By Clarissa Allison | April 3rd, 2015
An increasing number of home-owners prefer low voltage lighting for their outdoor landscapes due to its safety and ease of installation. In addition, low voltage lighting is a popular choice for exterior lighting due to its ability to reduce hefty electricity consumption costs.
Low Voltage Transformers – What Are They?
Low voltage transformers convert standard home line voltage (usually 120 volts) to a lower voltage (usually 12 or 24 volts) enabling the attached components to operate safely. They are normally mounted to a wall, but also come as in ground transformers. Many versions are even hidden in a rock shaped enclosure.
There are two versions of low voltage transformers, single-tap transformers (where all outlet taps are of the same voltage, 12V or 24V) or multi-tap transformers (which include multi voltage outlet taps like 12v, 13v, 14v,15v, 16v etc).
Why Mutli-Tap Transformers?
The need for multi-tap transformers comes about when long feed lines are needed to bring current to fixtures that are located further from the transformer and when total load on the line is fairly high. In this case the best technique is to measure the actual output voltage at the light fixture using a volt meter. If the voltage drops below 11.5 (due to wire resistance) then push it back up so it is around 11.5V – 12V. For example, if you measured actual voltage at the fixture to be at 9.0V, subtract 9 from 11.5 and you get a 2.5V difference. Add 12 (output voltage at transformer + 2.5, which equals 14.5V. You will then connect that specific line to the 15V tap and end with an actual output voltage of 12V at the fixture.
Caution: if you have low voltage lighting fixtures that are connected to the same line and are closer to the transformer, you’ll want to separate them to a different line as these might cause a fire or rapid lamp burnout if they become “over current”.
Magnetic transformers consist of a primary and secondary coil within a metal encasement. Line voltage current is carried through the primary “winding” and into the secondary coil, which produces the low voltage output. There are two types of magnetic transformers, toroidal and stack laminated. Both types of transformers have a long operational life (15 to 20 years or more) and operate at a higher temperature than their electronic counterparts. Be aware that these types of transformers can at times be noisy, emitting a buzzing or humming sound.
Electronic transformers are less expensive but also shorter lived than magnetic transformers. Their life spans are about 5 to 6 years. This timeframe can decrease when they are used in an environment that is too warm. They are smaller and lightweight, which often allows them to be integrated with appliances directly. Electronic transformers are more widely found in interior applications. Most outdoor transformers are of a magnetic type.
- Low voltage transformers are easy and safe to install for the do it yourself minded as the wiring can be placed just below the ground surface.
- It is best to place the transformer as close to the area you wish to illuminate as possible to eliminate voltage drop
- When using low-voltage lamps, make sure they are operating at close to full output for best performance.
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