Tape lights (AKA ribbon lights) have been around a while, but quite recently they’ve improved vastly in ease of installation. The main enhancement, as seen in this Commercial Electric kit, are that the dimmer driver/receiver is now integrated right into the flat ribbon wire. And the included remote can signal the receiver through walls from 50 feet away. This makes installation for a linear row of cabinets or bookshelves like ours a very straightforward job. All I needed to do is measure the length of the bookcases and choose a kit of about the same length.
Our wall is about 20 feet, so I purchased a 16 ft kit and planned to just center it and not worry if the beam fades out at either end. This means I didn’t even have to worry about connectors!
Unboxing the Tape Lights
This kit includes:
- Spool of ribbon lights
- Power cord
- Integrated receiver
- Remote control
- Instruction manual
Assembling the Tools
For this project I used:
- Power drill
- Phillips driver
- Small drill bit
- Large drill bit
- Small screwdriver
- Small hack saw
- Tape measure
Depending on how you are running your power lines, you may also need:
- Saw blade or hole saw
Choosing Your Power Source
If I hadn’t had the contractor install a few outlets, this project would have had an added step. In our case, I needed to figure out how to run the power cord to it’s full length of 5 ft, attach the ribbon wire to the driver, and hide all that cord.
Step 1: Prepare the Site
Step 2: Disconnect the Ribbon Wire from the Transformer
This was fairly easy. Just removed the two screws and lifted the plastic cover. This exposed two tiny screws holding the wires in place. Loosen those and free the wires.
Step 3: Remove the Power Cord
On the other side, the power cord side, the tiny screws were unfortunately stripped. (It’s always something, amiright?!) This meant that the holes I was going to have to cut into the shelves in order to run the line up from the outlet would have to be big—big enough to fit the power cord two-prong plug. Time to get out the Dremel.
Step 4: Bore Holes in the Shelves
As it turned out, thanks to the flexible hardboard back on IKEA BILLY bookcases, I was actually able to fit the flat cord down the back of most of the shelves and ended up having to bore through just one—the fixed shelf that provides stability to BILLY bookcases.
I did a test run to see how long the power cord would reach when plugged in, and I got it as high as the second to top shelf.
Now it was time to reattach the ribbon wire.
Step 5: Fish the Wires
I placed the remote receiver on top of the bookcases behind the crown molding and let the ribbon wire drape down between the wall and the back of the shelf. Using the twisty-tie that came in the packaging of the kit, I created a hook and fished the two-pronged ribbon wire through the hole, capturing it with a needle-nose pliers. Once I had it through, I fitted the black prong to the black side and the red prong to the other side, tightened the screws, and replaced the white plastic cap, screwing it tight. Our transformer was in place. I tapped two rug tacks into the loops to hold it in place.
Step 7: Position the Tape Lights
Now that my wires were all in place, it was time to place the lights. A spool of tape lights are sticky on the back; you just remove the backing, and press it into place. My first instinct was to just tape them to the tops of the bookcases. But I’d read some reviews of similar products where people ran into trouble taping across several cabinet tops as the top surfaces were uneven. I read a suggestion to tape them instead to some lengths of L-shape corner molding, then position the molding wherever you liked to get the right degree of reflection from the beam. I love this approach, because it has the added advantage of being easy to bring them all down in the future if I need to replace or repair them.
Step 8: Stick Them into Place
Instead of wood or plastic corner molding, I chose to affix mine to some inexpensive lengths of metal corner bead—the type that drywall installers use—figuring metal would be a better conductor.
I laid two lengths of 8 ft corner bead across the top of the crown molding. Luckily, it hung in place stably, and this didn’t turn into a two-man job.
I carefully removed the backing from the tape lights. The holes in the corner bead helped me keep the length of ribbon level as I worked my way across.
Step 9: Test the Connections
With the lights placed, it was time to test the power. Did I make a good connection when I reconnected the ribbon wire to the transformer? We have light!
Before I replaced the books, I straightened my power cord and took a step back. The power cord is white and will be mostly covered by books, but that strip of black and red ribbon wire at the top was going to be visible. That was going to annoy me. Cord Mate to the rescue.
Step 9: Hide the Cords
I took a small hack saw and cut a piece of the plastic tubing with the open back and slipped it around the ribbon wire.
I had a long length of Cord Mate leftover, so I went ahead and cut it to size to contain the white power cord as well.