Do-it-yourself dimmable LED patio lights

October 10, 2021

Categories: Home Improvement

We recently had a new large patio put in to replace the old, broken one, but there was no outdoor lighting or even outdoor power, so it was quite difficult to enjoy this investment after dusk. Instead of hiring an electrician and contractor to remedy this, I decided to flex my handyman skills, and do it myself.

The design goal was overhead string lights, approximately 10 feet off the ground, so that patio-goers were unlikely to hit them, even with raised arms. The string should zigzag across the patio, requiring around 140ft of lights. Edison bulbs were an option, for aesthetics, but LED options were more attractive, since the lower temperatures and heat allow for shatter-proof plastic bulbs. The longer life, and lower energy usage were anther plus. Modern LED bulbs can have an extended ‘filament’ similar to the Edison style, though this can increase cost. The other main factor here is bulb spacing. Cheaper options tend to be 2+ feet apart, which significantly reduces the appeal (and brightness) of string lights. We opted for some round, clear, plastic LED bulbs spaced at one foot intervals on 50' strands found on Amazon.

The added bonus of plastic bulbs is significantly lower weight, meaning less tension is required to reduce sag on the string. One could calculate the tension on the catenary curve, but it was easier to just pull a string tight and get a feel for the tension required. Long story short, a simple screw mounting system would be fine, using some off the shelf hooks.

The most difficult part of the project was the mounting. One side could attach directly to the house, with some pilot holes through the asbestos shingles and screw hooks into the plywood beneath. The other side required four twelve-foot 4x4 posts to be set into the ground with a bag of fast setting QUIKRETE each. These were pressure treated, and set two feet into the ground. I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was no need to mix the concrete out of the hole - the bag could be poured in, saturated with water, and left to cure.
Similar hooks were then put at the top of the posts.

Bringing power outside from was a relatively simple task, since there was a basement window near the edge of the patio, and running power from the breaker box to that window was easy in the unfinished basement. The outdoor wiring was done to code with half inch PVC conduit, and weather proof box covers. One outside always-on socket was added near ground-level for any future outdoor power needs. Another socket was added where the string lights terminated, near the corner of the roof. This second socket is controlled by an economically-priced WiFi dimmer switch from TP-Link’s smart home brand Kasa. The dimmer switch (not outdoor friendly) is located inside, in the basement. This means the physical switch is not easily accessible, but in the age of smart devices that integrate well with Google assistant, physical access is not a strict requirement.

The completed project turned out pretty nice!

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