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LED Lighting Experiment

 

LED lighting is still pretty expensive. Fluorescent lights are still almost everywhere, including in my shop. These new LED strip lights are popping up everywhere, but I only see them used as accent lighting.

I did some digging around online and found that there is quite a variation in strip lights, in terms of brightness. These LEDs were the brightest that I could easily find and they are rated at 720 lumens per meter. In comparison, an incandescent 60 watt lightbulb is rated at about 800 lumens. However, that is omnidirectional light, whereas LED lights are highly directional. So I am going to assume that this 720 lumens per meter is roughly equivalent to a 60 watt lightbulb.

What that means is that one of these 5 meter long LED strips should put out roughly the same amount of light as five 60 watt lightbulbs. That is a lot of light. That is not what I would call "accent" lighting.

IN SUMMARY THEN... I wanted to find out if these LED strip lights could be used as regular lights. Specifically, I am going to compare them to my old 4ft long dual-fluorescent light fixtures. Unfortunately I do NOT have any sort of a light meter, so all of my conclusions here are going to be highly subjective. I am going to plug it in, and just go by what my eyes tell me.

These strip lights come with adhesive backing on them. But for testing purposes I did not want to permanently attach them anywhere. So rolled out the strip and just used some elastic bands to attach them to a long piece of wood.

I then affixed that strip of wood to the ceiling and plugged in the AC adaptor.

Note that the LED strip is 5 meters in length, which is about 16.4 feet. My shop is a bit over 10ft wide, so by doubling up the LED strip, I end up with a light that is about 8-and-a-half feet long, and reaches almost from wall to wall.

This LED strip is bright, and I quite like the Daylight quality lighting. (I have been trying to convert all my shop lights to daylight bulbs both for consistent colour when filming and also for personal preference.)

However, it is clearly NOT as bright as the double 4ft fluorescent fixture. I should have bought two strands of LEDs! On the postive side, the LED lighting is much more even. Since the lights are spread out over 8ft of length, the light is much wider and gentler. The fluorescent fixture is brighter, but also more concentrated and it leaves dark shadows in the corners. The LED light seems to give a more balanced light since it is spread out so much.

The results of measuring the power consumption were much more positive. I borrowed a "Kill-a-watt" meter which reports that the LED strip consumes about 49-50 watts of power. This was quite startling as the manufacture rates it at 72 watts.

Even though it is not as bright as the fluorescent light, I still quite liked the LED light, so I permanently mounted it to a 1x3 board that I painted white. I did not want to permanently stick the LED strip to the ceiling joists, as I wanted to be able to move it in future.

One other problem I had was that within about 5-7 days the adhesive started giving out on the LED strips. There could be a number of issues here: Perhaps the adhesive was poor. Perhaps the paint had not fully cured and affected things. I had noticed when the LEDs arrived that there were a few small sections where the adhesive's protective covering was loose, so those may have dried out?

I don't know, but it was easily fixed by re-attaching the LED strip with some hot glue. An easy fix, but you shouldn't have to do that!

On To Part Two!

One string of LED strip lighting was clearly not enough. So I decided to order a 2nd one. This would give me the opportunity to experiment still further.

First, I had bought my first LED strip from Amazon, and purposely picked one that would arrive fairly quickly. For my next purchase, I searched for the cheapest option that I could find, even if it required waiting for shipment. In addition, during my further research I found 5630 SMD LED strips which claimed to be even brighter than the 5050 LED strips. So I ordered one of those.

This LED was pretty inexpensive, at only CAD$7.20. However it took about four-and-a-half weeks for it to arrive. This is not a solution if you are in a hurry.

Second, I found the cost of the AC adaptor to be kind of high. (It was priced at about CAD$20 for one from the same company as the first LED strip I bought.) I do know that these strips need a big beefy power supply, since they consume quite a few watts. However, it occured to me that I could probably find a suitable power adaptor for free from an old discarded PC laptop at work. I found an old HP laptop power supply in the recycle bin, and took it home to experiment. I also made sure that it was rated for at least as many amps as the first power supply which I bought.

One additional challenge is that these LED strip lights require 12 volts DC current. I could not find any laptop power supply that was an exact match. They ranged from 14v to 19v DC output. Fortunately, I had recently seen one of these gizmos used online.

This is an LM2596 DC-DC Buck Converter Step Down Module. It converts from a higher voltage to a lower voltage. It also took three-and-a-half weeks to arrive from China, however it was priced at all of CAD$3.59, shipping included, which is hardly anything. There are no instructions or anything included but there is not much to it. On the left are contacted marked for the input negative and input positive hookups. On the right are marked contacts for the output negative and output positive. On top of the little blue box, indicated by the red arrow, is a tiny screw that you can turn to adjust the voltage up or down.

I'm no electronics expert -- I have a software degree! -- But I can handle a little simple soldering like this.

Actually this is probably a good place for a disclaimer:
I AM NOT AN ELECTRICIAN. I AM NOT AN ENGINEER. I'm just a reasonably smart DIY guy who reads instructions and labels and learns from others. I'm just sharing my experiences.

After wiring up the input side, I used a multi-meter to measure the voltage on the output side. It started at around 15volts. I then used a small screwdriver to tweak the adjustment screw until it was down around 12.2volts. And yes, my hand is nicely blocking your view of the DC-DC converter.

I was pretty excited when I plugged in the lights and it all worked.

 

I had prepared two white painted mounting boards at the same time, as I expected to get a second strip. So I mounted this new LED strip to that board and attached it to the ceiling.

I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the 5630 SMD LED strip was NOT BRIGHTER than the original 5050 SMD LED strip. Bear in mind, once again, that I do not have a light meter. I'm just using my own eyes for these judgements.

Oh well, at least the new one was a lot cheaper. To my eyes the two LED strips were pretty nearly identical in brightness. They do not appear to have the exact same colour temperature, so it is tough to speak with 100% certainty on that topic. (Both LED strips were advertised as "white", but only the first was advertised as "Daylight White".)

I also used the Kill-a-watt meter again to check the new LED strip. It initially showed a reading of 55 watts, but after 10-15 minutes it settled down to about 50/51 watts. So it was consuming just about the same electricity as the first strip.

I turned a lot of lights off and on multiple times, comparing the two LED strips to each other, and then comparing the two LED strips together to the fluorescent unit.

In the end, I believe that the two LED strips together are roughly equivalent to the one four foot double Fluorescent fixture.

Doing the Math: Wattage

Those T11 flourescent bulbs are each rated at 40 watts. That means one fixture is consuming 80 watts of electricity. A newer T8 fixture will use about 66 watts.

In contrast, I measured these two LED strip lights to be using about 50 watts each, which adds up to a total of 100 watts of electricity. I found this to be quite surprising. I had expected these LED strip lights to consume less electricity.

More Math: Dollars and Cents

Around here the older T11 lights are not that common in the stores. A new T8 "shop light" fixture, plus a couple bulbs, is going to cost around CAD$35 -- that is just a rough number, not a quote!

The first LED string light cost me approximately CAD$43 -- $22 for the AC Adaptor, and $21 for the LED strip lights. (I just checked the amazon.ca website for that. My numbers are off by one in the video.) So if I were to buy two LED strip light setups like that, the cost would be around $86. Which is pretty pricey.

The second LED string light cost me CAD$7.20, plus $3.59 for the DC-DC converter. So, IF I can find some free AC Adaptors, and IF I'm willing to wait over a month for delivery, I could make a two LED strip light setup for about CAD$22 total.

Conclusions

To sum up what I found...
(all results as of February 2016)
  • Yes, you can use LED strip lights as "regular" lights.
  • But, it will take more than you think to put out the same light as a fluorescent fixture.
  • Depending on how you mount them, the light provided is very nice and even from wall to wall.
  • Be wary of the adhesive backing, you may need to hotglue them.
  • Based on a sample size of one (ie: not statistically significant) be wary of claims that the 5630's are brighter than 5050 LEDs.
  • If you're patient, you can put together an LED strip light setup for pretty cheap.
  • Based on another sample size of one, surplus laptop power supplies could be a free alternative.
  • Fluorescent lighting still seems to be competitive (in terms of watts consumed) to these LED strip lights. More research is called for!

Some of the Tools/Supplies Used In This Project: (Affiliate Links)

Lighting Ever 5050SMD LED lighting Strip
Lighting Ever AC Power Adaptor - 72Watt max (The AC adaptor to power the above LED lighting strip)
 
5 meter Strip of 5630 SMD LEDs
(the vendor I purchased from on amazon.ca - Hintel - does not appear on amazon.com, so this is a link to a search for "5630 SMD White 5M 300 LED" which should be an equivalent item.)
 
LM2596 DC-DC Buck Converter (Link to a search: many different versions of this are available.) BUYER BEWARE - mine died after a few hours of prolonged use. Possibly it could not handle the amperage of my power supply?

 



LED Lighting : Follow-up

About two months after I published this article, I put together a "shop update" video which primarily discussed some follow-up to this LED lighting subject. You can either watch the video or read more below:

Essentially there were two main points:

  1. I cannot recommend the above DC-DC converter. When I developed the above article it worked fine, however I was turning the lights off-and-on repeatedly. It was never left on for a very long period. Some time after this article, I was working in the shop and after 1-2hrs, the DC-DC converter simply failed. Testing revealed that NO voltage would come out.

    After some online searching I found one resource who was testing DC-DC converters with the same model number and he reported that they overheated and failed if the amp load was too high. My DC power supply was providing 4.5 amps. The DC-DC converter had no documentation which specified how many amps it could handle.

    I solved this thanks to another youtube video, this one from the DIYPerks channel: https://youtu.be/qlMtakaa7u8 He stated that if you connected TWO LED strips in series that you could then use a laptop power supply without any need to step-down the voltage. Again, I'm not an engineer, but this does seem to work. I've tested this now for many hours with my lights.

  2. The second item is less critical. I do NOT recommend that you use hot-glue as I did in the above article. Basically the LEDs become hot enough that the glue softens and releases. For now I have them taped to the board. When my next set of LED strips arrive I will try and find some way to mount them to metal -- perhaps some aluminum strips -- which I hope will help conduct and dissipate the heat

 

Thanks for reading!

See Also:


Interior Auto LED upgrade


LED strip lighting revisited


T8 vs T8 LEDs