We have 3 beautiful silver birch trees in our back yard, set in a lovely garden curated by my even lovelier wife. It seemed such a shame to miss out on that garden after the sun went down.
So, back in 2005, I sought an outdoor garden lighting solution — what I found left me wanting. All I could find was 12V halogens, sucking up 50 watts a piece and costing an absolute bomb. Why, oh why, couldn’t I buy some efficient LED lights? The only commercially available ones I could find were outrageously expensive. So I decided to build my own.
Jaycar Electronics stocked Luxeon 1W high intensity white LEDs along with lenses and diffusers to suit. At the time, constant current power supplies (essential for powering LEDs efficiently) weren’t easy to come by, but I eventually found one through a landscaping company. Even though I don’t have the most sophisticated workshop (nor do I have sophisticated shop skills!), this seemed a good place to start.
With a bit of faffing about in the garage, I made a number of wooden cubes, using a spade bit to drill the appropriate size hole to suit the LED and lens, added some cabling and a metal mounting stake, brushed on marine grade varnish and finally capped it off with some glass to seal out the dust and insects. Et voila!
I eventually built seven units, to light up the birch trunks and several other garden features. The result has been brilliant (boom, tish!) — the lighting, particularly on the birches, looks great. It’s more than bright enough and, using only 1 watt per fixture, it’s burning less than 10 watts total — less than 20% of what a single halogen would consume. One watt of power through these little LEDs still makes for a bit of heat, but even without a heatsink, these have been very reliable.
When first installed, the lights were automatically switched on after sunset using x10 home automation, but I found it lacking in reliability, costly, inflexible, and offered no real support for open communications. Today, the automation is looked after using my all-singing, all-dancing Arduino/RFID project — more on that in a future post.
After the back garden lights were complete, I made three lights for the front path and steps. Still using Luxeon LEDs, I cast these ones directly into clear resin with a mirror on one side to guide the light. I then mounted them inside stainless-steel fixtures of my own making. They’re very discrete, and while they’re much less bright than the ones in the back garden, I’m very happy with the result. Best of all, our favourite sparky wired in a switch at the front door, so they’re easily turned on and off.
I figure each light fitting cost around $40 to build, taking into account the power supply and cabling. Back in 2005, the LED modules themselves were $20 each — today they’re $10 or less.
LED outdoor lighting was a little bit cutting edge back in ’05, and now it’s so common as to be unremakable. However, I know there isn’t another set like mine anywhere 🙂