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January 24, 2021

How to Install a DIY LED Strip Light Project

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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:

  • What do the letters mean? For example, RGB = Red, Green, Blue; W = White; WW = Warm White; CW = Cold White; CCT = Color Correlated Temperature.
  • Most LED strips have a four-digit number. This number can indicate the chip's size or the name of the integrated LED controller chip.
  • There are different sizes of strips. The size affects the performance of the lights, but this also varies based on the manufacturer. The strip's size also directly affects corner or extension cable connections.
  • The number of wires the strip uses. The wire quantity affects what kind of control you can have with the lights and what happens if one chip no longer works.
  • The efficiency of the LED strip varies between manufacturers.
  • Which voltage is better, 12-volt or 24-volt? Voltage drop is a real concern with lower voltages, and you can install longer runs with 24-volts. Higher voltages can be more efficient. However, the reverse consideration is that lower voltage strips have closer cut lines. Closer cut lines give you more options to cut the strip into smaller sections for different project's need.
  • Is the strip waterproof? I didn't need this for laser cutting projects.

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?

6 Pack Fairy String Lights Battery Operated Starry String Lights Waterproof Silver Wire

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.

GLEDOPTO Smart ZigBee LED Strip Controller RGB CCT 2ID Work as 2 Lights Dimmable

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.

LEDENET LED Strip Light RGB+W+WW Flexible Full Color Changing Color Temperature Adjustable Cold White Warm White CCT RGB LED Tape

I also purchased the LEDMO 12-volt Power Supply.

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.

GIDERWEL Right Angle Corner Solderless Connectors

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.

Hue Smart Hub for LED Strip Light Project

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.

CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 Kit with Premium Clear Case and 2.5A Power Supply

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.

LED Strip Light Project wire up GLEDOPTO LED Controller
LED Strip Light Project wire up GLEDOPTO LED Controller and light strip

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.

Hue Smartphone App Search for GELOPTO controller
Hue Smartphone App Search for 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.

Hue App find LED Strip Light
Hue App find LED Strip Light Renamed

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.

Hue App Living Room LED Strip Light Project
Hue App Living Room Switches for  LED Strip Light Project

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.

LED Strip Light Project Installation in 3D Shadow Box
LED Strip Light Project Installation in 3D Shadow Box

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.

LED Strip Light Project Installing Homebridge
LED Strip Light Project Upgrading Homebridge

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.

LED Strip Light Project Installing Homebridge Hue Plugin
LED Strip Light Project Installing Homebridge Hue Plugin

Installing the Hue plugin was, again, an effortless task. Once the installation finished, I entered the required settings.

LED Strip Light Project Installing Homebridge Hue Plugin
LED Strip Light Project Installing Homebridge Hue Plugin and Edit 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.

LED Strip Light Project Homebridge setup code for HomeKit
LED Strip Light Project Homebridge setup code for HomeKit

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.

Connecting Homebridge to My Home for the LED Strip Light Project
Connecting Homebridge to My Home for the LED Strip Light Project Add Accessory

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.

Connecting Homebridge to My Home enter the HomeKit Setup Code
Connecting Homebridge to My Home Add the Philips Hue

The My Home app asks me for the location of the accessory. Then it adds the next addition, which is the LED Color Light.

Connecting Homebridge to My Home Accessory Location
Connecting Homebridge to My Home Add LED Color Light

The My Home app asks me to give the new light a name. The final step is to enable adaptive lighting.

LED Strip Light Project Connecting Homebridge to My Home Add Light Name
LED Strip Light Project Connecting Homebridge to My Home Enable Adaptive Lighting

Adding the 3D Shadow Box to the HomeKit My Home app is now completed.

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.

LED Strip Light Project Color Light Control 1
LED Strip Light Project Color Light Control 2
LED Strip Light Project Color Light Control 3

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.

LED Strip Light for Projects Final Conclusions

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:

  • I'm very impressed with the Homebridge. It was easy to set up and use. There are no more command-line instructions to follow using an SSH terminal.
  • I'm less impressed with the Hue hub. I had high expectations for it but have read a lot of negative reviews. I'm also still left with the issue of the power outage.
  • I'm even more pleased with my existing Lutron Caseta home light system. Over the last couple of years, we've had zero issues with it. It has been rock-solid in operation. It also works seamlessly with HomeKit, even after power outages.

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.

LED Strip Light Project

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