Saturday April 29th 2017

  

LED Light Strip for Your Coat Closet – A How-To

A few years ago my wife asked for a light in the hall coat closet, and since I was excited at the time about the new LED lights that were becoming available, I decided the coat closet might be a good place for an LED light strip. I would install the light strip vertically along one of the corners at the front of the closet. This would give good floor to ceiling illumination of the closet space.

 

I chose the CabLED starter kit, which is sold at Home Depot. It includes a power supply, dimmer switch, and 6-foot length of 3000 Kelvin LED strip (for this installation I ended up not using the included dimmer control). I preferred the CabLED light to other brands of LED strip, which were either too blue or had the annoying flicker of the cheaper, half-wave rectified light strips.

Disclaimer/caution: The project that I am about to describe involves mounting a DC power supply inside the wall of a home, which is probably a violation of the electrical code in your area. In hindsight I think a more fire-safe installation would have involved the use of an industrial-grade, panel-mount power supply in an all-metal enclosure, with mounting flanges that you could screw to a stud inside the wall (this would prevent the power supply jumping around inside your wall during an earthquake), and then to run non-metallic, sheathed electrical cable (Romex) from the electrical junction box into the power supply enclosure. If you choose to do a similar project in your own home, you do so at your own risk. Please be careful, and use common sense. Remember when working with AC wiring to shut of the circuit breaker before commencing work, and double-check the circuit with a multi-meter to be sure that it is dead.

 

There were no junction boxes for power in the closet, but there was a junction box on the other side of the wall in the adjacent room. So I planned to install a new junction box in the coat closet wall, back-to-back with the junction box in the other room, and pull power through from the existing junction box to the new junction box. The question then would be where to mount the CabLED’s power supply. Ideally there should exist a junction box designed to accommodate a power supply inside the wall, and perhaps there is such a thing now, but the best I could come up with at the time was a sort of dual-gang junction box, designed for existing construction (with sheetrock clamps), half of the junction box being an enclosed box for AC wiring, and the other half being an open mud-ring for low-voltage wiring. They actually had such a thing at Home Depot, called a “dual voltage box/bracket.” I found it in the store near the Smurf tube.

Note that when I purchased the CabLED starter kit three years ago it came with the 18-Watt power supply as shown below. My plan was to cut the plug off the power supply’s AC cord, run that AC cord into the back of the AC half of the dual voltage junction box, and connect the black lead of the AC cord to the switched contact of the light switch, the white lead to AC neutral, and the green lead to ground. That worked fine for my installation, but I checked Home Depot again recently and found that while they still sell the CabLED starter kit, it now includes a 15-Watt wall-wart instead. A wall-wart will not work for this installation, but you can still purchase the 18-Watt power supply, which has an AC cord, separately from Home Depot’s web site (you can purchase all the CabLED items separately on their web site).

A dual-gang cover plate would go over the junction box, and I would put a Decora switch in one half and a dummy, Decora-style filler in the mud-ring half. The CabLED power supply would rest behind the mud-ring section of the box. A workable alternative to the one-piece Decora filler plate is a Decora RJ45 plate with filler plugs:


There were several wall studs between the new junction box and where I wanted to mount the LED strip, and rather than try to drill through all of them, threading the DC wiring behind the wall and bringing it out through another hole at the LED strip, I decided to bring the DC wiring out to the front of the wall through a grommet in the dummy Decora filler plate, and then run the DC through an adhesive-backed channel strip to the LED strip. It looks tacky, but it’s in the back of a closet full of coats, and I was able to run the channel strip along the corners, so it’s not too much of an eyesore.

The problem for the last three years has been that you have to reach behind the coats and feel around for the light switch. Fortunately the light switch was at standard height, but I can imagine that in some installations the junction box would end up closer to the floor. Anyway, I discovered that my wife wasn’t using her new light very much.

I had wanted to try one of Aeon Labs’ “Micro Smart” switches, and this year Santa Claus brought me one. I already had an extra Aeon Labs door/window sensor, and I decided that a fun Christmas vacation project would be to automate the light in the closet to have it come on whenever the closet door opened.


The Micro Smart switch should have been easy to install behind the existing Decora switch, but I couldn’t get those darned green screw terminals to tighten on 12-gauge solid copper home wiring. I searched the web for an answer to my problem and found several reviewers on Amazon.com, crying about the same problem with their installations. I later learned from Chris Cheng of Aeon Labs that the solution was to crimp a length of 12-gauge stranded wire to the solid copper wire, and that the screw terminals would work with the stranded leads. Chris reminded me that when using stranded wire with screw terminals it is best to tin the leads (tinning the leads prevents individual strands from breaking off when pressure is applied, and it also prevents loose strands from finding their way into adjacent terminals and shorting the unit out).

After mounting the door/window sensor to the inside of the closet door, I added it and the Micro Smart switch to my Vera device list and added a “ClosetLightOn” and “ClosetLightOff” scene that triggers when the closet door opens or closes. It works great. To conserve the battery in the door/window sensor I set the Vera “wakeup interval” to 14400 seconds and set the polling interval to 0 (never).

I think LED lighting is still in its infancy. I hope that some cleaner solutions for DIY home installations will become available. Perhaps with the growing popularity of low-voltage LED lighting and the future promise of low-voltage OLED luminescent lighting, there will emerge a standard for concealing power supplies in the wall. I suppose the real answer is to have a low-voltage power center in the basement, and have smurf tube running through all your walls, but that would mean rewiring the house. And the Z-Wave Way is definitely not about rewiring the house. Perhaps an insightful Z-Wave device manufacturer will realize that most American closets are full of junk and un-lighted, and will see a potential market for a one-piece, rechargeable, Z-Wave-enabled LED light strip. It should have a LiPo battery that you can detach every six months and take to your charging station. Female domestic partners everywhere will love it. They’ll at least be able to see your bowling ball when it comes cascading down.

 

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