Christmas Lights 2014

After a successful first year with RGB lights in leaping arches around the circle drive, I decided to expand the RGB footprint this year. For several years, I have had the eaves lined with the GE Color Effects (GECE) pixels. The family was never a big fan of these, they didn’t like any of the built in patterns that well. I am going to replace all of these, and add outlining the roof, all in PixaBulbs from DIY LED Express this year. This is the story of that build.

I was happy with how I had the controllers mounted for the arches last year, but I need to make a few changes. The arch controllers laid flat on the ground, so the stuff inside didn’t need to be mounted securely. The controllers for the eaves and roofline have to sit vertically right under the eaves, so things need to be mounted more securely.

I am using three more of the Sandevices E6804 controllers for the eaves and roofline, one will be at 3 of the 4 corners of the house. This configuration fits how I need to run the PixaBulbs and allows me to drive all the lights at full power (all on white at 100%) without overloading anything.

I am continuing to use the CG-1500 enclosures. I purchased 3 of these from DIY LED Express during the January pre-sale. They are about $10 each, not including shipping to Colorado. 01 CG-1500 Enclosure

I also purchased the power supplies to run these pixels from DIY LED Express. They were $28.50 each, not including shipping. The problem with them is that there is no easy way to mount them in the enclosure. They have four mounting holes on the back of the case. 02 Power Supply

The enclosures have an array of raised mounting holes that stick up from the case that you can use to attach things, but since the power supplies don’t have matching mounting holes, I ground off the raised mounting holes on the right side of the case so that the power supply would sit flat against the back of the enclosure. 03 CG-1500 Right Side Dremel

I made a template for the power supply mounting holes out of card stock. I cut a piece the same size as the power supply, then laid it on the back side of the power supply and marked the mounting holes. Then I put that inside the enclosure and drilled the four holes. 04 PS Mounting Template 05 Template in Enclosure 06 Enclosure PS Holes

The power supplies do not come with a line cord. I picked up 3 of these at Home Depot. Last year I didn’t use anything for strain-relief for the power cord, since they were just laying on the ground. I needed something for these controllers, since the cord will be pulling down when it is installed under the eaves, and I don’t want to risk damaging the power supply. I used a clamp connector for use with electrical conduit from Home Depot. 09 Cord Clamp Package

I had to enlarge the right-most hole in the enclosure a little to get it to fit. I also had to grind off the reinforcing plastic rib just to the left of the right-most hole. 07 Enclosure PS Cord Hole

I used another of these clamps to hold the four pixel cables that plug into the controller. The left-most hole in the enclosure is a little bigger, so I didn’t have to enlarge it. I did have to grind down the reinforcing plastic rib just to the right of the left-most hole to get the clamp installed. 08 Enclosure Pixel Cables Cord Hole

Now the clamps can be installed in the enclosure. I had to shorten the screws on the line cord clamp a bit so that they didn’t bottom out on the enclosure when I tightened them down. 09 Cord Clamps Installed

I used four M4-0.7 X 10mm machine screws to mount the power supply in the enclosure. I also used some plastic covers for the screw heads, although they probably aren’t necessary. 10 PS Mounting Screws and Covers

Now the power supply can be installed in the enclosure and the screw covers closed up. 11 PS Mounted Back 12 PS Mounted Back Covers

A nice, clean, secure power supply mount. 13 PS Mounted Front

Now we are ready to connect the line cord. Push the end of the cord through the clamp into the enclosure and secure the 2 clamp screws. Then connect the ends of the individual wires to the appropriate terminals on the power supply. Green=Ground, White=Neutral, Black=Hot in most cases. 14 Line Cord Installed 15 Line Cord Installed All

Next is to mount the E6804 controller. The controller has mounting holes that match the pattern on the enclosure, that’s a good start. I labeled it with the last octet of the IP address it will receive. My home network uses the 192.168.1.x IP address range. 16 E6804

Even though the mounting holes on the controller match the ones on the enclosure, there are raised mounting holes that are under the board as well, so the board won’t sit flat on the four mounting holes it uses. One option would be to grind down the raised mounting holes that are under the board. I chose to make some spacers out of 1/4″ refrigerator icemaker line instead. I cut pieces 5/16″ long, and used #6 x 3/4″ screws to mount the board. 17 E6804 Mounting Screws

With the board mounted, it is now time to connect it to the power supply. Jim from Sandevices recommended using stranded wire of 14 gauge. I used 12 gauge just to be safe. Home Depot carries this wire in 25′ spools, I used two different colors. Make sure you match up the + and – sides of the controller to the + and – sides of the power supply. Both are clearly marked. 18 E6804 Mounted

Now I am ready to install the cables for the Pixabulbs. When I bought these, each string came with an 18″ section of cable with a connector on one end and bare wires on the other end. 19 Pixel Cable

The E6804 controller came with 4 connectors that plug into the pixel ports on the controller. 20 E6804 Connector

I had to strip about 1″ more of the outer wiring off the cable and about 1/8″ more off each individual wire to get them to attach easily to the connector. 21 Pixel Cable Stripped

These cables will be permanently attached to the controller enclosure, because the cables with the connectors attached won’t fit through the strain-relief clamp. So after all the wires were stripped, I slid them through the clamp before attaching them to the connectors. Then I plugged the connectors into the controller, then tightened down the screws on the strain relief clamp, making sure there was some slack in the pixel cables so there was no strain on the controller. Lastly, I trimmed about an inch off each end of the foam piece that covers the bottom holes and re-installed it. 22 Pixel Cables Attached

The final step is to put a label on each pixel cable outside the enclosure, designating which port it is connected to. That way I know what strings to connect to which ports without having to open the enclosure. That’s it! I repeated the above steps for the other two controllers, then I was ready to move on.

Next to deal with the network equipment. Last year I had a 5-port Netgear switch in one of the three enclosures in the circle drive. I like this switch because it runs on 12V, so I can run it off the smame power supply that runs the E6804. The three E6804s all connected to this switch, and I had another cable that ran inside the house to connect the 5-port switch to my main network switch in the house. I just put the switch in the bottom of the enclosure next to the E6804, but that didn’t work very well. It was crowded and difficult to connect or disconnect anything. I also had problems keeping the link between the 5-port switch and my main switch up. So this year, I am decided to relocate the switch to the lid of the enclosure. There are 4 mounting holes in the lid in the corners, not very conducive to mounting anything.

I got a sheet of Lexax OPTIX clear acrylic from Home Depot, it measured 18″ x 24″ by 0.093″. I cut a square piece 9″ x 9″ out of it with my miter saw. It helps to have a fine-toothed blade in it. Then I opened the lid of the enclosure, set the Lexan over the 4 mounting holes, and marked their locations with a sharpie. Then I drilled out the mounting holes to accommodate #6 x 3/4″ screws, the same ones I used to mount the E6804 in the enclosure. It works best to start with a really small drill bit, then work your way up in small increments. 23 Lexan Drilled

I want the switch to end up right on top of the E6804 when the enclosure is closed, with the network ports towards the bottom of the enclosure. So I put the switch on the Lexan, then flipped the whole thing over and mark the two mounting holes for the switch. Make sure to leave enough room at the top so you can get the power cord connected. I drilled out those 2 holes just like the others. I used M3-0.5 x 12 mm bolts to mount the switch. I slid the bolts under the metal case of the switch and hit them with a dab of hot glue. Then I set the Lexan down so the bolts went through the mounting holes and secured them with flat washers and nuts. 24 Switch Mounted

Then I flipped the Lexan over and mounted it to the lid through the other four holes I drilled earlier. 25 Switch In Lid

Then I put in the switch power cord. This is overkill, but I used hot glue to attach the power cord to the inside of the enclosure over to the power supply so it stays out of the way. I cut the cord to the right length, split and stripped the ends, and connected them to the power supply. 26 Switch Power Cord

A 1-foot Ethernet cable nicely connects the E6804 to the switch. 27 Network Cable

I repeated the switch mounting for one of the new enclosures. This is a diagram of the network config, including the 3 controllers for the arches from last year and the 3 new controllers for the roofline for this year. 29 Network Config

Now to start working on mounting the Pixabulbs. When I used to put up the GECE lights on the eaves every year, I put a plastic clip next to each light to keep them even. This worked well, but was pretty time-consuming to put up and take down every year. So I was looking for a simpler method. What I came up with is to permanently mount the lights to sections of PVC pipe, and then hang those from the eaves. That way I can put up an entire section at a time and just plug the sections together. So I needed a way to hang the PVC pipe sections from the eaves.

I started with a 12′ piece of metal J-channel from the home siding area of Home Depot. I cut it into 1 1/2″ sections with my cutoff saw. This will be the part that hangs on the eaves. 30 J Channel

The cutoff saw leaves pretty rough edges, so I used my grinder to clean those up. Now I can handle them without worrying about getting cuts or metal slivers. 31 J Channel Ground

Now for the part to hold the PVC. I found something called Grip Clips on Amazon. They are meant to attach to the wall of your garage and hold brooms, rakes, etc. But they also hold 1/2″ PVC pipe nicely. They come in 4-packs and are about $1.20 each. 33 Grip Clip

These have a convenient hole in the middle that can be used to attach them to the J Channel pieces. But, as you can see, there are 2 little nubs on the back side of them. I need to grind these off so that they will mount flush to the J-channel. 34 Grip Clip Ground

I needed to drill a hole in the J Channel so that the 2 pieces can be bolted together. 35 J Channel Hole

Now the pieces are ready to bolt together. I used #8 x 3/4″ bolts, lock washers and nuts for this. 36 Clip Bolted Long

The bolts are a little too long, so the last step is to grind off the excess bolt so that it doesn’t rub against the outside of the gutter. I used my Dremel with a cutoff disk to do this. 37 Clip Bolted Ground

I needed something to keep the corners aligned, but allow for expansion and contraction of the PVC. 1/2″ rebar fits loosely inside the PVC, so I welded together some 90-degree corners about 2 1/2″ long. 38 Rebar Elbow

The color of the gutter clips didn’t blend in very well with the gutters, so I painted them gray to match. I didn’t paint the actual clip part, since it sits directly under the bulbs so it shouldn’t reflect any light. 39 Clip Painted

I printed and attached labels on each end of the PVC sections so it will be easier to put them up in future seasons. 40 PVC Labeled

It takes 2 of these brackets to hold up a short section of PVC, and 3 to hold a long section. My house has many short sections of gutter, so I had to build a lot of these clips. Here is an example of a section mounted on the gutters. 41 Section Hanging

Next I started mounting lights on the PVC sections. I used Velcro strips to attach the lights to the PVC instead of zip ties. It makes it very easy to adjust the lights to get them aligned and spaced correctly. I used these Velcro Ties from Amazon.

Here is how a bulb looks attached to the PVC. 42 Light Velcro

The next big task was to shorten the strings of Pixabulbs to fit the PVC sections. This was my first time soldering in quite a while, so I didn’t have anything on hand. Back to Amazon. I purchased this Soldering Station, this Rosin Core Solder, and this Helping Hands Stand. I ended up taking the magnifying glass off the helping hands, I found that I could see things well enough if I wore my glasses while I was soldering. I was very happy with this setup.

Here is one more picture showing all the various components for the eaves lights, assembled and connected together. 42 Eaves Fully Assembled

With the eaves done, it was time to move on to the ridgelines of the roof. Similar to the eaves lights, I wanted to use sections of PVC with lights attached to them with velcro strips, and have connectors at each end to connect the segments together. My main criteria for building this was that nothing attach permanently to the roof, and that it be easy to put up and take down. So I built some free-standing support brackets to hold the sections of PVC.

The base of each support bracket is a 10″ strap hinge. I got these from Home Depot. 43 Strap Hinge

I drilled two 1/4″ holes in each end of the hinge. These are used to connect the hinge to the weights. 44 Strap Hinge Drilled

I had some old steel plates from my work that were going to be thrown away, so I collected several of those. These plates are 3/4″ thick. 45 Steel Plate

I used my bandsaw to cut each plate into 16 pieces. Eight of them are 4″ x 3″, and the other eight are 4″ x 2 1/2″. Two of these will be used to weight down each support bracket. 46 Steel Plate Cut

Next I drilled two 1/4″ holes in each weight with the same spacing as the holes in the hinges. 47 Steel Plate Holes

Then I attached the weights to each end of the hinge with #10 x 1 1/2″ round head bolts, flat washers, lock washers, and nuts. 48 Weights Attached

I cut of the extra bolt length with a hacksaw, then smoothed it with a grinder. 49 Weights Attached Ground

I painted the part of the hinge that will face up so that the lights don’t reflect off them. 53 Hinge Up Side Painted

Then I painted the underside of the hinges with a rubberized paint. This coating will lock into the sand on the shingles and should keep the supports in place on the roof, even on the sloped sections. 54 Hinge Down Side Painted

To connect the PVC pipes to the hinge, I used more of the Grip Clips from Amazon. I ground the nubs off one of them. 50 PVC Connect Clips

Then I attached another one to the ground-off one with a #8 x 1/2″ bolt, lock washer, and nut. 51 PVC Connect Clips Bolted

One side of this will clip on the hinge, and the other end will hold the PVC. 52 Clip with PVC

I have a few ridgelines where two sections will meet at a 45 degree angle, and others where three sections will meet. I welded more 1/2″ rebar pieces together to use where the sections meet, to help align the sections and allow for the expansion and contraction of the PVC. 55 Joint Pipe 1

55 Joint Pipe 2

Here is what the look like installed. 56 Joint Pipe Installed 1

56 Joint Pipe Installed 2

I had to build a total of 61 of these supports to cover the entire roof. I cut the PVC so I had the proper lengths for each segment. Most of the segments took multiple sticks of PVC, so I just cut one section to get the length I wanted. Here are a few pictures of the system installed on the roof before the lights were attached. 57 Roof System 1

58 Roof System 2

59 Roof System 3

Once this was done, I took everything down off the roof. I disassembled all the support brackets and painted the weights so they wouldn’t rust, then re-assembled the support brackets. I should have done this before I did the initial assembly, lesson learned.

Now similar to the eaves, I shortened sections of the Pixabulbs, added connectors at each end, and attached them to the PVC pieces with more velcro strips.

Here are a few pictures of the system installed, including the lights. 60 Roof System With Lights 1

61 Roof System With Lights 2

62 Roof System With Lights 3

Here is a video of a few test sequences that I ran, not too bad for the first try. (insert youtube video links here)

In addition to doing the eaves and roofline, I wanted to outline the dining room and office windows and the front door on the front side of the house. This required building PVC frames to hold the lights, similar to the eaves and roofline. 60 Office Window Frame

I used more of the Grip Clips and attached them to the house to hold the PVC frames at the top. The weight of the frames is resting on the window ledge bricks, so the clips just hold the top from falling out. 61 Office Window Clip

The window ledges are angled down away from the house, so the bottom sections of these frames might try to slide out if it gets windy. To prevent this, I cut some small pieces of brick and glued them to the existing bricks to hold the bottoms of the window frames in. 62 Brick Block

Since the frame around the front door is just 3 sided, I needed something to hold the bottom of the vertical sections of PVC in place. What to use for this? (pic)

I needed some longer extensions to reach between the controller and the frames, since they are several feet apart. I purchased these as part of my original order from DIY LED Express.

I thought that was the end of the new construction for this season, but then we got a catalog from Action Lighting in the mail. I had ordered some SPT1 wire and vampire plugs from them last year. The wife was looking through the catalog and thought it would be nice to have some of their LED snowflake lights to put on the roof. I will never argue when she wants to spend money on Christmas lights. So I embarked on this new project.

First I made some cardboard circle cutouts that matched the various sizes of the snowflake lights offered so we could figure out how many would look good on the roof. 101 Snowflake Templates

Then I ordered and recieved them from Action Lighting. They are a great company to work with! Very nice people, and a 15% discount. UPS lost part of my order, and they handled the whole thing for me. 102 Snowflake Boxes

Fortunately, I had a few extra LOR controllers, so I got those out and mounted them in my swamp cooler enclosure on the roof. 103 Controllers Mounted

I ran network cables down to the front of the house to my nearest LOR controller to get these controllers added to my existing LOR network chain. 104 LOR Cables

My roof is pretty flat, so the snowflakes would probably sit there just fine. But I tend to err on the side of caution. So I built some hangers out of a single SPT1 wire with a loop soldered at each end. 105 SPT1 Hanger

Each snowflake light has a metal frame that the rope light is attached to. There is a metal loop on each one for hanging them. I put the small SPT1 loop through the metal loop, then put the big SPT1 loop through the small SPT1 loop and tightened it around the metal loop in the snowflake. 106 Hanger Attach 1

107 Hanger Attach 2

108 Hanger Attach 3

Then I put the big loop around one of the weights of one of the roofline support brackets. 109 Hanger Attach Weight

This will keep the snowflakes from sliding off the roof. 110 Hanger Attach

Next is to run an SPT1 power cable from each snowflake back to the controllers in the swamp cooler enclosure.111 Snowflake Wired

There wasn’t a good place to get the power cables into the swamp cooler enclosure. I ended up cutting a couple of the vent flanges off so I had an opening big enough to get the plugs through. I could have taken all the plugs off, run the wires through, then put all the plugs back on, but I didn’t want to mess with that. 112 Swamp Cooler Opening

All the snowflakes are up and wired. It took almost 2000 feet of SPT1 to get them all connected. 113 Many Snowflakes Up
111b Wires to Swamp Cooler

Here they are all turned on. (pic)

And a quick test pattern video. (vid)

These were pretty easy to add. The big task now is integrating them into my sequences…