Dan has been a licensed journey-level electrician for some 17 years. He has extensive experience in most areas of the electrical trade.
What Are Rope Lights?
In the simplest terms, rope lighting consists of many small bulbs embedded into a solid tube of clear, bendable plastic but there is more to it than that.
Rope lighting is available in a variety of colors or a single tube with multiple colors in it. Bulbs can be incandescent or LED; while LED bulbs will double the cost they last much longer, run cooler (no fear of fire even when attached to wood) produce more light and can save energy as they require a tenth of the current to operate them. Lengths are available from three feet to 250 feet, and individual ropes can usually be spliced together or cut at three-foot intervals.
Rope lights are even available with multiple wires in it and with controllers that will cause the lights to "chase" down the rope, much like Christmas lighting.
The possibilities are many, but what are some actual uses for rope lighting?
Uses for Rope Lights
Rope lights can be used as primary lighting, accent lighting, indirect lighting or a source of night lighting. Just a few suggestions are given here; use your imagination for your own home and situation.
- Primary outdoor lighting. In the photo above rope lights were installed around the roof of a covered deck, and provide enough light to read by. It won't attract bugs to near the extent that a single bulb will and has no bright spots. When used in this fashion, the best choice will be LED lights as they provide considerably more light than incandescent, and probably in a cool white rather than warm white light as the cool white gives more light than the warm.
- Accent lighting. This can be anything from lights installed in crown molding to lighting inside a curio or china cabinet. Hidden behind the front or just below the top of the cabinet it will light up the contents very well.
- Under cabinet lighting. Dark areas on your kitchen countertops? Consider some rope lighting tucked under the cabinet above; it will light the countertop below very well.
- Stairways or hallways. This is commonly done in theaters, where it is important to be able to see walk paths or stairs while the room is still darkened. A warm white or colored bulb might work better as it gives enough light to see the stair but still leaves the general area dark.
- Christmas lighting. With all the colors available, rope light can make a beautiful, if rather costly, Christmas display. Perhaps in a manger scene, with the rope set inside the manger, or outlining Santa on the roof.
- A home theater room. Laid under a couch or chair, rope lighting can provide enough light to move around without actually lighting the room.
- Indirect mood lighting. Mounted behind concealing trim work with the top open to the ceiling, rope lights would be easy to install to provide a dim or colored ambiance to a room.
The possibilities are nearly endless. Where could you use a long strip of light? One that is easily and quickly installed?
Rope Light Installation
Most rope light sets come with a power cord and an end cap, but if yours doesn't don't worry too much about it. You will need to purchase and fit these items to your rope light, but they are not expensive and easy to install.
To install an end cap, simply push it onto one end. The power cord is also simply pushed on, but care must be taken to ensure that the prongs inside it come into good contact with the small wires inside the rope lighting.
Remove the screw on cap on the power cord and slide it over the rope. Line up the prongs with the wires in the rope lighting and push it firmly onto the rope, with the sharp prongs penetrating the soft plastic and contacting the wires inside the rope. Screw the cap back onto the cord, which will squeeze the rope firmly and hold the cord in place.
Most power cords are designed to be plugged into an outlet, but other methods of gaining power are possible. In the pictures, a dedicated electrical box was mounted near the end of the rope light, with conduit bent and installed to a nearby exterior outlet.
The end of the power cord was cut off and the cord fed into the new electrical box where it was hard-wired to provide current. The circuit was equipped with a switch mounted in the existing nearby box to turn the light on and off.
Rope lighting may also be cut (generally every three feet; the rope is marked at cutting intervals) and/or spliced to another rope. If it is to be spliced, a coupling will be necessary and is installed the same way the power cord is.
If the rope is to be bent when installed (and it usually is), it is best to plug it in for a few minutes before proceeding as that will warm it and make it more flexible. Rope lighting is most often held in place with either "zip ties" (electrical cable ties) or small plastic clips designed for that purpose. The clips are often preferred as they virtually disappear when installed correctly and can be screwed or nailed to any solid backing. The rope in the photos was installed using these clips, and they are difficult to see in the finished product; the rope seems to simply hang there with no support.
Fasteners, whether clips or zip ties, should be used every 8-12 inches. Twelve-inch intervals will allow a small amount of sagging between clips, while an 8-inch spacing will allow the rope to be installed in a very straight line. Fasten the clip with screws or nails and rotate the rope into it. Most rope lighting is uni-directional, meaning that the bulbs all face the same way. If you are looking for lots of light, make sure the bulb is facing out, not towards the wall.
Plug in your new rope lights, step back and admire your work! You're finished!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can rope lights hook up to a battery? If yes, how?
Answer: 12 volt systems are manufactured for use in cars, yes. They will hook to the battery just as anything else does.
© 2012 Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on September 08, 2013:
Rich, the only thing I might suggest is a metal clip of some kind. The heat of higher wattage rope lights could very well harden the plastic clips, making them crack.
Searching Amazon for "bx one hole strap" results in a small strap intended for electrical MC cable which should hold rope lighting. It just isn't easily removable for cleaning. You might look for cabinet hardware as well; some of the door closers might work.
Rich from Rotonda Fl. on September 06, 2013:
Having a bad time with the mold and plastic clips around my pool cage. The heat is killing the clips ,making them brake when I take the rope down for cleaning. Can anyone help me.
raney on June 03, 2013:
I put rope lights around the inside of my gazebo. I love them
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 12, 2012:
@ Jellygator: While glass can be drilled it isn't easy. Simpler, I would think, to take the cord over the top and out, hiding it with decorations.
@Susan: While initial cost might or might not be more, the cost of operating LED lighting is so low that I would expect a savings over time. Appearance certainly counts as well; what do you like more?
@Rebecca: Thanks. There must be a million ways to use rope lights - this is just the tip of the iceberg.
@Cyndio: Sure! They can look great up on top, particularly if you have decorations of some kind above the cabinets to light up.
Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on October 11, 2012:
I like rope lighting and have considered installing them at the top of my kitchen cabinets. Thanks for the great instructions.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 11, 2012:
This is really neat! I have never seen these used in such unique ways. Very good ideas!
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 11, 2012:
Hubby has been talking about installing lights in the flooring in the upstairs hallway of the house in order to see at night. They would be sensor lights. I'll have him look at your hub as I think this idea would be less expensive.
jellygator from USA on October 11, 2012:
I like it above cabinets, but I've seen another interesting use that I'm not quite sure how to try. Someone had a clear class vase and had mixed potpourri in with rope lighting for a pretty cool effect. I don't know how the electric cord got through the bottom of the vase, though.
Denise Mai from Idaho on October 11, 2012:
I've had friends use rope lighting above cabinets and under them. Works like a charm and a lot cheaper than professionally installed lights. By happenstance, the house I have now already has under cabinet lighting and I really enjoy having it. It's not only pretty but sometimes I really need to see better and it helps. If I ever move again (fingers crossed for a no) and the kitchen doesn't have under cabinet lighting, I'll certainly use rope lighting.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on September 22, 2012:
Rope lights have to be the easiest lights in the world to install nearly anywhere. I'm sure you won't have any trouble.
Glad you found the hub useful, and hope your project works out well.
Judi Brown from UK on September 22, 2012:
I know exactly where I want some rope lights and have been mulling it over in my mind for sometime - now I know how to do it, I shall give it a try. Very useful!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on September 21, 2012:
Thanks, Rochelle. I had a piece left, around 6 feet, and that's exactly what my son will do with it - put it under his kitchen cupboards. It works well for that.
Mine came with an extra power cord and end cap so he won't even have to buy that. Some of the longer pieces do, and I had bought a 50' section for the deck.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 21, 2012:
This looks very useful-- and not too difficult to install. I think I could use some under my kitchen cupboards.