Introduction: LED Post Lights
My front yard originally was a mess of juniper bushes and rocks. After the man came and ripped it all out, I was left with dirt and a chance to make my yard glow. My new front yard has 6 brick posts that needed some pizzazz but not too much. I just wanted something unique. Looking through various online retailers and big box stores, I was not about to pay $250 x 6 to furnish my posts with lights that I barely liked. It seemed like I could budget something for much less and enjoy the results.
Happily, I can report that I believe I have the smartest and coolest post lights in my neighborhood, and most worthy of an Instructables post so that I might help others learn from my missteps or encourage some new project.
Currently, I have 6 strips of 100 WS2818 LEDs controlled by 6 ESP32 chips synchronized with WLED software connected to my landscape 12 V landscape wiring. The lighting can be subtle or it can be over the top. They are housed in a custom acrylic housing with a 3d printed base. They work nightly with minimal maintenance (well if you do a few things properly).
I am very proud of them and they make holidays and other events festive. Here's my story.
-6 Strips of 100 LED addressable strips. WS2812b 5m 60leds/Pixels/m Waterproof IP65 Flexible Individually Addressable Strip Light. (Originally used SK9882s)
-6 ESP32 ESP32-DEVKITC inc ESP-WROOM-32
-A bunch of scrap acrylic
-6 3D printed bases
Tools I used
Step 1: Prototypes
I wasn't sure what size and geometry would look good. I had a bunch of ideas and worked through a few. This was my first prototype. It was very large to cover the whole top of the bricks, but it just didn't look right. I knew I wanted to maximize the diffusion of the LEDs but ultimately it was too expensive from an acrylic standpoint since I would have to laser large sheets of it.
Acrylic does a good job of resisting UV light. Eventually, they will fail from the climate, but I didn't want to work with glass and metal with this project. A diffuse translucent white acrylic was what I wanted.
The proof of concept worked and it looked excellent at night. I just ran it with an Arduino nano clone and felt like I was going in a good direction.
When you have to make 6 of something it can get expensive very quickly. I didn't want to make one and then realize I could do it better so I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to make it and how I was going to minimize my labor.
Step 2: Acrylic Tops
So after deciding on a design that I drew out in OpenSCAD/Fusion 360, I used some scrap acrylic to form the walls in a pattern of clear, translucent and smoky acrylic. I wanted to mostly hide the LEDs and use diffusion to do so but I also wanted some clear acrylic so that when you walked or drove by your eyes weren't sure what they were seeing. I made a jig to keep the walls in place and to keep the order straight. It was all made from some scrap acrylic I had acquired from the local plastics store so it was much cheaper than my original plan. It was a huge pain to take off all the paper from each cut piece but I had some help. I handle them with care though they are solid.
Step 3: Acrylic Base
The acrylic base was constructed so that I could zip tie the LEDs to the walls and open it up a bit so I could get my fingers inside to pull on the zip ties. They're all slotted and I used a clear acrylic sheet on top to keep it aligned. The slots on top fit snugly to the top. The LED pictures will show how they are taped and zipped to the walls. There needed to be 17mm or so between the outside walls and the inside LED placements to both diffuse and keep the colors separated. I modeled it a bunch of ways to make sure they blended the light together but not too much. Then I glued the 3d printed base to the bottom.
Step 4: 3d Printed Base
The base comes in two parts. The bottom part is screwed into the bricks and the top part glued to the bottom of the acrylic housing. Side screws keep it together. The ability to remove an entire post light and replace it seemed like a reasonable proposition in case I needed rebuild one. Designed in Fusion 360 and printed in ABS to resist the weather.
Step 5: LED Selection
I initially started out with SK9822s at 60 LEDs/M. My initial thought was that they are brighter and have a fast refresh rate. They looked nice for the first year but I failed to buy the ones with weatherproofing. I thought underneath the covers water would never get under there and I should be okay but sometimes the rain really fell hard. Eventually, a few strips failed because of water damage and they had to be replaced.
I replaced them with cheaper WS2812Bs with the same density but with waterproofing.
If I had to rebuild them or if I came up with a new design I think I would look for RBG strips with a W component. Having the extra white LED can save some energy and I would select the warm white for outdoors.
The other issue is the voltage. Most addressable LED strips are 5V, but there are new 12V strips that would match my landscape wiring. The CPU for each Post Light is 5V so I decide to just stick with 5V and a stepdown converter.
Be sure to do the math for each of your lights. You don't want to run too much amperage through a very thin wire. 5V*.060A*100 LEDs = 30 W (6A) for each of my lights. I'd never run them at full blast very long anyway but I made sure the wires were beefy. My landscaping power supply would trip if I had a problem but consider adding a fuse to lots of LEDs especially if they're close to an important or flammable structure.
Step 6: Electronics
Hassling with communications over wires between posts to keep them synchronized seemed to be a fool's errand, so wireless it is. I selected the ESP32 DevKitC board because it has Bluetooth, wifi and other features. Eventually, the software selection would catch up with the hardware I reasoned last year and that turned out to be a good assumption.
Evil Genius Labs has an inexpensive shield that interfaces with the ESP32 that I highly recommend. You can buy an ESP32 DevKitC Wi-Fi and BLE LED Controller from Tindie and save yourself the effort of resistors and capacitors for faultless LED control. It requires a small bit of soldering, but it's an enjoyable past time for me. ESP32 connects right on top.
After doing the math for the LED strips, for safety reasons, I ordered a DC 12V 24V to DC 5V 10A 50W Converter Regulator to convert my landscaping power to 5V. 50W is overkill by 20W but it made me feel a bit more at ease.
Step 7: Embedded Software
My lights have been running for over a year now and have been very reliable. Originally, they were all connected to wifi and used ESPHome because it worked very well with Home Assistant. Both systems are amazing bits of software but that's an entire Instructable by itself. I am happy to share my basic code, but I found that there were lots of LED patterns that I wanted to do which are pretty limited by the ESPHome defaults. I don't have the time nor inclination to do what I discovered someone already has done or at least hoped someone would do.
And it happened. WLED is the bee's knees. You can program ESP32 and ESP8266s to a million different patterns, palettes, and options. Plus it synchronizes between each microcontroller. Did I mention that there's a smartphone app for your platform of choice? Love it! I changed all my controllers over to WLED a few weeks ago. It's like I have a new Post Light display. It's responsive, synchronized and options galore. Highly recommended.
Step 8: Final Thoughts/Results
With glowing things, it can be difficult to capture how well the project turned out. I've done a number of projects and this has been one of the most satisfying ones. Most days when one walks by my house, my posts slowly sparkle a warm white light or some subtle three-color palette reflecting the season. I like that it's not annoying, flashy or over the top. It's different and noticeable only if you're paying attention.
However, when a holiday rolls around my front yard lets you know. It's green for St. Patty's Day, red, white, and blue fireworks for July 4th, rainbows for Pride Month, flames for Halloween, and extra sparkly for Christmas. Someday I plan to add some capacitive touch to one of the pillars to let kids change the patterns, but for now, it's just a personal delight that I enjoy mixing up every so often.
We all work atop the shoulders of people who have inspired us or given us tools to express ourselves. Checkout the WLED, ESPHome, Home Assistant, Evil Genius Labs, Fusion 360, Tindie, etc. Thanks for your interest.
First Prize in the
Make it Glow Contest