I love LED lighting. It’s energy efficient, comes in various shades of white or a red-green-blue version that can give you any colour you choose, reaches full brightness immediately, lasts for years, copes with a wide range of temperatures and, unlike fluorescents, doesn’t contain mercury and can be switched on and off repeatedly without shortening its life.
For several years now, we’ve been replacing all the mains voltage compact fluorescent bulbs in the house with LEDs as they fail. When we installed a new outside light in 2014 we made sure the fitting was suitable for use with an LED “corn bulb”, and it’s worked faultlessly ever since.
I’m also really happy with the retro-look bulb I built a wooden base for the year before last. It throws out a lot of light for its meagre 3W consumption.
Changing to LEDs has meant improved light levels and lower electricity consumption, without the annoying pause while the light warms up when you switch it on. The price has now reached the point where most LED bulbs are only slightly more expensive than their compact fluorescent equivalents, but their higher lumens/Watt ratio and longer life makes them a much more cost-effective purchase.
Low voltage LED lighting has taken a while to catch up, but it’s now at quite an exciting stage. I’m using 12V LEDs as direct replacements for the halogen MR16 bulbs we fitted in our bathroom ceiling when we refurbished the room in 2003. Recessed, low voltage halogens were the in thing back then, but they are quite energy intensive. The LED MR16s I’ve bought recently are a mere 4W compared with the 20W halogens that provide the same lumen output, and so far they work quite happily with the 12V DC power supply I installed for the halogens, which is hidden away above the false ceiling.
But, far more interesting than direct replacements are the new format low voltage LED lights, like LED “neon” tubes and the flexible, self-adhesive strips covered with SMDs (surface mounted diodes). Bendy LED “neon” allows anyone with a modicum of electrical knowledge to build themselves something that looks very like a true neon display or picture, but without all the glass-blowing, messing around with neon gas and tricky electrical connections. Inspired by Bag and Bones’ wonderful slogans and artwork, I am very tempted to buy a few metres of tube in different colours on eBay, plus the necessary connectors, power supply, cable, end caps, etc, and just have a go.
I have restrained myself though, and opted instead to start with some flexible LED tape. Most of the tape/strip you can buy is 12V, which is great if you want to pimp your car or try and run it off an existing power supply meant for low voltage halogen lights, but I have several unused 5V power supplies lying around and a second USB charger socket I haven’t yet got around to fitting. (See my post from August 2016 for more on the one I did get around to installing – it’s really convenient for charging phones and other gadgets, which is why I bought a second one for upstairs.) So I bought a 2m length of 5V SMD tape fitted with a USB socket, all the way from China for less than £3.
It arrived the other day and I excitedly snatched it from the postie’s hands and unwrapped it. It was almost as good as getting a yarn delivery.
This strip has 60 LEDs per metre, ie 120 in all, and its total power rating is 4W. Yes, 4W. Left on all the time it would only consume one unit of electricity every 10 days. I won’t leave it on all the time of course, that would be wasteful, but it’s nice to know it would cost me peanuts if I did.
The plan is to stick this strip on the underside of the mantelpiece that is at one end of our sitting room. On cold days at the weekend we huddle together on the sofa in front of the fireplace, but by doing so we have our backs to the ceiling light in the centre of the room. That makes reading difficult, not to mention knitting. Sometimes we move a standard lamp over to the sofa, but it’s in the way and what’s needed is light coming from the fireplace. (The gas cylinder wood-burning stove I made is more efficient than the open fire we used to have in that hearth, but it lets out almost no light.)
Fortunately, there’s a built-in cupboard at one end of the mantelpiece, which happens to be the cupboard where I installed a couple of extra 13A sockets not long ago. They are surface mounted and it should be an easy matter to replace one of the double socket plates with the spare USB-charging one I have. (If only I can remember where I put it…) Then I’ll only have to run the cable from the end of the LED strip through a hole in the frame of the cupboard to power it.
Before I install this tape though, I’ve been trying it out temporarily in a few other places around the house by attaching it loosely to a 6ft carbon fibre rod with twist ties. Places like along a beam that shades part of a ceiling from the south-facing window at the other end of the room,
around the edges of the ceiling in a dark spot on the landing, in the bathroom to replace recessed halogens, up the staircase,
and on top of the cornice or under the worktop of my newly-painted kitchen units.
For those applications I may go with 12V strip (it’s brighter), and anywhere where the strip is directly visible – like along the beam and on the ceiling – it will have to be hidden in recessed aluminium channel that comes with a clip-on diffuser.
LED strip used in a kitchen or bathroom needs to be water resistant. That makes it a little more expensive, but not much, and the connections have to be sealed with heat-shrink tubing. (Fun! I love heat-shrink tubing.)
I quite fancy using programmable, colour-changing LED strip in the kitchen. It would be great to run a strip under the edge of the worktop overhang so that the lights colour-washed the white doors. Unfortunately, our current worktops don’t have an overhang, but we are planning to replace all the laminate ones with beech block next year, assuming we can find a good match for the existing beech block surface along one run of units.
So, that lot sounds like a bit of a plan for 2018, DIY-wise.
A me-knit for 2018
As well as tinkering with LED strip, I found time to start a new knitting project over the Christmas break. Something for myself, and about time too – I was suprised to find on checking my Ravelry projects to see what I’d made in 2017 that there was only one item for myself, this Lia jumper that was finished in February and has had a lot of wear since. Everything else from my needles was destined for friends, family or charity, which is fine, but I do think I deserve a me-knit once in a while.
To that end, I’ve broken out some Debbie Bliss pure silk DK that’s been in my stash for a year.