Rope Light Installation and Uses
What Are Rope Lights?
In the simplest terms, rope lighting consists of many small bulbs imbedded 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 counter tops? Consider some rope lighting tucked under the cabinet above; it will light the counter top 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 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!
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© 2012 Dan Harmon