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Question DetailsAsked on 11/3/2016

I have a Star*Lite Pluto cable halogen system with wall mounted transformer. One day all three lamps failed. Why?

System installed about 20 years ago, directional fixtures attached to cables - never have changed a halogen lamp. Odd that all three lamps failed at once. The panel breaker is ok. Has transformer failed?? I cannot find manufacturer - probably off shore brand x. How do I know which transformer to use? Should I pull the transformer and try to match with general merchandise? May thanks to you. Gil

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2 Answers



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Answered 4 years ago by Member Services


I could not find any references to this Pluto system either - may be one of the cheap import brands that come and go with regularity.

However, Malibu Lights does have a Star Light line - see here to see if this looks like yours -

Malibu Lighting Corp is currently in bankruptcy, but their products are out there still, though INtermatic (the manufacturer) is getting out of the low-voltage business. Rumor is their contracts with Home Depot and Lowes and Target and such went to lower priced Asian vendors.

Debugging the flaw, assuming you know how to use a VOM (volt-ohm-meter), or have an Electrical (your Search the List category to find a provider) contractor do it. When debugging be aware that any part of the system may be "live" if there is an electrical flaw - don't assume any part is not live till proven otherwise. If a two-wire system this may require pulling an extension cord out to where you are testing (from another 3-wire outlet) to have a known ground on another circuit available to test voltage against and to ensure each non-live wire or fixture housing is "dead" and not shorted with a live wire. This is VERY important with landscape lighting, because not only are they commonly 2-wire systems (so ungrounded fixtures), but the fixture is commonly not well grounded or "earthed" because of its shallow support peg (which may also not be conductive), so parts of the system like the post or head can be "live" and not carry enough juice to ground trip the circuit breaker. (Another reason that breaker or the wall outlet it is plugged into should be swapped out for a GFCI breaker, per code.)

First, check for 120V AC line power at the transformer input when panel breaker is on to be sure power is getting to the transformer and that the circuit itself or the breaker or the outlet is not bad. Also, if the outlet or breaker is a GFCI one (which it should be, this being an outdoor use circuit) perhaps the GFCI tripped - could have been an intermittent cause like rain/meltwater or condensation in a fixture or the underground wire which has dried out, or there could still be a fault so if you reset it don't try to hold it on - if it trips right back out, you have a line fault in the system somewhere.

If input power to the transformer is good, then check for power output from the transformer - which may be AC at 120V or sometimes AC at a lower voltage. If DC a low voltage like 12 or 24, or rarely another odd voltage like 36, 40, 48, 50, or 60V - I have seen all those at times, but 12V is probably the most common for this type of landscape lighting if you are talking "Mailbu" type lights. Transformer should be labelled with rated input and output voltages - if output voltage is different (not within about 10% to account for possible input voltage variations) then the transformer is shot and has to be replaced. Might also find a transformer manufacturer name and/or model number that would help google for a replacement.

If there is power at the transformer output - then check for any print on the transformer - should give the input and output voltage and wattage - or in lieu of wattage the input or output amperage. Check the output voltage versus the rating on the transformer - rarely when they fail you get the full 120V AC through the transformer, which would fry all the lower voltage rated bulbs. (Since you have a transformer, almost certain the bulbs are low voltage - probably 12V or 24V AC most likely.)

Assuming you have output from the transformer at the right voltage, then pull the bulbs and check the voltage between the contacts in the fixtures with insulated VOM probes for power - that will tell (if there is power there) if the bulbs fried (possibly due to a power surge ?) or if no power, that the line is interrupted between the transformer and the first light fixture without power.

These type of systems commonly fail from water getting into the cable - due to gardening damage, a rock penetrating the insulation, or probably most commonly from water getting into the fixture connection to the cable - in-ground or in the fixture head as applicable. Can be rain or sprinkler or melt water, or just condensation. If you find power partway through system but not everywhere, then that will allow you to track down which section or connection (the normal failure point) is the problem location.

If you have power to the transformer, but none outgoing - first check that there is not a breaker (usually small red push button labelled "Push To Reset" or some such phrasing) in the transformer- could be some water got into system and tripped it but might work OK now if reset. Do NOT hold it in if it pops right back out.

Then if you have power in but none out of transformer, after checking wiring connections for problems if wires are not molded into the transformer, then likely transformer has to be replaced. Because any new transformer will presumably be connected into the existing wiring, while the old one might have been open to the air if you have connections that are exposed it has to be installed in a grounded UL rated junction box or panel - preferably indoors to avoid condensation issues.

If you need a new transformer, I would first check for continuity in the lines to the light fixtures - that each wire has continuity for the full length from fixture to fixture. If not you might find this is the time to replace the entire system rather than dig up the old one to find the flaw, unless you find it in a fixture head and can fix it. Certainly, if using an electrician to debug it a new system (especially if you can install it yourself) might be cheaper - an 8-head Malibu 12V halogen system runs a bit over $120 right now, so a whole new system is about twice the cost of a transformer module itself, and pretty much gauranteed to be cheaper than even the minimum likely charge from an electrician to repair your problem even if it is simple - assuming you can install it yourself. There are also low power LED systems available for about $150-200 for 6-8 head systems.

Note if this was an all-in-one system - all prewired complete - that the bulbs might have been wired in series so continuity would only exist if the bulbs are in place. You can check bulbs for voltage rating to determine that - if 120V (or same voltage as transformer rated output voltage) then are wired in parallel so wiring should read continuous even if bulbs are out. If rated less than output voltage, then bulbs should be rated equal (or close) to the output voltage divided by the number of bulbs - so if output is say 48-50V and there are 4 bulbs should be rated 12V - this would indicate they are wired in series, with the power going through one bulb to the next - in which case one bulb going out causes failure of the entire string - like old mini-bulb christmas light strings.

As for replacing the transformer - you need same input and output voltage as the existing, and output wattage or amperage capacity at least as high - higher is OK. And of course outdoor rated if outdoors. Lighting distributor (maybe but likely not just a lighting store - but a lighting store or electrical distributor who retails electrical supplies and parts. Or you might be able to find one online at Amazon or an electrical supply store based on the rating. Be sure output voltage is same, AND that it is AC or DC to match the existing one.

IF your system is a Malibu one, here is a link to a provider who sells replacement transformers - an example one (check your output wattage and voltage) can be found here -

One thought if looking at replacing the whole system - you were terribly lucky for it to last 20 years (more commonly 2-5 years) if it is a pierced-cable type system - for a long-lived system you want a system where the wiring comes up into the head for the connections, rather than a water-susceptible pierced-cable in the ground. I also much prefer 3-wire systems, though they are few and far between - I doubt any "sets" come 3 wire - you would have to buy individual 3-wire posts or fixtures and wire with direct-burial rated cable.

BTW - here is a link I came across with more details on tracing and fixing problems with the cable.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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