Why do I need to weatherproof the RGB Nodes?
A lot of changes to the construction of these straight RGB nodes have been made over the last year and for several good reasons. Rather than going into great detail about how to correct the problems with the previous versions, I want to showcase my testing of these things over the last year.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY...
Despite my best efforts to deal with the known issues with moisture penetration at the base of these nodes, several of them still failed due to water infiltration. You can clearly see the rust that formed on the leads of the 1/2 watt RGB LED. My only guess at the cause of this was water penetration from the top of the node, rather than at the base. The node pictured on the right shows a short and failure across the resistors on the back of the board. I'm not positive that the penetration originated at the top of the node but knowing what actions I took to prevent it from coming in the bottom and the location where the rust was found, it is my best guess.
Here you can clearly see the first problem inherent to all these types of strings. There is no type of strain relief at the base of each node so if you pull or put any kind of stretch on the string, as in a mega tree for instance, the wires at the base start to pull apart. Now, the outside of each node is covered in a formed silicone "jacket" that does pretty well as far as weatherproofing goes. However, the silicone doesn't form between the wires so when they stretch, they form an opening
that stretches all the way to the inner electronics. Add the wind driven rain, snow, and ice of a Kansas winter and these strings were flaming out before the first week of December.
The second problem with this design is that it puts the stress of any pull or tug directly on the soldered joints inside the jacket. In this particular installation I didn't have any stress or pull on the wires but many folks are using these in a way that does. In this particular node it seemed that the zip tie may have actually exasperated the problem.
You'll probably notice a difference in the
quality and grade of the wiring on these nodes when compared to your
standard string of incandescent or LED mini lights. UL standards
require decorative strings intended for outdoor use to have UV protected
plastics and UV protected wire. These nodes don't have either.
Therefore, if we want them to last, we have to add protection to the
nodes and the wires to ensure that basic exposure to sunlight doesn't
break down the wire sheathing causing it to crack and short out. There have been various methods, coating in Polyurethane, thinned down soaks in Plastidip, etc. The picture at the right shows an intelligent node string that has spent 12 months outside along side one that is brand new. Both of them still light normally but you can clearly see a yellowing of the silicone jacket.
IP is an acronym for "Ingress Protection" against objects that intrude into the enclosure of any type of equipment. Simply stated, the IP ratings are a way to measure just how "weatherproof" a particular product is. It's a sliding scale from 0-68 with 0 being the least protected and 68 being the most protected. Now, these ratings are usually greatly exaggerated by Chinese manufacturers but the newest generation of nodes being billed as IP68 certainly stand up to the tests.
The Video at the right shows the result of a long week of testing on the newest iteration of these strings. They were put through freeze/thaw cycles from 70 degrees F down to 0 degrees F for 24 Hours for each cycle. At the end of a 5 day cycle they were submerged in water for 48 hours then froze in water for 24 hours.
After trying every way possible to induce a failure, short of directly prying or pulling apart the wires, these things still worked. It's enough in my book to put my recommendation behind them as is. If it's not IP68, just don't buy it!
END OF THE STRING TREATMENT
Now each of these nodes has wires going in and wires coming out. When we get to the last nodes on the string, we don't need the wired pigtails. Now, I suppose I could attach some type of plug but for my application I just don't see myself ever needing to attach these strings end to end. With the 4 core pigtail design at the beginning of the string I can already daisy chain multiple strings so I just cut the end wires off flush and coated the bottom with liquid electrical tape. I've heard of other decorators using hot glue, and in a warmer climate it probably works quite well. If you deal with extreme temperature swings however, the hot glue tends to break loose. For my submersion testing this was the method employed, two coats seems to do the trick, be patient! ;)
The last issue we need to address is strain relief. After conference calls to two different vendors I couldn't get enough interest to order a batch of lens covers with snap on bases to provide strain relief to the wires, the same way commercial strings are made. After evaluating the newest batch of resin filled IP68 nodes, it isn't as much of a concern. If you are using the strings in a mega tree type application where stress is more of a concern, I recommend zip ties along the strings back to a para-cord support.
The other issue that seems to come up often is the lenses themselves. I ordered a sample few in and just wasn't impressed. The nodes themselves are extremely bright and when viewed from a distance really look like a traditional incandescent c7 bulb. I found the diffusion of the lens detracted from the overall luminosity and made the node look "dimmer". At the end of the night, someone watching your show from the curb isn't going to know the difference.