The most common reason for LED strip lights to lose their brightness is voltage drop. Voltage drop occurs when the electrical current along the strip becomes weaker as it travels farther from the power source. This can result in dimming, flickering, or uneven lighting along the strip. To prevent voltage drop, you need to use the right power supply, wire gauge, and strip length for your LED project. In this article, we will explain how to avoid voltage drop and keep your LED strip lights bright and consistent.
What is voltage drop and how does it affect LED strip lights?
Voltage drop is the decrease in voltage that occurs when electricity flows through a wire or a circuit. It is caused by the resistance of the wire or the circuit, which reduces the amount of current that can pass through. The longer the wire or the circuit, the more resistance it has, and the more voltage drop it causes.
LED strip lights are powered by direct current (DC) voltage, which means they have a positive and a negative terminal. The positive terminal is connected to the power supply, and the negative terminal is connected to the ground. The power supply converts the alternating current (AC) voltage from the wall outlet to the DC voltage that the LED strip lights need. The power supply also regulates the voltage to match the specifications of the LED strip lights.
The voltage that the LED strip lights require depends on the type and number of LEDs on the strip. For example, a common type of LED strip light is the 12V SMD 5050, which has 60 LEDs per meter and consumes 14.4 watts per meter. This means that each LED consumes 0.24 watts, or 0.02 amps, of current. To power one meter of this strip, you need a 12V power supply that can provide at least 1.2 amps of current.
However, if you connect more than one meter of this strip to the same power supply, you will encounter voltage drop. This is because the current has to travel through a longer wire and a longer strip, which increases the resistance and reduces the voltage. As the voltage drops, the LEDs become dimmer and less efficient. If the voltage drops too low, the LEDs may not light up at all.
To illustrate this, let’s say you have a 12V power supply that can provide 5 amps of current, and you want to power 10 meters of the 12V SMD 5050 LED strip light. If you connect the strip in one long line, the current will have to travel through 10 meters of wire and 10 meters of strip, which will cause a significant voltage drop. The first meter of the strip will receive 12V, but the last meter of the strip will receive only 9V. This means that the LEDs on the last meter will be much dimmer than the LEDs on the first meter.
How to prevent voltage drop and keep your LED strip lights bright
There are several ways to prevent voltage drop and keep your LED strip lights bright and consistent. Here are some of the best practices to follow:
- Use the right power supply. The power supply should match the voltage and current requirements of your LED strip lights. If the power supply is too weak, it will not be able to provide enough current for the strip, and the voltage will drop. If the power supply is too strong, it will provide more current than the strip can handle, and the strip may overheat or burn out. To calculate the power supply you need, multiply the wattage per meter of your LED strip by the number of meters you want to use, and then divide by the efficiency factor of the power supply (usually 0.8). For example, if you want to use 10 meters of the 12V SMD 5050 LED strip, you need a power supply that can provide at least (10 x 14.4) / 0.8 = 180 watts, or 15 amps, of power.
- Use the right wire gauge. The wire gauge is the thickness of the wire that connects the power supply to the LED strip. The thicker the wire, the less resistance it has, and the less voltage drop it causes. The wire gauge you need depends on the current and the length of the wire. To find the wire gauge you need, use an online calculator or a wire gauge chart. For example, if you want to use a 12V power supply that can provide 15 amps of current, and you want to connect it to a LED strip that is 5 meters away, you need a wire gauge of at least 16 AWG (American Wire Gauge).
- Use the right strip length. The strip length is the length of the LED strip that you connect to the power supply. The longer the strip, the more voltage drop it causes. To avoid voltage drop, you should limit the strip length to the maximum recommended by the manufacturer. For example, the 12V SMD 5050 LED strip has a maximum recommended length of 5 meters. If you want to use more than 5 meters of this strip, you should split it into shorter segments and connect each segment to the power supply separately. This way, each segment will receive the full 12V and will not suffer from voltage drop.
- Use parallel connections. Parallel connections are when you connect multiple LED strips or segments to the power supply at the same point. This way, each strip or segment receives the same voltage and current, and there is no voltage drop along the strip. Parallel connections are preferable to series connections, which are when you connect one LED strip or segment to the end of another. Series connections cause voltage drop along the strip, as the current has to travel through each strip or segment before reaching the next one. To make parallel connections, you can use a power distribution block, a terminal block, or a solderless connector.
LED strip lights are a great way to add color and ambiance to your home, office, or any other space. However, if you notice that your LED strip lights are not as bright as they should be, you may have a problem with voltage drop. Voltage drop is the decrease in voltage that occurs when the current along the strip becomes weaker as it travels farther from the power source. To prevent voltage drop, you need to use the right power supply, wire gauge, and strip length for your LED project. You also need to use parallel connections instead of series connections to ensure that each strip or segment receives the same voltage and current. By following these tips, you can keep your LED strip lights bright and consistent, and enjoy their full potential.