Line Voltage vs. Low Voltage Track Lighting: What's the Difference?

Track lighting with fireplace
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Track lighting just might have a place in your home as an easy-to-install, flexible form of interior lighting. Track lighting is one way to run lighting in a minimally invasive way—little or no drywall demolition required. Plus, because all of the components are exposed, track lighting is flexible. If you don't like the current configuration, you can change it with little fuss.

If you've made the decision on track lighting, the next decision is whether to purchase and install a line voltage or low voltage system.

Line Voltage Track Lighting
  • Direct power feed

  • 120V

  • More difficult to install

  • No visible transformer

Low Voltage Track Lighting
  • Power fed through transformer

  • 12V

  • Easier to install

  • Transformer is visible

Line Voltage vs. Low Voltage Track Lighting Systems

The chief difference between line voltage and low voltage track lighting systems is the voltage they use: 120 V for line voltage systems and 12 V or 24 V for low voltage systems. The difference between the power feeds also has a bearing on safety, flexibility, ease of installation, and cost.

Line Voltage Track Lighting Systems

Line voltage systems are the most common type of track lighting and have been used for many years, especially in larger residential or commercial spaces.

  • Power: 120V or a direct feed from the power lines (via the home's service panel) goes straight into the back of the line voltage track lighting system, in the same way that wires feed directly into a ceiling light or an outlet.
  • Safety: Though line voltage track lighting systems are not inherently dangerous, they are slightly less safe than low voltage systems. The power is not stepped down. So, the 120V current is continuous throughout the track strip and components.
  • Appearance: Line voltage track lighting systems have no exposed transformer, so they hug closer to the ceiling, with fewer obstructions.

Low Voltage: Safe to Touch?

It's generally safe to touch low voltage track lighting tension wires and tracks. Even so, you might feel a mild vibration or an uncomfortable mild shock, especially if standing in a wet area or other ungrounded location.

Low Voltage Track Lighting Systems

Low voltage systems draw their power from a transformer, and this transformer must be mounted near the track system. The transformer is fed by 120V household current.

  • Power: The transformer acts as an intermediary between the track light and the house's power system running to the power line. As with line voltage systems, low voltage systems, too, have the service panel upline from the transformer unit. The transformer steps down the power to 12V or 24V.
  • Safety: Not all of the low voltage track lighting system is safe. The transformer and all elements upstream or upline (toward the service panel) are charged to 120V. Components below the transformer are of a safer, lower charge.
  • Appearance: With the exposed transformer, a low voltage track lighting system tends to be more obtrusive than line voltage systems.


Low voltage track lighting transformers look like humps or small boxes integrated into the end of the lighting track.

Track Lighting Basics

Track lighting is a type of illumination system where a long metal track or wire is charged with electricity. Its interchangeable fixtures or track heads can be inserted at any point on that track, up to a maximum number of fixtures.

  • Exposed: Track lighting is a non-invasive way of illuminating your kitchen or bathroom because no walls or ceilings need to be opened up. Track lighting resides on the surface of the wall or ceiling, not inside.
  • Flexible: You can mix and match tracks and components to reach any part of a room. Tracks snap end-to-end, so you can extend the lighting (though voltage requirements will eventually limit you). It is easy to pop in another track head or fixture where you need extra light or take out lights to save energy. Note that components are rarely interchangeable between different manufacturers. 
  • Curvable: Not only is track lighting flexible in terms of mixing and matching different components: it literally is flexible. Many of the newer tracks can be bent or curved in different directions.

Track Lighting vs. Recessed Lighting

One advantage of using recessed lights is that they tuck away and remain flush to the height of the ceiling. All track lights hang lower than the ceiling height. This can be a problem if your ceilings are lower than the standard 96 inches high.

Line and Low Voltage Track Lighting Components

Track Lighting Heads or Fixtures

Track heads have expanded beyond the old gooseneck-style heads. One significant development is the pendant light. By dropping the light on a cord, up to 42 inches, greater illumination and pinpointing of the beam are achieved.

Track Lighting Bulbs

Bulbs depend on the fixtures, but common wattages are 35W, 50W, and even up to 90W. With energy-efficient LED bulbs, you can get the same amount of light with a small fraction of the energy used.

Track Lighting Tracks

  • Monorail: Monorail tracks have exposed contacts and can be curved. Stand-offs hold the track a few inches away from the ceiling and act as insulators.
  • Straight/Rigid: Straight tracks with enclosed electrical contacts come in lengths up to 96 inches. Heads usually attach by inserting the conductor end into the track, then making a quarter-turn.
  • Cable/Tension: Cable or tension wire tracks suspend the heads between two attachment points. The cables or wires should be tensioned very tightly to avoid a droopy effect. The cables or wires may need to be re-tensioned every so often.

Track Lighting Components

  • Connector: "T", "L", and straight connectors serve to connect separate tracks.
  • Transformer: Transformers are used for low voltage systems.
  • Pendant Adapter: Attaches pendant lights to tracks.
  • Accordion Flexible Track Joiner: These connectors let you send tracks off in directions other than straight or perpendicular.
Article Sources
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