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Thread: "Do I need to upgrade?"

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Mooresville, NC
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    Default "Do I need to upgrade?"

    That question comes up a lot and it is really hard to answer it. You have some choices though, go full out and add expensive electrical upgrades, panic, or just cut back on the lights. It is a good idea to be on the 'safe side' and I highly recommend it, but, I would almost bet that in a lot of cases, you don't need as much power as you may think. This is providing you do your homework.

    You need two things..... one is, an amperage meter. They can be had very cheaply at any hardware store. I think I paid $40 for mine and have seen them cheaper, (this is a tool you should have anyways for this hobby. ;) )

    The second, Vixen.

    If you plan your display early, and then stick to it, it makes this easy, and additions or adjustments may be able to factor in easily later on if desired.

    OK, you have your display planned, you know what is going to be in the display, what lights will be on it, ect. Start doing amperage tests on the lights you will be using. Do not just open one box of mini's and say, "well all of them will be that amount", test all them that are different brands, or purchased from a different year. Companies use the same box, but different lights, so check them. I say this as some are using less current than the 'standard' draw of .35A. This plays into your advantage.
    OK, you have all of the current draws recorded now....
    You go to Vixen and layout your display. At least your channels. You then go into the Watt Meter and start inputting your amperage figures. You can then copy this info to all of the sequences, so you only have to type it once.
    Now, you start making 'groups' . I make several types of groups, so I have more info to work with. They include, induvidual SSR groups, item groups (ie. Mega tree, mini trees, icicles, ect.) then extension cord groups. Then extension cord groups is the ones I am ultimately after, as they are how I will feed the display.
    Now, you sequence. When done, go to the Watt Meter and start testing the groups and the overall amperage draws. You will be surprised on what it is. Now record the info you just got and start doing a map of which items you can chain together to stay in the power limits you have.
    Thats it. Keep in mind, you have to be thorough with your input info and stick to your plan until you know where you are, before you make changes. You may have to go in and tweak your sequences to get power down, or you may be able to add more. Tweaking the intensities will really bring amperage draws way down.

    For Example....
    Attached is my final draft of my extension cord map. My display has nearly 40,000 lights (all incandescent minis, rope light, and 100w floods) using 340 channels, being feed off of one 50A breaker feeding seven 15A GFCI's.

    The numbers at the top are my relay groups ( controller/relay) , the numbers in red are the peak amperage draw for each group (extension cord) and the blue highlighted is the total peak current draw for that sequence.

    So, hopefully, this will help some of you out. heck maybe even save you some money for a while. Just keep in mind, to stay with the 80% rule on your breakers and outlets. ;)
    Attached Files Attached Files
    James Family Christmas - 1600 channels of SS Renard channels
    Website - <<broken
    Facebook - James Family Christmas

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Pearland, Tx (sometimes) and anywhere on the globe the rest of the time
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    Default Re: "Do I need to upgrade?"

    Very nice job!



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Fort Wayne, Indiana
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    Default Re: "Do I need to upgrade?"

    The trick is definately to do the proper planning. Many home owners just keep daisychaining strands of lights until fuses start popping and breakers start tripping. I used to be one of them and I actually lost the lighting contest for my neighborhood 3 years ago when a breaker tripped the night of the judging and I wasn't home. I decided that when I upgraded to computer control, that I would invest in a proper (safe) power system that would be portable and last for many years.

    Currently, my home has a breaker panel that's full. However, in the winter I don't use my A/C. That meant that I designed my power around that spot in the panel. I remove the 220volt 50amp breaker and replace it with a 60amp breaker. That breaker is wired to a GFI spa breaker in its own box surface mounted to the wall (this was cheaper than the out of stock 60amp GFI beaker for my panel.) It's not ideal, but it's still safe. I recommed using the correct breaker for ease of wiring. The spa breaker feeds a dryer outlet surface mounted next to it. I then have a subpanel with an enormous 15 foot cord that is surface mounted to another wall. That panel has 6 110volt 20amp breakers in it.

    Each of those breakers feeds its own controller board (the first circuit currently has an outlet to power the server, FM transmitter, sign, and speakers.) Each channel on my controller boards has its own fast acting 3A fuse. Any given channel can run up to 3A of lights and any board can run up to 16 amps continuous while still leaving plenty of safety room. The total load with 6 boards at 16 amps would be 96 amps at 110 volts evenly distributed across the 6 breakers and well below the 120amp max. The boards are screwed into plywood and all the boxes and the plywood can be unscrewed and stored in the attic or taken with me if I ever move.

    Since I have more than enough power, I don't even have to worry about managing the power at all with my current 20,000 lights as long as I don't overload a single channel or controller board with too many strands. That leaves me with plenty of overhead and I can go to over 30,000 lights in the future before I need to reduce the power usage using Vixen.

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