Every year, we see the videos on YouTube of someone who has done an amazing job of lighting their house for Christmas. We see it covered with lights, flashing in perfect time to Gangnam Style or whatever song is popular that year.
It may have crossed your mind that it would be fun to give that a try – to make your house the place where all the cars stop and stare. Yes, it can be done but it isn’t for the faint of heart. Just for fun this week we’re going to have a look at what is involved in this most festive kind of home automation.
First, if you want to do this for next Christmas, it’s a good idea to start buying the lights now, and start working on the programming in July. We’re not kidding. You could be looking at six months of planning before you get it all assembled, organized, tested and programmed. Lets look at what you need.
The obvious first part is lights. A lot of lights. Buy them now, after Christmas when you’ll pay half price or less. Here are the lights you will usually want to use, and where you’ll want to put them.
Mini lights or net lights go on landscaping.
Icicle lights or c-series lights usually go on the roof.
Mini Trees are two- to three-foot-tall trees, often made of tomato cages wrapped in lights of one or multiple colors. Arranged in a line or a triangle, they are very useful in an animated display.
A Mega Tree usually consists of a large pole with lights extending from the top to a large ring around the base. Again, it is very useful in animation.
Wireframes are metal frames with lights attached.
Blowmolds are plastic lighted sculptures of deer, Santas, etc. They are usually placed throughout the yard.
C9 Lights are bulbous, colorful lights that usually go on the yard perimeter.
Make sure you have enough power to drive the lights . A large string of incadescent lights draws about 1/3 of an amp. When your house is covers in lights, it doesn’t take long to use up a lot amperage. Your entire house may only have 100 amps to work with, so do the math.
Now you’ll have to decide how many channels you want. If you want to impress, you will need between 32 and 64 channels. Once you make that decision, you will need hardware to drive the power through the system. The key to the system is SSR’s or Solid State Relays. This is what actually turns the lights on and off. Be prepared to spend around $20.00 per channel, unless you are highly technical and plan to build this stuff yourself.
Okay, you’ve bought your lights, bought your hardware. You’ve spent some time on design and figured out where you want to put them. Now you’re going to need software and a computer to drive the system. The software will take your song and divide it up into micro segments of .1 seconds each. You will then have to assign what each channel does for that .1 seconds. Light-o-rama, Animated Lighting and D-Lights are all options in software. Some require knowledge of automated programming. It’s a good idea to visit the company web sites and see how complcated the programs look before buying one. There are also some simple shareware programs out there, but we can’t vouch for the stability or ease of use of that kind of software.
Now the real fun begins. Programming. It can literally take hours to program a few seconds. One major display that was featured on line last year took 800 hours to program! That’s why you may want to start in July to be ready for next Christmas.
The finishing touch is music. You don’t want to annoy the neighbours, so that means no loud speakers. The best solution is a low-gain FM transmitter so vistors can tune their radio to your music. You should check local laws to make sure that the FM transmitter is legal.
Finally there are things you can do to be an even better neighbour. Check with the people on your street to make sure they’re okay with the traffic. Put a sign on your front lawn letting people know that your house will be a Christmas house, but that the lights will only be running Thursday to Sunday from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Make sure you tell them the FM frequency where they can hear the music.
This may sound like a lot of trouble and expense, but there are far more expensive hobbies and this could be something that you, you’re family and even your neighbours can get really excited about.