The 12V garden lights we tested returned mixed results. Models with the highest light output fared poorly in the water resistance test. The only 12V light to have good performance across the board was the Accent 12V Stainless Steel Spotlight ($89, Lighting Plus exclusive). However, all the 12V lights were much brighter than their solar equivalents.
They’re also a more long-term solution – after a year or two the performance of solar lights will degrade as their rechargeable battery wears out. Good quality stainless-steel or copper 12V lights should last five to 10 years in your garden, though you’ll need to occasionally change the bulbs if they use halogens (LEDs have a far longer lifespan). We think they’re a better bet for keeping your paths navigable at night, but the Duracell solar lights are a good option to avoid the hassle of installing a 12V circuit in your garden.
Installing 12V lights
Planning is crucial when installing 12V lighting. Work out what lights you need and where: bollards/stick lights are good for lighting garden paths, spotlights are for featuring objects, while deck lights lie flush in decking. Once you’ve chosen your lights, add up all their wattages. For example, if you’re buying five 20W lights your total wattage will be 100W.
The next step is choosing a transformer. This plugs into your outdoor power supply and reduces the 230V from the power point to 12V. They generally come in the following sizes: 22W, 60W, 150W, 220W, 400W, and you need to choose one with a higher wattage than the total drawn by your lights. So for our 100W example, you should buy a 150W transformer, which will set you back about $90.
Finally, buy your cables. Measure the total distance from your outdoor power supply along the paths your cables will follow, then buy five to 10 metres more 12V cabling than that. Never run more than 35 metres of cabling from your transformer. The transformer will come with a cable to plug into the mains, but you’ll need a primary 12V cable to run from the transformer into the garden, which will have a number of evenly spaced connectors to which you can attach the lights. You can attach smaller lengths of cable if you want to run lights further from the mains cable, or splitters to connect two runs of lights to one mains cable connector. Note the connections used by your lights – they’ll either be press-in or two-pin.
You can also connect timers to the circuit to automatically switch the lights on in the evening. Alternatively, you can add sensors to save power by only activating them when required.