Lesson on Wind Strength

So, when I design new elements for my display, I’m very concious about the elements and what conditions my display will be subjected to in the central Indiana area.  We have a wide variety of weather during December that could be anything such as rain, snow, sub-zero temperatures, and high-winds.

Each element is given great thought about how it will stand up to these conditions, and I personally like to make sure I over-engineer things for that margin of safety.


Well, this year I learned a good lesson.  We had incredibly high-winds for an extended period of time on January 26th, 2014 (It had been too cold to take the display down).  During the overnight hours, the wind actually pushed back this 200 lb structure around 20 feet and then turned it sideways to the wind.  The next gusts that came through, torqued the structure by twisting it and it collapsed with a loud cracking sound.   The whole thing was caught on my surveillance video.  It’s incredible the amount of force wind can put on things.  Fortunately, this was in the side yard by itself, so no one was hurt and it didn’t damage anything else in the display.

Originally, I had designed this sign with eye-hooks on the side that allowed it to be staked to the ground to anchor it in place, so that little cross-bracing was needed.  For the last two years, my thinking was that this structure was so big and heavy, that the stakes were unnecessary.   I was wrong.  The flat screen acted like a big paddle, directing the air, and “catching” during the gusts.

I’m still deciding whether I want to rebuild it, or go in a different direction for the projector screen.


UPDATE: I haven’t built a new one yet.  I repaired the broken legs and put it back together for our 2014 season.

DIY: RGB LED Spotlight Conversion

IMG_4405Project Background

Each year, I put out floodlights to help “Fill in” colors that wash onto our house.  I’ve always used the cheap, easily available, colored, 80-100 watt flood lights with simple holders.  These worked out OK, however there were some drawbacks.  One, they draw (comparatively) significant power.  Lots more power than the other sections of the display.  For example, in 2013 I had 8 total spotlights (5 green and 3 red) that work out to around 640 watts which equates to about 2.5 amps.  Secondly, if I have 5 areas to light, but wanted another color, I had to add another 5 lights for every new color.  This can end up taking up a lot of my display’s “energy budget”.  [For Red, Green, and Blue, I’d have to have 15 lights x 80 watts = 1200 watts or around 4 amps!]

Obviously, if you’re interested in saving energy in lighting, the first answer to explore would be LED lighting.  So, if you put in RGB LEDs into each spotlight, you’d only need 5 total, and use MUCH less energy.

My Project Parameters

For my needs, I wanted to be able to control the full RGB color for each floodlight, and have each floodlight be able to be independent from the others.  So for 4 spotlights, it requires 3 channels x 4 spotlights for a total of 12 channels.  I have a Light-o-Rama 16 channel DC controller board that I plan to use with this.  I could have taken the approach to “gang” together all 4 spotlights and only use 3 channels for all of them, but I prefer the option to be able to “chase” the spotlights, as well as having total flexibility to have each spotlight be a different color if desired.

Project Materials

  • Floodlight_4250$10 (On sale) – Sacrificial Shop Light
    • I used Harbor Freight’s Halogen Shop Light – Item No. 66433
    • I was only concerned about the case as I wanted to replace all the other parts, so whatever you can find at a good price.
  • Floodlight_4234$7/lot of 20 – RGB LED Modules
    • 5050 SMD RGB LED module, DC12V input, waterproof, 20 pcs a string
    • I’ve had great luck with Ray Wu’s Store
  • 4 conductor wire – 18-20 gauge
  • Optional: 4 circuit connector with receptacle and plug
    • This is for flexibility.  You may want to add this for easier connecting/unconnecting to the controller board instead of hard-wiring it directly to the controller
  • Misc. Tools: Cutters, Wire Stripper, heat shrink, soldering iron, etc.

Conversion Process

Step 1. Disassemble your sacrificial shop light.  Remove the bulb, the switch, and cord, as well as the metal reflector inside the light.  Save all pieces in case you can reuse any for this project, or some other project.

Floodlight_4129 Floodlight_4138 Floodlight_4139 Floodlight_4140
Floodlight_4142 Floodlight_4130 Floodlight_4134 Floodlight_4131

Floodlight_4239Step 2. Measure the LEDs and see how many can fit into your shop light.  Mine fit 10 very snugly.  Things to consider are how these will be mounted, and how much light you’d like to see come out of this light.  I wanted as many LEDs packed in as possible, so mine sit up pretty high, closer to the glass front so I could use 10 modules.

Mounting the LED Modules

This section will depend on your needs, the size of the light housing, and how you want to organize the LEDs inside the light, among other things.

What I decided to do was to make a simple wooden base that I could attach the LED modules on and install into the housing.  Here was my process:

Floodlight_4235Measure and cut wooden bases that will fit inside the light housing.  I am making 4 lights, so I made a base for each one.

Floodlight_4236My modules came with convenient sticky tape already mounted on the back.

I reinforced the tape with a dab of hot glue to help hold the modules to the base and to each other.

Floodlight_4240Once everything was mounted on the base, and after a test fit, I soldered on a 4 conductor wire to the modules and covered with heat shrink for good measure.

Here are a few shots of a testing the colors of the assembled unit.
Floodlight_4244 Floodlight_4243 Floodlight_4242

Lights Down for 2013; Plans for 2014

Well, because of the constant snow and cold temperatures this winter, it took us until March 1st this year to get all of the lights down from the house and out of the yard and back in storage.  Here in central Indiana, we’ve had a near-record snowfall amount, so many things were buried and frozen to the ground until we could pry them out.

We are beginning our planning and building for 2014, which I believe will be a growing year for us.  Our 2013 musical show was very similar to our 2012 show with some minor differences and some shuffling around of some of the show elements, so it’s time to kick it up a notch.

For 2014, here are some of the ideas that are swimming around in our heads:

  • RGB Spotlights – Currently we only have red and green that all use 80-100 watts for each light.  We’ve purchased new LED lighting and are in the process of building our own lights.  Stay tuned for the “How-To” for this one.  Even I am curious how it will turn out.
  • A new character – I cant say much about this yet, as I’m still formulating what he’ll look like, and whether he’ll be a virtual character, or made up of lights.  Should be very cute though!
  • New Songs – I plan on choosing many new songs and beginning programming this summer.  As opposed to my typical way of getting the lights up and THEN start programming.
  • Lighting for our house outline – I’m looking into ways to outline our rooflines that are easy to install and maintain, and that give a clean neat appearance rather than draping and sagging.  Ideas are welcome!
  • More website upgrades and Christmas games!

Let me know if you have any other ideas or suggestions for our show!