The Definitive Guide to LED Strip Lights

11 October 2017

Definitive Guide to LED Strip Lights Image
Definitive Guide to LED Strip Lights Image

LED strip lights allow you to get creative anywhere in your home thanks to their versatility and flexibility. From adding a vibrant dash of multicolour to your wardrobe and bedroom, to creating a modern and subtle ambience in your kitchen or bathroom, the options you get with LED strip lighting are pretty limitless.

To get the most out of your LED strip lights there are a few things you need to consider first, such as installation, length, colour scheme and power supply. This guide will give you the complete lowdown on everything you need to know so you can shop for LED strip lights with complete confidence.

What are LED strip lights?

Let's start with the basics… An LED strip light is a long strip – or tape – of small LED chips that are placed at regular intervals. The tape itself comes in varying lengths and depths, but are narrow enough to allow for great versatility. This means they can be placed in awkward areas, such as wardrobes, under cabinets, around doorways and along banisters. When switched on, the LED chips light up, providing stunning accent lighting wherever you need it. LED strip lighting can also be bought with built-in waterproof casing, so you can use them in wet areas safely. There are a number of colour options to choose from too, making LED strip lighting incredibly adaptable for different occasions, events and moods. There are a number of lengths available between 1m and 5m, and you may require an electrician to install them if they're mains wired. However, for simplicity, you can choose a plug and play kit that can be installed within five minutes, as all you have to do is plug them in.

Benefits of LED strip lights

To summarise, the main benefits of LED strip lights are:

  • Low energy consumptions
  • Versatile and can be cut-for-purpose 
  • Numerous colour options to create different effects
  • Easy-install plug and play kits available as well as permanent installs
  • Waterproof options available

LED strip lighting kit

Different types of LED strip lights

There are two main choices of LED strip lights: plug and play or mains wired – the latter of which requires a separate transformer. Both have different benefits, and we'll go into more detail about that here.

Plug and play LED strip lights

Plug and play LED strip kits are perfect if you're looking for a quick solution. They can be installed in minutes without the need for additional help from an electrician. Once you've measured the length of strip you need, you simply have to cut appropriately, peel off the adhesive backing and secure the strip in place before plugging in and switching on. The main limitation with plug and play LED strip lighting is that they are shorter than wired alternatives, leading to less versatility when lighting up larger areas. However, if you're just lighting up a smaller area, such as a bedroom headboard or wardrobe door, then a plug and play kit will most likely do the job. Just make sure you measure up before purchasing.

Wired LED strip lighting

You have more flexibility when it comes to mains wired LED strip lighting, but they're not as easy to install as plug and play strip kits, and may require the help of a qualified electrician. Lengths ranging from 1m to 5m are available, which is ideal for more permanent installations. The most important thing to note when it comes to wired LED strip lighting is that you'll require an LED transformer to power them, which we'll look at in more detail next.

How to choose the transformer you need

Mains wired LED strip lighting needs a compatible LED transformer to provide the power it needs. This is because LED lighting consumes significantly less power than traditional lighting and requires just 12V (Volts) of power.

When finding the LED transformer you need, there are three main factors you have to take into consideration:

  • Length of strip you're powering
  • Size of LED chip
  • Total wattage

LED strip lighting comes with either small LED chips or larger LED chips, as well as a variety of sizes ranging from 1 metre to 5 metres.

Small LED strip light chips are marked "3528" and measure 3.5mm x 2.8mm, while large LED strip light chips are marked "5050" and measure 5mm x 5mm.

Larger 5050 chips are brighter per metre than small 3528 chips.

To calculate the total wattage of the LED strip you wish to power you have to do one of these simple sums:

  • 60 small LED chips: calculate 5 watts per metre
  • 120 small LED chips: calculate 10 watts per metre
  • 60 large LED chips: calculate 15 watts per metre

You then need to add another 20% to avoid potential overload on the transformer. For example: a five metre length of strip lighting with 60 small LED chips equates to 25W, so it'll need a 30W LED transformer.

How to make your LED strip lighting dimmable

Most LED strip lighting is dimmable but you'll need a compatible LED dimmable transformer to do this. When buying a transformer for dimming LED strip lights, make sure the product is clearly marked as 'dimmable'. LED Hut's dimmable LED transformers allow dimming of constant voltage LED products using popular TRIAC dimmer switches, such as trailing or leading edge. This means in most cases you won't even have to replace your dimmer switch.

Splashproof and waterproof LED strip lighting

There are three different types of coating available with LED strip lights: non-waterproof, splashproof and waterproof. A lot of people opt for waterproof if they're adding a bit of vibrant colour to their kitchen, bathroom or – if they're lucky enough to have one – their swimming pool. When shopping for LED strips, make sure you keep an eye-out for their "IP rating". This is the measurement used to rate how 'proofed' an LED strip light is against moisture and dust. "IP" stands for "Ingress Protection" - the higher the Ingress Protection, the more protected the light is against the elements. This is a rating used across a variety of other LED lights too, not just strip lighting, such as flood lights and industrial/commercial lighting. The IP rating comes with two numbers. The first number is a rating out of six for protection against solid objects, such as dust. The second number indicates the level of protection against moisture. This is rated out of eight. If you'd like more information about IP ratings you can learn more here. Splashproof LED strip lighting often comes with an IP44 rating, while waterproof LED striping lighting carries an IP67 rating.

What LED strip light colour options are available?

One of the big benefits of LED lights is that they are available in different colour temperatures, which means they can cast different shades of white light, so you can have full control over the ambience. These colour temperatures are measured in 'Kelvins' (K).

The main Kelvin ratings are:

  • Warm white: 2200-3200K
  • Daylight: 4000-4500K
  • Cool White: 5000-6000K kelvin chart The lower Kelvin ratings cast 'warmer' tones which are commonly used in living spaces, such as bedrooms and living rooms. Higher Kelvin ratings, which cast cooler tones, are often used in bathrooms, kitchens and modern surroundings.

Multicolour strip lights

Some LED strip lights also come with multicolour options, which means you can switch between a range of colours using an RGB remote control. Depending on the model you choose, you can create special effects too, such as flashing and fading to really bring out the show-stopping visuals for big events.

How to install LED strip lights

LED Strip Lights in Bedroom Now you know what colour strip lighting you want, the transformer you need and the length of strip required, you're ready to get installing. Installation processes can vary depending on where you're installing your strip lighting or whether you need additional support from an electrician, however, there is a broad method of installation that we'll detail below.

Installing wired LED strip lights

If you're connecting your LED strip lights to the mains you need to: • Connect an LED compatible transformer to the mains – extending the cable with 2 core flex if required • You then connect the transformer to the strip lighting itself, usually in a discreet place where it's hidden from view. It's recommended that it's not installed in hot areas as it can have an adverse effect on the transformer. • Remove the adhesive back from the strip light and tape onto the area you desire. Cut to length if necessary See the diagram below for a summary: LED Strip Light Installation Diagram Installing RGB (multicolour) strip lights follows a slightly different process with an additional step to consider: • Connect your LED transformer to the mains • Connect to an RC remote unit, which will allow you to change the colour of the lighting via remote control • Finally, connect the RC unit to your LED strip lighting. • Remove the adhesive back from the strip light and tape onto the area you desire. Cut to length if necessary See the diagram below for a summary: RGB LED Strip Light Installation Diagram

Installing plug and play LED strip lights

Plug and play LED strip lights are even easier to install and don't require the assistance of a qualified electrician either. You simply need to: • Cut the strip to length – the strip will be marked by cuts to help you with this • Peel-back the adhesive tape • Attach to your desired surface • Plug in and switch on

Connecting multiple lengths of strip lighting

For mains powered LED strip lights - you might need to attach multiple lengths of strip together, particularly if you're navigating the tape around awkward areas and corners, or if you have a particularly large area to light up. To get around this issue is easy by using special strip connectors. Strip connectors often don’t require any soldering - you simply insert the two ends of strip into the two adjacent clips and snap shut in place. Make sure you choose the right sized strip connector for the size of strip you're using. There are 3 different sizes to choose from: • 8mm connector for single colour 3528 (small chip) strip lighting • 10mm connector for single colour 5050 (large chip) strip lighting • RGB connector for multi-colour 5050 (large chip) strip lighting

"Smart" LED Strip Lighting

There is one final category of strip light to consider before we finish – smart LED strip lights. These are plug and play strip lights that can be integrated into a smart lighting system and controlled remotely from a smartphone app or tablet. They offer a near unlimited number of lighting possibilities, with Philips Hue boasting of having over 16 million colours available to choose from in a single light strip. This is of course a large topic in its own right, but you can learn more about smart lighting here.

Where can I buy LED strip lighting?

At LED Hut, we stock a huge range of LED strip lighting, featuring multiple lengths of strip, plug and play options, transformers and a variety of colour temperatures, and all of our LUMiLife LED Strip Lights come with a free 5 year warranty. View the full range here.