27 March 2013

So you're thinking of mounting RGB lights on your house permanently?

As people move more and more in RGB lighting, a common next step is consider permanently mounting RGB lighting as opposed to just putting up RGB lights on a temporary, seasonal basis.  This is a logical conclusion - RGB lights are smaller and thus making them easy to conceal under soffits and with the wide range of color output, it makes them a good match for all kinds of seasons - Valentines day, Fourth of July, St. Patricks Day and of course Halloween and Christmas.  In between those seasons, of course they can also be used as just general landscape lighting.

There are some items to consider when considering permanently mounting RGB lights and hardware to your house year round:
  • Reliability of RGB Lights - The reality of RGB lighting for the seasonal decorator is that most of it is produced with cost as a major driver.  When a vendor (and thus the manufacturer) is being pressed to produce a product as cheaply as possible, quality usually suffers.  Where this often shows up is in long term reliability of the product.  It can be a variety of factors:
    • Non UV and heat resistant plastics and potting compounds.  For example, in our testing over the years, we have found some RGB strip will turn nearly completely brown as a result of just high levels of heat exposure - such as what you will find when storing items in attics.
    • Lower quality materials for LEDs.  These can be LEDs that are not as tolerant of voltages outside their normal range of operation or LEDs that are damaged as a result of UV exposure.
    • Often wiring used to connect RGB items will degrade over long term exposure to heat and UV.
  • Weather proofing of Power Supplies and Controllers - LED lights require DC power and as such, you will need a AC to DC power supply.  Factor this into your design so that the power supply is properly waterproof but still receives sufficient cooling.  Another factor is to ensure that you are below your rated power supply output - over taxing a power supply beyond its rated capacity will likely result in early failure of the power supply.  Another factor is the waterproofing of the controller.  Often pixel controllers are required to be located close (~10-15ft) of the LED lights they control, so allow for a waterproof mounting location.
  • Controlling Lights - A common issue when using RGB lights in an off-season, such as for landscape lighting, is how to provide control for the device when it isn't being run by a animation application.  Some controllers feature built-in sequences or solid color outputs that allow you to "flip a switch" and change over from DMX control to a single color output.  Check with your vendor to see what options their controller has for output when not connected with a DMX signal source.
  • Legal and Building Codes - This varies widely but be aware that installations will often involve high power AC wiring - which is controlled by building codes.  Wiring, such as SPT cord which maybe "ok" for a one month installation could degrade or not be sufficiently wear resistant for a year round installation.  This could result in a catastrophic event (fire, electrocution) for which you can be responsible.  Check with your local city or building code enforcement office to determine what the requirements are for permanent installation of lighting and/or power wires.
  • Environment Ranges - If you live in an area where extremes of either UV exposure or heat/cold exist, consider the materials used in the items you intend to use.  When a manufacturer designs a product, often they can choose between an electrical parts and materials that handles 0F to 130F to or -40F to 170F (as an example) and if the manufacturer is cutting costs, they will go with the lower cost part which often has the reduced temperature operating range.  So, look for a vendor that is listing specific ranges that the product is designed for and ensure those match your intended environment.
When working with your vendor for parts for your display that you intend to use year round, here are some areas you should be on the lookout for:
  • Warranty - Does the warranty have exclusions for year round installation?  Has the vendor been around awhile and do you expect them to be around if you need to make a claim during the warranty period?  Be very wary of any vendor outside the US, especially in China that offers a warranty - your warranty period usually expires at the same time your credit card charge back window expires.
  • Reliability - Has the vendor actually tested the product you will be purchasing either in accelerated testing?  This is often a very expensive process that few vendors go through.
  • Certification - Does the vendor have UL certification their products? While this doesn't ensure quality, it does show that a vendor is willing to invest in their products enough to have them tested though the expensive UL process.  CE certification means pretty much nothing as it is a voluntary certification.  If the product is sourced/purchase directly from China, assume that any certification is bogus until verified.
  • Intelligent design - What do the connectors look like?  Is this part of a larger system that is well thought out?  It is often clear when a vendor or manufacturer has gone the extra mile.


  1. Do you have a suggestion on rgb pixels you sell on your site that could be wired up to the eaves permanently?

  2. Do you have a suggestion on rgb pixels you sell on your site that could be wired up to the eaves permanently?

    1. Every type of pixel is different - nodes, strip, modules, bulbs, etc - so each type of pixel has to be evaluated as to the best method for mounting. Additionally, since there are so many different types of building methods and materials - metal, wood, vinyl, stucco, brick, etc along with different building methods for using those methods, inaddition to any project sepcific requirements a customer might have - asthetics, cost, etc that you'll have to consider your specific project requirements.


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