Under cabinets, on toe kicks or tray ceilings, directed at artwork, or tucked in the garden, low-voltage lights such as MR-16s can make plain spaces pop.
“We typically use them for task lighting or to direct the eye to a point of interest like a painting, a piece of furniture, or an architectural feature,” says Wes Carver, owner of Carver Electrical Contracting, in Telford, Pa.
Low-voltage lighting is particularly useful in the garden for uplighting or along a path. Clients like the look as well as the easy access to bulbs at lower heights, and the lights are easy to hide.
“Not making light fixtures noticeable is a main goal,” Carver says. He often uses low-voltage pendant lighting over a kitchen island where he doesn’t want to obstruct the view with a larger, more traditional light fixture. “It’s a more compact fixture and you’re not sacrificing the quality of the light,” he says.
Because they can be directed, low-voltage lights can create drama, and there are more lamp beam pattern options, says Lana Nathe, lighting designer and owner of Light Insight Design Studio, in Boston. From spots to floods, the spread can be adjusted. If recessed, they create a “quieter ceiling, without such large openings,” Nathe says. “They can be concealed within a 1-inch pinhole for even the most historical period-type architecture.”
“Low voltage is typically a 12-volt system instead of the 120-volt system used for regular incandescent lights,” Carver says. One thing to be cautious of with lighting is transformer and dimmer selections, or there will be a popcorn or buzzing sound. “Light should be seen and not heard,” Nathe says. The transformer changes the 120-volt system to a 12-volt system.
An electronic transformer needs an electronic dimmer; a magnetic transformer should be paired with a magnetic dimmer. Carver likes to use the magnetic system to save clients money and because the transformers can be remotely located; the electronic system often ends up under a cabinet and clutters a clean view.
Stacey Freed is a senior editor for Remodeling.