Landscaping lights went out

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Calli114
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Landscaping lights went out

Post by Calli114 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:25 am

I noticed this week all of my landscape lighting is out. They were installed about 5 yrs ago by an electrician who has since gone into another field, so I can't call him.
There is a low voltage transformer box - I found a small wasp nest in it and knocked it out, flipped the on/off switch, and looked to see if there was a cut wire anywhere. I plugged something else into the outlet and it seemed to work. This is probably the extent of my troubleshooting ability.
Any thoughts on most likely diagnosis before I find an electrician?

barnaclebob
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by barnaclebob » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:40 am

First check the connection at the first light in the string (assuming its a single string)

Then I would buy a DMM (digital multimeter) and check to see if the connection is good between the transformer and the lights? They look complicated but are very easy to use.

Then check the low voltage supply on the transformer and the next light. The idea is to find the first point in the system where power doesn't exist then replace whats breaking the chain.
Last edited by barnaclebob on Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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nisiprius
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by nisiprius » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:40 am

Just that since everything from the box outward is 12V, you can take the time to poke around yourself if you feel like it. That is, if you want to try it as a do-it-yourself project, it can be.

1) Look carefully at the transformer box. A lot of times there will be some kind of circuit breaker that needs to be reset, but it's hard to predict where it will be or how it will look. If you find it and you reset it and it pops immediately, then at least you know something.

2) Look for a model number on the transformer box and search online for a manual, if you can't find the one you got with it. There may be troubleshooting suggestions. There may even be a contact 800 number or a chat line.

For example, I just found a random Hampton Bay instruction manual and it notes:
All of the lights fail to work?
  • Check that the transformer power is on.
  • Check if there is a loose connection at the transformer screw terminal with the cable.
  • Check that the power switch is not in an OFF setting.
3) If all of the lights are out, then the problem is probably in between the transformer box and the first light. My recollection (from the time we had them) is that 12V landscaping lights are wired in parallel, I'm 99% sure, so the failure of a single bulb or light would not take out the rest.

4) My guess is that the wire has been cut somehow.

4a) Actually, my first guess is that if it is on a timer, the timer's gotten set wrong and you've forgotten how it all works! What did you do in the past? Turn them on and off yourself manually every day? Similarly, if there's a photocell somewhere to turn it off automatically during the day, there might be a problem there.

However, noting the Hampton Bay manual, you should open the box--you already opened it to get the wasp nest out--and see exactly out the 12V output cable is connected. If it is some kind of screw connection, unplug the transformer, wiggle the wires at the screws and see if they feel broken or loose. If you don't have a wire stripper-cutter, buy one at any hardware store, usually less than $10. Check again to make sure the transformer is really unplugged. Check again to make sure this is really the low-voltage output cable. Cut the cable, dissect it a bit to get the two individual wires free, strip them to get a nice shiny clean fresh bare wire, re-attach them to the screw terminals.

Or just call an electrician, of course. It doesn't sound like a fabulously expensive repair.
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Housedoc
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Housedoc » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:07 pm

Could be a chipmunk or squirrel chewed through wire. You need a meter to check at light closest to transformer for voltage.

bob60014
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by bob60014 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:44 pm

Check the voltage on the transformer first using a voltmeter. If no or low voltage at the transformer replace it, if full voltage, then the lines need to be troubleshooted. Easy to do as said above.

Also, the wasp nest might have gummed up the works, the timer. You can open the unit (unplugged!) and spray some contact cleaner on it and clean out whatever is in there, then retest.

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Kenkat
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Kenkat » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:51 pm

My guess is that the transformer has gone bad. I would check that first. They don’t last forever.

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RickBoglehead
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by RickBoglehead » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:56 pm

Calli114 wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:25 am
I noticed this week all of my landscape lighting is out. They were installed about 5 yrs ago by an electrician who has since gone into another field, so I can't call him.
There is a low voltage transformer box - I found a small wasp nest in it and knocked it out, flipped the on/off switch, and looked to see if there was a cut wire anywhere. I plugged something else into the outlet and it seemed to work. This is probably the extent of my troubleshooting ability.
Any thoughts on most likely diagnosis before I find an electrician?
"I plugged something else into the outlet and it seemed to work".

On/Off. It either works, or it doesn't work. Which is it? If it doesn't work, then check for the GFCI outlet or circuit to have tripped. If it does work, and you have a 12 volt transformer plugged into it which is running your lights, then the first thing to do is see if the transformer is putting out 12 volts. Hooking up a test meter to the two screws (+ and -) to which the 12volt wires are attached will tell you that.

Of course make sure you're not trying to get the lights to come on on a circuit that might have a daylight sensor on it, which would stop them from coming on during daylight. If it does, you'd need to cover the sensor with black electrical tape, and perhaps wrap it in a towel, then give it a minute or three.

If there is no sensor, is there a timer, and you're problem solving during hours in which the lights are supposed to be off?
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livesoft
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by livesoft » Thu Dec 20, 2018 1:21 pm

What did you find on youtube.com when you searched there about your issue?
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Epsilon Delta
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Epsilon Delta » Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:20 pm

RickBoglehead wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:56 pm

"I plugged something else into the outlet and it seemed to work".

On/Off. It either works, or it doesn't work.
You'd be surprised at some of the partial failures I've seen.

However in new product engineering I was about the fourth level of troubleshooting. No doubt the first three troubleshooters caught the obvious stuff so Byzantine failures are probably rarer in the field than in my experience.

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RickBoglehead
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by RickBoglehead » Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:34 pm

Epsilon Delta wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:20 pm
RickBoglehead wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:56 pm

"I plugged something else into the outlet and it seemed to work".

On/Off. It either works, or it doesn't work.
You'd be surprised at some of the partial failures I've seen.

However in new product engineering I was about the fourth level of troubleshooting. No doubt the first three troubleshooters caught the obvious stuff so Byzantine failures are probably rarer in the field than in my experience.
Many years ago I worked at a bank. I wrote programs for a division that did Cash Management, i.e. Lockboxes. Think a store with hundreds of locations, they deposit the funds locally and they are all pulled in and reported centrally. They had me work the support line one day to see how the customers were that used my programs. Customer calls, "I can't run reports". Diagnosis list:

1) When you picked up the phone, did you hear a dial tone before you dialed? (this is in the days of couplers to communicate with computers)

2) If yes, did you then dial the number and hear it ringing?

3) When it was answered, did you hear the computer's squawk and then put the handset in the coupler, and then turn the switch on?

4) Once a connection was made, if the terminal still doesn't work, is there paper in it (they can't type if no paper).

And so on...
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GW208
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by GW208 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:10 pm

You wouldn't have by chance recently driven any stakes in the ground to support Christmas decorations or anything like that?

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WestUniversity
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by WestUniversity » Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:40 pm

Is there a GFI on the outlet? Has it been tripped?

Topic Author
Calli114
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Calli114 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:22 pm

livesoft wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 1:21 pm
What did you find on youtube.com when you searched there about your issue?
OP here, thanks everybody. Youtube mentions some of the same things. I do not see a GFI by the outlet where the transformer box is plugged in, but what I meant is the outlet itself works when I plug in something else, not the transformer plug.
I will check for a cut wire to the first light again, when it gets daylight tomorrow then onward to the other suggestions.

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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by bob60014 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 7:21 pm

Calli114 wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:22 pm
livesoft wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 1:21 pm
What did you find on youtube.com when you searched there about your issue?
OP here, thanks everybody. Youtube mentions some of the same things. I do not see a GFI by the outlet where the transformer box is plugged in, but what I meant is the outlet itself works when I plug in something else, not the transformer plug.
I will check for a cut wire to the first light again, when it gets daylight tomorrow then onward to the other suggestions.

Please save yourself time and check the transformer and connections on it first. ;)

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Calli114
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Calli114 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 8:14 pm

bob60014 wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 7:21 pm
Calli114 wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:22 pm
livesoft wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 1:21 pm
What did you find on youtube.com when you searched there about your issue?
OP here, thanks everybody. Youtube mentions some of the same things. I do not see a GFI by the outlet where the transformer box is plugged in, but what I meant is the outlet itself works when I plug in something else, not the transformer plug.
I will check for a cut wire to the first light again, when it gets daylight tomorrow then onward to the other suggestions.

Please save yourself time and check the transformer and connections on it first. ;)

OK, thx. I don't have a voltmeter but my neighbor has everything like that.

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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by Boglegrappler » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:00 pm

You can check to see if the transformer is working with a simple VOM (volt-ohm) meter. The transformer will have a terminal strip that has the wires feeding the lights attached to it. Measure the voltage between the various terminals and the "common" terminal. It should read somewhere between 12 and 15 volts or so. Use the AC setting, not the DC setting. If you have no voltage at the terminals where the wires to the lights are attached, your transformer needs replacing, probably, unless there is a switch you've turned off in it.

I had to replace a couple of transformers because mice built nests in them and they chewed the insulation on the wires completely off inside the transformer housing. You wouldn't have thought mice could get in there, but they did.

Depending on how its wired, the connectors along the way for the low voltage wiring could also be an issue. I use Kichler connectors, and my lawn guys seem to be able to dislodge the connection on them regularly, despite my efforts. Since all of your lights are not working, any connector problem would be "upstream" close to the transformer. It's also the case that a weed wacker or rake can slightly cut one of the wires, in which case no electricity will flow.

If the transformer shows (via the voltage measurement) that it is providing voltage to the wiring system, your problem is in the wiring downstream from the transformer, and could be a slight nick, or a wire pulled loose from a connector.

DrakeSRT
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Re: Landscaping lights went out

Post by DrakeSRT » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:47 pm

All that I had to do when mine went out was replace the bulbs with LED bulbs. After checking all wiring and transformer switched bulbs to LED which required less "juice".

I'm thinking the wires or connections corroded over time.

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