Year Round Holiday LEDs Part 1: Hardware

October 3, 2018

House LEDs

Today on the hookup we’re going to take a look at installing individually addressable RGB LEDs on your house as permanent multi holiday lights.  I’m going to walk you through my setup, tell you the things I got right, and what I would do differently if I did it over again.

Last November my neighbor started putting up Christmas lights, and much to my dismay, he broke our 4 year accord to only put lights on the first floor roof, as to minimize our yearly chance of death.  In response, I decided to do the only logical thing and exercise the nuclear option:  I went online and bought 50 meters of individually addressable RGB leds to install permanently on my house.

My goal was to make a great looking holiday light setup to leave up year round to use for more than just Christmas.  I wanted to be able to write my own custom animations for each holiday and easily add them to the existing setup.  I also live in a neighborhood where people keep their yards and houses looking nice, and I didn’t want to piss of my neighbors by having some shoddy looking lights hanging all year round, so it needed to be nearly invisible when not in use.

The LEDs that I use are WS2812B LEDs strips, and I opted for the 5 volt variety, specifically the 150led per 5 meter, ip65 waterproof kind.  I could give you an amazon affiliate link for them, but you’d be getting ripped off.  I highly recommend you get these on ebay or ali express, because the prices are significantly lower.  You should expect to pay between $15 and $18 per strip.  I was able to get a 5 pack for $12 per strip, but it’s just a matter of looking around to find the deals.

I’ve linked an ebay listing for the type of strip that I recommend.  Which again, is the 5V 150led per 5 meter, IP65 waterproof variety. Here’s why I recommend that type for this specific application.

First lets talk about LED density:  This is the lowest LED density you can find for WS2812B strips, they are available from 30 leds per meter, which is the one I use, all the way up to 144 LEDS per meter.  You may think that the more leds per meter the better, but you need to consider the fact that each of these leds can draw 60 milliamps.  This means if I have 50 meters of rooftop with 30 LEDs per meter and 60 milliamps per LED I’ll need a 90 amp power supply for just the LEDs, not even accounting for power loss from wire resistance.  If you quadruple the number of LEDs per meter you’ll need quadruple the amperage.  Meaning that my rooftop LEDs would require a whopping 360 amps at max brightness.

If your mind is currently boggling about the prospect of pulling 180 amps through your 15 amp circuit breaker, don’t forget that what’s actually important in this case is the amount of power needed, which is measured in watts.  Watts are calculated by multiplying amps by volts, so my 15 amp outlet can output 15 amps times 120 volts or 1800 watts.  This 60 amp power supply outputs 60 amps at 5V, which is only 300 watts, which means if the rest of my circuit was empty and the power conversion was 100% efficient (which it absolutely isn’t), I could theoretically run 5 of these 60 amp power supplies on a 15amp 120v circuit.  If you’re on 240, you could run 10 of them!

Moral of the story: If you increase your pixel density you’ll also increase your power consumption, and these things are already super power hungry.  Amazon has some great deals on 5 volt, 60 amp power supplies, I’ve linked the one I use down in the description.

The second consideration when selecting your strips is voltage.  The downside to a 5V strip is that there is greater voltage drop due to the resistance of the traces on the strips.  This means you’ll need to inject power every 5 meters to make sure your colors remain accurate.  No matter what, you’re going to need to inject power regardless of the voltage you use, and as long as you’re not running full brightness pure white the 5V strips will look great injecting power on the end of each strip, which ends up being every 5m.  The downside to the 12V leds, and the reason that I didn’t pick them for this project, is that they don’t come in the WS2812b variety that has the microcontroller chip in the middle of LED chip.  The WS2811 chips are fine, and you can pick them up for even less money, but in my experience the strips are much less forgiving when it comes to bending them because the large WS2811 chip becomes desoldered easily.

The last consideration is waterproofing.  The strips come in 3 varieties: IP30, IP65 and IP67. IP means ingress protection, or how well it keeps stuff out of the electronics.  The first number refers to protection against solids like dust, and the second number refers to protection against water.  IP30 is very little protection, it’s not dust tight and it has zero water proofing.  IP65 is covered with a silicon coating that makes it dust proof, and water proof to rain and even spray with a jet of water.  The IP67 version is enclosed in a silicon tube that is sealed on both ends.  IP67 means that it is completely dust proof and waterproof up to 1 meter of immersion, sounds great, right?

There are two reasons IP65 is superior to IP67 for this application:  First the IP67 tubes are only waterproof if they are properly sealed at both ends, and since I was going to be cutting my strips to be able to bend around corners and roof peaks this would mean a lot of different areas where I could screw up the sealing and ruin my strips.

The second issue is size, I mentioned that I wanted these LEDs to be virtually invisible when they are off.  To accomplish this I housed everything in these aluminum channels that come with mounting brackets and plastic light diffusing covers.  The IP67 tubes are wider and thicker and don’t fit into these aluminum channels as well.  With the IP65 version I was able to squeeze the LED strips and the power injection wire into the channel so it’s all out of sight.

I mentioned that there were some things that I would do differently if I did it all over again.

First of all, you need to make sure that every strip that you are chaining together comes from the same seller and manufacturer.  There are so many different suppliers for individually addressable LEDs that I ended up buying mine from 3 different sellers.  The problem was that they were all different configurations of RGB.  In 4 of my strips they were in the GRB order, 5 strips came with RGB order, and 1 strip came with BRG.  This meant that if I chained those strips together the colors would change drastically when they got to the new strip.  Luckily I figured this out before I had them installed on the roof or my programming would have gotten a lot more complicated.

Second, don’t skimp out on power injection. I injected power into both ends of each strip, except for the very last strip downstairs.  I thought that since it was only about half a strip I’d be able to get away with only injecting power at the beginning of the strip, I was wrong.  My colors get funky on my last 60 LEDs if I use too much brightness, so I have to write my animations accordingly.

I run my strips off a single 60 amp power supply since I never have all of them on to pure white, 100% brightness at the same time.  I’ve got my power supply mounted in the garage with an ESP8266 based nodeMCU controlling them.  I have them wired in four separate LED zones: first floor roof, second floor roof, yard LEDs and my LED wreath.  The roof LEDs stay connected all year long for minor holidays, sports game, and anything else we feel like, and the two auxillary zones are for adding extra features like an LED megatree for christmas, and a pumpkin wreath for holloween.  Each zone has its own 3 core wire running to a continuous strip of LEDs, this means that each LED can be addressed individually.

Keep in mind that if you wire your strips in parallel, each strip will have a corresponding LED when you call it in the code, so instead of turning on LED 538928 10 for instance it will turn on LED 10 in each strip.  By having your LEDs in different zones wired to a different pin on your NodeMCU you can make sure that each light is controlled individually, for the best customization of your patterns.

The wiring for each zone is concealed in the roof soffits, and is only visible on the bottom corner of each roof.  When the LEDs are off the aluminum channels blend in completely with the drip edge of the roof and the gutters.  But at night they can do all kinds of crazy animations.  They can be spooky Halloween eyes with lightning, crazy rainbow colors, bouncing patterns, simple custom blocked colors or even classic twinkling white Christmas lights.

This video was about the hardware decisions that I made for my holiday LEDS, and why I made them, it doesn’t necessarily make them the right decision for everyone.  DrZzs uses WS2811 individual pixels instead of strips, and he made his own mounting system for them.  They are both fun and awesome.  The obvious difference between the two is that the pixels will always look more like individual lights while the strips can accomplish either the individual look or a more continuous color effect.

Holiday LEDs are a super fun way to get more comfortable with electronics and programming.  They are a non-crucial part of your everyday life, so you can mess with as much as you want without worrying about the wife approval factor.  As a break from pure home automation videos I’m going to make the occasional fun videos about making custom animations and props for different holidays.  If you’ve got a specific question about LED hardware that I didn’t cover in this video ask it down in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  If you enjoyed this video please consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.

Ebay WS2812B IP65 30LED:

60A 5V PSU:

Aluminum Channels:

3 Core Wire:

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