Rope light and 12 volt car battery

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tink2011
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Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by tink2011 » Mon Jun 16, 2014 6:31 pm

Hi everyone. My mutant vehicle has always used EL wire (lots of it) run to a 12 volt car battery. It seems the EL is only lasting two years, and then begins to fail with splotchy areas. I only use the car at Burning Man and otherwise it's inside my garage. The guys who sell me the EL say it really can go bad (especially the light colors) with two summers of playa sun. Hmmm....Rather than replace the EL for the third time (Super expensive and time consuming), I am thinking of replacing it with LED rope lights. These should last longer. Can anyone help me figure out how much rope light (in length) I can use? Right now I have probably 400 feet of EL, and it lasts for a few days before needing a charge with the generator. I would like to use the same amount of rope light, as the car looks pretty cool as it is.
Does anyone know how long I can go with 400 feet of DC rope light? Also, I have been researching and seem to find some sites that say I can use the 120V AC rope lights and they will work fine with 12V car battery. Is this correct? I hope to order the rope light soon, if it's gonna work. I know there's a formula out there someplace to figure this out, but thought I'd ask my playa partners first, as I'm sure many of you have experience with this.
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Sham » Mon Jun 16, 2014 6:50 pm

My take is that the LED rope lights use very little power. You could string 10 together and still use a small power inverter. The key is the LED's vs. incandescent bulbs. The small 75 watt inverter if you can find one, will run off a battery for many hours without charging. I recently ran a test with a 400 watt inverter running a refrigerator/freezer, and it ran for 5 hours straight and still had more power to start the vehicle. I guess the real thing is to test before you head to the playa.

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Captain Goddammit
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:46 pm

Ah, MV electric system questions, just my thing.
I run a lot of 120VAC LED rope light on mine. It's about a watt per foot. The power cords have a gizmachi that changes the incoming AC to DC, but it doesn't step the voltage down, the strings do get about 110 volts, so you do need to run through an inverter unless you buy 12V LED rope light. I use !20VAC stuff because it's available cheap from Wally World or Costco (they sell it before xmas as xmas lighting) and you can get it for about a buck a foot.
The inverter was an issue. The two I had were cheapie "modified sine wave" ones, like all the car parts store types. My LEDs wouldn't function properly on them, they flickered at an irritating rate and wouldn't achieve full brightness. I ended up having to get a true sine wave inverter.
Let me know if you understand that or it's greek, I can 'splain it in regular terms if you wish. There's some stuff you need to know.


Don't rely on formulas to figure out how long you can go between charges. Hook the stuff up and test it. It sucks to find out on the playa that your system should have worked! Only a real world test will tell you when the lights become too dim.

The LED rope light will be a LOT brighter than the EL wire was but it will need a lot more power.
You'll need about 400 watts to run 400 feet (the lights are actually a tiny bit less than a watt per foot but the loss through the inverter makes up for the rest) so with 400 feet you'll draw a bit over 30 amps from your 12 volt battery to power an inverter with all that light. That's a lot for one battery. Are you generating power with your MV, or just running off a battery that you have to recharge at camp? If it's the latter, you need several batteries.

The LED rope light isn't 100% reliable either. Mine is in 18-foot sections and I have to replace one or two every year because they get dead segments from a few inches to several feet. It's cheap chinese junk. It's probably a lot more durable and reliable than EL wire though.
You can buy LED rope light in bulk (but I haven't found it as cheap) but I don't recommend long strings, I think it's wise to use shorter lengths end-to-end so you don't have to replace ALL of it when a few segments die.

I use a dimmer, a common household type, on mine so I can adjust the brightness. I have a watt meter inline and the power draw goes down a lot when you dim it. You can stretch your battery life that way if you need to.

Using 12 volt LED rope light is still going to take as much battery power. I found the 120 volt stuff cheaper and more available, but the cost of a good, true sine wave inverter (don't gloss over that, that's an important detail!) was only justified because I have other uses for it. It was over $300.00.
Last edited by Captain Goddammit on Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:03 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by BBadger » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:49 pm

As I've said before, I'm disillusioned with EL-wire. Expensive, not very bright, short life, fragile, battery life sucking (for portable ones). Bleh.

It's really going to depend on what density of LEDs you're going to have on your rope lights, the color, and watts/length of the given type you buy. You'll be better off looking at what LED-based lighting is available, or rather what you actually want to use for the appearance you're seeking, and then build around that. LED lighting, though lower power than incandescent, can still use a LOT of power, especially if you're thinking about lengths on the order of 400ft. You could be looking at a whole lot of power and power supply equipment depending on how much light you want to push out. Still, the amount of light that is produced is generally brighter than EL-wire, so you may not need as much length. Again, you really should design around what you want the final vehicle to look like.

Also, don't use car batteries. Car batteries are for starting your engine, which requires short, but large surges of current. They're not well suited for constant drainage, or multiple deep discharge/recharge cycles. They're also relatively low capacity compared to others you can buy. Try going to Costco and buying some of their 6V or 12V Deep cycle batteries instead. Whereas a typical car-battery has about 40AH of juice, you can find 220AH 6V batteries at Costco, or 12V 110AH batteries. You'll get a much better battery for running lights with a deep cycle.
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tink2011
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by tink2011 » Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:19 pm

I should have said I have a deep cycle battery, cuz that's what is is. I misspoke with "car battery." It is separate from the start-up battery. Hmmm...I really love the look of my car with EL, as it looks magical. Maybe using the rope lights will "ruin" the effect. I'm attaching a pic of SpaceGrab. Please tell me if you think rope lights will be too much. There are CCFLs in the tail lights and the underbody for the cool glow. Opinions?
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by FIGJAM » Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:33 pm

We used these around the top of a van last year and they are VERY bright!

I think they use 2 amps per string.

Hooked em right to the battery.

http://www.amazon.com/Strip-light-Water ... B005EHHLD8
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:46 pm

Wow FIGJAM that stuff is very interesting! I might get some of that myself!
The listed power consumption is quite a bit higher than LED rope light though. Not a problem in my application because I've got watts to spare. Veeerrryyyy iiinnnteresting…..
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Roundabout » Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:53 pm

I bought a couple of strings of these. VERY bright and deep colors. Look great. 10 meters long, 100 led bulbs, 12v, 6w. $8.27 and free shipping.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/370954433361
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by FIGJAM » Mon Jun 16, 2014 10:06 pm

It says it's twice as bright as rope lighting, but it looks a lot brighter than that.

Probably where all the power goes.
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Just_Joe » Mon Jun 16, 2014 10:49 pm

FIGJAM wrote:It says it's twice as bright as rope lighting, but it looks a lot brighter than that.

Probably where all the power goes.
I've been playing with those strip lights for the last year or so.
There are 2 main types- 3528 (which you used) and 5050. The numbers refer to the size of the LED chip. The 5050's actually have 3 LED's per chip and are even brighter (lots) than what you used. You can bare-wire them direct to a 12v battery. Most of the time you see them as "kits" with controllers and remotes. The kits typically allow you to make them flash and dim.
Some are multicolor- On the the 3528, every third LED is red, blue or green. The 5050's have all three colors in each chip and allow for a lot more options.
The really fancy 5050 kits have a controller that lets the lights chase and do all kinds of nifty patterns. The fancy jobs run $65.
All of the kits controllers have a 12V input that's the same size as a 12V wall-wart connector. I found a broken wall-wart, clipped of the connector and wired it to a cig lighter plug.
The strips come in 5meter lengths and you will see 150/300 or 600 LED's per string.
They may say 2 amps, but mine only draw about an amp. (Edit- maybe the one I measured was a 150LED)
They are a stiff tape. Making corners can only be done by cutting and splicing in elbow type connectors.
"Waterproof" models have the tape either enclosed in a flexible silicone type sleeve, or coated with a thick clear epoxy type stuff.

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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by BBadger » Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:55 am

That EL wire on there does look pretty cool. Depending on how much time you have, maybe you could illuminate a translucent surface from the interior and cover up portions to create a pattern? Something almost like this. That way it wouldn't look like point sources of light instead of a more smooth pattern. Then you could get away with even fewer lights and even change the colors if you wanted. It would take a bit more work though, because you'd need to make a hollow or translucent surface.

You could also look into Flexible LED tubing (amazon link).

[media]


It's relatively pricey, but you'd probably be spending that much on EL-wire too. If you get some, let us know how it works for you.

On another note: those LED strip lights FIGJAM mentioned are pretty darn cheap!
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Jun 17, 2014 6:11 am

Unfortunately I doubt the LED strip lights are Tink's solution because they flex up and down but not left and right.
Rope light could work, it's pretty durable and flexes any direction, though it won't do nearly as tight a corner radius as EL.
It would change the look of the rig. It would definitely be a lot brighter.
It's fatter stuff. That's good or bad depending on your situation.
Mine is mounted by drilling a small hole every foot, pushing a clear zip tie out from the inside of the MV, around the rope, then back into the hole where it is zipped tight. The zip tie head is bigger than the hole so it can't pull through the hole.
This has proven very durable and nearly invisible.
I think if I were attaching it to fabric I'd try tying/sewing with fishing line because I think it would disappear the same way.
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Gunslinger » Fri Jul 18, 2014 11:58 am

I saw this and loved it! I hope you still decide to do EL wire as its nice to see the mellow but deep shades of color when everybody is running super bright LEDs. Sometimes they're too bright and draw the zombiestoned like moths to artcarts. I've seen more than one birgin lost this way. Brighter isn't always better. I love your designs.
tink2011 wrote:I should have said I have a deep cycle battery, cuz that's what is is. I misspoke with "car battery." It is separate from the start-up battery. Hmmm...I really love the look of my car with EL, as it looks magical. Maybe using the rope lights will "ruin" the effect. I'm attaching a pic of SpaceGrab. Please tell me if you think rope lights will be too much. There are CCFLs in the tail lights and the underbody for the cool glow. Opinions?

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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Popeye » Fri Jul 18, 2014 3:48 pm

I too saw this and think it is beautiful, it shows a lot of talent and artistic ability. Changing to LED's will change how it looks.
I wonder what it is about the Playa that deteriorates the El wire? Probably not the heat so much which leaves alkalinity and UV. Some EL wire has a silicone coating for waterproofing which should protect it from the alkaline playa dust. Are you using that type? If it is a UV problem a covering that is transparent to visible light but blocks UV might work. Try asking here: http://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=312593 or here
https://www.iuva.org/uv-faqs
Sounds out of the box and stupid, but a UVA/UVB sunscreen might work.
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Re: Rope light and 12 volt car battery

Post by Captain Goddammit » Mon Feb 08, 2016 4:54 am

Gunslinger wrote:I saw this and loved it! I hope you still decide to do EL wire as its nice to see the mellow but deep shades of color when everybody is running super bright LEDs. Sometimes they're too bright and draw the zombiestoned like moths to artcarts. I've seen more than one birgin lost this way. Brighter isn't always better. I love your designs.
Your opinion is valid on its own and I don't necessarily disagree with it but I believe that may not be the best advice for an MV. EL is dim and keeps getting dimmer the more you use it. If you read the published MV guidelines, brighter does seem wiser in this application.
This is straight from the BM website:
"RADICAL ILLUMINATION: Your visual presentation should be at least as stimulating at night as it is in full daylight, if not even more so. This can be accomplished in two ways:a) You are showcasing a well-crafted mutant vehicle that is already worthy of a day license.
b) The lighting itself is the “art” (such as the Death Star)In both cases, the vehicle should be easily seen from all sides from some distance away."
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