One of the biggest challenges of running a Christmas Light display is the weather!
While we’d all love to be like Australia and enjoy the summer sun for our Christmas season, this simply isn’t reality!
Keeping your display safe from the weather also doesn’t have to be difficult. There are proven ways to water-proof your lights by paying close attention to your connections, your lights, and your controllers so that they stay dry.
If you follow a few simple steps, you can build a display that is mostly trouble-free each and every season!
The Common Enemy – Water
Whether it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, or some other kind of precipitation is falling, the common enemy of a Christmas Light Display is water.
Since we’re dealing with electricity, water is not really our friend. When it gets into our lights and connections, it causes problems.
From lights only “kind-of working”, to complete failure or strobing/flashing, water is not our friend when it gets in the lights!
How Do I Waterproof My Christmas Light Pixel Display?
When I first began working with Christmas lights, my first instinct was to wrap each and every plug, connector and wire with electrical tape.
The truth was, my work in stage lighting had taught me that this was the correct thing to do in order to keep the water out. But I quickly found out, that this is not the case – more often than not it keeps the water in!
Rather than try and “shield” our connections from getting wet, it’s actually better to protect them for when they do get wet. There’s a BIG difference between the 2, so let’s dive into what we need to do!
Your Pixels and Christmas Lights
The first part of our display that we need to waterproof is our lights themselves.
If you’re using pixels, chances are they’re completely waterproof from the get-go. Most pixel “nodes” and other forms of pixels in the Christmas lighting world are injected with clear epoxy to keep them totally waterproof.
If any element of your show is not waterproof, then you need to enclose it in some way to make it waterproof.
For example: many displays use P5 or P10 panels to display video in high resolution. From the factory, these panels are NOT weatherproof, but there are many well-documented enclosure builds for these.
Your Wiring and Connectors
Where your wiring connects together is the single biggest point of failure from water intrusion in a Christmas light show.
If you’re using standard Christmas lights with “pass-thru” plugs, go ahead and lay a small piece of electrical tape on any exposed connectors, or face them downwards so that water can’t collect.
Any extension cord connections on the ground can be raised up or you can use a protector box like this one to keep the connection dry.
For pixels, we’ve got to waterproof our waterproof connectors.
The people that sell you your pixel lights are going to claim that their connector is “waterproof”, but no connector on Christmas lights is 100% waterproof.
When we’re talking about electronics: every light, wire, and connector has what is called an IP, or “Ingress Protection” rating. This is a measure of how the item stands up to dust and liquid intrusion.
The second number of the IP rating deals with water. Common ones that you’ll see are “65” or which is dust-tight but only good against high pressure “jets” of water.
The second number generally tops out at 8 for electrical items, and that ensures that it is good under immersion in a pool of water at a certain depth.
Why am I saying all of this? Because…
“Waterproof” is not really a technical term, but rather something that marketers use to give you a general idea of how their connectors will perform.
But no connector in Christmas lighting is truly 100% waterproof. While they will stay dry most of the time, it’s those few times that they get wet that drive us crazy!
So, how do we keep this stuff dry and working correctly?
Tip 1: Place Your Connectors Well
If you’re not already familiar, any electrical connection has (2) plugs, a male and a female. The male is the “prongs” and the female is the “holes” that receive the male plug.
When you’re placing your connectors outside, always orient the plugs so that the female is placing downwards – this may require some zip ties.
That way, if any water gets in, it will only pool in the male plug, and it’s much more likely to drain out.
Also, keep these connections off the ground. Water collects in puddles on the ground, so keeping them up saves us that trouble!
But the real secret is to keep the connection dry in the first place – how?
Tip 2: Dielectric Grease
If we gently coat out connectors in grease, it will repel the water. Dielectric Grease is an electrical-safe grease that we can use on ANY connection that is outdoors to help it shed moisture.
Application is simple – add some to a male connector, and plug it in to the female a few times to coat. A little goes a long way!
Tip 3: Keep Connections To a Minimum
Lastly, my biggest tip is to keep connections to a minimum. There is no need to use 2 extension cables plugged together to make a distance work.
Especially with pixels, get the right length extensions so that there isn’t a connection in the middle – these are just a problem waiting to happen!
Your Controllers and Power Supplies
Let’s talk about your controllers and power supplies.
In the Christmas lighting world, most controllers and power supplies are essential bare boards – they have all of the components they need, but you have to attach wiring to them via terminals.
So it’s pretty obvious that you need to put them in a “box” of some sort to keep them safe and dry. (It’s likely you’re already familiar with this)
There are a variety of waterproof boxes that work well and are popular, such as:
While each have their own advantages, you’ve got to keep in mind that you’ll need to get cables in and out of these boxes.
Cable glands are the go-to way of doing this – they seal the connection and allow you to have a waterproof connector just outside the box on a pigtail.
For best results, have these face downwards on an elevated box so that there’s little chance of water getting in.
Let’s Keep Your Lights Dry!
The biggest part of making your display stress-free is to keep your connections and controllers dry! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and that it’s helped you make a stress-free display this year!