Lighting hardscapes

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by tthomass, Jan 1, 2010.

  1. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,498

    What method do you use for lighting steps and walls in a masonry application? Do you run conduit? Do you lay the wire right in the mortar? I've done both and in both cases, the wire ends up in the mortar somewhere. Lights have not been such that are mounted into the wall but rather under the caps shinning down.

    Honestly, I see no issue if it was set completely in the mortar. Why would you need to remove the wire? You might change the fixture, not the wire. Its sealed from the environment too. Like wires in your house walls, they're trapped in there.
  2. Bru75

    Bru75 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 582

    I use conduit. My theory is that you never really know what could happen to an unprotected wire (even UF wire), and I want a way to replace them if the insulation would happen to be cut.
    Besides, conduit is pretty cheap insurance.
  3. BrandonV

    BrandonV LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,606

    The main problem i see with not using conduit is when the wire gets cut or scrapped either on the backend of the wall or let's say by someone when they are changing bulbs.
    Posted via Mobile Device
  4. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,583

    The following response is contigent to the presumption you're talking low voltage lighting:

    #1 - The inside of your home is dry. With the exception of bathroom and kitchen fixtures, the wiring in your home is not subject to moisture. And your home's wiring works completely differently than low voltage wiring, 2 different worlds and should not be equated to one another.

    #2 - The lifespan of outdoor lighting is 10 years.

    #3 - With #2 said - corrision spreads. All it takes is for the cable to be exposed to one tiny spot of moisture, and the corrision will follow the cable. We had one light to fix that was installed by others. I had to cut about 30 feet of cable to get past the corrision that had started at the fixture and spread down the cable.

    #4 - The cable can harden. Harden to the point where in 10 years when it's time to replace the fixtures - the cable will most likely be deemed no longer suitable for the new lighting.

    The biggest FACTor to remember is the 10 year lifespan of the lighting system. Most lighting experts will replace the ENTIRE system (fixtures, transformer(s), cable, etc.

    We do quite a bit of lighting. Lesson learned for me is when installing a lighting system - always run the cable so it can be replaced as painlessly as possible.

    Last edited: Jan 2, 2010
  5. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,498

    I've run conduit in all applications getting close to the light. The thing is, CLOSE to the light. With the 1"x6" down lights I've been using from Vista, the wire ends up in the mortar under the cap of the wall/tread. Due to the way the lights mount and how slim they are, I find it difficult to run conduit all the way to the fixture and keep everything looking clean. I just know that if for some reason that wire has to come out, I'll have to pop/reset that single cap that is over the light.
  6. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,583

    And come to think of it, being mortar is involved....maybe the lights you're currently using are not the best fixtures for your appliaction(s). Those under the cap lights are really intended for the LEGO material (wall block), not so much intended for natural stone.

    I'm a believer in simplicity.

    I frequently refer to the term "cheap insurance".

    In all honesty, maybe you should be using a fixture that screws to a metal electrical box. This way, in 7 years when the home owner calls you because the light isn't working - you can stop by, do a quick trouble shoot, and have the problem diagnosed in 5 minutes. The "cheap insurance" comes into play because you're not having to pop stones apart, mix mortar, etc.

    If you must continue to use what you've been using - then this is a scenerio where one needs to use a little engineuity, to ensure easy repairing / replacing.

  7. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,498

    We don't do a lot of lighting but most of the time the customer does not want to see the fixture. The lights are true down lights vs shutters directing the lights. Issue I had in the past was one customer had such shuttered lights and did not like seeing this glowing object shinning at them while sitting at the table. Reason being that the light didn't project only down as it projected out too.

    Most times, they just don't like seeing a fixture stuck in their stone wall regardless of its finish.

    Using conduit smaller than 3/4" is a pain when it comes to pulling the wire due to 90 degree elbows. Even the 3/4" is a PITA at times.
  8. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,583

    for what you're doing, I'd go to extremes to NOT introduce a client to the under the cap fixtures. In my opinion, it's just not a practical fixture for a mortared application.

    Kinda like those lights that mount in pavers. Look great. Clients love them. 6 years later the sun dries out the plastic housing and you have to buy 8 lights to replace just 1. End up being more trouble than they're worth. We stopped installing them.

    Sometimes we honest contractors like to show home owners all the possibilities. In reality, we're only opening up a can of worms for ourselves........

    Last edited: Jan 3, 2010
  9. Lite4

    Lite4 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,183

    I have to agree with DVS on this one.* The Rail lights are truly meant and designed for segmental block but can be used if you have a good cap on a mortar set wall.* We have a client who had lights set into their brick wall about 15 years ago.* It is all 120 volt and I thought we could simply pull off the covers and wire in new fixtures to the existing wiring.* However, the wiring and insulation was completely corroded and none of the wire was in conduit so everything simply had to be abandoned and new surface lights had to be put in via drilling through the wall and digging down 4' on the backside of the wall to the hole to grab the wire.When things are not waterproofed well and poor materials are used you can expect to encounter problems servicing that system later on.Do it right once,* conduit and a good solid steel or heavy PVC box for junctioning your connections.
  10. klkanders

    klkanders LawnSite Senior Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 849

    As long as the cap has sufficient overhang I like your choice.....depending on the actual application. The Vista rail light and also the Unique Vanguard are made for mounting on a variety of surfaces with or without the included mounting plate. Heck I mounted the similar Vanguards under the caps on an exisiting SRW sitting wall. I didn't pop the caps just mounted the fixture on the underside with masonry bit and drilled hole through wall for lead wire. The wire was easily concealed on the back side with caulk and the connection was made with watertight connection below ground. The same could be done on your masonry walls.

    This way of mounting is easily serviceable. You could replace the fixture and wire if you had to in the future.
    I just like these type of fixtures for capped walls because they are nearly invisible during the day but produce dramatic results at night.

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