Lighting Design Considerations Between Low Voltage and Line Voltage Installations
Today’s homes are filled with devices that require electricity to operate, but in the late 19th century, lighting was the primary driver in the electrification of residences. The Edison and Tesla current battles (Tesla’s AC versus Edison’s DC) continued to rage, but George Westinghouse’s successful bid to power the 1893 Chicago World Fair with AC power signaled the eventual victor.
Residential lighting drives early standardization of line voltage
The United States adopted AC voltage as the standard because it was less expensive to distribute and could supply power to larger areas. Because the majority of light bulbs worked best with a voltage between 100 and 110 volts, this also became the standard for the burgeoning electric grid in the United States.
Why is it called line voltage?
Line voltage is somewhat of an autological phrase in that the words define its self. The voltage delivered to a destination (e.g., a house, hotel, or restaurant) via the power line is called line voltage. Today, most power line voltage in the United States is 110 to 120 volts. This standard voltage is the same for Canada, but European countries standardize above 200 volts, and Japan’s power grid is built to deliver just 100 volts.
How is low voltage different?
Low voltage is typically defined as 12 or 24 volts. A transformer is used to lower the line voltage to achieve this reduced voltage. These transformers can be built into the device that requires the low voltage or located elsewhere in the grid. As consumers, manufacturers, and regulatory institutions have become more energy conscience, the adoption of low voltage devices has increased.
What to consider between low voltage and line voltage lighting
Most light fixtures utilize line voltage, the standard voltage “from the street” to the facility, and requires no transformation or additional equipment. Line voltage fixtures are plug and play, and line voltage can distribute as far as a wire can be run from the point of power. This scale provides a distinct advantage over low voltage power, which has a limited range as it extends away from the transformer. Line voltage is generally preferred when many fixtures utilize a single circuit and when the lighting project requires sizable areas that need to be illuminated. Ambient lighting needs are usually met with line voltage fixtures. Low voltage fixtures, though potentially more expensive up front, will consume less energy over time. An additional consideration is that low voltage systems are typically only able to serve smaller areas using lighter electrical loads. However, low voltage fixtures are safer because lower current flow means a lower risk of severe electrical shock. It is common now that building codes require low voltage lights.
Light quality – LED’s have changed the game
Traditionally, low voltage fixtures enabled a sharper light that was preferable in many types of lighting design projects. The light delivered from higher voltage fixtures was soft and more diffused. However, after more than a decade of advancements in LED light fixtures, high-quality light with a wide range of types can be produced by both low and line voltage systems.
LEDs have also enabled smaller fixture designs, further expanding the applications where low voltage fixtures can be preferable. Many accent lighting, display lighting, art gallery, and other similar projects opt for low voltage fixtures. Low voltage systems are also gaining popularity in projects where the comparably bulky line voltage wire and conduit are problematic.
Line and low voltage lighting systems both have advantages and disadvantages. Selecting the right fixtures can be driven by installation investment or long-term operating costs. The project size and scope can also influence the choice.
While specific applications or local codes may dictate the choice between a line voltage or low voltage lighting system, modern lighting technology has enabled great freedom for lighting designers. Many lighting projects require a mixture of low and line voltage systems to attain the desired aesthetic from space to space around the facility.
Boca’s line of interior and exterior light fixtures include both line voltage and low voltage options designed to meet the needs of the most demanding clients and designers.