Wiring Outdoor Lights

By James Dulley

August 3, 2018 4 min read

Dear James: I want to install low-voltage lights in my yard, but I have to run the wire under a three-foot-wide concrete walkway. Is there any way to get it under the walk without taking out a section? -- Kathy W.

Dear Kathy: Your problem is very common because low-voltage lighting is commonly used around patios and landscaping with walkways. Luckily, low-voltage wiring is safe to install in the ground without protection so the job is much simpler than installing standard 120-volt lighting.

You have quite a few do-it-yourself options for making an opening underneath a walkway which is only three feet wide. The first method to try is just digging under the walkway with a shovel. If the soil is relatively loose without a lot of stones, this should work well.

Use a duckbill shovel. This is the type often used by landscapers to dig narrow holes when trenching or planting things. It is long and narrow and looks similar to a ducks' bill. Start digging down on opposite sides of the walkway to determine the soil conditions.

If the digging goes fairly easy, dig to a depth of about one foot below the bottom of the walkway. Dig out about three feet on either side so you can get the shovel in a more horizontal position. Remember, you do not have to dig deep. You just have to make a tunnel large enough to get the small wire through it.

Push the shovel blade in horizontally and rock it back and forth to slowly loosen the soil. Once you get near the middle from either end, you will probably have to finish with a hand digger and your bare hands to remove the dirt.

Another option is to saw an angled chisel end on a piece of PVC pipe. Use a piece about two feet long so you can place it horizontally in the trench on either side of the walkway. Place a wooden block over the end and pound on it with a heavy hammer.

After it goes in several inches, grip it with pipe wrench, rotate it and pull it out. Clean the dirt out of the end and repeat the procedure until you are half way through. Do the same from the other side until the holes meet. If the ground is full of stones, use a piece of steel pipe instead of PVC so you can pound harder in it.

Another possible method requires the use of a pressure washer. Drive the pipe into the ground under the walkway about six inches as described above. Clean the dirt from the pipe and insert the wand from a pressure washer into it. The water pressure will help bore a hole under the walkway. Wear eye protection and a face mask. Keep your head well above the pipe and over the walkway - DON'T watch in the end.

Once you have the hole opened, put a piece of conduit in it and run the wire through it. Code does not require conduit, but you may want to run additional wires someday. Use sand or fine gravel to fill in around the pipe so the walkway is still well-supported in that spot. This is most important if you used the shovel method because the hole will be much wider.

James Dulley’s weekly column, “Here’s How,” can be found at creators.com.

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