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LED light strips can be a powerful tool for every haunter! You can do all sorts of things with them from single room lighting, multi-room lighting and even atmosphere or attention building for your outside or entrance areas! I am going to touch on a few things that that can help you when using LED strip lights to reduce some of the headaches of their use. P.S. These lights are great for things beyond a haunt too. They can be used for kitchen under cabinet lighting, accent lighting behind your TV, bar lighting, waterproof sets can be used as under-glow lighting on cars (or hearses) and so on!
When shopping for LED light strips, there are primarily two options for you to choose from. This is single color (2 wire) or RBG – Red Green Blue (4 wire). The RGB lights are the ones that you see with controllers that can do multiple colors. The single color options are great and much more simple if you do not need changing colors. If you are lighting a particular room / area and just need a set color then this is your best method.
As you can tell, two and four wire options (single color vs. RGB) are pretty easy to tell apart. Both on the end wiring as well as the cut points in the strips.
Pro-Tip: RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue, these three colors are mixed at various light levels to great the visual effect of multiple different colors.
One really cool thing about most of the LED strip lights is that they can be cut to length. Most commonly when you buy these strips, they come in 5 Meter length, approximately 15 feet.
As in the picture above, you can see the little copper connectors and a line down the middle. You can easily just take a pair of scissors and cut across this line to shorten your strip to your desired length.
On your first cut piece, you typically have the factory installed connection (will discuss this more below) but after that, you may be wondering what to do with the remainder of the strip? Do you throw it away or is there a way to use it?
You can solder new wires on to the connectors if you have the wire (can get specific wire for 2 and 4 wire strips on eBay or Amazon). To make any connection, in my experience, it is best to take a knife and ensure the connector spot on the strip is clean. This is especially important on the waterproof strips as they may have plastic residue on them.
A better option though is premade connectors that are made to connect to your strips. They have many options for these. They come in both 2 and 4 wire varieties, ones with bare wires coming out the ends, ones with the 5.5×2.1MM barrel connectors, ones with the 4 pin connector used for RGB, ones to connect 2 strips together including both straight and right angle, T connections and so on!
One great place to experiment with connectors is by grabbing a multi-pack on Amazon. This is a great way to get some stock on hand and experiment. Experimenting is an amazing way to really start to learn different things and to figure out what all you can do!
Now that you have an understanding of the two types of LED strip lights and some connection methods, lets get into some specifics of each kind and some of the stuff that you can do with them.
Let’s start simple with the 2-Wire Single Color LED strips. These come in a variety of colors, Whites (Warm & Cool), Red, Green, Blue, UV (Blacklight) and so on!
My most common used colors were either Warm White or UV. I am a HUGE fan of the UV black-light LED strips. We used these in our Spinning Tunnel (similar to a Vortex tunnel), our black light area and more! They were great for our black light area because instead of needing individual fluorescent bulbs in each room, we were able to run the strips across the ceiling, over the room walls, lighting up multiple rooms with a single 5M light strip!
The single color light strips are super easy to work with because there is no controller needed. You can simply hook them to the needed power, most come native as 12 Volts.
If you get a strip with a 5.5×2.1MM female plug on it, you can use one of our 12V 3A Power Adapters. If you have one with just bare wires coming from it, you can get an adapter to hook a standard power supply up.
With these lights, you can add a simple inline controller to act as a dimmer, a power switch and even add some effects like fading in and out. We stock a very simple controller made to go inline between the power adapter and light strip. This is a great way to get some effects with the single color light strips.
There is also a really good turn knob dimmer that goes in line. I do not have this in stock yet but have used it and really like it. You can grab it on Amazon.
Now for the RGB lights, there is the need for a controller to get the desired colors. You could, in theory, hook one of the single color connectors and ground to 12V and get that color but why then buy RGB lights?
A lot of the lights come with controllers when you buy them. There are multiple types of connectors that have different features and options. Most operate with a remote but some advanced ones have wifi / app connectivity. Most standard ones are IR (infrared) which means that they need a direct line of site from the remote to the controller. There are options available for the RF (radio-frequency) also and these are great for when you will be concealing the controller inside of a box. We used RGB led strips on our highway sign to catch attention and had an RF controller as it had to be at the top of the sign inside a watertight box.
The Basic RGB Controller
This is really the most basic controller that I am familiar with. It is made to hook to a single light strip and choose from a few color variations as well as brightness and some simple effects.
Many of these controllers that I have used do not have a memory function. This is frustrating because every time the controller loses power, you have to put it back to the setting you want it on. This can be frustrating in a haunt when you have to go through at the beginning of the night and reset everything or if you have a power flicker during session and you have to reset while trying to do everything else.
Basic W/ More Functions
This controller is a bit more advanced with some more features / functions, color mixes and such but most of these also do not have a memory function.
Again the downfall to this is that if they lose power, it likely will not return to where it was.
These are also IR which again means it needs direct line of sight for the remote to function. I installed one of these on a hearse as under glow lighting and hid the connector under the dash and then just made a small hole for the IR eye to slip through so that I could point the remote at it to make changes!
Using RF (Radio Frequency) When IR Won’t Work
While most of our controllers were IR because of the cost and ease of use, we did have 1 RF controller that we used for many years. It was similar to the one listed here.
In front of our haunt, we have a permanent sign with that was supported by 2 6×6 posts about 16′ tall. We took RGB Led Strips and ran down the faces of each post. We had these lights on a fade between colors to attract attention to our haunt. Since everything was wired at the top, we wanted something that we could enclose in a waterproof box but still be able to control. This is where our RF controller came in. It also had a memory function so every time we powered it off and back on, it came back to our last settings.
The main downfall to this controller is that you have to hardwire the wires in order to use it. You can use a RGB bare wire connector such as this one: https://amzn.to/3JCv7Mk for hooking up the LED Lights and then a female 5.5×2.1 plug such as the one we sell: https://budgethaunter.com/product/female-plug-pigtail-5-5×2-1mm-size/ to get power in and saving you some time!
Since we installed ours, there seems to be some updated styles of RF controllers that you can choose from. While I have not used these, I have never ran into a controller that did not work for me. Please ensure though that your connection types match up when choosing a controller and strips!
Bluetooth & Wi-Fi Controllers
While I have never used any Bluetooth or Wi-fi type controllers, there are lots of them out there that might be of interest to you! I seen Bluetooth and wifi ones that you can control from an app on your phone. There are ones that can be synced with music and all sorts of different applications.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to utilize LED Strips. Regardless if you need accent lighting, backlighting, safety lighting on obstacles such as stairs or if you want to use them in your house under your kitchen cabinet, to dress up a bedroom or any number of other things; these are an affordable and powerful lighting tool!
Our haunt had LED strips in various applications, colors (black light led strips were one of my personal favorites and used more than any other), controller types and so on! If you have not started to incorporate these, order a couple cheap sets and start experimenting!