Make your LED strips look professional
Today on the hookup I’m going to show you 7 of the biggest mistakes that people make when using LED strips in their projects and how to avoid them to make your installations look more professional.
In my humble opinion the diffuse light provided by LED strips looks way better than the harsh point light that you get from a light bulb, but while interior decorators have been showing us how to use lightbulbs correctly for decades, we haven’t quite figured out LED strips yet. Today I’m going to cover 7 of the biggest LED strip installation pitfalls and how you can avoid them.
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Lets start with biggest and most obvious failure: exposed LED strips. LED strips are ugly and the LEDs themselves give off pretty harsh light. When at all possible you should try to mount your strips out of sight and projected towards another surface. This works great for strips behind a TV, under kitchen cabinets, or under a bed… but sometimes there’s nothing to project onto. In those instances you should instead install your LEDs inside of a channel with a diffuser. Not only do these channels hide the LED strips themselves, but they also much easier to mount and keep straight than a bare LED strip. Typically these channels are made out of aluminum which means they are lightweight, won’t rust, and can be cut easily with a cheap hacksaw. You can get them in unfinished aluminum color, or black, and they come in a few different shapes. My two favorites versions are the 45 degree angle mounts for use in corners, and the standard flat profile for mounting to walls and rooflines.
Here’s an easy tip when using these channels that will make your installs look 10 times better: Layout your channels and cut them to length, but don’t use the cut cover with the cut channel. Instead, offset the seams of your channels and your covers to make your installation look completely straight, even if it isn’t perfect.
Occasionally you’ll want to put your LED strips into a more organic shape that can’t be accomplished with aluminum channels like the curve on the back of my desk. For this application you can get these silica gel neon tube covers that do a great job of diffusing light and waterproofing while hiding the ugly LED strip inside. When you order them you’ll need to make sure that your LED strip is narrow enough to fit inside, and that the direction you want to bend your LED strip is compatible with the tube type that you choose, meaning any bends in the strip need to be up or down, not left or right.
The second common problem I see with LED installations is with indirect installations where someone failed to keep a uniform distance and angle to the surface they were projecting on. This causes hotspots in the light that can distract from the overall look and feel of the project. In my experience these hotspots are usually either caused by turns in the LED strip, or adhesive failure which causes the strip to droop down. Fortunately, both of those problems can be solved pretty easily for not very much money.
I’ve seen a bunch of tutorials for installing television bias lighting that suggest making a loop at the corner of your TV to avoid bending the strip too much, and while it’s good advice to avoid bending your LED strips, the loop will create a hotspot in the corner of your TV as the number of LEDs in that area increases, and also get closer to the wall. A much better option is to buy some solderless LED corner connectors. All you need to do is match the number of copper pads on the LED strip to the number of “pins” advertised on the listing. For instance: this tunable white strip has 3 pins, so I would search for a 3 pin corner connector, but this RGBW strip has 5 connectors, so I’d need to get a 5 pin corner connector instead. To install them all you need to do is cut down the middle of the copper pads on your LED strips and clip them into place. In addition to corner connectors there’s also just wire leads that will let you create a custom angle or jump a gap like going from one kitchen cabinet to another.
To prevent the notoriously terrible LED strip adhesive from failing and making your project look like a droopy mess, I’d highly recommend using mounting clips. For a little over 10 cents each these things will do an infinitely better job holding your strips in place than the standard adhesive, and you don’t even need to use that many of them. Just place them in the corners and anywhere that the strip isn’t laying completely flat on a surface, this will reinforce the adhesive tape on the back of the strip and give you a long lasting droop free installation.
The third common issue is going to require a little bit of a reality check on your part: Ask yourself how often you’re realistically going to want your led strip to be a color other than white. Most LED strips are “RGB” meaning they have 3 different LEDs in them: Red, Green and Blue. If you want to make Pink you turn on Red and Blue, if you want to make Yellow you turn on Red and Green, and to make white, you turn on Red, Green, and Blue… but it doesn’t really look white, at least not the pure white that we’re used to, and it ends up looking kinda purple and gross. To avoid this you can either buy all white strips, or RGBW strips that have a dedicated white channel.
But, be aware that not all RGBW strips are made equal, some strips have all 4 colors on a single chip, while others have a dedicated white chip and then a separate RGB chip. For installations where the LEDs are visible you should absolutely choose the 4 in 1 chip because otherwise you’ll never be able to turn mix the white channel with a color channel but in indirect lighting situations you should use the separate white chip which will be brighter and have better heat dissipation. For areas where color isn’t needed you should opt for all white strips or if you want to get really fancy tunable white strips can be used that allow for wide customization of the white channel color temperature.
The fourth issue has to do with the length of your LED strip and the brightness that you want to achieve. If you’re planning on a short run or you’re going to keep the brightness low, you can get away with almost any voltage, but for long runs and high brightness you’ll want to choose a strip that uses a higher voltage. Depending on your LED strip type you’re generally going to see voltages between 5 and 24, and higher voltages will result in more accurate colors throughout the strip and less differences in brightness the further you get from the power supply.
Because you generally don’t find LED strips and power supplies sold together you’ll need to make sure you get the right power supply for your strip, or strips that you want to use. Thankfully, you don’t need a degree in electrical engineering to pick the right power supply. No matter how many strips you put together, the voltage never changes, but the wattage and amperage add up. That means if you were going to use 3 24 volt, 5 amp, 120 watt LED strips daisy chained together you’d need to buy a 24 volt power supply rated for at least 15 amps and 360 watts… it’s never a bad thing to go over when it comes to amps and watts, but the voltage needs to match exactly.
Along with power consumption comes the fifth common issue that I see: LED density. Generally speaking the greater the LED density the more expensive the strip will be, but increased density will also give you better color accuracy, diffusion, and brightness. If you’re going to be able to see your strip, even through a diffuser, increasing the density will noticeably improve the look of the strip. The lowest density available is generally 30 LEDs per meter, and they can go all the way up to 144 LEDs per meter, or even more than that like this crazy white LED strip from BTF lighting that doesn’t have any visible individual LEDs, just a long continuous tape of tiny white LEDs that are only distinguishable at very low brightness
So why would you choose anything but the highest density? Well, along with density comes power consumption, and along with power consumption comes heat and heat is the number one killer of LEDs. The hotter they get the lower their lifespan will be, and their brightness will also decrease over time. The aluminum channels discussed earlier do a great job dissipating heat from your LED strip, but sometimes mounting your strips to metal isn’t an option, and in those cases you need to give conscious thought to how your LED strip is going to get rid of heat.
In the case of an aluminum channel the heat will be transferred through the back of the strip into the large metal enclosure, but if you mount your strip to wood, which is notoriously bad at transferring heat, you’ll need to plan for adequate airflow across the top of your LEDs, and that leads me to my next point: waterproofing.
LED Strips come in 3 waterproofing types: IP 2-0 or 3-0, which basically means no waterproofing at all where the electronics are directly exposed, IP 6-5 which covers the top of the strip in a waterproof siliCONE layer that is sufficient for LED strips that may occasionally be splashed or exposed to high humidity and IP 6-7 where the strips are in a sealed siliCONE sleeve that provides a completely water tight seal for the strip. Generally speaking, as waterproofing increases heat dissipation decreases, so choose wisely, and if you don’t need waterproofing don’t buy it.
Sixth… what the heck are individually addressable LEDs? If you’ve ever seen an LED strip where each LED on the strip is doing something different, that’s an individually addressable LED strip. On a traditional strip there’s a common positive voltage that goes to each LED on the strip, and then there’s a separate control for each color on the strip, but the entire strip shares the same control for the red channel, blue channel, and green channel. In an individually addressable strip each LED has a tiny microchip that takes instructions meant only for that one LED, so every LED can do something different. I love individually addressable LEDs and with some knowledge and basic coding they can accomplish things that wouldn’t be possible with traditional or what are commonly called “dumb” led strips, but out of the box they aren’t nearly as user friendly. You can buy premade Bluetooth and wifi controllers for individually addressable strips, but without programming knowledge your options will still be very limited, and you’ll end up spending more on the strip itself. On top of that, addressable LED strips are much more vulnerable to damage and in most addressable LED strips, a single dead LED can cause the rest of the strip to stop working. My advice on this subject: unless you have a specific reason for choosing addressable LED strips, traditional LED strips will be cheaper and perform better.
And finally, the last mistake that I see people make with their LED projects is how they control them. The most common controllers out there are these small infrared remote controls, but if you need to grab a cheap plastic remote any time you want to turn on your LED strip, you probably aren’t going to do it very often, and the Bluetooth controllers that require you to open an app on your phone are even less likely to get used. A simple solution is to connect the power supply for your strip to a switched outlet, or a smart switch, in which case your LED strips will turn on with the same settings they had when they lost power. But better control options do exist. The Shelly RGBW2 for instance connects via WiFi and gives brightness and color controls via amazon echo or google assistant, and can also be tied in with a smart home hub to adjust the lighting based on time of day, or tie the LED strip in with a light switch that they aren’t physically connected to. The RGBW2 is only for controlling traditional LEDs, and if you’re looking for a prebuilt individually addressable LED controller I’ve got some links in the description, but just know that you’ll get much more use out of them if you’re willing to write a little bit of code.
So, did I miss a mistake that you’ve made? Let me know down in the comments. If you’ve still got questions about LED strip type or mounting options, leave a comment or better yet come join us on the hookup home automation facebook page to get answers not only from me, but thousands of other smart home enthusiasts. As always, thank you to all my awesome patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel and if YOU’RE interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description. If you enjoyed this video please hit that like button and consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.