How to Install Under Stair Lighting
Under stair lighting is a cool and versatile way to light a high-traffic area in your home. This guide will take you step-by-step through two under stair lighting installations using LED strip lighting. Before you begin, if you cringe in the face of electrical current or wince at the thought of wiring, your best option is to leave the actual installation in the hands of a professional electrician. Under stair lighting using LED strip lights is a matter of finding the right length and type of tape light you want, wiring it all together, while simultaneously hiding the cables and power sources.
Method #1 Optional Materials:
Method #2 Additional Materials
Method #1 - Lighting Your Staircase Using a Single Run of Lights
The easiest method to light your stairs utilizes a continuous length (i.e. “run”) of 12-volt strip lighting as long as the total length of the LED strips plus the cables to the driver is 16 feet or less; you can even use 24-volt strip light for a longer run. However, if your staircase is longer than 18 feet, you will need to split the strip light run between two LED drivers to ensure the proper amount of power.
Step 1 – Assessing Your Staircase. You will need to decide where you want to mount your strip lights. This way, you would run one single line of strip light at the base of your railing, underneath the small lip of molding, or for stairs with open-air or floating steps, run the lights just under the entire staircase. You may need to drill holes or lift the carpet to cover up the wiring. The idea is to mount the lights in way that only the illumination is seen but not the lights themselves.
Step 2 – Installing Your Strip Lights. If you can do a single run, peeling off the backing tape or screwing in silicone brackets every foot or so, is the most you will have to do for assembly. Interconnection cables or pin connectors can be used if you need a gap or if you have an odd length of strip light. For runs that need to be split, a driver would reside at both ends of the full run but the two runs would not be connected. Each LED driver for your strip lights will need to be hidden and wired to the most convenient light switch. If you don’t have a light switch already near your stairs, you will need to install one or you can install an outlet near the base of the wall (for an LED driver with a built-in plug) and wire the outlet to your preferred light switch.
Method #2 - Lighting Each Step of Your Staircase
The more complex version of under stair lighting has the underbelly or lip of each individual step lit by LEDs. This is an advanced technique which requires the skills and knowledge of electrical soldering work. This is not a beginner’s project and if you feel unsure of your ability to complete this project, please call a licensed electrician instead. The following instructions assume you already have a suitable location for your LED driver and are wiring your lights to or from the driver’s location.
Step 1 – Measuring and Preparing Your Lights and Wires. First, measure then cut your LED strip lights to fit each step. Remember to only cut the strip on the designated cut lines to preserve functionality. If you are using pre-cut lengths of LED strip lights with at least one male connector end attached to each strip and buy 2-wire adapters with female ends, you can connect the lights in parallel without soldering. If not, you will want to prepare the wiring as you attach the strip lights to each stair.
For every length of 18 AWG wiring that will be attached to the lights, you will need to strip off about a half-inch of the insulation from the wire ends and lightly pre-tin the exposed copper wire. Tinning the wire means coating the twisted wires with a light coat of solder. After you straighten and carefully twist together any of the bent exposed wires, tinning will help you attach the wires more easily to your strip light. You must also put a drop of solder on whichever positive and negative copper pads of the strip light you plan to use for the connections. The pads are recognizable by the plus or minus signs and are often on the cut lines for the LED strip lights. Please note that this only works if your strip lights are non-insulated or not covered with a silicone coating. We don’t recommend removing or cutting open the insulation of that kind of LED strip light, since it will void any weather or water-resistant features.
Step 2 – Placement of Wiring on the Stairs. This step is optional depending on the type of staircase you have. If you have floating steps, the wiring can be connected underneath each step. If your staircase has paneling between each step, you may need to drill into the steps or add extra molding to conceal your wires. You will need access to the area beneath your staircase as drilling into steps would result in the wiring coming out underneath the staircase. You would make your connections there, wiring to the driver.
Step 3 – Connecting Your LED Strip Lights to the Driver. Trim your tinned wires until only about ¼-inch of the original exposed length remains. Use the soldering iron to press one positive and one negative wire to the prepared soldered pads for each strip light. Those wires should be connected in parallel to the LED driver location. For example, each positive wire from the LED strip must connect via wire nut to the positive wire of the LED strip preceding it. In addition, a third positive wire would also be included in the wire nut connection. The third wire would continue the wiring forward to the next LED strip until you reach the positive wire from the power source. All the positive wires should only connect to other positive wires, vice versa for negative wires.
Many brands of LED strip lights have a sticky tape backing for easy placement. If your strip light doesn’t have a tape backing, you can use strip light channel guides or small silicone brackets with screws to mount your strip lights.
Step 4 – Connecting Your Driver to Your Light Switch. Assuming you want a controller for you lights, your LED driver will need to be placed near and wired to a light switch. You may consider building a compartment to conceal it or recessing it into the wall below the switch. You do not want to use a driver with a built-in or molded plug for this step, since the plug would have to be removed. Turn off the power to the switch and then connect two of the wires, one positive and one negative, to your LED strip lights and the other two wires plus the ground wire (usually green) to your light switch. Read the manufacturer’s installation instructions for more detailed information about wiring your LED driver.
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