Mid-Century Malaise – "SHOW ME PICS" Version

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Nighttime Outdoor Desert Wonderland

Here's the nighttime outside view of my place. I wanted to have lots of colored lights, but I literally knew nothing about landscape lighting. It quickly became clear that 12-volt lighting is most common, and like practically every other type of lighting these days, LED was the way to go - less power consumption, almost-infinite bulb life, etc. The house already had landscape lighting in place when I moved in, but this consisted of a smattering of bent, broken, or knocked-down 12V halogen fixtures. The one super good thing was that they had run wiring from garage area to the "island," and under the drive again to the left side of the house. These wires still worked fine, saving me the nightmare/$$$ of running low-voltage wiring under the driveway. Thanks, original homeowners. 

That said, I made a world-class zinger mistake by not running the rest of wiring when we had the landscape re-done in 2015. Probably hard to tell in these pics, but the buik of the landcover is pea gravel, aka, really small stones. Burying the somewhat thick 12V wire beneath that stuff is a futile effort because it always wants to pop out (I finally figured out that you can hold it down with garden staples, which are sort of like U-shaped little coat hangers). 

The installation you're looking at in these photos is somewhere around 20 lights total, installed over three separate projects. As one does, I got a lot better at it as I went (and eventually figured out that shoving the wiring under the weed prevention cloth, although tedious, is by far the best way to keep the wires concealed). Some more exciting details:

Colored Lights: I was a little surprised to learn that nobody makes colored landscape lights. I was hellbent on making my place look like Disneyland at night; I figured if I could disassemble the lights, I could probably insert colored gels inside (incidentally, the cool operating temperature was one of the reasons chose LED's - halogen bulbs would probably melt the gels in short order). I found that some landscape lights come apart, and some don't. The majority of my lights are these little Moonrays 1-watt guys chosen because 1) it's easy to put gels in them, and 2) they're affordable - they come in two-packs and end up being about $11 each. Also, they're black, so they don't violate my "no brown/tan/gold/bronze" rule. I used them for the small "ground level" plants, sometimes paired in V configuration. For the bigger stuff like the palm trees and the turquoise washes between the Italian Cypress trees, I used these Malibu 20-watt equivalent lights. Unfortunately, sometime last year Home Depot decided not to carry Malibu brand lighting anymore thereby putting the entire company out of business (not making this up, check it out). The landscape lights currently available at both Lowe's and Home Depot do not come apart, so I can't buy lights there any more. Bummer. Meanwhile, I got the gels from Amazon for cheap. Cutting them is super easy, you just tell your girlfriend to do it (she likes a crafts project). Seriously though, you can use the glass lens as a cutting template, so it's pretty easy. I've noticed that some (not all) of the gels discolor after a while, but they're super easy to replace, and I have enough gel sheets to last forever.

More Fun With Wiring: The previous owners left the power pack/timer box, but it was situated in the outside beds where the Italian Cypresses are (dummies), so we relocated it into the garage. The 12V wire itself is pretty burly stuff, and you're supposed to use "connector plates" that screw together and wedge the wires, but they're big and bulky, and my electronic-y background tells me that squishing wires together is a very bad plan. The other approach is to just twist the wires together and use big outdoor wire caps that are full of silcon goo intended to keep moisture from corroding the connections. This is all good in theory, but sometimes you need to twist four wires together, and thick, mult-stranded wire doesn't like to stay together. And when you go to fix the inevitable detached wires, they're all covered in silicon goo. There had to be a better way... after a little research (and a suggested trip to the NASA website on how they wire stuff), here's what I came up with: twist wires together, then wrap with really thin 24 AWG uninsulated wire. (Sorry the front connection is out of focus.) There's a fancy wire-wrap tool one can get, but my little fingers are fine for this job.

Solder the whole mess:

Shove aforementioned goo-filled wire cap on:

Shove under rocks/weed prevention cloth and ponder how it's never coming apart. The only negative was dragging out my fancy two-piece Hakko soldering iron along with appropriate extension cord, but I finally gave in and bought a wee little Weller butane-powered soldering iron... bye bye extension cord. If outdoor soldering (or car stereo installation) is gonna be a thing for you, this is beyond super nifty. 

Looking ahead, I intend to do path lights on one side of the house (I already bought a guinea pig light to see if I can shove color gels into it) as well as a bunch more colored lights in the back yard. Meanwhile, here's a bunch more pics of the front of the house:

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