When and why to choose low voltage or high voltage strips

June 04, 2019

When and why to choose low voltage or high voltage strips

LED light strips generally fall into two voltage categories - high voltage (110 volt or greater) and low voltage (24 volt or below). This week’s blog discusses the differences between the two, and when you should use them.

There are two main differences that contribute to all or most of the smaller ones. To fully understand them you’ll need some knowledge of voltage, what it is, and how it contributes to power - which we discussed in a previous blog post here. The first paragraph of that blog post is good as a summary :

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When electricity travels through a conductor (such as a wire or an LED strip) it encounters resistance. This resistance, however small, lowers the voltage as the electricity travels through the strip. This loss of voltage, and power, results in some waste heat (note : this is how electric heaters, stovetops, and even traditional incandescent light bulbs work!). If you’re not trying to heat up your conductor - if, say, you’re trying to light up some LED light strips - resistance, and the resulting voltage drop is bad.

LED strips are designed to run at an optimal voltage. Above this voltage, your LEDs output more light than they were designed for, generate more heat, and fail quicker. Below this voltage, and your LEDs get dim. At extremely low voltages, the LEDs might behave erratically - exhibiting flickering, or even flashing. None of these are good.

Voltage drop comes into play when your LED strip runs, your wiring, or both, are too long. The resistance in these conductors adds up - and your LEDs start to operate below their optimal voltage range, resulting in dimming. With proper system design and component choice, however, voltage drop can be minimized.

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Because of how voltage drop works, a higher voltage strip can be run longer - as for any given length of conductor, less absolute voltage is lost.

If you need longer runs or if you’re otherwise struggling with dimming higher voltage strips are the way to go. It’s also easy to understand the second part - how higher voltages are potentially more dangerous. 
These two considerations lead to the main differences between low voltage and high voltage strip lights.

Run length : High voltage strip lights, as has been explained, can be run much further than low voltage ones. As a general rule, run length is proportional to the square of the voltage - so a 24V strip can be run FOUR times as far as an equivalent 12V strip, and a 110V strip can be run further still (hundreds of feet, in many cases).

Construction : Because higher voltages are more dangerous, the construction and design of high voltage strip systems requires some extra consideration. High voltage strips are encased in a much more durable (and costly) material, keeping the potentially dangerous high voltage components out of reach. For the same reason, very few high voltage strips are cuttable and connectable. A poor connection on a 12V strip that might result in a spark or two can easily result in a fire when 110V is involved.

As a general rule, you should keep your voltage as low as possible for your project. This saves on cost, decreases risk, and makes installation easier. Keeping voltage down can be done in a handful of different ways (some discussed here) but the overall theme of those suggestions is to decrease run length. A simple example is to take a run (let’s say for example, 50 feet), and to split it into two runs (25 feet each) by placing the power source in the middle instead of at one end.

It’s hard to make hard rules on limited project information, but as a very general guide, the below run lengths and voltages are suggested by the HitLights technical support team. (Note : HitLights does not currently stock high voltage strip lights, but our team will be happy to advise you on what to look for should your project require them)

Up to 32 feet : 12V
32 - 100 feet :  24V
More than 100 feet  : 110V


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2 Responses

Rick
Rick

July 06, 2019

HitLights are the best. You wouldn’t believe the applications that you can use these strips for.
I have used them in many ways:
accenting wall pictures
ambient light for back of the television makes movie night awesome
lighting in dark closets
I have even used them in hobby work to light up my model railroad.
I love hitlights and I will keep using them as long as light is needed

Richard Scott
Richard Scott

June 05, 2019

We have used Hitlights UL listed low voltage lights for several projects. The knowledge and suggestions given by their technical salesperson has been a key to the success of each project.

Thank you

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