Installing Lights in a Hardscape
Treetop Landscape Construction Ltd.
Constructing a project with lights is done much like any similar project without the lights. The main difference is planning where the lights will be and making sure to bury the wires at the appropriate times. The project used the following materials:
Wall and steps- Unilock Pisa II (granite blend)
Step lights- Unilock Pisa Lites
Walk and patio- Unilock Cobblestone (charcoal) with Unilock Hollandstone soldier coarse (natural)
Paver lights- Kerr Lighting
In the first step, we removed the existing front walk and plantings (a typical builder set up, yews too close to the house and a 3-foot-wide concrete walk) The existing landscape was about 30 years old so the yews were overgrown and the walk was cracked and in disrepair.
From the start we knew we needed 4 steps from the driveway to the front door. The homeowners also requested an area for a bench or two to be added to the design. After a few different ideas were kicked around a design was chosen.
Since the homeowner is an electrician he wanted to do something with lots of lighting. They also wanted to leave room for future expansion of the lighting plan. With that in mind, we decided how many Pisa lights would be needed for the steps and where they would be placed. It was decided that two lights per step would look the best, and figured that the two lights on the top step by the driveway would illuminate both steps.
The Pisa lights can be wired for 110 or low voltage. In this case, we chose the low voltage option for the ease of installation and to keep them consistent with the paver lights.
Continuing on the design aspect, it was decided that 8 paver lights spaced evenly would outline the walk nicely. The paver light kits come in packs of either 8 or 12 lights. Although the paver light kits come with a transformer, we chose to upgrade in order to handle the Pisa lights and any future expansion of the lighting. We then selected a 500-watt transformer which we knew could handle anything we could possibly want to do.
The transformer was mounted inside the garage. Because we had long runs for the wires we upgraded from the 16-gauge wire included in the paver light kit to a 12-gauge wire. Because the homeowner wanted the steps bright, we went with 50-watt bulbs. In contrast, the paver lights themselves come with 7 watt bulbs. Our total wattage added up to 356 watts (6 Pisa lights at 50 watts and 8 paver lights at 7 watts), so we managed to leave plenty of room for expansion- 144 watts are still available for any future lights.
As in most of our low voltage lighting installations, we wanted to run the wire in a loop from the transformer to the lights back to the transformer. Doing this insures that all of the lights on the loop will be the same brightness. (If the wire was not looped the light closest to the transformer would be the brightest and the farthest would be the dimmest.) Furthermore, we wanted two separate loops, one for the Pisa lights and one for the paver lights. This would allow the homeowner to operate them separately if desired.
We installed all of our Pisa II blocks and Pisa lights prior to wiring any of the lights. However, we did run our wires in the areas where they had to go under a block. Since the Pisa Lights are extremely light in weight, we installed Pisa coping, complete with adhesive. This kept the lights from moving around while being wired.
Although we usually do all of our own low voltage wiring ourselves, because the homeowner is a licensed electrician, he wired the Pisa lights for us. He was a lot more efficient at this process than we are.
Because the Pisa lights are backfilled, the hole where the wire enters the block must be water tight. In this case, the looped wire required two wire penetrations, one for an in and an out wire. The homeowner drilled a hole into the garage to allow the wires access to the transformer. Although it is not necessary with low voltage wiring, he ran conduit from the hole in the garage wall down below ground level for aesthetic reasons. Finally, before backfilling the Pisa lights we tested them by hooking up the transformer. With everything working properly, we backfilled and compacted the soil to prepare for the walk.
After running the wire for the paver lights under the walk and laying it out to get an approximate length, we moved the wire out of the way. Since all of our paver lights were on the outside edge of the walk we did not need to wire them until the very end.
Next we went ahead and prepared our base, screeded, and laid the pavers. We then installed the soldier course as if there were no lights going in. After all the pavers are installed (including cuts) we determined where our 8 paver lights were going to be placed. It is easier to go back and see where they should go because you can count pavers in the soldier course and you know where your cut pavers are (Note: you can not install a light where a paver is cut.)
After the placement is figured out, the eight bricks are lifted out and the eight lights are put in their place. Once in place, they can be wired. The wires from the loop run along the outside of walk. The leads from the lights clip into one run of the loop. Next we tested the lights by hooking them up to the transformer.
With all of the lights working, we finished the walk. Edge restraints were installed with great care to prevent putting a spike into one of our wires. The edge restraints were also used to hold the wires down. Again we were very careful not to damage the wires.
Stone dust was then swept over the whole walk. Around the paver lights we made sure any and all voids were filled. This ensures that the lights will not move while running the compactor over them. After sweeping we ran the compactor over the walk before washing in more stone dust. The final step was to backfill and seed along the walk, making sure to bury any wire that may still be exposed.
After a couple of weeks the homeowners decided they wanted one more paver light installed in the lower walk section. We ordered the one light directly from the manufacturer. The beauty of dry laid pavers and low voltage lighting is how easy they are to change. To install the one new light and to move two of the existing lights (so they remained evenly spaced) took one man about 20 minutes.