Introduction: Light Up Your Project With LEDs
A very effective way to bring a project to life is to add lighting. Today’s technology has given do-it-yourselfers a wide selection of lighting options that are very bright, very inexpensive to operate, inexpensive to purchase, and easy to install – what’s not to like?
There are options such as dimmable lights, battery-operated lights, color-changing lights, flashing and moving lights, weatherproof, etc. that further expand the applications. This gives the DIY'er an almost unlimited ability to create a perfect lighting effect for their project.
Indirect lighting, safety or security lighting, shop lights, accent lights, task lighting, etc. are easy projects as well as inexpensive ways to dramatically improve your surroundings.
Most lights now are LED (Light-emitting diode) that operate on 12v, not 110v, so they are much safer to work with, operate cooler, operate longer, and put out much more light for the electric consumption. (If you really must know, they are a semiconductor light source instead of a traditional light bulb.)
NOTE: traditional light bulbs are measured in watts; LEDs list their watts, but that is only their power consumption - not brightness. LED brightness is shown as Lumens (more lumens = more light.)
Traditional light bulbs get very hot – too hot to touch – but LEDs stay cool even after hours of operation. With incandescent lights, most of your power bill pays to generate heat instead of light. With LED technology, you get lots of light for very little power. To be more technical, a 60 watt incandescent light bulb is equal to a LED of 8.5 watts; the lifespan of that LED is 25,000 hours and the incandescent is 1,200 hours. The KWh consumed by the LED is 212.5 compared to 1,500 for incandescent (7 times more power to produce the same light from the LED.)
And they are not expensive. (An example would be a 16 ½’ long strip of LED lights on an adhesive peel-and-stick backing rolled on a reel is $8.00 for a good quality light.)
My most recent project was a canned food organizer for our kitchen pantry – the project went well and my wife loves the new convenience of being able to see everything at a glance. I went a step further and added lighting to the pantry and the results were terrific. I connected it to our under-cabinet task lights so the pantry "comes on" when she turns on the task lights at a wall switch. They flood the pantry with lots of light but consume 12w of power and are not hot if she managed to touch a light bar. (I used 3 light bars in a chain, 4w each.)
Step 1: Materials
Most lighting comes in a kit with mounting hardware, instructions, and extra fittings included, so a few basic tools are all you typically need:
Screw driver (usually a Phillips)
Electric drill (optional, but a small pilot hole really helps to drive screws)
Step 2: Decisions
Decisions, decisions, decisions. The best results begin with planning – deciding what kind of lighting will achieve the desired results. Then decide the best location to mount the lights, considering what power source to use and how you plan to connect to it. Most kits are “plug-in” so your source will most likely be a wall outlet or maybe an extension cord. If you are comfortable with wiring, most lights are easily hard-wired into a power source.
Decide on the effect you are seeking. Most lights are just white light – but those come in either bright white or cool white. Some lights change color for setting mood and some have a flash and a strobe setting; moving or pattern lighting is available. The type of light is another decision: light bar or strip or enclosed fixture, recessed, spot or flood, etc. One more decision is where to purchase the light.
I have been very pleased (this is not a paid product endorsement) with a company called Lighting Ever. Their website, www.lightingever.com, is a great place to learn about LED lights (they are not all the same brightness or quality, etc.) as well as looking at all of the different types of lighting they make (rope lights, light bars, automotive, battery-powered, etc.) You can also learn the different densities - LEDs can be clustered densely or less dense depending on how much light you need per inch.
There are literally hundreds of sources of LED lights to include your local stores. Do yourself a favor and read up on LEDs before deciding. I use Lighting Ever because all the stuff I get from them has been delivered fast, was packaged well, instructions were clear, and they’re inexpensive. Their customer support has been good, too. Again, they are hardly the only source around, so do a little reading about LEDs and compare some prices online – just make sure you’re “comparing apples to apples.”
Step 3: Installation
Carefully follow the installation instructions packaged with whatever lights you purchase. Most LEDs are "plug-and-play" right out of the box. Remember you are working with a 12v system in most cases, so there is little chance you will overload a circuit. 12v is safe to work with, but still a shock hazard, so exercise proper caution.
The typical LED light comes with a transformer to "transform" AC house current to 12v DC. The transformer is usually a small device that is part of the plug-in piece or an in-line transformer somewhere between the lights and the plug.
The kits typically come with a decent amount of wire and often include extra wires and connectors to help you modify the application as needed. (You may want to "daisy chain" one or more lights together; extra wires/parts are usually provided to help you do that without any wiring.) Most devices (such as an on/off switch or a dimmer) are in-line which means the entire light package plugs together and no wiring is necessary.
Wires can go through walls if access holes are drilled, they can follow baseboards, go around door trim, etc. but be careful to not damage any wires with nails or staples you may use.
Installation often involves small clips that are screwed to the wall and the light fixture snapped into the clip. Others have peel-and-stick adhesive backing, while others (like rope lights) are loose and you attach using your own fasteners.
I used a 5m spool (16 1/2') of adhesive-backed strip lights to make my own shop light. My light is huge - over 7' long, and floods my work bench with crisp white light. It is a simple "L" of wood suspended from the ceiling with jack chain. I hid another reel of strip light to provide cove lighting in our living room; I added a remote-controlled dimmer so lighting softens as needed. The applications are almost limitless and installation couldn't be simpler.
Step 4: Operating the Lights
Operating the LED light is simple – almost all of the lights are "plug-and-play" so there's no guesswork and no wiring involved. Some lights come with an on/off switch, a remote-controlled dimmer switch, a motion detector, or simply activated with the circuit they are plugged into . . . or you can devise your own plan (such as activating by opening a door or breaking a beam of light.) The applications are endless – they can be installed underneath vehicles, on drones, under water, etc.
Your choices are unlimited and can be a blessing for elders who walk about during hours of darkness, house guests who don't know where obstacles are in the night, task lighting, for security, artistic expression, or just for fun.
Many projects (such as a closet conversion or a bookshelf) can be enhanced with a proper touch of light . . . so after you craft it, Shed Some Light On It.
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