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50plus handyman September 2005

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Fitting an Outside Light

The second in a series of articles from Roger Runswick, Director of 50plus Handyman

The days are getting shorter and it’s time to think about outside lighting.


Most people wait until it’s really dark when coming home before deciding they need some additional lights. But now is the time to think about it, not least because at this time of year any work is likely to cost you less ) while the weather is still dry and one can see where to run the cables.


If you already have security or safety lighting, check that it’s still working. It’s quite amazing how many lights seemingly fail immediately the clocks change in October! The good news is that sensible outside lighting that provides security and prevents accidents is relatively inexpensive both to buy and install.


What to fit

There are two points to consider with regard to lighting
- aesthetics and functionality. Both will have an impact on cost, aesthetics to the greater extent. What are the options?

Solar. In recent years a range of solar lighting has become available. It doesn’t need power running to it or replacement batteries. Although individual units are cheap (typically from ?5), you will need a number of solar lights to show you where a path is and they won’t illuminate it brightly. Higher priced (around ?60) security and decorative lights powered from a solar panel via a rechargeable battery are now available. These provide up to 50 short illuminations per night after full charge in strong sunlight. Although technology has improved they offer limited use during overcast British winters.

Low voltage. The ‘low’ part means the lights are fed from a transformer, typically installed in the house, which converts 240 volts mains power to a safer voltage, usually 12 volts. The great advantage is that the cabling for these lights does not need to meet the strict safety conditions applied to mains powered lights (although it still needs to be protected) whilst a high light output is obtainable. This is a versatile solution and a good range is available.

Mains powered. Still the usual solution, particularly when attached to the house. Costs range from around ?8 for a basic manual light to ?100s for feature lighting. A typical PIR (passive infrared) unit is priced from ?10.

There are some points to be aware of -

  • Most outdoor lights have a detector which means they switch on only at night. This could cause a situation where every passing cat, fox or car switches the light on. Careful sighting and use of the sensitivity controls alleviates these potential problems.

  • Take care about illuminating the night sky, half the neighbour’s property or blinding motorists - an increasing problem with the ‘flood’ variety. Do you really need 300 or even 500 watts of power to light up your drive? Probably not, so select a lower wattage model (e.g. 150W) and remember it’s you paying for the light pollution.

About cabling

Assuming basic lighting is chosen, the prime cost is usually getting the power to the lights, i.e. running a cable from a suitable point. Lights should be fed from lighting circuits, but a fused spur from a 13A mains point can also be employed. Always fit a switch, otherwise you can’t change the bulb safely and remember that automatic lights are often reset via a timed switch on/off sequence.

Cabling looks tidiest if it’s fed straight through the wall but a run can be clipped to the exterior of a building or laid in trunking; 240 volt cables run in the garden must be suitably protected and armoured if underground.

Finally, do be safe. As with all electrical work the installation should meet IEE 16th Edition Wiring Regulations (BS7671) standards. If in doubt, have work checked by a qualified electrician or company. Some electrical work is now subject to Part P of the Building Regulations and must be undertaken and certified by a competent person.

Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at


Previous articles in this series:


Can I still change my light switch?



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