I am on a personal mission to bring freaking cool Holiday LEDs to the masses. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars or have a degree in computer programming to have the coolest multi-colored LEDs in the neighborhood. If you can hang Christmas lights, and have a computer (and fingers), you can do this! Ready… go!
First let’s talk about LEDs. The ones you want are called “individually addressable”. That means you can tell each LED in the string exactly what color and how bright you want it to be. If you want a lot of really good technical information about different kinds of LEDs, check out Hook-Up Rob’s video, here. I’m a simple man, so I’ll keep things simple. The first choice you need to make when choosing your Awesome new LEDs, is do you want stings, or strips. The strings look like this. They are the most like “traditional” bulbs. The “bulbs” are 3” apart, they come in 16’ strings, and they are waterproof. You can get 12v or 5v strings, and they usually cost about $12-15 for a 16’ string. These are the kind I have on my house.
The other option is Strips. Strips are flat. Some are waterproof, some are not, and they come in a wide variety of LEDs/meter. So you can get them right next to each other, or spaced out a bit, depending on the look you want. Most of these are going to be 5v, but you can get some that will run on 12v, but they cost a bit more. The least expensive will be 5v, 30 leds/m, and non-waterproof. Those will cost $11-12 for a 16’ (5m) string. If you go full waterproof with 60 leds/m the 5v version costs about $18-22 for 16’, but the 12v version can cost over $50 for 16’.
Another thing to consider when you’re choosing your LEDs is how you want to mount them. You could just use nails to mount the strings, that would be the cheapest. It wouldn’t look great… I use a vinyl channel that requires drilling holes, and maybe painting if they don’t have a color that matches your house. It costs about $7 for 12’.
If you go with the strips some people use an aluminum channel with a light diffuser. It looks nice and costs about $3 for 3’. Some folks have used small PVC tubing and slid the LED strips inside that. That costs about $2 for 10’. I was kinda surprised to see the LEDs shine through the PVC pipe, but they do. If you go with the Waterproof Strips, you may not need anything else for mounting if they have a good adhesive backing and you have a clean flat surface to stick them to. I don’t know what the sun might do to them long term though. Here’s a breakdown of price per foot for the different options:
|Type||Cost||Mount Type||Cost||Cost per Foot||Cost per Meter|
|Strings 50 LEDs||$13.90/5m||Vinyl J-Channel||$7.70/10ft||$1.62||$5.34|
|Strings 50 LEDs||$13.90/5m||Just Nails||$0||$0.85||$2.80|
|Strips 150 LEDs||$10.18/5m||Aluminum Channel||$2.40/m||$1.35||$4.45|
|Strips 300 LEDs||$15.44/5m||Aluminum Channel||$2.40/m||$1.67||$5.51|
|Strips 150 LEDs||$10.18/5m||1″ thin PVC||$2.30/10ft||$0.85||$2.81|
|Strips 300 LEDs||$15.44/5m||1″ thin PVC||$2.30/10ft||$1.17||$3.87|
|WP Strips 150 LEDs||$12.40/5m||Tape Backing||$0||$0.76||$2.50|
|WP Strips 300 LEDs||$18.30/5m||Tape Backing||$0||$1.12||$3.68|
|WP backup 150 LEDs||$22.06/5m||Tape Backing||$0||$1.35||$4.44|
|WP backup 300 LEDs||$31.42/5m||Tape Backing||$0||$1.92||$6.32|
Until I made this table I thought I had done it super cheap with my Strings and my J-channel. After seeing the real cost breakdown, I bought some waterproof 150 Strips with the adhesive back. If or when they fall off the house I’ll update the video description.
Here are some examples of how I’ve installed them and how they look.
- Install Strings w/ J-channel
- Install Strings in a tree
- Install Strips in Aluminum channel
- Install Strips in PVC
- Install WP strips with Adhesive backing
Let’s take a second and discuss LED voltage. Do you want 12v or 5v? For all practical or economical purposes, all the individually addressable LED strips are 5v (ws2812). Yes, there are some 12v Strip options, but they are either Not really individually addressable (ws2811 strips are Tri-addressable, meaning you can send one color to 3 leds, but you can’t control each LED), or the other 12v options are a lot more expensive because they have a voltage regulator at each LED (those are the ws2815’s). $50 for 12v strip vs $15 for 5v strip.
The Strings however do come in 12v or 5v. The Strings are actually ws2811, but unlike the strips, they ARE individually addressable. 12v Strings are a little more expensive than 5v Strings; usually about $2 more per 5m string. The advantage of 12v is this; you lose a little voltage with each LED. Eventually, usually after 200 or so LEDs the 5v you started with will have dropped too low to produce accurate colors. 12v LED strings also lose voltage, but you can go 500 or more LEDs without seeing a change in color accuracy. The solution for the 5v voltage drop problem is to run a parallel set of wires from your power supply and “inject” power at each end of your LED string or strip. All of these LED stings or strips, give you wires to easily connect to for injecting power. It’s almost like they knew we would need to do this…
Adding wire and a connector for each 5m of LEDs will cost about $1.50 per string. That’s about the price difference for the 12v strings, so it probably is worth it to go with 12v. With the Strips, the price difference between 12v and 5v is a lot bigger, so if you’re using Strips you should plan on also getting some extra wire for power injection.
Now we need to talk about Power Supplies. If you get 5v lights, you need a 5v ps. If you get 12v lights you’ll need a 12v power supply. The size, or the number of Amps you need is based on how many LEDs you plan to run from that ps. If you just do the google, you’ll find recommendations to use 60mA per LED, but that ain’t the whole story. To get a more accurate answer I looked to my Homie and yours, HookUpRob. In his actual measurements of different RGB strips he found that with every color at max brightness, each ws2811 Pixel (which are the strings) draws at most 40mA, and each ws2812 Pixel (which are the strips) draws at most 25mA. Using those numbers, one String of 50 LEDs (ws2811) can draw 2 amps, and one Strip of 150 LEDs can draw 3.75 amps (or 1.25 amps per 50 LEDs). But, that is really more than we will actually need because we aren’t going to be running every LED at full brightness. That would just make white light, and not very good white light. These LEDs are going to be flashing and dimming and using all sorts of colors. My Zzimple rule of thumb, which hasn’t failed me yet, is 1 amp per 50 leds. And that goes for the Strings or the Strips. So figure out where you want your lights, which kind of lights you want to use, then figure out the total number of LEDs (roughly), and divide by 50. That’ll give you a good estimate Amps required for your power supply. You can get the all Wart style that usually are 1 to 3 amps, or the enclosed-corded style that are usually 5 to 10 amps, or you can get the bare metal style that can be anything from 1 amp to over 60 amps. I’ve used some of each, and they all work fine.
By now you should have a pretty good idea in your head about what you want your house to look like when it’s all decked out in LED awesomeness. The next thing to talk about is how are we going to actually make all the fancy colors. For that we’re going to use a simple $3 controller and some free software called WLED. There are a lot of control board options. Because I want this to be as easy as possible for anyone to do, I suggest using the NodeMCU. It’s a little circuit board with a usb connector, a couple of buttons and a lot of little pins for connecting wires. If you’ve never messed with little controllers like this, don’t get intimidated. Don’t give up now. Stick with me. I’ll walk you through. You can do this.
To prep this control board you need to download the latest version of WLED. Here’s the link: https://github.com/Aircoookie/WLED/releases
The NodeMCU uses the ESP8266 chip so pick the file that ends with eps8266.bin. Save it somewhere you can find it like your desktop. Next you’ll need a program that will copy WLED onto the NodeMCU, so download the ESPhome Flasher, here’s the link:
There’s a version for Mac or Windows. Install it. Mac might give you some grief because it isn’t from a recognized developer. Go to Settings and Security and approve the install to get past that. Once you get to this view it works the same for Mac or Windows. Grab a micro usb cord and plug the NodeMCU into your computer. Hit the Refresh button and you will see a Com number show up in this box. Depending on what else you have connected to your computer you may see more than one. It usually will be able to tell which is the NodeMCU and should put that one at the top. If you pick the wrong one it won’t hurt anything, it just won’t work until you select the right one. Next you tell it which .bin file you want to load. So go find the WLED file you downloaded. Now hit Flash. It’ll either work… or it just won’t… it’s not going to explode.
When that is done you’ll need a wifi connected device like a phone or a laptop. Open the Wifi settings where you look for new networks and find the one called WLED. Connect to that one. The PW is wled1234. Your browser might automatically find and connect to the WLED User Interface, but if it doesn’t, then open the browser and put 184.108.40.206 in the search bar.
Yeah! You did it! Now you could control WLED just like this, using Access Point mode. But most people probably won’t do that. If you are Most People then you’ll want to connect to your home Wifi Network. Put in your Wifi name and PW, and give it a name that you can remember. This will be the easiest way to find it after it connects to your wifi network. Save and it’ll restart.
Now go to the App store and install the WLED app. When you open it up, select find devices. It should find your new WLED NodeMCU controller. Should…
If it doesn’t find the new device, you can try putting the name you gave it into your browser. It’ll be something like “http://wled-lights.local” If you’re lucky, that’ll show you the WLED web interface. If nothing comes up, you’ll have to go to your router and look for a new device that starts with WLED. That IP address is what you’ll need to put in your browser to access the WebUI, or to connect the NodeMCU to the App. If you have no idea how to access your router to look for devices, and the .local address doesn’t work, you can try installing Bonjour https://support.apple.com/kb/DL999 . As a last resort, you could use Fing, which is an app that you can connect to your network that will then show you all the other devices connected to your network. Most likely the app will find it and you won’t need to try any of these other ways to find the new WLED controller on your network. I’m just thinking of how a beginner might get stuck and finding the IP address and getting to the UI is probably one of those spots. So those are some tips for getting past it. You’re welcome.
We will deep dive into everything WLED can do in another video. For now, let’s get everything connected and turn on some LEDs! Both the Strings and the Strips have 3 wires. Usually Red, White, and Blue or Green. The Red should be the positive, and white the negative. If you aren’t sure there will be labels on the strips or if you look inside the sealant on the strings you’ll see markings of + and -. Connect those wires to the power supply. Double check, because if you get them reversed you’ll be buying new LEDs. The bare metal power supplies have screw terminals, or you can get Barrel Connectors to help make nice connections for the other kinds of power supplies. If you are using 5v LEDs then you can use the same power supply for the controller. Unplug the NodeMCU from your computer. Your LEDs may have come with an extra male connector to connect to the control board. If not, get some jumper wires that have one male end and one female end. Connect the + to the Vin Pin on the Node MCU, and the – to ground. The middle wire (probably Green or Blue) is the Data wire. Connect a jumper between that wire and the D4 pin on the NodeMCU. If you’re using 12v then you can either use a separate 5v ps, or use a 12v to 5v DC-DC converter, or possibly you could find a NodeMCU board that will take 12v. I have some, and I’ve been using one on 12v for a few months and it hasn’t died yet… but it probably will eventually. When it does I’ll let you know how long it lasted and we can decide if that’s a good option or not. If you use a separate power supply for the controller make sure that the – for the LEDs and the ground on the controller are connected. That’s probably the most common mistake I’ve seen people make. If your controller and your LEDs don’t share the same ground they won’t work.
Make a double check that it’s all connected, then turn on the power supply. (explosion)
That’s it! Open the app and start playing with your awesome new totally customizable LEDs.
You can repeat that whole process as many times as you want. You can run multiple runs of LEDs off one controller, or you can add a new controller for each separate segment of LEDs. I have 10 controllers for my house and I’m still adding more. In another video I’ll go through all the things WLED can do, including:
- 80 different Effects
- 40 different Color Pallets
- Setting Custom Colors
- Setting Favorite/Preset effects
- Syncing Effect between Controllers
- Macros, to make timers
- Alexa Control
- Home Assistant Integration
- MQTT Control
- E1.31 Control with xLights (to make those crazy LED shows with music)
- Lovelace Buttons
- Physical on/off Button
- NodeRed Alexa and Presets
- And Remote Access with Blynk (if I can get it to work)
WLED comes with like 80 effects. I’ve played with them a lot and honestly it’s kinda overwhelming. I find myself spending a lot of time finding the exact effect I want. So to save you some time I’ve put together a nice visual summary of each effect. This is going to take a long time…
As a Starting point, we’ll use the Summary table on the WLED wiki page. It lists all the effects, gives a short summary of what it does and tells you what changes you get from the “Intensity Slider” in the App.
5v ws2812 Strips: https://amzn.to/2MwXG1P
5v ws2812 Strips Waterproof: https://amzn.to/2B5TQHG
12v ws2815 strips: https://amzn.to/2MF66o2
5v or 12v ws2811 strings: https://amzn.to/35rRrFi
Aluminum Channel (50cm): https://amzn.to/2ILM2PE
22 awg wire (10m): https://amzn.to/2B6SqfS
T quick splice connectors: https://amzn.to/2OFOhI3
Bare Metal Power Supplies: https://amzn.to/2MC8EmL
Enclosed Power Supplies: https://amzn.to/2YLa5nm
Wall wart Power Supplies: https://amzn.to/2ETbVec
Barrel Adapter (5.5×2.1) Screw: https://amzn.to/2njMcWG
12v to 5v wired: https://amzn.to/2B5SJI0
12v to 5v Screws: https://amzn.to/2OFgoa9
Jumper Wires: https://amzn.to/2YLM2EV
5v Strips: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/Kceu4gks
12v Strings: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/pyashnIC
12v ws2815 strips: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/D1inmwpE
5v ws2811 strings: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/2cG5MhrK
Aluminum Channel (50cm): http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/sHXT8lzI
22 awg wire (10m): http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/5pF6A6cg
T quick splice connectors: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/rBAUS9oM
Bare Metal Power Supplies: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/DVyBTarA
Enclosed Power Supplies: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/FTyEPUzi
Barrel Adapter (5.5×2.1) Button: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/qiOWux7w
Barrel Adapter (5.5×2.1) Screw: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/obHLvgne
12v to 5v wired: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/4oWYDDGy
Jumper Wires: http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/buqEtUlE
Ikea Cable Management:
J-channel Hole Jig: https://github.com/Snipercaine/Holiday-LED-files/tree/master/stl