Planning Your LED Strip Job

Planning Your LED Strip Job

When undertaking a job with LED strip, the most under appreciated thing by installers, is planning the job!

I've seen so many jobs failing on powering up simply because the installer hasn't taken some small factor into consideration.

No1 on the list is Volt Drop! You're working with low voltages, and small conductors, so volt drop has to be taken into account. We only stock 24v LED Strip, and don't touch 12v strip because the majority of our customers are electrical contractors installing in commercial installations, and 24v strip is much less susceptible to volt drop than 12v due to the higher voltage.

For non electricians, volt drop is where the voltage drops across the length of a run of strip or cable etc. drops due to the resistance, so the voltage at the end of the strip is lower than at the start. This is the reason there is a maximum recommended run on different types of LED strip, if you ignore it and install a run that's too long, it may not work properly, it may flash, colours may be wrong, or it may simply not work at all. Ignore manufacturer's maximum strip runs at your peril; the product isn't faulty, you didn't plan the job correctly!

There are a number of workarounds to minimise the effects of volt drop, such as over rating the driver. We always recommend over rating the driver, for example, you should never run 100w of strip from a 100w driver, in that situation, even the smallest amount of volt drop in the strip or tails could cause issues. Sounds obvious right? But this is the most common mistake people make. I never run a driver at more than 80%, and I never have problems.

Another workaround is to run your tails in parallel, power the strip from both ends, or add power every *metres (where * is the recommended max run for your strip) A good example of this is an RGB strip job I supplied a couple of years ago, the installer had a job with 3 x 5m runs of strip which he wanted to power from a single driver. The max run for the strip was 10m, so he was told that he had to wire the last 5m in parallel back to the driver. He ignored this advice, ran all 3 lengths end to end, and when he switched it on, the last 5m length didn't light up at all. Fortunately for him it was a triangular formation, so the end of the last run was close to the driver and the solution wasn't too hard, or expensive.

For jobs with long tails, using a larger conductor can help reduce Volt Drop; it's not uncommon for installers to use 2.5mm 3 core flex for tails instead of the standard 22awg cable.

The next most commonly neglected thing is where to position your drivers. It's surprising how many people order all the kit without taking this into account. Simply put, you need to hide them somewhere, and run cable to the start of the run, so you need to carefully plan where to put the drivers, and where to run the cables. As you'll guess from above, the ideal situation is to have the shortest length of tails possible, if you can hide them in the ceiling above the LED Strip, or in the walls close to the start of the strip, ideal. When creating a square or rectangle from strip for example, if you can mount the drivers in opposing corners or one corner, it will keep the tails short, just make sure you don't go above the recommended length of single run. If two sides together are less than the recommended max, then it's possible to power them from one or more drivers mounted in a single corner. If two adjacent sides together are more than the recommended max, then each side will need to be individually powered, so mounting the drivers in two opposing corners where the driver(s) in each corner powers two lengths is favourable. There are of course countless variations for sizes and shapes of rooms, if you're not sure, or have a complex layout, call us, or email a sketch with the sizes and we'll help. And remember, that on jobs with RGBW strip, you'll also need to mount the controls somewhere, and figure out how to control it.

When it comes to LED Strip, we recommend always using soldered tails. We sell clip on tails, but remember, that electrically, a soldered connection will always be better than a clip on connection, and if you're planning to use clip on tails, remember that most of them will not fit inside the aluminium channel.

Planning the channel itself is important too, we sell 1m & 2m lengths, so if you want anything longer you'll need to join 2 lengths together. Think about your job, and plan the channel, you may be able to use offcuts for shorter runs. There aren't couplers or corners therefore you'll need to mitre corners, and butt lengths together. A common work around when butting lengths of channel is to alternate the channel and diffuser; if you have a 3m run mount the channel 1m - 2m, but the diffuser 2m - 1m. This way the joint in the diffuser is in a different place to the joint in the channel, so will help hold it firmly in place.

When installing IP rated strip, a number of things need thinking about. Firstly, you need to select the correct strip for the application. We offer IP65 strip online, but also offer IP67 and IP68 Strip to order. 

IP65 is splashproof, IP67 is submersible for short periods of time, and IP68 is fully submersible. The channel is IP20, so no ingress protection for water.

When thinking about planning your IP rated job, think carefully about where it is mounted in relation to the water source. A good example of lack of planning was a job where a customer purchased IP65 strip and IP20 channel, then mounted them outdoors below a glass ballustrade. Within a couple of months, water had collected in the channel, effectively submersing the strip & joints, and it started to fail. In this situation, only IP68 strip would do the job. With IP ratings, it's rarely worth chancing using a lower IP rating because it's cheaper, it will almost always fail prematurely.

Wireless controls are another source of planning errors. Most wireless devices will quote a range "In Free Space", this is the range, as the name suggests, with no obstacles between devices. Old buildings with thick walls, newer buildings with Kingspan, and many other things can reduce the range of wireless devices, sometimes it can be as little as 1/3 of the range. When planning a wireless controlled job, we would always recommend discussing the job. There are many online companies selling WiFi smart products,