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 structure interiors

16208 views
42 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
lighting structure interiors
Posted by tarhawk on Monday, November 17, 2008 8:02 PM

  Help! Please endure a very basic question from a non-electrician. In the past here when I searched for simple techniques to light building interiors  I could find lots of good info (which I failed to print or save). In the new format I have searched frequently without success to find good tips on basic techniques to light the interior of my buildings. I have an HO layout underway powered at the moment by only a Digitrax Zephyr. I want to simply illuminate some building interiors and passenger platforms beneath Union Station.  I need to know power source, ?outlet adapter?, can I use a busse line, can I use my track power busse line, how to connect bulbs to power line?? Again forgive the novice question. Please advise or direct me to the right forum location. Thanks very much.

Tags: Bulbs , Lighting , Wiring
  • Member since
    September 2006
  • From: Wayne County Michigan
  • 678 posts
Posted by dale8chevyss on Monday, November 17, 2008 8:51 PM

 A strand of Christmas bulbs works well for me.

Modeling the N&W freelanced at the height of their steam era in HO.

 Daniel G.

  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: Franconia, NH
  • 2,846 posts
Posted by dstarr on Monday, November 17, 2008 9:17 PM

Start with the lamps.  Most common are 12 volt incandescent lamps.  Six volt lamps are made as well as 1.5 volt ones.  Stick with the 6 or 12 volt ones, the 1.5 volt jobs are difficult to power and not very bright.  Now knowing what voltage your lamps need, (cause you have bought some) look for a power supply.  Incandescents run fine on AC or DC.  You can use an old train power pack, a transformer pulled out of old electronics stuff, or a wall wart of the proper voltage for your lamps. or a battery charger.  If you are unsure of your electronicing skills, you probably want to stick with an assembled and tested supply rather than rolling your own from a bare transformer.

  Putting lamps in structures.  First you want to seal any light leaks around the joints with tape, and paint the interior to prevent the walls from glowing in the dark.  The doll house people carry conductiive copper sticky tape which is very convenient.  It carries juice up to a ceiling mounted lamp with filling the building interior with a rats nest of wire.  You can mount the bulbs by tack soldering their leads to the copper tape.

   All the lamps want to be wired in parallel.  Track power will illuminate the bulbs, but it means the structure lights go out when you stop the train.  Better is to run a separate lighting buss powered all the time by your lighting power supply.

 

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Finger Lakes
  • 9,457 posts
Posted by howmus on Monday, November 17, 2008 9:23 PM

 I power most of my building lights with a 9v wall wart.  By using 12 volt bulbs, I get a nice yellowish glow (perfect for 1925) and will probably never have to replace a lamp.  I use a DC power bus to accomplish this and then run feeders to the buildings for the power. 

Ray Seneca Lake, Ontario, and Western R.R. (S.L.O.&W.) in HO

We'll get there sooner or later! 

  • Member since
    February 2005
  • From: Southwest US
  • 12,914 posts
Posted by tomikawaTT on Monday, November 17, 2008 10:25 PM

I use those minilamps that come in strings of 150 for Christmas tree use - the week after Christmas you can get them at a significant discount and they're handy for anyplace where you can hide the compressed gas cylinder sized (in HO) lamp.  They come with push-in sockets, so replacing one is a snap.  Individual lamps are rated 2.5V  and they're actually wired in strings of 50 across the 120VAC power plug.

For power, I use a 12.6V center-tapped transformer from Radio Shock (misspell deliberate - referring to most of their prices) which gives me two sets of 6.3VAC circuits, each rated at the full output wattage of the transformer.  Four lamps in series burn with a nice yellowish 'typical residential light' glow.  Three give whiter light for businesses and industries, and still run well below the rated voltage (which will extend the life of the individual lamps.)

Actually, by varying the number of lamps in the series string, you can use almost anything for power.  Three lamps across the output of a five-volt wall wart, four across the charger for a six volt anything, seven across the AC output of a toy train power pack, eight to ten for the charger of an 18V cordless drill, they will all work.  I have a motley collection of such junk (my sister is addicted to yard sales and collected them for me) that I will be using to light up the various population centers of my HOj scale double garage filler.

Not the only possible solution, but one that works for me.

Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964)

  • Member since
    December 2005
  • From: County Schuylkill
  • 484 posts
Posted by jblackwelljr on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:04 AM

 

Lots of good advice here.  I've successfully used this as a power supply for lighting: 

http://www.circuitspecialists.com/prod.itml/icOid/8238

I install Miniatronics 14v bulbs during structure construction, usually by feeding the bulb through some 1/8" styrene tubing and attaching it to the inside of the building where appropriate.  The feeders from the bulb then get attached to the power buss under the layout.  By using the 12v setting on the power supply, there's little chance of blowing a bulb and I'm happy with the illumination effect.  Pay attention to comments about blocking light where you don't want it to show, either by painting inside walls black or using black construction paper to create "walls" between rooms.   You rarely see an entire building lit up at night.   

Jim "He'll regret it to his dyin day, if ever he lives that long." - Squire Danaher, The Quiet Man
  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
Posted by tarhawk on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:23 AM

    Thanks to each of you for some very useful advice. This gives me some great alternatives to get started. I really appreciate your time and effort! Should be fun!

  • Member since
    June 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,640 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:30 AM

 I use an AT computer power supply to power my structure lights. Most of the lights are 6 volt mini bulbs that I cut from 20 light strands. I connect these to the power supply's 12 volt circuit (actually 10.57 on this one) Two bulbs give a good white light for a business or work area while three give a good yellowish glow for a residence. For outside lighting where a cluster of bulbs wouldn't be practical I use one 6 volt bulb on the power supply's 5 volt circuit. Several of my older structures are also on this circuit with pairs of 3 volt bulbs. These have been burning for over ten years now.

Running Bear, Sundown, Louisiana
          Joined June, 2004

Dr. Frankendiesel aka Scott Running Bear
Space Mouse for president!
15 year veteran fire fighter
Collector of Apple //e's
Running Bear Enterprises
History Channel Club life member.
beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam


  • Member since
    April 2003
  • From: Clinton, MO, US
  • 4,049 posts
Posted by Medina1128 on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:43 AM

jblackwelljr

 

Lots of good advice here.  I've successfully used this as a power supply for lighting: 

http://www.circuitspecialists.com/prod.itml/icOid/8238

I install Miniatronics 14v bulbs during structure construction, usually by feeding the bulb through some 1/8" styrene tubing and attaching it to the inside of the building where appropriate.  The feeders from the bulb then get attached to the power buss under the layout.  By using the 12v setting on the power supply, there's little chance of blowing a bulb and I'm happy with the illumination effect.  Pay attention to comments about blocking light where you don't want it to show, either by painting inside walls black or using black construction paper to create "walls" between rooms.   You rarely see an entire building lit up at night.   

I use "conduit" to hide my wiring as well (nothing like looking into a building and have a big set of wires running through the middle of it). I use drinking straws, CA'ed to a corner inside the building. Once dried, I simply paint it black to match the interior color.

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 18,573 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 8:35 AM

I've standardized on 16-volt bulbs.  That's the size in the Walthers Cornerstone street lights, and Miniatronics makes 16-volt grain-of-wheat bulbs that I use for hanging lights in my subway stations and other structures.  I run these at 10-12 volts, which gives a warm but not overpowering glow.  Since all the bulbs are the same voltage, I can use the same power supply to drive them all.

I tried 1.5 volt bulbs, which came with resistors.  I found that the extra wiring was a real pain, especially in tight places, so I replaced them with 16-volt after they burned out.

Each of these small bulbs, by the way, will use 30-40 milliamps of current.  It's not much, but it adds up once you've started to put a lot of them together.  10 street lights is going to be 3 or 4 tenths of an amp, and my roundhouse alone is more than that.  So, you need to look at the rating of the power supply you're using to drive them.  If you're using a wall-wart, you may find it only has 500 milliamps (1/2 amp) available.

That's also the reason you do NOT want to run your structure lights off your DCC system.  I think a Zephyr is only 2 1/2 amps, so the lighting needs of even a modest layout would be a significant fraction of its total available output.  Save the DCC power for your trains, and provide a separate source for structure lighting.

I've divided my lighting into separate circuits, although right now they're all coming from a common source.  I've got two circuits for buildings, one for street lights, one for lights in the rail yards, etc.  This "divide and conquer" philosophy gives me individual control of different items, and also helps when troubleshooting problems later on.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
Posted by tarhawk on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:06 AM

Thanks this really helps. So here is what I picture: a wall wart 9 or 12 volt--I cut off the end and strip the end of each wire. These I guess would hook to a terminal strip. The short wires from each bulb have to get to the terminal strip somehow. Is this about right?? How do you make the connections, what type of terminal strip? How do you get length from the wires on the bulbs to reach where they need to go? Do you use a bus line off the terminal strip? I know all this reveals my ignorance on the topic but had to ask. I am trying to envision this setup. Thanks again!

  • Member since
    June 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,640 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:14 AM

 I just run 2 wires from one end of the layout to the other. These wires are 14 gauge. From these wires I run 22 guage feeder wires to the point under the layout that corresponds to a structure location. I've already drilled a hole from the topside of the layout so I simply feed the wires up through the hole and secure them with a piece of tape. When I go back up top I can attach the bulbs wires to the feeder wires. One of my structures has 10 bulbs in it.

Running Bear, Sundown, Louisiana
          Joined June, 2004

Dr. Frankendiesel aka Scott Running Bear
Space Mouse for president!
15 year veteran fire fighter
Collector of Apple //e's
Running Bear Enterprises
History Channel Club life member.
beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam


  • Member since
    October 2006
  • From: Western, MA
  • 8,267 posts
Posted by richg1998 on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:30 AM

 Here are a bunch of links. Store them in your Favorites folder. Every so often I export my Favorites folder to a directory in my PC in case I inadvertently delete the Favorites. I have never done that but some people have. I have about a thousand URLs in my favorites folder under different categories.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ned=us&q=model+railroad+structure+lighting&btnmeta%3Dsearch%3Dsearch=Search+the+Web

Rich

If you ever fall over in public, pick yourself up and say “sorry it’s been a while since I inhabited a body.” And just walk away.

  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
Posted by tarhawk on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:48 AM

 Thanks again! I appreciate your help.

  • Member since
    November 2007
  • 1,089 posts
Posted by BlueHillsCPR on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 12:50 PM

A couple of links I had... so many seem to be dead links since the "upgrade".

 

 http://cs.trains.com/trccs/forums/p/113175/1300995.aspx#1300995

http://groups.msn.com/TonysTrains/yourwebpage17.msnw

 

  • Member since
    June 2008
  • 162 posts
Posted by Omaha53 on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 12:51 PM

There is a lot of good information that has been provided already. This is what I have done. I have a 12v system on most of my lights. The power comes from the accessory connection on the throttle transformer. One wire of the buss is a common wire and the other side of the circuit goes throuth 3 switches which control sets of lights. The 3 sets are: buildings which would have lights in the daytime only (ex. hardware store), buildings that are open during daytime and evening (ex. restaurant) and items which are only on at night (ex. street lights). I use 12v and 16v bulbs. The 16v bulbs are for places that do not need to be as bright (these bulbs should also last longer).

I also have a separate switched 1.5v circuit powered by a wall wart. I use this for porch lights on some of my houses.

As has been mentioned be sure to paint the inside of the walls and seal the joints so light does not leak through your buildings. Leave some windows dark (you could put black construction paper on the inside). In houses you can cover some windows with curtains or shades (ex. bedrooms) so that they glow with the light inside.

  • Member since
    November 2007
  • From: Utah
  • 1,315 posts
Posted by shayfan84325 on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 1:30 PM

My approach is to make a ceiling type light fixture (not detailed) using one or more grain of wheat bulbs.  I connect the bulbs in parallel so that if one burns out the whole structure doesn't go dark.  Then I connect a 100 ohm resistor in series with the bulbs.  I put all of this inside the building and mount the bulbs so they are at approximately the locations where a prototype structure would have lights.  This gives me two wires to connect to the accessory buss (16 VAC).

Sometimes I vary things a little by connecting combinations of resistors in series and/or parallel.  This makes the amount of light vary from building to building.

The reason for placing the bulbs in the correct locations is so that any light that projects through windows will be projected onto a realistic location.

Phil,
I'm not a rocket scientist; they are my students.

  • Member since
    October 2006
  • From: Western, MA
  • 8,267 posts
Posted by richg1998 on Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:56 PM

 The below links are about doll house lighting. Many possibilities for model railroads.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=doll+house+wiring+copper&btnG=Search

Rich 

If you ever fall over in public, pick yourself up and say “sorry it’s been a while since I inhabited a body.” And just walk away.

  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: Franconia, NH
  • 2,846 posts
Posted by dstarr on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 5:03 PM

 Consider that you may want to remove the building from the layout for maintenance, repair, upgrading, whatever.  The optimum solution is a connector for each building, so you can unplug the building and take it up.  This works if you can afford the connectors.  The other plan is leave enough slack in the wires so you can just snip them and later strip the insulation back and solder them back together.  After all, you don't take buildings up for maintanance every day...

   Assume you will want to light several buildings off the same power supply.  I'd run a 2 wire lighting bus around under the layout.  #20 or better wire.  Plain old lamp cord is #16,  that thin speaker wire from Radio shack is #20.  Tap each building off the lighting bus by stripping the bus wire and wrapping the wire from the building around the bared bus wire and soldering.  This is called a "Tee" splice.  Stagger the Tee splices so they won't short together.   Connect the power supply to the lighting bus by splicing.  

  Also,  look into the Christmas tree lights.  They are cheap.  It's OK to have some of the un used lights in the string just tacked up under the table.  

  The old trick for extended bulb life is to run the bulbs a couple of volts below their rating, ie run 12 volt bulbs on 9 or 10 volts, or 14 volt bulbs run on 12 volts and so on.   It doesn't change the light output much, but the bulbs will last *** near forever. 

 

  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
Posted by tarhawk on Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:18 AM

  Thanks David,  that is the approach I plan to use. I think I "get it". I am using a bus line for my track DCC power so I have a little experience with that concept.  What I am not clear on is how to use a wall wart as a power source ie how do you connect the 2 bus wires to the fairly short wires from the wall wart. Do you then have to plug/unplug the wall wart to control the lights? Thanks again to all for a really great collection of tips on this!

  • Member since
    November 2007
  • 1,089 posts
Posted by BlueHillsCPR on Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:55 AM
Either locate the power adapter, (wall wart) in a handy location or splice wire onto the packs wire to extend it where you need it.  Run one wire from the pack around the layout as the common or negative/ground wire and connect one lead from each lamp to that wire.  Run the live or positive wire from the pack to one side of an SPST switch or switches to control the lights.  If you are using one switch to control all then run your live buss from the other side of the switch around the layout.  If you are using more than one switch you may have to run wires to individual bulbs or have more than one live buss for your lighting.  In either case, connect the other lead from the lamp to the live wire and that should do it.
  • Member since
    June 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,640 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Thursday, November 20, 2008 9:01 AM

tarhawk
Do you then have to plug/unplug the wall wart to control the lights? Thanks again to all for a really great collection of tips on this!

My power supply that I use to run my lights is from an old 486 AT computer that I bought new back in '95. Although it's puts out much more power than a wall wart it is essentially the same in that it's a transformer. I have it connected through a dusk to dawn light fixture so that it functions only when the bright room lights are off. The other lights in the room aren't bright enough to make it turn off. The light fixture in turn is connected to a switched outlet on the side of the layout so I may turn it off when I don't want it to go on when the room lights are turned off.

Running Bear, Sundown, Louisiana
          Joined June, 2004

Dr. Frankendiesel aka Scott Running Bear
Space Mouse for president!
15 year veteran fire fighter
Collector of Apple //e's
Running Bear Enterprises
History Channel Club life member.
beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam


  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 18,573 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Thursday, November 20, 2008 9:40 AM

This works well on some buildings.  These are cheap bulbs and sockets I got from IHC.  I think they were about 50 cents for the bulb and socket, with pigtail wires included.  The flat-based socket can be glued to the layout base, so you can lift the structure off and leave the lighting and wires in place.  If the bulb burns out, it can be simply unscrewed and replaced.  (I took this picture before I punched the hole through the base and mounted the socket permanently.)

It's important the bulb not be visible through the windows.  That produces a bright point light source which is really annoying.  Here, I shielded the bulb with a piece of cardstock.  I printed up pictures of store shelves on cardstock and used that to make an interior for the building.  This makes a difference if the building is right in the front of the layout, like this one, or if it has big windows.  The floor, once again, is printed on cardstock.  The cardstock interior can also be glued to the walls to further block glow-through, particularly in structures made of thin plastic.

The second-floor window shades are made of tissue paper.  I didn't light the second floor, so I put a piece of styrene between floors.  The window shades make it hard to see into the second floor, so you don't notice that there's nothing in there.  The window signs upstairs (Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, plus the R Crumb Trucking Company) are home-made decals applied to the windows.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: Franconia, NH
  • 2,846 posts
Posted by dstarr on Thursday, November 20, 2008 9:58 AM

If you get lucky, you can find a connector that matches your wall wart DC connector.  Radio Shack maybe.  Or cannibalize the connector out of what ever the wall wart used to power.  If the connector can be obtained, I would use it; when doing maintanance, it's always nice to be able to take things apart without having to solder them back together. 

  Coming back to real life, you may not be able to get a connector to match the wall wart.  In that case, you can snip off the wall wart's connector and splice the wall wart wire to your under table lighting bus.  Or you can use a barrier terminal strip.  Wrap the wall wart wire and the lighting bus wire around the same screw head.  Polarity doesn't matter, just so long as the lights are incandescent lamps, not LED's.  LED's do care about polarity which is one good reason not to use them.

  One good way to splice wires is strip the insulation, twist them together and then solder the joint.  Then insulate it with heat shrink tubing, or plain old plastic electrical tape.  Or, use wire nuts.  Or use crimp on inline splices which a good hardware store will have.  

    If you want to switch the lights on and off, simpliest is just plug and un plug the wall wart. If you want a switch, consider plugging the wall wart into  one of those switched power strips the computer stores sell.  Or, plug the wall wart into an ordinary extension cord, and then install one of thise in-line switches such as are used to switch table lamps.    

  • Member since
    November 2001
  • From: HIALEAH, FL
  • 157 posts
Posted by GARYIG on Thursday, November 20, 2008 10:39 AM

I know this may sound very primitive but I have had great success with Chistmas lights!  One string has about 150 and my layout has plywood base with foam board cover.  I mark were the building will be then drill small hole to fit the bulb thru.  Tape the bottom so it won't slip out and that's it.  I do use individual lights hooked up to to a bus line powered by an old train set poer sully that works great for the main street lights. 

Gary Iglesias, Hialeah, FL http://photobucket.com/GARYS_TOWN
  • Member since
    January 2007
  • 71 posts
Posted by tarhawk on Thursday, November 20, 2008 4:40 PM

  Thanks again. So many great ideas! Think I am ready to give it a shot, once the market rebounds and I can afford a wall wart!!!  Mr. Beasley your photo card interiors are an outstanding idea!

  • Member since
    October 2004
  • 745 posts
Posted by HarryHotspur on Thursday, November 20, 2008 7:30 PM

 That looks terrific, Mr. B.

- Harry

  • Member since
    October 2004
  • 745 posts
Posted by HarryHotspur on Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:01 PM

 If I used an old computer power supply (and I have plenty of them), what would be the best way to add a dimmer in the circuit?

- Harry

  • Member since
    June 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,640 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:07 PM

 I tried putting a dimmer inline between the wall socket and a computer power supply once. You don't want to go there. You can put it on a dusk to dawn switch but a dimmer just doesn't work, at least it didn't when I tried it.

Running Bear, Sundown, Louisiana
          Joined June, 2004

Dr. Frankendiesel aka Scott Running Bear
Space Mouse for president!
15 year veteran fire fighter
Collector of Apple //e's
Running Bear Enterprises
History Channel Club life member.
beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam


  • Member since
    October 2004
  • 745 posts
Posted by HarryHotspur on Thursday, November 20, 2008 10:16 PM

 Thanks. I wondered about that. Seems like there would be a cheap dimmer to put on the 12 volt side of the power supply available somewhere, but I really don't know what to look for. I guess I should ask in the Electronics Forum.

- Harry

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!

Users Online

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!