LED strip lights provide an effective way of illuminating shelves, pelmets, plinths, signs, and even cars, boats and more. The common craze is to install LED tapes as under cupboard lights in kitchens.
As well as looking good they are low voltage and are safe to touch as they don’t get hot.
Each LED strip consists of a printed circuit containing LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes), that are soldered to the circuitry with terminals at the end to join up other strips.
Single colour LED strips are usually used for basic under cupboard lighting whereas RGB LED strips are used for mood lighting and special effects.
The strips contain no replaceable parts although they can be cut down and new terminals soldered if you know how to do it. This becomes necessary if for example you have a 5 metre strip but only want one metre under a cupboard and then it has to jump to another cupboard for another metre. In this situation you will need to cut the desired length and make new terminals.
As well as the advantage of easy installation; usually requiring only the removal of a sticky backing tape to secure to the surface, they are low cost due to low energy consumption, safer because they operate with Extra Low Voltage (12 or 24 volts), and they don’t get hot.
Previous under cupboard lighting included gaps or shades of light between lamps and each lamp was prone to dimming or perhaps flickering, whereas LED strip technology provides continuous and much more pleasant lighting.
In kitchens, the tops of units are sometimes illuminated for effect as well as under cupboard lighting that is more functional. In this case the two are often different in that lower lighting will be whiter to illuminate the work surfaces and top lighting will be warmer to give a glow effect.
RGB can come in various forms providing a wide range of colours and changing colour or dimming. Depending on the capability of the LED controller anything is possible for a light show.
When used to light up cars, boats and trucks, LED’s are ideal in that their operational voltages complement exactly the 12 volts DC of a car battery or the 24 volts DC of a truck or boat. They can be safely hooked up without need for a transformer or other intermediary device.
In the home, mains voltage is provided up to the mini transformer which then takes over. Unlike other previous lights that required a transformer ‘per outlet’, LED strips once connected on one end at the transformer can provide low voltage throughout the strip and it’s connecting strips to complete the whole kitchen, therefore requiring only one transformer.
White light is more like natural light sometimes referred to as blue light. Where ordinary lighting was bright it did not replace natural light, similarly LEDs do not exactly replicate natural light but are so much closer to doing so. Illumination by white light can be as effective as illumination by natural light if installed accordingly. Warm light on the other hand can be yellow and vary in its brightness and is intended for backlight illumination only.
If you are after a more varied range of colour and mood then you would look for a basic 12 volt RGB LED kit. You can also get warmer RGB strips or ribbons that are more in synch with single colour LED strips, and these are known as RGB White, so you could look at an RGBW strip.
RGB ribbons use red, green and blue only to provide their selective shades and the range of shades will depend on the quality of the controller. Most will provide dimming. RGBW provides the ‘white’ shades of the RGB mixing range.
You can simply cut the desired length from the LED strip and stick it in position. Sometimes clear plastic guide rails are supplied with sticky backs and you put a tiny screw here and there to keep it straight over time then place the LED strip into the track. The issue arises when you cut down, to ensure the next length has + and – terminals connected to cable that can take power.
Typically LED use between 0.08 and 0.2 watts of power per LED. They fall into three typical ranges denominated as 3526, 5050 and 5630. This is denoting the size in millimetres, so the 5050 is made up of 5.0 x 5.0 mm LEDs. 3528 use 0.08 watts, 5050 use 0.28 watts and 5630 use 0.4 watts.
So in considering the power aspect of what you want to achieve against the energy usage, it can be a factor to look at the ranges and decide which ribbon tape to go for.
3528 are more than adequate for most kitchen arrangements, whereas professional showrooms may require a higher luminosity and therefore opt for a 5050 kit.
Brightness and power is determined by the amount of LEDs. And so look at the amount which can vary from 30 to 120 LEDs per metre. Sometimes the power consumption is given as watts per metre, for example with 3528 LEDs the typical consumption is 5 watts per metre which equates to 60 LEDs per metre. (5050 can be 15 watts per metre).
The thing to watch for in LED lighting is the controller. The LEDs will not get hot but if you place too many strips into one controller it will heat and eventually fail.
As a guide, 5 metres of 3528 with 60 LEDs per metre will equate to 25 watts consumption and therefore a controller will be required that has a rating of 25 watts but in real terms preferably a 30W LED driver.
The driver is different to the controller. The driver takes mains power and connects to the LED strop. With single colour LED strips the driver takes AC and supplies DC to the strip but with RGBs a controller is also required which allows you to change colours and dim the LEDs. This is how controlling RGB lighting from remote controls or bluetooth work, by communicating with the LED controller.
By way the hardest part of LED lighting is the connection at the terminal ends. Provided LED clips can extend the strip or as we have mentioned if you know how to solder the ends then anything is possible so long as you are keeping note of the power requirement and use a suitable rated driver.
In the case of single colour white and warm strips, there are just two pins + and -. and for RGB there are usually 4 or 5 pins to consider. Remember this is ELV (Extra Low Voltage) and in particular when using 12 volt units care must be given not to extend the circuitry too far as volt drop will start to dim the lighting after 5 metres.
If you are looking at a long run then perhaps upgrading to a 5050 kit may solve the issue of maintaining a desired brightness otherwise you may find that white lighting under cupboards has become yellow lighting further along.
Additionally, if the runs are quite long and you cannot easily compensate with upgrading, then an option is to use a booster unit, and especially with RGB units.