Drivers How-To Product Reviews

Perfect LED Retrofit Solution for Landscape Lighting using a 12VAC Transformer

LED Landscape Light

Some sort of outdoor, landscape lighting is needed in many residential and commercial areas. Whether it just be small security lights, pathway markers, or just added accent lighting around the grounds, they run on a certain system and if you plan on switching to LEDs you will need to be aware of this. Most outdoor lighting systems run off of a low voltage AC transformer, usually 12VAC. These 12VAC transformers are already in place in the majority of houses and businesses as incandescent bulbs could take AC power and it had advantages over going straight from the main line (120VAC). When switching to LEDs this can be a problem as LEDs need direct current, and most LED drivers are made for low DC voltage or high AC line voltage. Here at LEDSupply, however, we have the perfect driver option for landscape and outdoor lighting systems that utilize a low voltage AC transformer.

Why switch landscape lighting to LEDs?

Some of you may be asking, why switch to LEDs if my old system is working fine? Some of you may initially want to make it easy and just stick to the same old lights, especially upon seeing that there might be a small hurdle to jump in terms of finding a driver. The thing with landscape lighting, however, is that these lights usually stay on for a long time at night, either being on a timer or being left on when people aren’t at home. When you think of all the hours that are racking up (along with that utility bill) you may realize that switching to LEDs could really pay off as they are much more efficient and will save you money in the long run.

The ‘long run’ we speak of probably won’t even be that long with landscape lighting as they are being used so much at night. The more hours of run time, the faster these systems will make their return on investment and start saving you money!

New Lighting & Retrofits

We know that many of you have a knack for design and use our site so much in order to get all the components you need while having the freedom to design your own lighting system. So if you are a creative type and already have a plan in place for how you want your landscape lighting to be then that is great. Chances are, you already have a 12VAC transformer where old outdoor lighting has been or you might want to put one in place as going from 12VAC is much safer than going from your line voltage. Since there is moisture, dust and little critters outdoors, there can be added maintenance with these lights, 12VAC is safer if you are going to be tinkering around. Think a little shock from that compared to taking straight 120VAC…no thanks.

Other readers may just be looking for a retrofit option to switch the lamp inside their fixture. If you already have an old fixture than it most likely will have a 12VAC transformer. In order to switch to LEDs, you will need to find a way to switch that 12VAC to direct current and output a steady and safe current to your LED replacement. (we have just what you need!)

Why is 12VAC used so much in outdoor lighting?

No, low voltage AC lighting is not just used in landscape lighting to try and spite all those switching to LEDs. It was actually used in many old systems as it was much easier to create a 12VAC transformer compared to a DC transformer and incandescent bulbs could care less about AC or DC power. In old systems it made sense as it was cost effective and easier as you didn’t have to switch from AC to DC.

Safety is another reason that low voltage AC has been used outside so much. As we touched on above, with outdoor systems there will be maintenance as well as wiring that could get damaged due to outside elements or pesky creatures. Low voltage is much safer than 120VAC if you are going to be working around that area a lot.

Lastly, low voltage AC sources allowed lighting designers to work with thicker filaments that do not snap as easy from mechanical shock or burn out like 120VAC main connected lights. Now that we know why 12VAC exists for landscape lighting, lets take a look at the transformers that make it all happen.

Magnetic and Electronic (ELVT) Transformers

There are two basic types of transformers that step line voltage down to 12VAC. The older technology is a magnetic transformer, whereas the newer technology is the electronic low-voltage transformer (ELVT). The ELVT really isn’t a transformer but rather a switching-converter circuit that can actually present a much bigger challenge to designing an LED retrofit lamp.

A drop-in replacement lamp would have to work with both of these transformers, which may be tough as there are many different design schemes and setups used in ELVTs that don’t have one straight up answer.

Finding a direct LED drop-in replacement is pretty hard for these types of lights as the replacement would need capacitors and diode bridges that would likely be too large for the package they are held in. This means there is a need for an external driving source that switches this power for us, and for this we are all in luck as this tiny little driver is just what is needed!

LUXdrive BuckBullet
7006-buckbullet_600x600

This US made LUXdrive 7006 series BuckBullet is a constant current LED driver that takes low voltage AC power. This driver is optimized with high-speed electronics for use with both magnetic transformers or 12VAC electronic transformers. It will power high brightness LEDs at constant currents of 350mA, 500mA or 700mA, giving you options to work with depending on the brightness of light needed. Remember that higher drive current equals higher light output!

Solving the AC to DC problem

This driver was made by LUXdrive engineers here in the US and includes internal circuitry that switches 8-24VAC into DC power. In order to do this the BuckBullet requires a 3V overhead in order to work. So basically you can find the voltage you can run from one of these drivers by subtracting 3 from your input voltage…here it is in a formula:

Output Voltage = Input Voltage – 3V

So if you had a 12VAC transformer like most landscape lights, you could use this BuckBullet and you would be able to run up to 9 volts of LEDs in series. The BuckBullet would just switch your AC to a DC voltage LEDs could actually use while driving them at a constant current.

Designed perfectly for the outdoors

This driver is super compact as it is just a half an inch in diameter and 2 inches in length. The package is fully potted, making it resistant to moisture and outdoor elements. Connections are then made from 6” 18AWG stranded wires. The super small size make it easy to fit this in most retrofit situations and if you are building your own outdoor lighting it shouldn’t be too hard to find a spot to hide this small cylindrical driver.

If you need more LEDs you can also choose to run more of these drivers in parallel off of the 12VAC transformer. This will make it so that you can run multiple lengths from the same power supply, while staying within your voltage limits as each BuckBullet itself could power up to 9V of LEDs. The driver is not affected by voltage drops on long wire runs which is huge for outdoor use as sometimes you have longer breaks between lighting. This driver will make sure the light stays consistent from light to light, no matter the distance.

Switching your landscape lighting to LEDs is a must if you keep them on for extended periods at night or when you are away from the home. Make a simple landscape lighting retrofit kit with this BuckBullet driver and any of our SMD LEDs and you will be collecting the savings in no time!

About the author

Taylor Scully

Marketing and technology enthusiast helping pave the way to a more energy efficient society. Living in the beautiful state of Vermont and working for a company like LEDSupply that is helping provide LED products to save on energy is a great place to be in accomplishing this. Always exploring and staying active outdoors while keeping a close eye on different trends and new technologies that could change the world for the better.

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