Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Lighting up structures on a layout

848 views
19 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
PED
  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 338 posts
Lighting up structures on a layout
Posted by PED on Friday, June 29, 2018 8:04 PM

Not quite ready yet but it won't be too long until I will be ready to install structures on my layout. I want to be able to add lighting to the sructures as well as various other stuff (street lights, oil pumps, etc) as I go. I am looking for a strategy that would allow me to put suitable wiring and power source under my layout now for power and then connect stuff to it as I go. I have seen the various commercial products that offer a plug-n-go strategy but I think that would get too expensive in the long run.

I am assuming that I can install a power wire under my layout now then hook lights to it later. I am looking for suggestions on how to best do this. My current thinking (right or wrong) is as follows:

1) I can put a single power bus that runs the length of my layout. That would be about 45 ft. What power level should I plan for? 12DC? Lower? Would it be best to break this down into shorter segments with multiple power supplies?

2) I would prefer to tap into the power buss via a terminal strip. I want easy connections....no solder.

3) I want LED lights to keep everything cooler. Don't want hot spots in the structures. I know I will probably need resistors for the LED's. What type of LED should I be looking for? I know this will probably impact the selection of the power levels.

4) Some items may want 12VDC while others want something less. Can I run a 12VDC buss and step the voltage down as needed for items that want something less? Example: I have an oil pump that can run on 0-12VDC where the voltage determines the speed.

I would prefer a suggestion that accomodates and address all these issue in a single design approach. Telling me I need to use 9V without linking it to the other factors leaves me hanging.

 

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • 510 posts
Posted by davidmurray on Friday, June 29, 2018 8:35 PM

I took the simple route:

One wall wart power supply from walmart.  Run wires to terminal strips.

A package of 100 LEDs with resistors from the internet/Ebay  (my son-in-law did the ordering).  Wire one resistor to each LED, then to nearby terminal strip, and drill hole up and that's it.

Dave

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 8,486 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 29, 2018 9:33 PM

Hi Paul:

I'll answer your questions first, and then I will make a few additional suggestions.

1. 

PED
1) I can put a single power bus that runs the length of my layout. That would be about 45 ft. What power level should I plan for? 12DC? Lower? Would it be best to break this down into shorter segments with multiple power supplies?

You can use a single 12 volt power supply (provided that the amperage demand doesn't exceed its' capacity of course), but if you are going to run a lot of lights you will need fairly heavy gauge bus wires to avoid line loss over the 45' length. I would suggest 14 ga. min. To determine the draw, you should calculate about .09 ma (milliamps) per LED although the draw will be lower if you use higher value resistors. Read Mel's response below for another option. His method avoids the heavy bus wires.

12 volts is easy to work with. There are other ways to do it but most people are using 12 volt power supplies.

2. 

PED
2) I would prefer to tap into the power buss via a terminal strip. I want easy connections....no solder.

That will work, sort of. You can buy LEDs with the resistors already attached, but the leads are usually less than 12" long. In order to install several LEDs in a single structure you will have to have terminal strips within the reach of each of the LED leads. If it is a larger structure that could get pretty complex really quick. You would be much further ahead if you can learn to solder so that you can create a wiring system just like what your home uses. It's not hard.

Terminal strips could still be used under the layout so you don't have to run multiple wires back to the power supply like Mel does. Both methods will work.

3. 

PED
3) I want LED lights to keep everything cooler. Don't want hot spots in the structures. I know I will probably need resistors for the LED's. What type of LED should I be looking for? I know this will probably impact the selection of the power levels.

LEDs are definitely the way to go IMHO. No heat, and they will last forever. Having said that, many LEDs produce light that is too blue to represent incandescent light bulbs properly (they work fine for florescent lighting). You want to use 'warm white' LEDs, ideally in the 3000 - 4000 colour range (the higher the number the bluer the LED will be). However, before you follow my advice about LEDs, do read Mel's post about using incandescent lights. LED colours can be hit and miss. Incandescent bulbs will provide the right type of light, and when used at a lower voltage as Mel does, the amount of heat is manageable.

LEDs come in a variety of sizes and shapes. For interior structural lighting where the LEDs can't be seen directly, 3mm or 5mm LEDs work fine. If you want to spread the light around, a 'straw hat' or flat top LED works best. If the LED can be seen, the much smaller SMD (Surface Mount Device) LEDs are a better choice

If you are using a 12 volt power supply, every LED should have its' own resistor. You can wire several LEDs to one resistor but calculating the resistor value gets rather complex so let's not go there. The most common resistor used is 1000 ohm 1/4 or 1/8 watt. You can use smaller value resistors but the LEDs will not look any different. However, they will draw more power so you won't be able to run as many lights off of your power supply. You may want to use higher value resistors depending on how bright (or dim) you want the LED to be. I have used 30,000 ohm resistors where I wanted the LEDs to replicate very early 1900s incandescent bulbs. It's best to get yourself some resistors and a power supply so you can test the light levels. The older the scene, generally the dimmer the lights will be. If you are modelling the modern era you can stick with 1000 ohm resistors.

4. See #3.

A couple of other suggestions:

- Paint the inside of your plastic structures flat black or silver to avoid light bleeding through the walls.

- Use room and floor dividers inside structures so that you can light selected rooms. Having a few dark windows looks far more realistic than when everything is lit. Alternately, you can just put some black paper over a few windows, but the room dividers give you the opportunity to create interior scenes.

- Learn to solder! We will teach you if you want. It will open up so many more possibilities. Adding lighting is a blast!

Dave 

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • 2,820 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Friday, June 29, 2018 9:40 PM

I worked my entire career in radio communications so my way of wiring is similar to the Ma Bell way.  I have home runs back to my control panel from every structure except street lighting.  My street lights are paralleled.
 
Most of my lighting is incandescent (GOW) not LED, to me incandescent lighting operating at reduced voltage (12 volt bulbs operating at 8½ volts) is more realistic.  Using 70% reduced voltage on the bulbs also greatly increases their life, I’ve only lost two bulbs out of well over 200 bulbs in 28 years.
 
Because each structure has its own wire the current is very low, I use #24 telephone frame wire for my lighting.  The cost is right, about $18 per 1000 foot.
 
By using home runs I can easily either parallel the lights on a single switch or with individual switches at my control panel.
 
For my advanced lighting using Arduino Lighting controllers (20 individual lights per structure) I use flat ribbon cable.
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
PED
  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 338 posts
Posted by PED on Friday, June 29, 2018 9:56 PM

Thats the kind of info I am looking for. I guess I need to add....

1) I can solder very well. The issue is that at my age, I don't like to climb under my layout to do a lot of soldering. Topside is OK.

2) I know the availability of premade LED/resistor very well. I have a bunch already but they are all red and green so it looks like I would need to shop for some suitable warm white ones.

3) I think a good approach might be to run a 12V feeder wire from the buss up to each structure then make all the solder connections inside the structure for the short wires to the LED/resistor. That way, I can prewire a structure and only have a single feeder wire down to the main buss.

4) I don't mind having mutiple power supplies if necessary but I have a 12VDC power supply sitting idle that can power more lights/devices than I would ever put on my layout.

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 8,486 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 29, 2018 10:33 PM

Hi again Paul:

OK, that fills in the picture a lot better. I apologize for assuming that you didn't know how to solder. My bad!Dunce

In your situation I would suggest doing what you originally planned. Install a bus lighting system under the layout with terminal strips placed appropriately. Then do all your lighting and soldering at the workbench. Instead of coming up from under the layout to attach the feeders, install the feeders in the structures and then just drop them through the layout and hook them up to your terminal strips. No soldering under the layout. If you want the structures to be easily removable, you could install plug connectors in the feeder wires so you can lift up the structure and just unplug the feeders. No need to go under the layout to disconnect things at all. That can be really handy when you want to remove a structure to do more work on it.

Dave

  • Member since
    November, 2016
  • 311 posts
Posted by j. c. on Friday, June 29, 2018 10:50 PM

i use 3mm golden white  top hat LED's for lighting . i use a single power supply divied into sections controlled by small toggle swicthes , not all lights have the same restistor allowing varying light levels, also have the street lights on a curcuit that turns them on at low light levels.

PED
  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 338 posts
Posted by PED on Saturday, June 30, 2018 7:57 PM

Thanks all. I think my strategy will be to place some terminal strips at strategic locations under my layout then daisy chain them together along a 12VDC buss powered by a 15 amp 12VDC power supply I have. 

Then for each structure, I can build it from scratch to include lights connected to a single 12VDC power wire. Each LED/resister combo will be sized according to their usage and then connected to the single 12VDC power wire for that structure. The power wire will have a small connector (I already have a bunch from a previous project) that will allow me to plug it to a 12VDC feeder wire that goes down thru the layout and connects to a terminal strip on the 12VDC buss under my layout.

This will allow me to have a single 12VDC buss with a 12VDC feeder wire to the top side structures such that I can plug/unplug the structure as needed. This will allow me to build all my structures with appropriate electrical stuff at my work bench then put it in place and plug it into the power buss on the layout.

I don't have any control panels like Mel noted but I will come up with a way to turn stuff on/off. I think I may be able to use some old DCC loco decoders to control some stuff such as oil pumps so I can turn them on/off and vary the operating speed (pump head speed) from my throttles. Should be easy to do by wiring them to the rail (aka wheel pick up) and controlling the DC devices (aka loco motor) just like a loco.

I will probably build a mock up on my bench and test out the details before I climb under my layout Big Smile

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

  • Member since
    March, 2018
  • 202 posts
Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Saturday, June 30, 2018 8:53 PM

Look at this thread too: http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/744/t/269800.aspx

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 8,486 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, June 30, 2018 11:15 PM

PED:

That sounds like a plan!

My only concern is the 15 amp 12 v power supply. I think it might be wise to install a circuit breaker to protect everything on the bus if there isn't already one built into the power supply. 15 amps is a lot.

Dave

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 8,486 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, June 30, 2018 11:18 PM

BNSF.....:

http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/744/t/269800.aspx

Made your link clickable. Lots of good information there too.

Dave

  • Member since
    March, 2018
  • 202 posts
Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Sunday, July 01, 2018 4:21 PM

Oh, yeah. I forget that if you don't write something after it, it doesnt hyperlink. Thanks for doing that.

  • Member since
    July, 2009
  • From: somerset, nj
  • 1,977 posts
Posted by gregc on Monday, July 02, 2018 8:09 AM

if you have a foam base, you could cut a slit in the foam to bury the (thin) wires to the structure and bring them to the front of the layout where they can more easily connected to a bus.

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 10,552 posts
Posted by wjstix on Monday, July 02, 2018 4:04 PM

I'd suggest getting a 25-ohm rheostat to hook up between your 12V DC source and the lights. As someone noted, lights generally look a lot more realistic if running at less than full power.

http://www.hollandcomputers.com/store/pc/25-Ohm-3-Watt-Rheostat-5-Tolerance-Wirewound-Variable-Resistor-Potentiometer-p5991.htm

 

Stix
PED
  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 338 posts
Posted by PED on Monday, July 02, 2018 4:21 PM

I do plan on something like that but I failed to mention it earlier. Not just to control lights. I have some Walthers oil pumps than need some lower voltages to run at a good speed. Their max is 12V but even at 9V, they run faster than I want. I had been considering an old DCC decoder to control them but a rheostat (plus an on/off switch) would probably work better (and cheaper)

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 24,510 posts
Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 10:16 AM

 My suggestion is a single power bus - of the highest voltage you need. You cn get these cheap buck converter modules from eBay or Amazon that take up to a 30V input and produce something less - they are adjustable so if you have some things that need 5V, you can still have a 14V bus and tap off 5 volts. Or 9 volts. Or 12 volts. Each one is good to 2 amps (but not really - they need a heat sink for that, that's just the max of the chip used), but a 1 amp or less load on each one is fine. They are a lot more efficient than a common linear regulator. Only a couple bucks each in quantity, I've picked up 2 batches from different sellers and the one style is definitely better made - easy to tell by the direction which the input and output capacitors are arranged on the boards - but they all work fine. One of the ones I consider inferior had a bad solder joint on the input capacitor but so fat the other batch all checks out.

 So run power for whatever voltage the majority of things needs, then reduce it at the take off points for devices that need lower voltage.

                                      --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • 2,820 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 10:55 AM

I’ll second Randy, the DC to DC convertors work great.  I use the higher current versions and so far no problems.  I have one set to 1.35 volts for my 1mm 1½ volt micro bulbs for my vehicle headlights, one set for 5 volts to power my Arduinos and a third set to 8.5 volts for the 12 GOW lighting.  The reduced voltage (70%) looks more realistic and the bulb life is extended to years of continuous duty.
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 3,280 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 3:08 PM

I had to take a look at these buck converters to see what they were.  I probably will use them, but I had to laugh at the picture.  I could be looking at a Chinese coin the size of a silver dollar or smaller than a dime

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

PED
  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 338 posts
Posted by PED on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 3:57 PM

Thanks Randy. That will fill the bill nicely for what I need.

Paul

Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Circa 1970's in south central Oklahoma

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 24,510 posts
Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 4:35 PM

 Here is an example of the ones I call the 'good ones' from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/eBoot-LM2596-Converter-3-0-40V-1-5-35V/dp/B01GJ0SC2C/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1530652919&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=buck+converter&psc=1

Note the two large capacitors are installed with the leads to the top and bottom of the board.

The ones I got from eBay had the capacitors arranged so that one lead was right at the edge of the board - this is where I had a bad one, the board was cut off a bit too close to the capacitor lead. For small boards liek this, they actually make them on larger sheets and then cut them apart into individual boards - in this case it would seem they do it AFTER the pick and place machine has added the compnents and they are soldered. They all worked - even the bad one, but it had a huge amount of ripple in the output which seemed to vary if I pressed on the board. Lo and behold, a careful inspection revealed the loose solder joint. I have that one marked and I doubt it will ever get shoved up under the layout, but it works fine for bench testing.

 They're all build from the basic data sheet circuit for the chip used, the LM2596. They are small, less than 2" long, but not as small as that micro size one pictured above. I suspect that design won't be as clean on the output since it uses a 100mH coil instead of a 470mH for size reasons (the single largest part on the board - coils are like speakers, you can't get a high value in a miniscule space, the laws of physics get in the way). 

 The other difference with the ebay ones I don't like is that in addition to the one capacitor lead being too close to the edge of the board, so it the trace leading to it - one of the input lines and one of the output lines. On the broken one this trace was also amost compromised (I'd say it was - as the bare edge of the copper is visible). The better routing of the Amazon ones prevents this. 

 One you have the voltage output set - you can freely vary the input, I tested one from 30V, the max of my bench supply, down to about 5.5 volts before the output dropped below 5V. Not bad. I suggest a dab of nail polish on the potentiometer screw after you have t set, then mark it for what voltage you set it for. Not likely to move by itself - those better ones have a 10 turn potentiometer so a little vibration is unlikely to make it move. But especially when driving voltage sensitive circuits - doesn't hurt to be careful.

                                       --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!