How do I know how many 180 lionel powerhouses I will need? With these powerhouses do I even need a traditional transformer? How will I know how much power is needed. I plan to have a bus bar on either side of the board in order to run my jumpers alot more neatly.
As has been stated "It depends on how many trains you run, also the vintage of the trains and how much power they draw. My thoughts if you run post war Lionel trains you could likely run two on one 180 Powerhouse. If your trains are later/ powered by can motors you might run three or more on a single 180 Powerhouse. Note what John said above,
"One big favor you can do yourself for passenger trains is upgrade them to LED lighting. Better lighting, no flicker, and it'll chop the power usage down 90% or more. " John has made boards available to do those conversions, he also has posted a schematic and parts list so you could build your own.
If you use the Powerhouses, no, you will not need a traditional transformer but you will need one of the Command sets, Legacy Cab1L or the Legacy 990 Command set, or you might find a used Cab1 TMCC set.
A lot depends on what you want to do, do you want to run all from the place where you have your transformer set, if so purchase the transformer. would you like to run from anywhere in the layout room, then purchase the Command set along with Powermasters if your trains are the conventional type.
I myself have gone the command route with the Powermasters, I can run any of my trains from anywhere around the layout.