubleshoot before you bury the wires, so make sure everything's looking and working the way you want it. If you run into a problem, unplug the transformer and methodically check the nonworking lamp. Could be the bulb? Connector? If you can't find the problem, it's possible you have a malfunctioning lamp and may need to return it.

Step 7

Bury the Hatchet, er, Cord

 

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Bury the main power cord and the individual cords as neatly as you can into the trench. Backfill with the leftover dirt, gently fold the pried-up turf back into place. We gave Lana's lawn a little extra water and love to make sure the pried up turf didn't get distressed.

Pat yourself on the back: you've just nailed a project that brings both beauty and safety to your home. Your guests can find their way easily to your front door both day and night. And the best part? When they remark on how well those new lights led the way, you can tell them you did yourself!

Related articles:
Install an Inviting Front Gate
Build a Pathway Arbor
Build a Beautiful Fence

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3 comments

4
Aug

Some of us are one dial up and very low bandwidth connections which makes it painfully hard to watch a video ... so even having some stills from the video as jpg would help - the IDEA of staining my driveway is nice, but I'd like to see some examples of it too! Thanks!! - Lil
15
Jul

It's great knowing how to light my walkway, but how do I lay my flagstone walkway without making a mess of the job?
8
Jun

You've just motivated me to get the Malibu light kit out of the basement and install it.