Limits of rope lights?

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Akela
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Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Sun Jan 17, 2016 5:51 pm

Ready for some stupid questions? I've got plenty.

My future father-in-law is planning to come for his second burn in 2016. He's an eccentric dude, and has some ideas for art that he wants to create. A lot of it is light-based. Neither he nor I have much experience in the world of power and illumination though, so that's why I'm turning to you guys. Google wasn't helpful, but at least it wasn't insulting. Be gentle, please. :D

Barring wimpy Christmas lights, the longest strands of LEDs that I've seen are 150' rope lights. Is there a different product that can do longer runs, or is it possible to attach multiple strings of rope lights together? I assume at some point that power dropoff becomes a significant factor. With that in mind, how would you make the absolute longest and most playa-proof run you possibly could? With a big enough power source and budget, where is the limit in length? Thanks.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Sham » Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:06 pm

I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to light up with these rope lights, but it most cases, the boxes have the limits on them. LED's of course use a lot less power. At home, it's matter of money on your electric bill, but on the playa, it's either generator or inverter power.
Those incandescent rope lights get rather warm, which is an indicator or power usage.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Popeye » Mon Jan 18, 2016 4:43 am

Akela wrote: Barring wimpy Christmas lights, the longest strands of LEDs that I've seen are 150' rope lights. Is there a different product that can do longer runs, or is it possible to attach multiple strings of rope lights together? I assume at some point that power dropoff becomes a significant factor. With that in mind, how would you make the absolute longest and most playa-proof run you possibly could? With a big enough power source and budget, where is the limit in length? Thanks.
The limit on LED and incandesent rope light length is the size of the wire, light spacing and and how much current is drawn. Most- probably all- light strings you can buy are rated for 80% of 15A at 120V when used for over 2 hours.
The less lights on a string, that is, how far they are spaced apart the the longer a string can be. If you are using 120V incandescents check the wattage on the bulbs and divide 1440 by the wattage and you will have the max number of lights on a string. (.8x120x15=1440)
LED's may work a lot better for you, lower voltage so less hazardous and draw less current also not as fragile. They do need a constant current DC power source which could be a battery. To calculate maximum number of LED's you will need to know what size power supply you have, its' output voltage and the size in miliwatts of the LED's. If the LED's are flashing then you can apply a duty factor which will allow you to lengthen the string without increasing the size of the power supply.
EL wire might work for you. I've seen this up to about 300 feet. Like LED's you need special power supplys (called drivers) to make it work.
Bot MCM and DigiKey sell LED's, connectors and wire. Cool Neon sells EL Wire drivers etc. They are Burners, and I've never had a problem with stuff I've bought from them. Alibaba etc. has them too and you can get a good savings but the quality is not always as good. If you buy from China I suggest you allow yourself enough time to replace if it turns out to be junk. There is probably still some left over Christmas lights around. I checked after Christmas but all I could find where 120V :( .
There are a lot of comments and reccomendations on Eplaya from previous years search here. Your power supply, generator, battery is another topic. After you figure out how much power you need search Eplaya then you can ask here for anythihng that needs clarification.
Good luck sounds like a fun project.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon Jan 18, 2016 5:05 am

I used to use a lot of incandescent role light and I've forgotten the exact specs but I'm pretty sure it's not able to handle anywhere near 15 amps or 1440 watts through a single series of end to end strings. That's way too much. The wiring is way too small. If I recall, the limit is 200 feet in a single string.
I use a bunch of LED rope light and later I'll go look at the boxes and see what they claim for max length of string.
The stuff draws about a watt per foot. I think it's rated for around 300 feet in a single string.
You don't necessarily have to run it in one continuous length, you can run a separate power wire for each five or six strings.
It's almost all Chinese junk, mostly reliable enough for Burning Man but bring a spare string of two.
I find 120VAC stuff cheapest and most available so that's what I use.
Incandescent is much cheaper, but if your power source is limited you want the LEDs.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by EspressoDude » Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:22 am

something else about rope lights. I was offered a few long rolls free, so I tried them out. close to the power supply end, the lights are bright, but further away, like 20 - 20 feet they are dimmer, and at about 100 feet from the power supply, not worth the effort.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon Jan 18, 2016 11:04 am

I've not had that happen at lengths around 100 feet with incandescents, maybe that's why they gave 'em away?

Oh, another bit about LED rope light, if you use any blue, find the clear plastic sheath with blue LEDs in it. Don't use the stuff encased in blue plastic, it's way too dim.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by BBadger » Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:47 pm

You'd probably be better served using multiple, shorter strands. I'm sure there are some lights that are rated for longer runs (I saw some one Amazon for 300'), but stuff breaks all the time and it is nice to have smaller segments that can be easily replaced. If you really want to use longer ropes/strands, seek out those specifically made for longer runs because they will have the necessary wiring needed to provide enough power.

I would also not take shorter rope lights and string them together unless the product specifically states that it can be done. The wires in the lights are only meant to carry a certain amount of current (amperage), and the more lights you string end to end, the more current that is required. With too much, the wire can heat up, and possibly burn or catch fire.

So basically: 1) see what the ratings are for the products, and stay within those ratings; 2) consider shorter lengths, or segments that can be replaced if needed.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Tue Jan 19, 2016 8:50 am

Cool, thank you for the responses so far. I assumed that LEDs would be the way to go. I've used EL wire for small personal projects in the past, and it's nowhere near the kind of output that he's hoping to get. Unfortunately, what he wants sounds like it might just be impossible. The idea is for it to be an incredibly long run, seriously like 1000' or longer, that will be highly visible from a distance. Running multiple rope lights with multiple power cords would diminish the effect somewhat, as he wants the rope light to be visible from all sides and the power cords would have to be attached to it, but I think it's probably the best option given the limitations of lighting technology.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by some seeing eye » Tue Jan 19, 2016 9:29 am

Technically, if you fed it from the middle with 120V the cost of running power to the start of each 150' section would not be expensive. How many feet off the ground is the lighting strand, or is it on the playa? If you are contemplating a 1000' art project, I would start talking to the Artery and get on all the BM-artist specific message boards and social media ASAP. If you have to bury cabling, extra consultation is required. If you have poles and guy lines, you don't want bicyclists and walkers crashing into them in the dark. Best with your project!
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Jan 19, 2016 8:01 pm

You can usually start and stop separate strings without much noticeable effect. Why must it be a single continuous strand?
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:00 pm

'Cause it's vertical. :P

The man has helium, serious netting, some 4' - 6' weather balloons, and a desire to make the tallest string of light possible. I have concerns about anchoring, obviously, but he has some ideas to do it securely. It'd only go up for a while at night when airport operations are closed down and as the forecast allows, and be continuously monitored when in use.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Just_Joe » Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:31 pm

If you haven't already, have a look at this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=282&t=52285&start=30

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Captain Goddammit » Wed Jan 20, 2016 6:28 am

That doesn't mean the strands must be electrically continuous. You could still run some wire up the string to supply the higher lights.
I don't think rope light is how I'd do this though. I don't think you need an LED every inch like rope light has. I think you're better off sourcing LEDs and making the string with an LED every maybe six inches of so. The effect would work fine and you'd have less power draw, and less weight both because less bulbs and smaller electrical wire for the smaller power demand.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:52 am

Great link Joe, that's super helpful.

Also a good suggestion, Captain. I just don't know about making the run from scratch is all. I did some laughably basic soldering for homemade bike lights my first year and they were....not good. :P

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Xak » Thu Jan 21, 2016 9:03 am

If you are running lights on a string, one of the quick easy ways to do it is individual LEDs with their own little battery fairly easy to make with an LED a coin battery and a piece of tape...
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by some seeing eye » Thu Jan 21, 2016 9:19 am

This is an interesting project!

You need to calculate the lift force of your balloon under worst wind conditions under Washoe County building code and have a steel cable and anchor calculated by an engineer. You would need a safety plan if it all fell to ground. Your balloon will go sideways in relation to the anchor which you can calculate from its cross sectional area and wind speed. If I were the Artery, I would want all those calculations.

For rope lighting, along with your steel cable goes main copper conductors sized for voltage drop. That would be inexpensive. LED strips could hang from anchor points on the steel cable where they join and are powered from the main copper conductors. The LEDs should hang and not be under stress from the anchor cable. Viewable from every angle would be a challenge.

The other design would be to make the anchor cable dark and shine a laser from ground to the balloon. Lasers pointing up requires US Government FAA permits, because it is a severe violation of federal law and a commonsense safety do-not-do-ever transgression to blind pilots. Again consult the Artery.

The Artery would also be aware of BRC airport operations, including any emergency nighttime medivac concerns.
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by trilobyte » Thu Jan 21, 2016 10:27 am

What they said about the logistics for power and whatnot. It also might be worth pointing out that regular (and cheaper) rope light uses something like 5-6 watts per foot, and LED rope light uses 1 watt per foot. On such a long stretch that would make a huge difference in power requirements, but of course LED rope light is more expensive to purchase.

As an alternative, you may want to look into fiber optic lighting. I've seen listings for spools of up to 500 feet, there may even be longer runs available. Historically it's been awesome and cool, though is usually all kinds of expensive (though it's been years since I've costed out any of that gear). On such a long run, it might prove to be pretty cost effective.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by EspressoDude » Fri Jan 22, 2016 7:26 am

how much balloon are we talking about? One weather balloon? Hindenburg sized?
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by bm_cricket » Fri Jan 22, 2016 11:31 am

Sometimes simple is okay. A few years ago I attached 30 feet of LEDs in 3 strips (90 feet total) the length of 30 feet of PVC pipe and stuck it on top of our scaffolding tower. They were, at the time, pretty new modern technology LEDs and were bright by the standards of the time. (BRC keeps raising the bar for BRIGHT LEDs). You could see it from across the playa!

Rope light won't support itself and it is heavy. What if you used the gye wire itself to support your LEDs? A neighbor 2 or 3 years ago had a giant tower with 4 gye wires supporting it but they lit the wires and instead of just being structural it became a piece of art. It was 4 or 5 stories tall and had addressable LEDs and looked a bit like something from Stargate... but you get the idea. ;-)
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Mon Jan 25, 2016 9:36 am

More good insights, thank you everyone that keeps contributing. Definitely smart to include the Artery in the process, as this isn't the first time aerial art has been made on the playa and they definitely would have some things to contribute.

Regarding lift, I think he'll use as many balloons as necessary. According to this site, a 6' weather balloon can lift 7.25 lbs (I'm assuming that's just for a hovering equilibrium, not for actually flying up into the sky). Whatever the lights and cable end up weighing, he'll just add enough balloons to make it happen. If the huge balloons are too unwieldy, he can use a larger number of smaller ones. http://www.chem.hawaii.edu/uham/lift.html

I had a really interesting phone conversation with the owner of a lighting company that does a lot of custom projects for the burn. Though he sells a lot of fiber optics, he recommended against them in this application just for sheer cost (around $8.50 / ft in bulk just for the cable, not including the lights). He also concurred with those of you that said rope light was a bad idea, for multiple reasons. He actually suggested EL wire, which was something that I hadn't in any way considered because I'm just used to crappy Chinese-made 9' pieces on my bike that invariably fail every year. But a few strands wrapped around the line, with drivers every hundred feet, custom soldered into each other....it's an interesting idea, and would be more affordable. I'd be worried about durability, but it's maybe the most feasible method I've considered yet.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by some seeing eye » Mon Jan 25, 2016 11:13 am

One thing you might consider is the brightness of options. You could get short samples and try them at 1000 feet horizontal on land. BM at night has various levels of light-light pollution and dust which affect it. The luminous flux - lumens/ foot or per point emitter - for your various options should be available from manufacturers as a first step. Relatively EL Wire is not that bright and has a life of 1000-2000 hours, declining with age, depending on drive. You can weigh placement in lighter or darker areas of BRC vs visibility from various parts of BRC. The Black Rock Observatory may have some ideas about/experience with light pollution impact. Best with your project!
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by BeeWeeDee » Tue Jan 26, 2016 12:39 pm

Akela wrote: The idea is for it to be an incredibly long run, seriously like 1000' or longer, that will be highly visible from a distance. Running multiple rope lights with multiple power cords .....
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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by trilobyte » Tue Jan 26, 2016 12:56 pm

I don't know that I'd say it was the first time aerial art has been made on the playa... There have been a couple large inflatable art projects in the past, a few come to mind. One was a big inflatable moon, another was a big inflatable island (it made news when the thing floated away at a festival in the UK and they had to basically build a whole new one in the few short weeks before Burning Man), then there's the giant string of floating lights that's been out there many, many times (balloon on end of giant line, extremely long wire or cable with lights on it, then connected to a bike or trike and moves around at night). There was also a really cool balloon-ish thing in either 2011 or 2012 out in deep playa, where people could basically hold onto a giant bundle of helium filled balloons (with a harness of some sort) and be lifted way above the playa surface.

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by Akela » Wed Jan 27, 2016 2:59 pm

some seeing eye: It's a good point, and another reason that I didn't think of EL wire to start with. I don't think there's any perfect light source that meets all of the ideal criteria; some sort of sacrifice will have to be made on brightness, price, weight, or durability. It's just a matter of figuring out which would be most appropriate...

BeeWeeDee: I'm into it. For science!

Trilo: I wouldn't say it was the first time aerial art has been made either...which is why I said exactly the opposite. :P

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Re: Limits of rope lights?

Post by trilobyte » Tue Feb 02, 2016 7:36 pm

Re-reading, I think I mis-typed my reply or at least omitted the word either at the end of my first sentence. I recall reading your reply about contacting the artery and it not being the first of its kind. I'd meant to be agreeing with that and listing some examples, sorry for the screwup. Hopefully from those descriptions you can find some kind of documentation or information about the projects, and maybe get in touch with the people behind them if you see something they may have done that could help with your planning.

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