I have many different laser projects I want to do, which involve lighting. I think that the proper lighting can add nice effects. So with a recent 3D shadow box project, I decided to get started with an LED strip light project.
Though, my goals were a bit different from stuffing a string of fairy lights in the back of the 3D lightbox.
I've already written many additional articles about creating a smart home using the Lutron Caseta brand lighting switches.
The Lutron Caseta dimmer switches with the bridge were straightforward to use with the Apple HomeKit app. I found the iPhone Home app the easiest way to share our new smart lighting system with other home members.
I've had some of the Caseta dimmer switches installed in our home for a couple of years. They've been extremely reliable and easy to use. We've loved having control of them using our iPhone.
So my goal was to integrate these new laser LED light strip projects with the Homekit system. I want to schedule them to turn on automatically at dusk.
As I've learned, this is not as easy as it sounds.
So Many Different LED Strip Types
Most of us are very familiar with LED lighting these days. Many technological advances have allowed LED lights application in many parts of homes.
This fact is most evident with LED strip lighting. The many different colors are visually appealing light colors. They're now very affordable, and the flexible strips are easy to install.
The easiest way to buy these is to search for LED strip lights on Amazon. These products come as a standalone kit, which you can use in specific applications, e.g., bedroom, around the TV, desk, kitchen, and many other lighting effects. They can be used as both accent lighting or mood lighting.
By kit, I mean that the product you buy includes the lights, power supply, and controller. The length of the strip varies. All you need to do is follow the instructions and install it.
Again, you can follow this route with different project related lighting needs. But I was hoping to automate these new lighted projects. Yes, I know, I am fussy.
When you start to look at integrating LED light strips with different controllers and different home automation systems, it gets real complicated quickly.
If you look closely at the different LED strip types, you start finding a wide variety of options. All of the strips have the LED bulb embedded right on the strip. But some of the other options include:
After spending hours researching this online, I concluded I needed to decide on the controller first since I wanted it integrated into our existing home automation system.
How Do I Make My LED Strip Work with HomeKit?
When looking for LED strip controllers compatible with Apple HomeKit, you'll learn that there are not as many options as you were hoping to find.
Apple has set several challenging requirements for HomeKit integration. For accessory manufactures, this means they must enroll in the Apple MFi Program.
I'm not a manufacturer of smart home products, but Keen Home is. The following blog post on their website discusses these complexities: What it takes to be HomeKit compatible.
The bottom line is that these Apple HomeKit requirements likely result in better products, but it also increases their cost. How much of these costs go into Apple's profits? I don't know. People like to buy their products.
One prevalent and well-known manufacturer of smart-home LED strips that are compatible with HomeKit is Philips Hue.
While I initially chose the Lutron Caseta products for our home instead of Philips Hue, I was still very interested in the Hue products. I quickly thought that my laser projects would be the perfect use for them.
This attitude changed somewhat as I read through the recent Amazon reviews of the Philips Hue Bluetooth Smart Lightstrip Plus. The reviews were not good. These are not the kind of thoughts I was hoping to find for an expensive LED strip light product.
While I'm not a one-hundred percent believer in the Amazon review system, the Hue product had some integration shortfalls for my needs also. Cutting marks were also every 12-inches, which was too much for my needs.
Which LED Strip Light Components Did I Select?
After many hours of online research, I'd finally reached the state of analysis paralysis. I was once again thinking that stuffing a string of fairy lights in the 3D shadow box was not such a bad idea.
But I refused to give up. I wanted to learn something, even if it meant this would not be the final solution.
LED Strip Controller
After reading through many different Reddit forums, I chose the GLEDOPTO Smart ZigBee LED Strip Controller. This decision was due to the reliability of connecting to the Hue Bridge.
I chose the RGB CCT 2ID option, as this "looked" better from a tech standpoint. As I'll explain later, in the end, this is not the best criteria.
LED Strip Lights
Once I had selected the controller, I just needed to find a compatible LED strip. It didn't take me long to find this LEDENET LED Strip Light RGB+W+WW Flexible Full Color Changing Color Temperature Adjustable Cold White Warm White CCT RGB LED Tape. It had both the RGB LED strip color and the white color included.
I also purchased the LEDMO 12-volt Power Supply.
I wasn't sure how I would bend the LED strip around the corners of the 8.5-inch square lightbox. So I added a package of GIDERWEL Right Angle Corner Solderless Connectors to the cart.
They ended up being a little bigger than I was expecting.
ZigBee Smart Hub
I chose the Philips Hue Smart Hub (Works with Alexa Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant) for this requirement.
I've wanted a Hue Hub, and they have dropped considerably in price since the last time I checked.
Please Note: I've included here the "Works with Apple HomeKit" on purpose. This marketing statement applies only to Hue certified devices.
Hue certified devices mean only the Hue branded light bulbs work directly with HomeKit. It's a little misleading as you would think that any ZigBee devices communicating with the Hue Bridge would connect to HomeKit. That connection to the Home app does not happen automatically.
HomeKit Support for the ZigBee Hub and LED Strip Light Controller
To enable HomeKit support, I decided to use the HomeBridge.
Homebridge itself is simply an open-source software project. Its sole purpose was to allow HomeKit support for those many devices which did not natively support HomeKit.
To run the Homebridge hub software, you need a Raspberry Pi. The Pi is a very inexpensive, small, single-board computer.
There have been many generations of this computer over the years. I did not require the latest and greatest version for Homebridge. So I selected the previous version from a cost perspective.
I chose the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 Kit with Premium Clear Case and 2.5A Power Supply. This kit was about half the cost of a similar kit for the Pi 4.
Homebridge is the only application I planned to install on the Pi. I did not expect to add a large number of devices either. Most of our smart home lighting is with the Lutron Caseta bridge.
Installation of the LED Strip Lights in the 3D Shadow Box
Wiring Up and Installing the GLEDOPTO LED Controller
The LED strip and controller options I purchased did not come with a power cord and switch. I could not just plug it in and turn it on.
However, I wanted to make I could do this electronically before I installed anything into the 3D shadow box.
Somewhere on the Internet, I found the wire colors matchup from the LED strip to the corresponding connection on the GLEDOPTO controller.
I connected the power supply, and it lit up.
I had already added the Hue app to my iPhone smartphone. Adding the Hue Bridge was also an easy task.
I was ready to search for the GELOPTO controller.
The Hue app found the two new LED lights almost immediately. I renamed them to something a little more friendly.
I expected the Hue app to find only one LED strip light. I quickly remembered that the controller I purchased had separate control of the "color" or RGB lights from the white/temperature lights.
I created a room for the new lights and added both to it. The room option allowed me to control both of the new lights using one "switch."
I could still click into the living room and control both lights individually.
Installing the LED Strip Lights
Applying the LED strips to the back panel of the 3D lightbox was relatively easy. After I removed the paper from the adhesive, it stuck to the wood very well.
The corners I gently bent and let some of the strips stick up. I had room for that and did not want to pinch any of the internal wirings.
Installing the Homebridge
I installed Homebridge many years ago on an earlier version of the Raspberry Pi. It involved command-line instructions and didn't seem very easy. Even though I'm a software developer, I don't enjoy this level of tinkering.
This time around, I followed their official instructions in their Wiki. There were no SSH or command line instructions involved in the process.
When it came time for step 4 to manage the Homebridge, I typed http://homebridge.local into the browser URL, and it worked like it was supposed to.
I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to setup Homebridge.
The first thing I did was to click the update icon. This action installed the latest version of the software. Once it finished, the process automatically restarted without me having to touch the device.
After upgrading Homebridge, I clicked on the Plugins menu item. I searched for the Hue plugin, and it quickly returned a list of potential plugins for me to install.
Installing the Hue plugin was, again, an effortless task. Once the installation finished, I entered the required settings.
At one point in the process, I did have to pair the Homebridge with the Hue hub. Pairing requires pushing the big button on the front of the Hue hub. I didn't get a picture of that, so I can't remember the exact point in the process.
To add the Homebridge to the iPhone Home app, I would need the code from Homebridge. The code can be found either on the home page, with the big square 2D barcode. Or you can find it in the config file under the config menu option.
Connecting Homebridge to My Home
The first step is to click on the Plus sign icon at the top-right side of your My Home app. Clicking will bring up a menu option to add an accessory. The list of accessories to choose from is displayed. I selected the Homebridge icon.
The Home app prompts me to enter the HomeKit Setup Code for the Homebridge accessory. It then also reminds me to add the Philips Hue, to which the Homebridge connects.
The My Home app asks me for the location of the accessory. Then it adds the next addition, which is the LED Color Light.
The My Home app asks me to give the new light a name. The final step is to enable adaptive lighting.
Adding the 3D Shadow Box to the HomeKit My Home app is now completed.
One feature of the My Home app that I did immediately like was how it gave you access to the LED strip's dual switch functionality.
The main screen displayed the LED strip as only one light, which is correct. Once you select the light icon, you then have to options.
You can control the LED color light. It's hard to see, but there is a scroll bar on the right. Using that, you can scroll down and control the LED Temperature Light.
DIY LED Strip Light for Projects Final Conclusions
I get to this stage of this project and try to remember why I did not stuff fairy lights into the 3D shadow box and plug it into a smart outlet?
At least I did complete the project and ended up with a very lovely looking lightbox.
The Handling of Power Outages
I was delighted with this smart lighting setup until very recently. That was when our power went out. We do have our whole house set up for a portable generator.
Even with a generator, the power goes off a couple of times due to the generator's initial hookup. After the power company restores their electricity, I have to switch off the generator and switch back on the power company.
After all this, I noticed that the LED lights in the 3D shadow box were on. I had them off previously.
I checked the My Home app on my iPhone, and the icon for these indicated No Response. I then checked the Hue App, and it had lost it's pairing with the Hue hub.
I checked the Homebridge errors using the URL, and it too had lost it's pairing with the Hue hub. I re-paired both apps, and things worked as expected.
Since the Hue app lost it's pairing, I attributed this problem to the Hue hub. I searched the Internet and found a lot of issues relating to this with no real right solution.
My Major Takeaways
I had three major takeaways from this LED lighting project:
My Minor Takeaways and Next Steps
The LED strip lighting market for homes is still very fragmented. There is a wide variety of technologies in use. Purchasing a standalone LED strip lighting kit is easy and very affordable. Integrating it with other smart home products is not nearly as simple.
My original plan with purchasing 16.4-feet of LED strip lights was to cut off a small length for each project. All I would need to buy then would be another controller and power supply.
When I cut the LED strip, I forgot to consider that I need new wires to connect to the controller. The LED strip I purchased requires them to be 12mm with six wires. I could not find those anywhere.
I did end up buying them off Alibaba at a very affordable price. However, they will not arrive for two months. Hopefully, they are the right ones!
I've read that the Home Assistant project is more of a hub, which could eliminate my need for both the Hue hub and the Homebridge. I may do some testing with this.
I don't think I purchased the right LED strip. I did not need the dual light control for RGB and temperature options. Next time I'll get just RGB lighting with a single switch controller. This more common configuration may also make the connectors more readily available.
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