MAKE YOUR BACKYARD BADASS WITH LED LIGHTING.

 

Recently – as little as 25 years ago – I was warm.  I can distinctly remember being warm on at least  3 occasions.  2 of those incidents coincided with bouts of a violent stomach flu, the third lasted for about 2 years during an acrylic chenille sweater phase in the 1980’s.  At all other times in my life I’ve been cold.  My body temperature is naturally a degree warmer than the standard 98.6 degrees which makes me more susceptible to cold and also probably a Vampire.  I can tell you right now it would be preferable to be a Vampire because if that were the case I’d have been far more careful in the sun over the years.  More than once I’ve taken a look at my chickens and wondered why one of them was wearing my neck on their foot.

Because of how incredibly delicate I am, I’m always careful to make sure I’m properly dressed for all occasions. Obviously I’ve also learned how to fashion any nearby animal into a mitten by stuffing my hand into its bum.  All of this means that I LOVE summer.  (And so do my cats.)

So when it’s June 12th and there have been a total of 2 really warm days since last October … I get less likeable. I’m irritable and moody and generally kind of a stinkbomb.  I need the heat and sun.  I’ve spent a total of 4 hours in my beautiful backyard, 3 of which were devoted to chopping firewood. But it finally looks like we’re going to see summer here with temperatures getting closer to that 65 degree celsius mark that I always hope for.

That of course means I’ll get to spend some quality time relaxing in the backyard I spent years building.

 

It wasn’t until the end of last summer when I installed some LED spotlights that I truly realized the impact backyard lighting can have.  I’ve always been a proponent of lighting your backyard the same way you would any other “room” in your house.  You need mood and task lighting to make the space useable and beautiful at  night.  My backyard already had my DIY Glowing Outdoor Orb lights, some hanging globe lights and an overhead pendant.  At one point I even made hanging wall lights out of pots and baskets from the Dollar Store.  But the spotlights have more impact than ANY of those.

I bought 4 spotlights in a kit from my local hardware store last year when they were on clearance and I wanted to add more to them this year.  But they don’t carry the kits anymore so I was forced to learn all about LED landscape lighting and how to create a kit myself.

LED lighting can be intimidating because you usually can’t just plug them into the wall.  They require transformers and connections and the kind of things that usually scare people.  So I’ve broken it all down for you and made it (hopefully) easy to understand.  So you can create your own LED backyard lighting.

You need 4 things to create LED lighting in your backyard.  The lights, low voltage wiring, wire connectors and a transformer.

 

Once you have all of those things it’s just a matter of placing the lights where you want them and then wiring them together.

Your LED lights will have a bare wire coming off of the back of them. That’s what usually scares the shit out of people. Where’s the PLUG??  What the hell am I supposed to do with that?  Then they go out for a hamburger and get drunk.

The wires that come out of the lights just need to be attached to low voltage landscape wire.  You buy it in a bundle.  You just twist the wires together and cover them with an outdoor marette.  A marette is the orange, yellow or blue plastic thing that covers attached wires inside your house.  It looks kind of like a toothpaste cap.

I’ve drawn up a very complicated and accurate depiction below of what wiring together your lights, low voltage wire and transformer would look like like (if done by a 5 year old.)  Who is constantly chilly.

 

Lights – The lights you use will be between 3 and 6 watts each but they create a lot of light.  I will be buying 6 of these spotlights off of Amazon to finish my backyard lighting.  They’re around $20 for a pair so that’ll be $60 for the lights.

Low Voltage Wire – The higher gauge wire you get the less “voltage drop” you’ll experience over a long run of lights.  With LED lighting the longer the run the dimmer the lights gets near the end of the run if you don’t have heavy duty enough wire running them.  It’s heavier and bulker but 16 gauge low voltage wire will keep your all of your lights an even brightness even if you add more lights to it later. It’ll cost around $20 for 50 feet.  If you have to cover a bigger area, remember that and get a longer length (100ft) of wire.

Connectors – You need a way to connect your low voltage wire to the wire coming out of your spot light.  Twist the wires together and then cover them with these outdoor grade marettes.  Do NOT use ones you have in your basement from the inside of your house.  Outdoor marettes  are sealed and gel filled making them safe for use in the rain/snow etc.  About $12.

Transformer – Here’s where most people head for the booze.  Don’t be scared.  Don’t be.  Transformers come in different watts. To figure out what size transformer you need add up the amount of watts your lights use. Your total should not exceed the watts allowed on the transformer. Example: If you have 10, 5 watt spot lights, you’d need a 50 watt transformer. If you think you might add more lights in the future, buy a bigger transformer that can handle more watts and therefore more lights. It’s basically just a box. The more watts it can handle, the bigger it is and the more expensive it is.  With my 6 lights at 6 watts each I can get away with a 50 watt transformer BUT I might want to add more lights to it later so I’m going to get a 120 watt transformer.  It’s only $27 in the States but $60 in Canada so before ordering it I’ll search for a cheaper source locally.  Estimated price $40?

If you can find a kit that includes everything and you only want a string of 4 lights (that’s what most of them are) then go for it!  But if you want to customize a mix of spot lights, deck lights or bollard type lighting it makes more sense to DIY a set yourself.  And now that you know how to do it and have CONFIDENCE, there’s no reason not to.

ONE trick to using LED spotlights is to put the inside something shining out.  Like I’ve done with my metal orb.

It lights up the object and casts its shadow onto a wall or fence.  It’s a magical effect.

And of course you can use spotlights to create focus on something in particular like a tree trunk or use it as task lighting like I’ve done here with my pizza oven so I can see everything going in and everything coming out.

Here’s hoping the heat sticks around for the next few months and this warn weather isn’t just a tease because I’m sick of wearing hoodies and hats.  Yes.  Even my earlobes are cold because of my elevated body temperature.  It’s Lobel Warming. And it’s real.

46 Comments

  1. Jani Wolfe says:

    This is so enlightening! You did an awesome job!! Would love to join you for a margarita or two!

  2. Lynn says:

    What a great job of lighting Karen I really like the orb effect. An I have to say I am with you about the cold , I have always been cold also. Drives me nuts even in summer if the wind is out of the north I just shiver uncontrollably. I thought I was the only one that was always cold.

  3. Mary W says:

    Your backyard seems more like a huge outdoor room and is incredibly inviting. The flooring makes me want to copy that idea so badly or goodly, whatever. I love the paver’s warm glow/shine. The lighting makes it all magical and seeing the novel shadows from the cool sculpture shining on the fence is beautiful. I still think making a clock that is actually just a silhouette from some un-invented clear clock face that casts its shadow on a wall would be such a great idea. I’ve always wished for this for my dark and high ceilings – a clock silhouette but now see that one outside would be even better. It could work as a night light inside – great for a bedroom if it could be done with dimmers. Can’t you whip one of them up for us in all your spare time?

    • Karen says:

      It’d be relatively easy thing to do Mary W, but you’d have to write the numbers on the wall somehow and just use a silhouette for the arms. Hmmm … ~ karen!

      • Mary W says:

        I was thinking that the numbers would also be projected onto whatever plain background was used. I’ve seen outside projected lights at Christmas but having a smaller version for inside as a clock seems so possible – just not from me. Actually, your idea sounds cool, also. If it wasn’t a circle clock but some kind of mark on the wall that a series of illuminated numbers flashed across. Why are clocks always round? Why hasn’t anyone ever come up with a different way to make those hands move? I guess a circle is easy to gear up. Anyway, too much wishing. Mom used to tell me to wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which gets filled first!

  4. whitequeen96 says:

    Really, really gorgeous! The whole yard – and you didn’t even show my favorite part; the pond! Let’s see, you have the chicken coop, the fish pond, the shed, the pizza oven, the dining table and the seating area. That’s 6 (SIX!) great areas that you’ve transformed/designed/built on your own! (Did I miss any?) It doesn’t seem possible that so much beauty could be in the yard of one private home, much less that one small woman did it all!

    All this, while you completely redid your kitchen, the dining room, the foyer/entrance, and God knows what else, PLUS the home garden and the huge community garden! AND you also do fabulous cooking and art projects, and keep all of us entertained by writing the blog, plus SO MUCH MORE! You really are a wonder! (As in, I wonder how you do it all!) I’m dumbfounded! WHAT is your secret?!!

  5. Lisa says:

    Seriously, they’re called marrettes in Canada?! Here in the states they’re called “those thingys you use to cap off wires.” At least that’s what I call them when I ask my little helpers (human kind not Rolling Stones kind because that would be dangerous when working with electricity and kind of weird ) to get me one quickly so I don’t get zapped. OK, so I ran down into the workshop and they are officially called “twist on wire connectors.” Not nearly as intriguing as marrettes.
    Oh, and your yard does look beautiful.

  6. whitequeen96 says:

    Whoops! What happened to the comments that were already on here?
    Just wanted to say that there are days when my big accomplishment is replacing the batteries in my flashlight. You are something else, Karen!

  7. Barry Rowland says:

    Karen; it’s not actually a “transformer” that you need, it’s a 12 V DC power supply… a transformer only puts out AC power (alternating current, meaning that it changes direction 60 times per second, in Canada and USA, 50 per second in most of the world)…your lights will have red and black wires, and all of the red wires need to go to the “+” connection of a 12 V DC (direct current) power supply, and the black wires to the “-” connection. Here’s one example, and it’s waterproof, so can be used outdoors (with care for the 115 VAC wiring!):
    https://www.amazon.ca/Mean-Well-LPV-100-12-Driver-Waterproof/dp/B00YF3FIFU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1497252258&sr=8-3&keywords=12+vdc+100+watts+power+supply

  8. Kari in Dallas says:

    I did this (myself) in my backyard last year, and you’re right! Lighting makes all the difference. Our yard is really deep, and on a downward slope, so it can get really creepy in the “way back”. With the spots, it now looks inviting and adds dimension to the space.

    TL:DR. outdoor lighting is easy to install and makes a huge difference!

  9. Leisa says:

    Great info, I might just try this!

  10. Ei Con says:

    Hmm. Love the idea but am still confused about connecting the wires. The landscape wire is actually 2 sub-wires, right? Like a lamp cord? And the led light has 2 wires too. So you lay out the landscape wire around the yard, decide where you want a light, cut the landscape wire, strip off the insulation from both ends of both sub-wires, add the two wires from the led light and mash all 6 wires into one cap? This is what your diagram implies. Or are there two caps needed per connection? With some red to red, black to black rule with 3 wires per cap? How bout a video?

    • billy sharpstick says:

      You’r right. There are two wires. If the power box is DC, the colors do matter. I recommend burying the marretes(wirenuts) in the ground to hide them, but I put mine inside an upside down plastic cup and wrapped with nylon mesh to further protect them from moisture, dirt, insects, etc.

  11. jaine kunst says:

    I’m also always cold. Yesterday we had our first 90 degree day and I was doing my happy dance.
    Today will be even warmer, yay!

    LOVE the backyard. it needs to be in a magazine.

  12. Kelly says:

    Thought you guys in southern Ontario were having a heat wave? That’s what the totally unbiased news said. Ontario south was having 30+ while the rest of Canada is having crappy un-Spring-like weather! 🙂 Actually here in Northern Ontario (not really that north to me being from Southern Sask. originally) it’s been bloody hot and humid! I’m the opposite. 25+ and I’m useless! But if I had a backyard oasis I’m pretty sure that would help! I could lay around and be useless but look darn good doing it!

    • Karen says:

      We’ve just had 2 days of warmth. But other than those 2 days it’s been awful, cold, dark and stupid out. ~ karen!

    • Alena says:

      You are right, Kelly. It’s disgustingly hot here. Don’t listen to Karen. We had a fabulous – I repeat FABULOUS – spring with coolish weather and lotsa rain. Now something went terribly and we are roasting at 30+ C (Karen’s weather may be a bit closer to Toronto’s as she is close to the lake but us inlanders suffer. According to my weather app on my phone, it’s 5 C less in Toronto than here.

      I am one of those people that hope the thermometer will NEVER go higher than 25 C and that it rains at least each 3rd rain. I just love rain. My yard looked so fresh and green than this spring !!!

  13. billy sharpstick says:

    My biased opinion on landscape fixtures:
    I have yet found any commercially made landscape light fixtures that last. Most of mine have corroded and fallen apart in a few years. (It doesn’t help that I live in hot humid Florida.) I am planning to make my own using 12 volt LED units from ebay and making my own fixtures to mount them in. Particularly for path lighting. Most of the ones I bought are supposed to shine down and illuminate the path, but they also shine upward and create annoying glare. I’m thinking of some kind of brass tube with a simple metal top, like this: https://www.amazon.com/Waddell-230-Copper-Pyramid-Post/dp/B000SSNP4M/ref=pd_lpo_vtph_60_bs_lp_t_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=BKCY5NWVATNRZ40NMXCH
    The tube would be soldered or epoxied to the corner of the top piece with the wiring run up through the tube. The light would shine downward only, and the copper will turn a nice brown or green as it ages, and will last forever.

    • billy sharpstick says:

      oh, yeah, Those copper pieces typically come varnished to keep them shiny. I use paint stripper and/or sandpaper to remove that pesky stuff, then soak in saltwater for a few weeks to speed up the patina creation.

  14. Catherine Collins says:

    Great explanation. Thank you!

  15. TONI says:

    seldom do I get the chance to out & out belly laugh ……. lately only three people provide the road to that soul-freeing moment: my 6 year old grandson, my crazy funny daughter & YOU !
    this column, at the point of wondering about “why the chicken was wearing your neck on it’s foot” did me in ……….. I’m still erupting in chuckles. thank you for being you & sharing your genuine weirdness. always delighted to find your blog notification …….. !

  16. Marie says:

    “Lobel warming”…ha ha! Today your lobes will be warm. I am hoping this 2-day heat wave in the Ottawa Valley will finish off the black flies for the season. Our local farmer predicts a killer strawberry crop given the earlier rains, so I am looking forward to that. Keep on muckin’!

    • Marie says:

      Oops – posted this comment to the previous post! That’s what warm weather does to me! We will be installing LED lights around our pizza oven, so *today’s* post is highly relevant – thank you, Karen.

  17. Lorie unger says:

    Karen, I too had a hard time warming up my body temperature. Going through menopause changed that, now I’m snug as a bug. Something to look forward to?

  18. Sabina says:

    I swear you are my blond twin! Except I’m brunette. And Sicilian. So I get tan when I look at the sun. I. Am. Always. Cold. And we’ve had no sun or warm air so I’m still white too! And I’m sick of it! My body temp averages just under 98.6, more like 97.8 – what’s up with that? I go home from work a lunchtime to sit in the sun and warm back up so this delay in warm weather has been killing me too…and my tan! (Yes, I wear sunscreen)

    I love this project and we have a new fountain at the beach house that could use a little spotlighting so I think we will try this project…after we finish repurposing the mid-century media cabinet I found really cheap at a garage sale into a kitchen buffet, pick up and install the new, gently-used-so-really-cheap hot tub we just bought from a garage sale site on the book (that’s what my really cool hippie sister mentor calls Facebook), after we finish planting our gardens (two houses, two gardens), after we build the cooler box for the deck, after we build the…the BF says I need to stop scrolling through Pinterest and HomeTalk…

  19. Sandy says:

    Karen- I had a difficult garden project this weekend and was already to give up- it was 90 degrees and I was exhausted. I thought of your picture, harnessed to pull the pallet from last week, and thought if you could do that, I could do this. I rallied and finished the job. You’re a great inspiration! And the lighting is cool. Thanks

  20. Heather says:

    Wow! You are impressive. Do you ever sleep? That is a gorgeous outdoor room!

  21. Elaine says:

    I’m not sure where to begin! I guess I’ll start with the eye candy; that being, your beautiful yard, that amazingly cool furniture you made last year, the beautiful lighting (something I always wanted when I lived in a house but never got!), the pizza oven and then, your fuuny sense of humor … the chicken feet and lobel warming! After reading your lighting instructions, I think even I (maybe!!) could follow part of it! Of course, I’m now in a condo so no need for lighting, however, do you think you could (**someday) describe “computer stuff” to me/us in the same methodical way you did the lighting tutorial? (By the word **someday, I’m meaning that if there’s ever a boring dull day for you in say, February 2018, can you give it some consideration?). I’m partly kidding, I think. In closing, you really truly are Wonder Woman, Karen! I bet there’s no other blogger in North America that does even half of what you accomplish! Well done!

  22. Elaine says:

    Sorry … I see a typo! funny (not fuuny!)

  23. I used solar LED lights. They are always on special here in Australia just after Christmas, so it’s possible to get good quality ones really cheaply. I do like that one inside the ball sculpture – pretty cool! I have also seen tiny LED strings inside a jar, very pretty.

  24. Eileen says:

    Karen, your yard looks stunning. And I will happily send you some of our 35C humidity yuck. Free shipping, no minimum order required – you can have it all!
    : )

  25. kelli says:

    Your patio looks so inviting I’m coming for a visit. Mostly because it’s already nearly 100F here in Dallas (that’s like 37C to you) and because I am warm-natured I am always very crabby about that. And it’s only June.

    But I’m not bitter. 🙂

    Your backyard really does look gorgeous and inviting! When are you gonna throw a big shindig back there and take pics of all the cool pics of all your cool friends so you can humblebrag about it on TAODS???

    • Karen says:

      Funny! I don’t hold huge shindigs ever unless it’s a family dinner. Other than that it’s never more than i can comfortably make pizza for. 😉 ~ karen!

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