When I moved into my current home, I really wanted to brighten the place up at night. There are windows on almost every wall in every room which makes the place very bright during the day, but that light quickly fades as the sun sets. There were two recessed light fixtures and one track light, otherwise, there was no built-in artificial light.
The other complication was a lack of ceiling. The house has exposed 4 x 6 timber that supports the roof slats and nothing more. No cavity to run wire, no attic space in which to be mischievous. I took advantage of the rafters, though, and with a few 1 x 4s, a router and lots of wire, I came up with a system that lets me put "hard wired" fixtures almost anywhere.
The two pendants that we will be installing in this Instructable are to be located in my garage. The location of my would-be workshop is dark, even with the garage door open and all of the lights on. I suppose the fact that the entire garage is lit from two small ceiling fixtures doesn't help.
As this Instructable involves power tools and electricity, please use your best judgment.
Step 1: Parts List
Find something that you like, that fits the décor and ideally, something you can inspect before you buy. We will be using FOTO pendants from IKEA. They are designed to simply plug into a wall outlet and lack any transformer or other unexpected electrical apparatus. This makes them ideal for our pendant project. I have also used this process extensively with low voltage GRUNDTAL spotlights but with the transformer located in a nearby closet.
INSTEON LED Bulb(s)
Depending on the type of fixture you select, regular Edison-screw luminaries can easily be INSTEONified by using an INSTEON LED Bulb. This will require wiring the fixture as always-on, but you are still able to maintain discrete control over each fixture because of the LED Bulb's built-in INSTEON technology.
Other INSTEON Controller
If your fixture has an included light that cant simply be replaced by an INSTEON LED Bulb, consider using an INSTEON controller that is more appropriate. If your fixtures terminate with a plug, try a Lamp Module (assuming they can be dimmed) or an Appliance Module (if they don't dim). Other hard-wired type lights can be accommodated by a Micro Module as long as you enclose it in a properly rated junction box.
My trick uses 1 x 4 dimensional lumber of various lengths, depending on the project need. This project will use an 8-foot long board. While you can use narrower stock, it will get tricky as you route out the groove for your wires. You can also use wider stock, but much more than 6 inches and the look is very different and, in my opinion, not as attractive.
Router or Dado Set
As we will be hiding the wires behind the 1 x 4, you will need some method of carving out a cavity for them to hide. If you have a dado cutter for your table saw, use that. If not, a router and 1/2-inch straight-cutting bit works very well, so long as you have a fence to guide the router.
Step 2: Make the Groove
Before You Go Any Further
"Remember, the most important safety step is to wear these, safety glasses."
Cut the Groove
Adjust the fence on your router or table saw so that the grove is off center. The last thing you want to deal with is trying to poke screws through the channel that will contain your wires as you affix the 1 x 4 to the ceiling. Moving the channel off-center means you can drill straight through the center of the board without fear of piercing a wire's insulation and causing a short or electrocution.
Make the depth about 1/4 inch. If your fixture uses thicker wires, adjust accordingly, but be mindful of the board's thickness. I wouldn't suggest making a groove deeper than half the board's thickness.
Take your time and work carefully. If the router pulls away and eats through the edge of your board, you'll wish you had taken more time in the beginning.
Depending on how you will be locating your 1 x 4, be mindful of the narrow ends of the board. If you will be able to hide both ends, you can cut on through. If you will have an exposed end or both, plunge cut with your router to start and stop short of the end of the board's narrow end. You don't need to cut the channel any longer than you will be running wire, so if you are using a 10-foot board for aesthetics but are only running a fixture to the midpoint, don't bother to cut all 10'.
Step 3: Prepare for Wiring
Test the Fit
Lay your new fixture's wire in the channel and test the fit. If the depth is too shallow, adjust your router or table saw and recut. If you will be mounting multiple fixtures over the corse of the board's run, make sure all of the wires fit in the width of the groove.
Measure out the distance between fixtures. If the space is awkward and you aren't certain of the spacing, take the time to make a model in SketchUp. Once you are satisfied with the horizontal placement of your fixtures, drill a through hole the diameter of the fixtures' wire. Make the hole from the finished side of the board and not the side with the channel to minimize any chance of tear out as the drill pierces the opposite side of the wood.
Test the hole's diameter by passing the fixture's wire through and adjust if necessary. Ideally, the fit is snug but not impossible as you will have to pass all of the wire through.
Use a sharp chisel to connect the through hole with the cable channel.
Locate Your Ceiling Joists
If you are hanging the board over a drywall ceiling, use a stud finder to locate the ceiling joists. They should be spaced about 16- to 24-inches apart. If you are lucky, they will travel perpendicular to your board, giving you plenty of fasting points. If you are unlucky, like me, your joists will run parallel to the board. If you can relocate so that you are over a joist, do so for the best possible fastening. If not, use properly rated anchors instead. In all likelihood, you won't be hanging much weight from the 1 x 4 unless you have chosen particularly heavy light fixtures.
Drill through holes for the mounting, being sure that your hole misses the cable channel. An extra set of hands will come in handy as someone holds the board to the ceiling and you drill. Don't fasten the board to the ceiling just yet though, we still need to thread the fixture wire through.
Step 4: The Cable Channel
Thread Your Wire
Pass the wire for each fixture through the fixture hole and route it along the cable groove you made with the router. A little bit of tape will help keep the wires from moving or becoming sandwiched between the ceiling and the 1 x 4.
If you had to do any soldering of low voltage lights, test everything before you continue. The last thing you want to do is to take the entire contraption down just to look for a bad connection.
After you have drawn all your wires through and affixed them sufficiently, call your helper back to mount the board.
Use screws to fasten the board to the ceiling (or anchors when there is no ceiling joist to be found). Make sure none of the wires become stuck between the wood and the ceiling. This tends to be the quickest part, just have plenty of screws on hand incase you drop a few (and you will).
Step 5: Wiring
For most folks, you're going to want to just plug in these new light fixtures without dealing with electrical boxes, etc. For that, I suggest a few replacement Wire Plugs. They are easy to affix to the now-cut wire and let you plug the fixture in to any regular outlet. Adding an INSTEON LED Bulb makes the lamp controllable, so nothing further is needed.
Depending on your fixture, you may simply need to tuck the wires behind a bookcase and connect a Lamp Module after wiring on a replacement plug. In my case, I will be building a short wall to the right of the fixtures and will use that cavity to hide the wiring. I've located a switch and junction box where they will be once the wall is built to make the wiring more feasible.
If Using an INSTEON Switch or Micro Module
Turn off power to the junction box. Pull your wire to the junction box and remove the outer jacket. Connect line (usually black) from the fixture to the load terminal or wire on your Micro Module or INSTEON Switch. Connect neutral (usually white) to the neutral wire in your junction box. Cap everything with wire nuts and make sure no copper wire is visible. Turn power back on and test your module. It should control the new light fixture.
If Using an INSTEON LED Bulb
Screw in your LED Bulbs and plug in the lamps. Linking with the Bulbs is much easier when using home control software like Perceptive Automation's Indigo.
Add the Bulbs to Indigo. Double-click one of the bulbs from the Devices list and select Manage Links. Click the + New Link to Controller button and find your desired INSTEON controller from the list. I will be adding both the On/Off Switch at the workbench and the On/Off Switch by the garage door. This will create a virtual three-way, letting me turn the pendants on from either location. Click Sync Now and your finished.
One More Thing...
Since all of these lights are in my garage and the garage is already so dark, I've added a few INSTEON Open/Close Sensors to the mix. I've placed on on the side-door and one on the garage door. Whenever either door is opened and it's dark outside (determined by Indigo), all of the lights in the garage will turn on automatically. It's really slick to pull into a garage that feels like it was expecting you, especially when it's late at night and the nearest light switch is on the other side of the garage.