Introduction: Stair Lighting Solution With LED Strips

About: I'm a Mechanical Engineer who has a little free time when not hanging out with my young kids and wife.

Like many people, I bought a house with a finished basement, where many things were not done the way I would have done them, and once there's drywall up, it's hard to fix electrical and lighting short comings.

Over the past two years, one particular problem had been bothering me, the dimly lit stairs. I investigated several options, like traditional lights embedded in the walls, but after pulling out the switches and assessing the 3-way switch wiring, it proved in feasible. Once the drywall and finishes are up, it gets messy to snake wires around and I didn't feel like cutting (and worse, repairing!) holes in the drywall, so I decided to embed an LED strip light in the underside of the railing.

Step 1: Order Some Parts

You'll need a few parts:

1 x "Old Works" 2 gang outlet box

1 x "Old Works" 1 gang outlet box

~ 5' of 14 or 12 gauge romex wire

1 x 15/20 amp outlet

1 x 15/20 amp single pole switch

1 x Dual switch face plate

1 x single outlet face plate

5 m LED Strip

12V Power Supply

I've included links to Amazon for each of the parts, but realistically you can get everything but the LED strip and 12V power supply locally at your home center, you'll also pay way less.

You can substitute out the LED strip for another color if you're feeling crazy, but I opted for the 3100K so they look close to the adjacent LED can lights. They're not a true 3100K, slightly off color from a high quality LED, but they're cheap!

Step 2: Add a Switched Outlet

This part is pretty straightforward, there's a lot of great resources on how to wire new outlets, so I won't cover it here. I originally had an "New Works" single gang box, which meant I had to cut off the nails, cut a larger hole in the drywall and install a double gang "Old Works" box (which clamps on the drywall rather than screws to the studs). I had a 3-way switch that was supplied by constant power, which I could just branch over to my new single pole switch for the outlet that fed the new outlet mounted just below the railing in a single gang "Old Works" box. You'll have to evaluate your own wiring to figure out what to do. Also, make sure you size your wire, switch, and outlet appropriately for the existing wiring and circuit -- most likely if you're in North America and tapping into a light circuit you're going to find 14 gauge wire, or a 15 amp circuit.

If you don't feel confident in your wiring skills, have an electrician do this for you, burning down your house or electricuting yourse for some new lights isn't really worth it

Step 3: Embed LED Strip in the Railing

This is the only part that will take some specailty tools.

I build all my own furniture, (Detour if you want to see some) so I have a well equipped wood working shop. But if you don't you may have to get creative on how to cut the groove.

First you'll want to detach your handrail from the wall in your house. Determine the width and depth of your LED strip. In my case it was around 3/8" wide and around .1" deep. I cut the groove slightly oversize so I had plenty of space. I used a router table so I could do stopped grooves (so you don't see the groove on the ends, and it keeps the epoxy in).

Next, cleanup the groove so there's no dust or stray wood fibers. Measure out the amount of LED strip you need by placing it in the groove and eyeballing it. Make sure to cut it only at the specified locations. The LED strip I used had a DC barrel jack already soldered to the strip -- if you don't have one, solder one on before you go any farther. Start at one end, pulling off the adhesive backing and sticking it to the bottom of the groove. Make sure it's stuck well, it can float in the epoxy if you don't stick it down well. Then I used some staples (hand pounded in) to secure the two ends. If you

In order to have the epoxy work well, you'll need to get the railing both level and straight. As you can see from the pictures, I first got it level, and clamped the two ends. Then I found there was a big bow in the handrail... which would cause all the epoxy to pool in the center and empty out on the ends. So then I shimmed up the center so it was all both level and flat.

Next, mix up some epoxy -- again I use it a lot, so I have it by the gallon. I used 3 x pumps of West Systems fast set epoxy -- it's a little more yellow than than the slow set, but I don't want to give the epoxy too long to flow around in case I'm a little out of level. MIX MIX MIX! Then pour in the epoxy so there's a very slight crown above the surface -- surface tension will keep it in as long as you don't go crazy. If you find you have any bubbles (you will) you can pop them by gently pushing something into it -- maybe what you mixed up the epoxy with:). Wipe up any spills (I'd had a lot of coffee that day). It'll be easier now than when it dries. Then wait for the epoxy to cure - I just left mine overnight.

Step 4: Plug It In!

Once the epoxy sets, sand it up if needed, secure it back to the railing hardware, and plug it in!

Now you can see while going down the stairs!