120Volt vs. 12Volt – What is the Difference?

We are The Lighting Experts

At Light It Right we get calls all the time for repairs to 120V systems and we have to inform those callers that we only work on 12V systems – then the questions well what is that and what is the difference arise.

There are a few major differences between the two, one being 120V requires and electrical license and 12V in Texas does not. Also, 120V is the power that runs through your house, where 12V is dropped down from 120V using a transformer, and is much safer to work with that 120V, especially in your yard.


120V (also known as high voltage) is full line power and when used for outdoor lighting is quite costly. The initial cost for the installation can be 2-3x the cost of 12V (also known as low voltage). The cost of the fixtures and other materials needed to correctly install a high voltage system are much higher than those used for low voltage systems. Also, looking at the residual cost on the electric bill, high voltage will cost you at the meter with how much power it takes to run, whereas low voltage you may not even notice a change on the bill.


Low voltage fixtures are much more attractive to look at, they tend to have a more aesthetic look to them. The fixtures often used for high voltage lighting are very large, bulky, have one look to them, and can be an eye sore. Unlike high voltage lighting fixtures, low voltage fixtures can be installed flush in the ground, hidden in the landscape, mounted on/around fire pits, placed in water, and many other locations. With the diversity that low voltage fixtures provide design abilities are endless, where high voltage has limitations.

HV vs LV

                                                High Voltage Fixture Next to a demoed Low Voltage Fixture 

Light Output

Until recently high voltage lighting options had this in the bag. Well with LEDs improving (and getting better) low voltage now has this in the bag. Low voltage LEDs are now available in higher outputs than before so Light It Right has many more options to work with, we can even create the same effect that high voltage mercury vapor has. Many older properties have high voltage that has been for decades and is in need of replacing, but no one is willing to do it due to cost constraints. Those homeowners now have the ability to have those fixtures removed and replaced with low voltage while still achieving the same lighting effect, if desired, and none be the wiser that the lights changed.

color temp hv vs lv

Power Source

You would think high voltage and low voltage are powered the same, well they are not! High voltage lighting takes the full 120V straight from the power line into its own power source at either the bottom of each fixture or mounted at the bottom of each tree lights are mounted in. This is the easiest way to tell if you do not know what type of lighting you have. Low voltage lighting is powered by home runs that run back to a single transformer located on the property that is dropping the 120V from the home to 12V. There are no other power sources need throughout the system, just one outlet is used.


HV Power source gannon-properly-installed-trans

                                 High Voltage Power Source                                                               Low Voltage Power Source


There are many reasons that homeowners and lighting designers have moved away from high voltage to low voltage. Low voltage costs less to run, lower install cost, aesthetically pleasing fixtures, safer, and endless design uses. If you can think of it a low voltage lighting designer can probably make it happen.

120Volt vs. 12Volt – What is the Difference?