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Connlaoth Mulholland of ‘Mulholland Electric’ San Francisco writes about the problems with installing LED Strip Lights and the costly faults that can develop and how they have solved a common problem

About 10 years ago LED strip lighting was thought of as a luxury
choice; a passing fashion; however there are no signs of any decline
in demand for this look, in fact the opposite is now the case!
LED strip lighting has become a part of the mandatory code here in
California and it is now more or less a standard element in the
majority of residential and commercial projects. Along with this
though has come one of the Electrician’s most fiddly, time-
consuming and often, frustrating tasks of the trim phase.
The problem is that the process of installing these strips remains to
be fully developed in order to enable the electrician to present a
professional and robust finish that he/she can be confident will not
cause them expensive call-back problems due to faults developing.
Having spent a lot of time installing the strips I have noted that most
electricians choose the easy option of using connectors. These little
gadgets are great in the unskilled DIY job and yes they are a handy
option for some electricians but they are most often the culprit for
costly call-backs due to LED strip lights that have stopped working
after a relatively short period of time.

Our LED Experience
My brother and I set up ‘Mulholland Electric’ in 2008 after recession
hit and we found ourselves laid-off from the large company we had
been working for. From those shaky beginnings of the recession days
we are now a well established small contracting firm employing a
handful of qualified electricians and apprentices. The approximate
split in our work is 75% residential and 25% commercial and I’m
proud to say we have earned a reputation for providing a first class
professional service; we are innovative when faced with what looks
like the impossible but as a small firm it is vital that we keep a very
close eye on that all-important economic efficiency.
When we began installing LED strip lights, like most of our colleagues
we used connectors which were bulky, added to costs and to be
frank we found that they were often the reason for being called back
to a project some months later. We identified this as a problem
which could quickly make that particular element of any job
unprofitable. We found that when called back, the problems were
mainly due either to the connector becoming faulty or the
connection within it becoming unstuck. We concluded that these
faults were going to be inevitable because the heat generated by the
lights being turned on and off eventually breaks down the plastic
connector. So we had to face facts and admit that soldering was the
only real answer which would provide the home or business owner
with a mechanically sound connection, a professional looking finish
and more importantly one that is going to stand the test of time and
not eat into profits by having to return to correct recurring faults.
WHAT? (I hear you say!) ‘But soldering is only for the experienced
electrician; we can’t give that job to an apprentice; it’s messy; it’s
time consuming’

I agree - it is all of these things but it is also the method that ensures
durability and - let’s face it - is the method that gives a high quality
professional finish.
Truthfully Electricians find themselves between a rock and a hard
place every time they install LED strip lights. Either you pay for bulky
connectors which don’t give the best finished look and that you
know in your heart of hearts you will have to fund a call-back in
about 50% of cases or you spend the money paying your most
experienced employees to solder. Profit margins in both scenarios
will be hard to find!
The biggest problem we as electricians face when soldering strip
lights to each other or to the feed is that it is not always possible to
lay both ends on a flat surface. This is the reason most people avoid
it and go down the connector route.
After we had one very expensive episode when our best Apprentice
spent two full days messing up six solder joints on an LED strip, which
admittedly were particularly awkward as they had to be installed
above a picture rail! We then had to pay an experienced electrician
to redo each solder connection. As you can imagine there was no
profit left on that part of the job!
Clearly we could not afford to have this sort of thing happen too
often and yet we were not willing to compromise on the quality of
the work we produce.
Determined to solve the problem, I set about creating a tool which
had to be easy to use, light and portable for the toolbox and
something that could be used in any location where you find yourself
installing LED strip lights.

Using these criteria and spending a lot of time trying out various
designs, learning about patenting, getting prototypes made and
tested we have now finally arrived at a simple solution which we
are really excited about sharing with our colleagues in the trade.
We decided to name the tool ‘SolderM8’ because, put simply, this
compact, economical little gadget will be a great mate for any
professional electrician to carry with them.
A bonus too is that it is so easy to use even our least experienced
apprentice was soldering well in a very short space of time.
So how does ‘SolderM8’ work?
Well as a first step it will stick to any surface regardless of the texture
or angle you are working at. It has an almost magical underside -
which I spent a long time researching so I could get it right – it even
works upside-down! You then insert both ends of the tape or wire
and it holds it firmly while you dab on your solder and hey-presto job
done!
We are now able to finish full lengths of soldered strips in a fraction
of the time it used to take and which look sleek and professional.
Best of all we can do this without the frustration, tantrums and no
call backs anymore!
My latest news is that having tested the tool thoroughly and being
delighted with its performance I’m now expecting the first batch of
SolderM8’s for sale, to arrive from the manufacturer at the end of
January.

I am looking forward to sharing it with my fellow tradesmen!

 

Thanks for reading!

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