Low Voltage Lighting - Using and Choosing Low Voltage Lighting

Summary: Installing and using low voltage lighting for different rooms and occasions. Understand the difference between low voltage lighting and extra low voltage lighting, the different categories of low voltage lighting and when they can be used.

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Warning: To complete electrical works you must comply with Electrical Regulations - Click here for more information.

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How Can Low Voltage Lighting be Used?

Low voltage lighting can be used in a variety of ways. It is used as a safe option in highly dangerous areas such as kitchens and bathrooms or simply to create an atmosphere in a dining room or lounge. Low voltage lighting is easily installed and in this project we have tried to look at the best ways to use Low Voltage Lighting.

Low voltage LED light bulb

Low voltage LED light bulbs - Available in our online store

Extra Low Voltage Lighting

The superb quality "specific" lighting you see in so many shops, art galleries, museums etc is called Extra Low Voltage Lighting (ELV) but is commonly (and mistakenly) referred to as just low voltage lighting. For the home owner this has opened up huge opportunities and existing lighting can be replaced, or just enhanced by the use of extra low voltage lighting.

Extra low voltage lighting consists of small tungsten halogen bulbs producing two or three times the light of conventional bulbs of equal wattage. They are powered by a 12 volt electrical supply rather than the 230 volts needed to power conventional lighting and are therefore fed through a (concealed) transformer. Through the use of this transformer, energy consumption may be reduced by up to 60% although this really only becomes apparent when several conventional lights are replaced. Additionally, bulb life is increased by about 3 times.

The halogen bulbs are fitted into special multi faceted mirrored reflectors with sealed fronts so they can be used safely in bathrooms and kitchens. They are described as dichroic reflectors which means that the majority of the heat generated by the bulb is reflected backwards and not into the room. The light, as a result, stays relatively cool.

Low Voltage Lighting Categories

Lighting in the home falls into three categories – general, task and specific.

  • General lighting provides overall space brightness with no concentration on any part of a room
  • Task lighting, as you would imagine, provides light for tasks such as reading, sewing etc where general lighting may be inadequate
  • Specific lighting is intended to highlight specific features without giving out to much light elsewhere

Planning Low Voltage Lighting Installation

When thinking about lighting for any particular room it makes sense to think about the function of that room and what will be done in there. Most rooms will require a level of general lighting which, by the use of dimmer switches, can be transformed into various moods. All the lighting products mentioned here, with many others, can be seen in our tool store by clicking on the tools below.

If you are using low voltage lighting for a complete room, the general rule of thumb is one 20W wide beam light per square metre or one 50W light per 1.5 square metres. This rule starts half a metre in from the edge of the room.

Generally Low Voltage Lighting transformers are placed in the floor or ceiling void and it is very important to ensure they are in a well ventilated space. Do not cover them with insulation, remember, the heat comes out backwards. Never position transformers near central heating pipes.

Low Voltage Lighting in Kitchens and Bathrooms

Bathrooms have strict regulations as to the type of light fitting that should be used, and where. Under the regulations, a bathroom is sectioned into four separate zones. Each zone of the bathroom is related to the position of the water source, ie bath, shower, basin etc. Bathroom lighting is given an IP rating. This IP rating is followed by a number and the higher both numbers are the better protection a light fitting has against the ingress of water. If you are unsure about the position of any light fitting you should consult a qualified electrician Please see our project on Part P of the building regulations.

Kitchens also are subject to special regulations and advice should be sought as to the placing of lights here.

You might like to take a look at our video section on Green Living to watch a film on how to reduce the amount of energy you use for lighting.

For further information about installing kitchen lighting please look at our project on kitchen lighting. In some circumstances LED lighting might be a more appropriate solution, and it is certainly becoming ever more popular as people learn more about its capabilities and it also become more affordable. Find out more about LED lighting in our LED lighting project.

When it comes to learning more about lighting in bathrooms, we have a specific project that will help you to understand what is involved. Click here to see our bathroom lighting project.

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