How To Series: Replacing Malibu Landscape Lighting

(Please note, I am not a Malibu Lighting expert nor a landscaper.  My expertise is in residential real estate in Phoenix, Arizona.  If you have any questions about Malibu Lighting, please consult your local hardware store or Malibu lighting dealer.)

I find myself continually working on some sort of project.  Since I’m good with my hands, I usually take on a project without hesitation and do the best I can to complete it as quickly as I can while maintaining some semblance of quality.  The project I chose today was repairing “malibu” style outdoor landscape lighting.  I put this one of for a long time because I didn’t know how difficult it might be.  Some of the projects we DIY guys choose end up costing far more in time than material, and then we hire someone in to pick up the pieces.Malibu lighting, or landscape lighting, is one of those jobs that fits in the “simple fixes that you can do rather quickly” category, as long as you know how to hold a screwdriver on the right end.

Around the house there were about 9 lights that had quit working.  I wasn’t sure why, but they weren’t on, ever.  So, I hauled on over to The Home Depot to see what lights would cost.  The quality of lighting is completely up to you, but there was a wide variety ranging in price from $5.95 per light up to $99.00 per light.  The home that these are being installed on does not require high end lighting.  In fact, since I just needed the job to be done, I went for bargain basement pricing and picked up a number of the cheapo lights for $5.95 each as pictured in Figure 1 above.

As I write this, I am reminding myself that choosing a plastic light might not be the best decision for next summer, as they will probably need to be replaced much sooner than a metal light, but for the cost and quick repair time (we’ll be entertaining on Christmas night) I think these will do.

Knowing What You Have

Before you try upgrading, repairing, or adding to your lighting system, make sure you check the main transformer and write down all of the information that’s written on the label.  You’ll need to know if the system is a high or low voltage system.  Mine happened to be a low voltage system.

Another thing you’ll need to know is that each light eats up a percentage of the wattage delivered by the transformer.  So, if you have a 100W power supply, you’ll be able to add about 80 watts worth of draw.  In other words, 20 4-watt lights, or 4 20-watt lights, etc.  Don’t max out the system.  It would be an epic fail to add 120 watts worth of lights on a system that’s only rated for 100 watts.

Lights connect to main loop without needing to splice wire
Lights connect to main loop without needing to splice wire

The Basic Layout

Landscape lighting is an extremely simple concept.  There’s a transformer, and a really long electric weatherproof wire that snakes its way through your yards under about 6 inches of dirt.  Each light has a wire extending from it and that wire is connected to the main wire using weather proof clips that have a sort of sharp spade that penetrates each side of the main loop wire into the actual wire itself.  This is how it can be protected from the elements.

Anatomy of the Light

Package Contents
Package Contents

The light that I chose was a small 4 watt plastic light which can be assembled, wired up, and utilized literally within minutes.  The following parts were in the package:

  • Stake to mount the light assembly
  • Lamp housing
  • Reflector
  • Diffuser
  • Bulb
  • Bulb Socket
  • Wiring Harness with Clips

The putty knife was used to show contrast so you could see the smaller parts.

Removing the Old

In my case, I had a light in the way.  There was no time to worry about finding an old bulb to replace in the housing that was already installed, so I opted to rip it out.  At first, I wasn’t sure what the assembly was made of.  After all it had been there since the house was built back in the 80′s.  Who knows what the design was like and I had no idea how far down they were in the soil.  It turned out that they weren’t buried very deep at all and only required a few kicks to break loose.

Pull the old light out of the ground in order to locate the main wire loop.  The light’s wire is attached to it, so gently tugging on it will bring it into view.  Position the wire near where you think you’ll stick your new light.

Assemble and Install the New Light

  1. Remove everything from the package and keep it clean and protected.  It’s usually better not to touch the bulb at all with your oily fingers.  Rather, use a clean cheesecloth.  This is a halogen bulb precaution as halogen bulbs will fail if you touch them.  This particular light does not have a halogen lamp.
  2. Set the silver light reflector in the light housing, lining up the notch on the bottom with the hole in the bottom of the housing.

    img_8338

  3. Feed the copper connector ends of the wire assembly through the bottom of the lamp housing.

    img_8339

  4. Insert the copper tips of the wires that you fed through the housing into the bulb socket.  Make sure you don’t do this step before feeding the wire through the housing or you’ll be sorry.

    img_8342

  5. Mount the bulb socket with attached wires to the diffuser (that’s the clear part that the light shines through.)  On this light, the bulb attaches to this part and the top of the bulb points into the silver reflector.

    img_8343

  6. Slide the bulb and diffuser into the housing.  There are four slots that you can line up prior to gently turning the diffuser clockwise about 3/4″.

    img_8344

  7. Attach the entire light assembly to the stake and set the angle that you want the light to shine at.

    img_8345

  8. Stick it where you want to stick it, making sure the clips on the end of the wire are able to reach the main loop.
  9. Wrap the clips around the loop and squeeze them together.  The sharp metal points will penetrate the main loop making contact with the wire inside the insulation.

    img_8349 img_8351 img_8352

  10. Snip the old light wire feed off.

    img_8347

  11. Test the system.  If you see no light, keep your day job.  :)

    img_8353 img_8355

That’s it.  There’s not a lot to it.  I installed 5 lights in about 30 minutes, the first one taking about 10 minutes to learn.  Well, that’s it for my how to article.  I hope you have a beautiful yard when you’re finished!  Of course, you could always hire it out if you don’t have the handy hands that we DIY guys have.

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  • How To Series: Replacing Malibu Landscape Lighting (Please note, I am not a Malibu Lighting expert nor a landscaper.  My expertise is in residential real estate in Phoenix, Arizona.  If you have any questions about Malibu Lighting, please consult your local hardware store or Malibu lighting dealer.) I find myself continually working on some sort of project.  Since I’m good with my hands, ...
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  • http://www.littmanbros.com/ Richard@Littman Bros.

    This is a very good resource for anyone looking to install outdoor lighting. Your step by step guide is very easy to read and helps the reader better understand the process.

  • john@Lighting Ideas

    Nice, simple and complete detailed guide on outdoor light installation. Its not always so easy to tell someone how to do this but laying it out step by step and also supplying pictures, means any layman could get this done.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Charles M @ Palm Tree Lamp

    Thank you for this short and simple guide. I saw these types of outdoor lights in stores but always thought they would be difficult to installed so I always settled for the solar lights. But with this guide I feel confidence in buying and installing these type of lights now. Thanks again for this post.
    .-= Charles M @ Palm Tree Lamp´s last blog ..Privacy Policy =-.

  • Rex M

    Do you have any suggestions about step 9 (squeezing the tips together)? I have some brand new lights that I cannot get to make a connection (I have a current detector and can tell that the lead wire is getting no current).

  • http://www.jobofmine.com elizaveta@job search

    A very detailed description of what you should do to change the light. Really useful if you happen to need this repair and you won’t have to find a job for yourself searching for an expert.

  • Bee

    I have difficulty in step 9… it’s really hard..

  • http://www.realscottsdaleliving.com Jon Griffith

    It’s the hardest step. Make sure you’re using the right type of plyers.

  • bradc44

    We typically give our customers a similar diagram to follow. Otherwise it can be a little confusing. Appreciate the dialog.
    http://www.landscapelightingworld.com

  • http://www.realscottsdaleliving.com Jon Griffith

    Turns out this is the most popular post on my blog at the moment…and I’m not even in the lighting business :).