120 Volts tends to be the standard voltage for a lot of home lighting systems. However, some low-voltage lights might be able to save you a considerable amount of money. Many of them are designed to be used for accent lighting or other types of non-primary lighting systems.
Their low voltage nature doesn’t necessarily make them a great option for lighting major areas. Yet this low voltage light’s ability to accent spaces, enhance the ambiance, and make areas fill more open, while also dispelling stubborn shadows is nonetheless impressive.
At the same time, low-voltage lighting systems also do a good job of addressing the need for more energy-efficient lights and might also help reduce your overall energy costs.
Though to really understand the value and practical application of these lights and your home lighting system in general, we are going to have to take a more granular look at the differences between line voltage lighting and low voltage lighting.
What Are Line Voltage Lights?
The majority of home lighting systems use 120 Volt AC electricity. This is the standard voltage found in most residential and a lot of commercial interior lighting systems.
With the exception of things like electric stoves, your electric clothes dryer, and perhaps your electric water heater, all the electrical components of your home use 120 Volt electricity. This includes wall outlets, small kitchen appliances, bathroom GFCI outlets, and most standard light fixtures.
Though sometimes you’ll see 120 Volts listed as “Line Voltage” or even 277v. This is essentially an industry term that refers to the standard voltage you’ll find throughout a home, condo, apartment, or other residential property. However, some homes are wired to have a higher voltage.
What Are Low-Voltage Lights?
Most of the time the term “Low-Voltage Lighting” is used to describe voltage in ranges that are as low as 12 Volts to 24 Volts. Out in the world, this is the sort of lighting you would find on trailer lights, inside a small RV camper or even the headlights of a car. Though in those instances, it’s DC electricity powering those lights, rather than the AC that you find wired into most homes and residential properties.
In order to get your standard voltage down to these levels, you will have to have a special type of transformer installed to carefully regulate the flow of electricity. Of course, this also means that a lot of these low-voltage electrical systems don’t necessarily have to have special fixtures as the transformer itself will adjust the voltage level accordingly.
Though it might still be possible to get low-voltage lights with built-in transformers that can also be connected directly to a line voltage circuit. An experienced, licensed electrician can usually upgrade your electrical panel as well as make sure that your low-voltage transformer is installed according to all electrical safety codes.
What Are The Pros & Cons of Low-Voltage Lighting?
A lot of homeowners notice that low-voltage lights are engineered to draw less electricity while also costing less to buy. Though there are several other things to consider that might make one lighting system more suited for a particular situation than the other. This can even go beyond the basic function of the lights, to include things like the location of one or more light fixtures, and the electrical load requirements, as well as the portability of the light fixture.
Low-Voltage Light Benefits
There are a few different factors that have helped increase the popularity and versatile application of low-voltage lights. This includes things such as:
Lower Electrical Cost
By design, low-voltage lights require less electricity to operate. This means you will inevitably spend less money to keep them lit.
A lot of low-voltage lights are relatively easy to move compared to line voltage system light fixtures. This also means that most current electrical codes don’t require lower voltage wires to be run through any sort of protective metal or plastic conduit tubes to protect the wires. They also don’t need to be buried the same way that line voltage lines do when you want to use them for exterior accent lighting.
The very nature of low-voltage lights significantly decreases the chances of someone being electrocuted. This often means that low-voltage lighting can be good for accent lighting in lawns and gardens. If a lawn mower or string trimmer accidentally severs a low-voltage power line the damage and risk will be minimal compared to a line voltage system.
Low Voltage Lighting Drawbacks
For all its strengths, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider before making a major investment in a low-voltage lighting system for your home, or landscaping. This includes things like:
Unfortunately, the rarity of low-voltage lighting means that there aren’t a lot of licensed electricians with a lot of experience with installing them. This can sometimes lead to installation delays and above-average installation costs. This is especially true when it comes to installing the all-important low-voltage transformer.
Just like installation, when there’s a problem with your low-voltage lighting system, it’s hard to find electricians who can service them. It can sometimes be even more difficult to get parts and fixtures that are perfectly compatible with your system.
The Limited Load Capacity
The transformer that manages the entire low-voltage electrical system means that there is often a diminished capacity compared to a more traditional line voltage system. While this might not be a major concern in a well-designed system, an improvised or poorly installed low-voltage system typically has incremental load capacity issues over time.
The special transformer used in a properly installed low-voltage system can sometimes lead to a less reliable connection compared to a line system. Similar to the limited load capacity problem, a voltage drop can sometimes occur when too much strain is placed on the circuit. Voltage drop issues like this, typically manifest in lights at the end of the circuit not working or blinking intermittently.