–Guest post by Jon–
Since making the backyard a more comfortable place to hang out, we’ve realized that there’s just not enough light out there at night. We have some strings of Christmas lights hanging from the back fence and will turn on the lights in all the back rooms of the house to bleed light into the yard, but neither of these methods are very effective and they waste quite a bit of energy. There aren’t any before pictures for this project because it was too dark – so just imagine the photo above being almost completely black.
I came up with a basic plan (where the lights would be placed and what kind of fixtures and bulbs we’d use) and began sourcing all the parts. I decided on a total of 12 fixtures that would run down one entire side of the house and around to the backyard, all of which would be switched by two separate wireless dimmers (one zone for the side of the house and one for the back). We’d also use all LED spots to save on energy costs. A single LED bulb lasts about 25,000 hours and uses 10W of electricity, compared with an incandescent bulb that draws 60W and only lasts 1,200 hours. The total estimated cost for the whole project was around $800, which included 12 LED bulbs, 12 outdoor fixtures, a couple hundred feet of Romex, and wireless remote switches.
We wanted to cut the cost down a bit, and saw an opportunity with the fixtures. Even the cheapest fixtures that we were interested in cost $40, but luckily Morgan spotted some at an auction for an amazing deal. We ended up with 20 light fixtures for $60, or $3 per fixture, which brought our total cost down significantly and allowed us to have even more fixtures – we decided to go with 15. However, these were indoor, wall-mounted pin-up light fixtures with in line switches, so I needed to make some modifications.
The first step was rewiring the lamp – taking the in line switch out and adding Romex, The second was creating a snoot. A snoot is basically a cone that goes over the fixture to direct the light onto a specific spot and keep it from spilling on the surrounding area. Even though we were using spot lights, there is still a fair amount of spillage that we did not want coming into the windows of the house, or creating hard shadows on the stucco of the exterior walls. We didn’t care about it spilling anywhere else, so I designed a half snoot that would shade just one side of the lamp.
I took roof flashing, cut it to size, shaped it in the fixture, and epoxied it to the inner side of the fixture. Keep in mind, the hard part about all these modifications is that everything has to be done 15 times, so this process took a while. After the epoxy dried it was on to paint. Everything got a couple spray coats of white, and then a clear coat.
Installation began on the exterior of the house by mounting each light in a predetermined location. Earlier I had hung a few fixtures temporarily to determine exactly which type of bulb (wattage, neck length, and LED color) to use and how far apart to space the lights. I decided on a short neck, 10W bulb with a warm color, which by LED standards is still actually a cooler color than a regular incandescent bulb. The short neck allowed the bulb to sit very deep in the fixture, making the most use out of the can and the snoot. I spaced them about 6 feet apart, which created some nice pools of light on the ground without creating either areas of dark shadow or the opposite- flat white light everywhere.
After mounting the lights to the eave of the roof on the side of the house, I realized that because of the sideways pitch of the roof in back, the lights would all end up being mounted on an angle, so I made some wedges out of scrap wood, painted them white, and affixed them to the eve. This gave me a flat surface to put the fixtures on and saved me from having to modify the fixtures yet again. So after all 15 fixtures were mounted, I painted the cables white where they ran along the eave, and the peach color where they ran along the house. I then ran the wire into the house and moved into the attic.
I spent quite a while crawling around on my stomach in the attic, since the areas I was working in had only a foot of vertical clearance. Also, eye protection and a respirator are very important to avoid ingesting 100 year old dust and who knows what else is floating around up there.
I ran cabling along the entire length of the attic and then another cable along the back side, splicing in all 15 lights along the cable run. I ended up with three lights on the back cable, and 12 lights on the side cable which would run to the two separate switches.
I tried out a few different wireless switches and didn’t like any of them, so I decided to run hard wires down the wall to two new switches. We already had one switch in the wall, so adding another two isn’t very difficult. The fire stops in the wall already had holes drilled through them, so all I had to do was fish two more pieces of Romex cable through. After that, I cut out a larger hole for the electrical box, wired up two new switches (which look like like the old pushbutton switches, except these have a dimmer) and wired everything to power.
Morgan picked up a triple push-button switchplate cover for $8.50 from eBay to complete the look.
And just like that, we have light going all the way down the sidewalk and into the backyard. They are dimmable LEDs, so at their brightest they look like street lights, and at the dimmest they resemble a soft moonlight – and are actually the same color, so when the moon is out it matches perfectly.
Now we can entertain on the back patio until all hours of the night, and our Airbnb guests can use the back door as their own private entrance!
–Guest post by Jon–