LED lighting: the expensive choice for lighting your home or display, which only the green crowd hopes to afford, or is it?
When creating a Halloween display for my neighborhood, lighting is one of the most important aspects. If you can't see it, who cares if you spent 10 hours building it. How do you light up something, keep the yard and the kids safe from hazards, and do it cheaply enough to afford it on a home haunters budget? That is the question I asked and here is how I answered it. Simple LED lighting that is modular, plugs into boxes so it is easy to move, low voltage so it is safe, grounded to a GFCI so it is almost shock proof, and pre wired for the most part so I don't need to be an electrical engineer to make it work.
Below I will try to show you the steps you need to take to make your own LED system so you can light up your display or home for Halloween or even Christmas if you should choose.
I have to thank a few people whos ideas I collaborated off of to create this by combining elements of their designs into my own.
HauntForum members: Niblique, AllenH, and hpropman. As well, the main LED spot light design comes from Holidaycoro with a change in the RGB control over DMX, and a change in the Cat5 cable to RCA Cables.
Step 1: Video of the System
Step 2: Supplies
Here is a basic list of supplies you need to construct the LED system. You will need more of some things depending on how much you are putting into your display.
1-- Computer power supply with power cord -- preferrably with an on off switch. Free if you have an old computer
1--Waterproof 12 volt power supply from HolidayCoro - I used both for different sections of my display
4-- RCA Jack boards -- Radioshack
1-- 8 port Speaker board -- Radioshack
5-- Project boxes -- Radioshack
10-- 2 RCA M/M audio cables 25 foot in length --Monoprice.com makes 4 LED connections each
1-- Roll of landscape wire or lamp wire (2 strand wire, no ground) I got a 300 foot roll for my yard
100 -- LED lights prewired 12 volt 5mm from lighthouseleds.com Adjust to your display.
20-- 2 liter caps from pepsi products -- coke caps don't fit as well but we will get to that You may need more depending on your set up
100 -- rectangle RGB modules from Holidaycoro
10--500 watt halogen spots from Home depot - the cheap ones at 7 dollars each
mixture of Shrink Tubing
1-- 10 foot section of 1" thin wall PVC
2-- Garden stakes - 5 foot 1/2" hollow round stakes - Home depot link below
1-- Roll electrical tape
1-- Roll electrical solder
1-- Soldering iron
1-- Pair wire cutter/ strippers
1-- tube clear silicone caulk
1-- caulk gun
1-- dremel tool to cut project box
1-- phillips screw driver
1-- 9 volt battery
1-- multimeter to measure voltage
1 -- pipe cutter or hack saw will work too
LEDS -- http://lighthouseleds.com/pre-wired-leds-1/12v-leds-5mm-pre-wired.html
RCA cables -- http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10218&cs_id=1021803&p_id=2009&seq=1&format=2
Lamp cord: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=lamp+cord&hl=en&prmd=imvns&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&biw=1680&bih=902&wrapid=tlif134728450699610&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=12113191562306473429&sa=X&ei=6-1NUOLzDqS62wW5roCAAg&ved=0CJMBEPMCMAU
Garden stake : http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v/R-100344753/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&keyword=garden+stake&storeId=10051
Computer power supplies: probably find cheaper elseware : https://www.google.com/#q=computer+power+supply&hl=en&prmd=imvns&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=1u5NUJSBHsmU2AWF8ICgCA&sqi=2&ved=0CE8Qsxg&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=43f264ca4be43cfa&biw=1680&bih=902
Step 3: Hacking the Power Supply
A computer power supply is one of the best pieces of low voltage equipment you can own. It provides consistant power to 3.3 volt, 5 volt, and 12 volt systems. You can also get the negative voltages for each of these as well. The power supply is also protected by an internal fault system so if you cross a wire while setting up or your solder touches something it shouldn't, it will just shut down and no one gets shocked or hurt. This is a huge plus on safety for a home haunt with little kids coming through. No more 120 volt shocks to worry about.
Ok, to start with, you have a box with wires coming out of it all different colors, probably red, orange, green, black, purple, yellow, grey, and blue. These wires all go into either one or two pin connectors (white pieces of plastic) at the ends.
Plug in your power supply and turn it on. You will find that most power supplies require a motherboard to be plugged in to function. If you take your multimeter and put one end in the pin connector on a black wire, and one in the pin connector on a yellow wire, most likely nothing will read. The power supplies have a fail safe built in to detect the board and not function without it. Here is where we trick the power supply into thinking it has that.
First. Unplug the power supply and wait a minute or two for residual power to drain, not really necessary to drain but it doesn't hurt.
Next cut the plastic pin connectors off the end leaving a tangle of wires and separate the wires into colors. Put all the red ones together, the yellows together etc. Use rubber bands or zip ties to keep them separate if you want.
Now to trick the Power supply. There should be one green wire which in almost every electrical component on earth is the ground. Take this wire and one black wire, doesn't matter which one, and strip the ends back a little bit and wire them together. You can solder them if you want but cover them with electrical tape regardless. You have now completed the circuit the board is looking for and the supply should turn on and supply power now.
Plug back in the power supply and test the wires. Put your multimeter end on a black wire and put the other end on any of the colors and record what color supplies what. You should come up with the following
Yellow = 12 volt
Red = 5 volt
Orange = 3 volt
Unplug the Power supply again.
The other colors are negatives normally or you might find another that happens to line up with the voltage listed here. Keep them marked if you want, or cut them back to an inch or so away from the supply as we won't be using them.
The LEDs I chose are the 12 volt LEDs. So you will need the Yellow wires to power them, along with the black which is the other side of the connection. The rest of the wires are not needed in this situation. Cut them back or tie them back away from the rest but make sure the power supply is unplugged here, not just turned off.
*** A cautionary note here is to know how much your Computer power supply is rated for. Each supply with have a number of Amps it is good for. Mine is 15A meaning I can put up to that amount of power draw on it without overloading the circuit. For me that means running all 10 Giant LED spots at 1 Amp each, and the other 200 LEDs I bought all at the same time and I am still under the 15 A limit. If your supply is only a 5Amp unit and you tried to run 6 or more of the Giant LED spots, you could have some issues as it is not rated for such. Just something to keep in mind. ***
Step 4: Wiring and Soldering the Connections to the Power Supply
At this point you want to a way to connect your feed lines to your LED lights to the Power supply. Instead of just twisting the feed line wires together and hoping they stay with the wires on your power supply like I did the first year, create a connection box to hold them in place securely
I wanted to have 4 lines coming out of my power supply in a sort of pinwheel formation through my yard. To do this I needed 4 inputs for supply lines. Radio shack has a board designed for speaker wires with push lock Red and Black inputs. These boards hold 4 sets of wires each creating the pinwheel supplies I need for my yard.
When the board is put together and sold my radio shack, the red and black are opposite each other but also alternating. The individual color blocks can be removed and set to where all the black are on one side and all the red on the other.
Cut the top of the project box so the mounting plates from the Red and black push blocks go through the top of the box. Seal in place with some glue or silicone in place and wait a day for it to dry.
Drill a hole in the side of the project box big enough for 2 wires to go through, one yellow and one black. Thread one of each through and use these in the next step here.
Thread a wire from the Yellow wire output of the Computer supply through the red side of the board and solder in place across all 4 push tabs.
Thread a black wire ground through the black side of the board and solder to all 4 points. Silicone over top of the connections to ensure there is no way an electrical connection between the 2 sides can form inside the box. Otherwise, if it some how crosses, it will short the fail safe in the computer power supply and it will auto shut off.
Now seal up the project box, silicone around the hole you drilled with the wires come into the box, and silicone the box to the top of the power supply, just not over the vents.
Now try to not touch it for 12 hours so the silicone dries and doesn't pull away. Go build some LED lights instead.
Step 5: Wiring the Jack Boards
The jack boards are at the end of your supply line. This allows you to plug in up to 8 different lights per supply line. Each light is powered individually through the jack board, meaning if you only wanted one light on it you could plug in just one and it would work but if you wanted 8 you could plug in all 8. The lights are the end of the line in the system but not dependent on each other like a set of Christmas lights where one bulb is missing and the whole strand goes out.
The jack boards I chose were from Radio shack and were 8 input boards, 2 rows of 4 jacks. This has to be mounted into a project box, sealed with silicone and protected a bit from the weather. If all jacks are filled the water issue is a bit less. Still they sell a producted called Corrosion X - on the Holidaycoro site, the helps prevent corrosion without hindering the connectivity of the connection. Just spray it on the ends and plug it in. I bought the spray but did not use it as I mounted my boards upside down on my fence which kept the water out just as well.
To wire a jack board, you have to know how the board works. Signal or current is sent through two connections separated by plastic to each jack. One of these needs to be made to supply power from the red side of your connections and one needs to be made to supply power to the black side off of the computer power supply. Luckily you can't wire it backwards. Whichever way you wire it, you just look to see which side of the wire went to the center and make that red or you could make it black. just take a piece of electrical tape and wrap the other end of the wire which will go into your push jacks on the computer power supply to mark the black side. Your choice here.
Look very closely at the jack board. The outside pieces you solder together actually go to the center of the jack, The inside two rows are the outer part of the jack. I wire the outside pieces which connect to the inside part of the jack as red.
If you make it one way and you wire all your LEDs the same and they don't work, just switch the wires at the computer supply thus switching the polarity and all of the LEDs will now work, then change the tape on the wire ends to show which is which. You can't really mess that up. What you can mess up is wiring the LEDs different. Then half will work and half won't. We will get to that later.
Ok actual wiring. You need a runner wire to go to all the outside connections on both sides and another wire to go between all the inside connections on both sides. Wire these all together outside separate from inside and solder in place. I threaded braided wire through the jacks and soldered them on.
From here, you need to cut the top of your project box, glue the jack board in, and drill a hole in the side of the project box to bring the supply wires in. Put the landscape wire which will run to the power supply through the hole in the side of the box that you just made and then solder it into place, one wire on the outside and one on the inside. Check to make sure there is not a place where the inside wires touch the outside wires. Even extra solder will create the connection. Once you have clear evidence nothing is touching, silicone the thing to death to keep anything from touching in the future. It will have to dry overnight but you can put the box together and all of the goo will be locked inside not hurting anything. Landscape wire has a raised ridge on one side. This way you can tell which you wired to which and mark it before you even close the box lid.
If your wires are really close to touching and you think by putting it together you will move the wires in the silicone then just wait. I instead put together an single LED on an RCA jack, closed the box up but didn't screw it together yet, plugged it in and turned on the power supply. If the light lit up, nothing was touching and could screw together the box. If the power supply shut down, then I messed up and a wire moved.
Now make the other 3 if you need like I did to have the 4 supply lines for the system.
Step 6: Quick Testing of Your Connections
If you didn't have an LED attached to an RCA cable made up from reading ahead, then here is how you would test.
At this point, the jack board has been soldered into place but you need to make sure that you did not cross the wires anywhere and that the connections are good. The easiest way to do this is to take an LED which you have tested with the 9 volt to make sure it works and test the connections.
Plug in your Power supply.
Plug in the wires from your Jack box lead
Turn on the power supply
Hold the LED light in the connection, with one end inside to make the inside connection and the other touching the outside. It should light up. If it doesn't, maybe you have your LED polarity backwards so try switching the wire orientation to the opposite wire in and the other out.
There is a good chance here you will cross the connections and touch one wire to both while trying to get the connectioin. If this happens your power supply will do its job and shut down. You may have to unplug it for a few minutes to reset it. Or you may just have to switch it on and off. Depends on the power supply but good job in testing out the safety feature. You needed to do that anyway.
If it all works and you don't have Solder dripped in the wrong spot on the back making a permanent fault, then unplug the Power supply and go on to the next step.
Step 7: Preparing Your Audio Cables for the Connections
Hopefully you purchased the right cables for this. The easiest to use is the RCA audio cables that are M/M or Male on both ends. This will be a red and white ended cable. If you happen to have an extra RCA video audio cable, the yellow, red, white, it will work too. They are just more expensive to purchase to tear apart and make into LED connection cables. But if you already had it it was free anyway so use it.
I ordered a few different sizes but I should have just ordered the 25 foot ones. I have a couple of spots where I gut the end off only 3 inches in so i had almost all 25 feet but most I cut in half to get 4 - 12 foot leads approx after I pulled the red and white sides apart.
I have searched on the monoprice website but I can not find an electrical rating that the cables are good through. I do know that they work with the giant LED spots I made and that has the most LEDs of any part of my system, 90 individual Red Blue or Green lights and the wire doesn't heat up at all. If you put more than 100 into a light, maybe you will have an issue with them overheating but up to 100, you are fine.
To prepare the cable, figure out the length you want. Cut the cable there. So if you wanted some 20 footers and some 5 footers and you started with a 25 foot cable, cut it at the 5 foot mark. You get the idea.
Now split the cable apart, meaning pull the two lines apart so you have 4 pieces, 2 with white ends and 2 with red ends.
Each one of these contains two separated twisted or braided wires. Each one powers an LED You do not need a white and red to power one light.
Strip the end of the cable off and you will find thin stranded copper wire surrounding a plastic coated copper wire. Strip that back a bit as well, leaving you with two separate copper braids to connect to your LEDs.
You are going to want some shrink tubing that fits over the cable as a whole, and some that fits over the plastic coated sleeve, about 3/4 an inch for the sleeve and 1 1/2 inches from the whole thing. We will get to that in the next step.
Step 8: Getting to Know and Testing Out the LEDs
LEDs seem scary to most because there is math, soldering, resistors, and parallel or series wiring involved. Well, with the prewired LEDs there isn't near as much to worry about. Each LED comes prewired with the proper resistor and it is then covered in shrink tubing so there are no parts to worry about.
Your LED will be a single LED with shrink wrap tubing, and about a 6 inch dual wire coming out, red and back. These will correlate with the red and black connection box you put on your power supply, but between the supply and here, the connections will change to RCA jacks.
With the prewired LEDs you don't have to worry about having the proper resistor but you do have to worry about how you wire them. You can not wire them one to another by going red to black to red to black to make a long daisy chain. It will not work very well if at all and will screw up the resistors rather quickly resulting in LEDs not working ever again. If you want 5 or so put together, just wire all the black wires together and all the red wires to the red wires. Then you have 5 working LEDs in a spot which all function and work as designed.
This seems like a pointless part of the step but it isn't. For some reason, Quality control seems to let a bad LED through here and there. If you spend all the time and effort into wiring and soldering up and LED light and it doesn't work, it is rather frustrating.
Use your 9 volt battery and test out each of your LEDs. 9 volts is enough to power the light but not hurt the resistor which is prewired in.
If the LED lights up it is a success. If it doesn't light up, well you have several others as back ups hopefully.
Make sure you have the polarity right or none of them will light up.
Red goes to positive.
Black goes to negative.
Step 9: Making a Single LED Spot
The Single LED spot is designed to light up just a small item or highlight an area in a little bit of color without lighting up your whole yard. My main use for this was to individually light up tombstones in my display.
The concept here comes from AllenH of Haunt forum.
It uses 1 LED from Lighthouse LEDs prewired 12 volt, a short section of tubing to put the light into to make it a spot, some tape to hold the two together, and a piece of 12 gauge wire to anchor the light with and make it point the direction you want.
Although I could wire up just one light to the RCA cable and have a single spot, I usually wire up 4 to 6 on one RCA cable thus having a cluster of lights that I can point at several items at once, or combine two to make a new color or a brighter single color.
Once the ends are soldered onto the corresponding wire of the RCA jack, shrink tube the connection then plug it in to a jack board and test out the lights.
Now make as many more as you need.
Step 10: Making a Multi LED Spot
The Multi LED spot is a variation of Nibliques design from Haunt forum, and partially hpropman as well. Both have created spots for their respective displays but both wires up the LEDS and soldered them in with resistors to make the connections work.
As I didn't want to worry about resistors and just wanted to hook up the lights, I splurged for the prewired LEDs at 44 cents each vs 9 cents with resistors. The number of LEDs I am using did not kill my budget but saved my mind from all of the math, calculations, directional resistors, etc. To me this was easier.
To create one of these spots, you need a 2.5 to 4 inch length of thin wall 1" pvc tubing, 2 Pepsi bottle caps (Coke caps are slightly different sized) 3 or 4 prewired LEDs from Lighthouse LEDS, electrical tape, a drill bit the size of the LED head, some 12 gauge wire, and an RCA lead.
In one of the bottle caps, drill the number of holes respective to the number of LEDs you will be using.
Push the LEDs through the holes drilled and the flare at the base should lock them into place. You want to push the LED from the outside of the cap in so the LED ends up shielded by the rim of the cap. The hole should fit snug holding the LED without the need for glue.
Push the bottle cap into the end of the pvc tube with the LEDs pointing out and the wire through the center of the tube.
For the pictures I drilled a bigger hole and had the main wires coming out. You can also make a smaller hole just big enough for the RCA cable if you want. I didn't like squishing all the wires inside so I didn't. but below is how you would.
Drill a hole big enough to feed the RCA wire through and fish it through the cap. Add your heat shrink tubing to the wire before you solder. Solder the ends together then heat shrink the wires
Push the cap into place.
Use your tape and 6 inches of 12 gauge wire and make your directional holder.
Plug in the light and test it out.
Step 11: Making a Giant LED Flood Light
The Giant LED flood is using the idea of the 500W halogen spot light housing from Holidaycoro.com.
This flood light is designed for Christmas fanatics to light up their display with an array of 16 colors all computer controlled through DMX programming and hooked together with Cat5 cable as a power source / input feed.
I did not want the DMX control in my display but rather wanted to control the LED lights individually and set them with an RGB 44 key remote.
I changed out the DMX controller piece for the RGB controller, fed the IR receiver to the outside of the light, and used the RCA cable instead of the CAT5 as I didn't need the extra wires for controlling the lights from a computer. Plus this allowed me to plug them into my RCA jack boards and complete my display.
Here is what you need.
1 - 500 watt Halogen light. (Home depot carries the cheapo version of these for 7 dollars. You have to ask or they will only have the 20 dollar one displayed.)
10 rectangle RGB modules from HolidayCoro (a little over a dollar each)
1 coro board to mount them on from Holiday Coro (a few dollars)
1 RGB 44 key IR remote. - Found on Amazon all day every day for 7 dollars. I bought mine through Zitrades. Here is a link that works as of 1/4/13 - http://www.amazon.com/Zitrades-Remote-Controller-Light-Strip/dp/B007RJ1XRQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357240768&sr=8-1&keywords=zitrades+rgb+remote
silicone to seal up the light
1 - RCA jack
some shrink tubing
To make this light, take the Halogen out of the package, unscrew the back plate that houses the wires and cut it all out. Unscrew the front cover with glass and keep the glass safe, and the weather stripping intact. Tear everything else out.
You should now have an empty metal case with a hole in the back that leads into the plastic case that housed the wiring.
Make up your LED board with the 10 rectangle RGB lights and the coro board. Reference pictures for what that looks like. You have to remove the sticky backs of 3M adhesive on the lights. Tuck the wires into the spots already cut out for you.
Get the RGB controller and modify it to fit the wires. To do this, I cut the end off that has the 4 brass pins. This contains your 4 wires you need to coordinate with the rectangle modules. I found that the Zitrades RGB controller had the red and green wires switched when you correlated them with the holidaycoro modules. So Wire up yellow to black, blue to blue, red to green and green to red. Add some shrink wrap to the wires first and solder away. Shrink wrap into place.
Take the RCA cable and feed it through the back of the plastic housing into the metal through where the power cord used to exit the housing. I tie a small loop knot in the cable so it can't pull back out easy. We will secure it in a bit.
Wire in the adapter for the RCA cable and plug it into the controller. Before you put the whole thing together and seal it, test it out. Plug it into the jack board, pull the plastic separator out of the remote and go through the buttons to ensure you have the colors you should. Then unplug it from the jack board and lets put the thing together.
Feed the IR sensor through the metal casing and out the plastic case where the power cord used to be. Now screw down the plastic cord holder overtop of the knot you made in the RCA cord and the IR sensor wire. Add a little silicone here if you want to help secure it.
Put the plastic cover back on with the 4 screws.
Tuck the RGB controller down inside the light and put your board and wires in place on top. You will have to finagle the wires a bit to keep them all in place. Now close the glass front and screw it down. Make sure the weather strip is still in place. The screw should tighten the board up against the glass and hold it in place.
Now plug it in and try it again to make sure you didn't cross something. You should now have a 16 color variation LED flood light that is controlled by a remote.
If you are making more than 1, the same remote will controll every light. If you want separate colors, just more the lights far enough apart to change the color. If you place 5 lights right next to each other, you can change all 5 at once with the remote. So I have 10 spare remotes sitting in my basement and only one with the LED lights.
Step 12: Testing Out Your LED System
Now just plug everything in and turn it on.
Play with the RGB remote and try out the colors.
If you plug in a light while the system is on, it has a slight chance to touch the metal on both sides of the jack board and short out the system. The power supply will do it's job and shut down. Turn it off, wait 30 seconds for it to reset and try again.
Hope you enjoy the light system.
If you have any questions, ask and I will try to answer them in the comments or even update the page as needed.
If you want to see the other tutorials from the Haunt forum page on the LEDs, just stop by and visit. My name is Haunted spider over there too.
good luck and hope you like the design.
Participated in the
Make It Glow