When we were finishing the basement, one of our must haves was a home theater where we could enjoy sports and movies on a frequent basis. Given the open basement concept in our minds, we needed to think about different ways to compartmentalize the living area. After many nights of searching and weighing options, we decided that using the ceiling and ground helped us achieve this effect with little impact to our open space.
Enter fibre lighting. The coolness of that sparkle almost shines through the photos, but honestly even then, it doesn’t do it justice. You really have to see it to understand why this is one will become an instant power piece in your home. I will say, there are surprisingly not a lot of DIY or tutorials out there that show you how to accomplish this from beginning to end without some sort of insanely expensive kit you have to buy to make installation easier.
One of the challenges I faced here was figuring out how to fit this fun piece into my basement renovation without interrupting my focus in other areas, while making sure I had the right material along the way to keep things moving. Although I am happy with the job and the result, there were definitely a lot of take aways from this if I were to ever do it again. Hopefully you can learn and better prepare for them when it’s your time to
- Electric Tape
- Optic Lighting Kit
- Paint Sprayer
- Drill Set
A lot of online stores sell boxed solutions for thousands of dollars. I completed this project for less than $500 bucks. If you want a faster solution, you can go to Wiedamark. However, I wasn’t in a rush and found many alternatives that offered what you need for less. When shopping for fibre optic lighting, you will notice a ton of options. What you are looking for is correct length of strand, a multi range of strand thickness, and a twinkle engine (rotating motor), Correct power adapter based on your country (many of these come from the same sources, so you don’t want a European adaptor if you are in Canada).
I ended up purchasing 650 strands – mixed 0.75, 1 and 1.5mm thickness at 16ft length. RGB Color is optional if you want anything other than white. I got that anyways but to be honest, never used it as red star lights are kind of lame. Lastly, although fibre optics look very complicated, there’s actually nothing to it. The motor emits light that travels through the strands and shines bright through the tip. It does not emit heat, and although strands are brittle, they are relatively easy to work with. In short, don’t overwhelm yourself with it. Once I got over this fear, the work became much easier.
Additional Materials (Sheetrock Method)
- Drywall Sheets
- 1×4″ framing lumber
- Drywall screws
- Drywall Compound and Tape
- Sanding Block
Additional Materials (Foam Board Method)
- 2″ Foam Board.
- Black Felt
- Spray Adhesive for Foam
- Fire Retardant Spray for Fabric
- Black Screws and Washer
When buying the foam board, thicker is better for durability, but once you get it up, it’s unlikely to break, but you will never get your 2 inches back. You can go thicker if you want more forgiveness, and thinner if you feel like taking risks. The premise of the install remains the same.
Prepping the Lights
I completed this installation as I was finishing my basement. Hence, I used the drywall method and lifted it straight onto 1×3’s which were mounted to my joists as support. The main drawback to this is that you have to mud and sand your drywall together with very little space between lights. Mudding is difficult due to lack of clearance to feather, and sanding is even more difficult because you don’t want clear 3-4inch solid black patterns cutting up your ceiling.
Working with the Styrofoam method provides some immediate benefits. It is much easier to work with given its lightness, it is technically removable from your ceiling if you ever want to restore your old boring ceiling, and of course – you don’t have to mud, tape and sand! Some drawbacks are that it is thicker (lose more ceiling height), you still have creases between your panels (albeit they are hidden with felt masking properties), and the one that got me, felt is technically flammable.
I will note that there are many DIY’ers out there that have successfully countered the flammability issue using fire retardant spray. I just couldn’t come to terms with this and didn’t want a potential fire issue hanging over my head.
- Calculate how many lights you want. If you want about 6 lights per sq ft and have 100 sq ft of ceiling space, then you need about 600 lights. Pretty simple. We ran at approximately 4 lights per sq ft, with 650 lights covering 169 sq ft.
- Organize your lights. This part was a major pain in the ass. Given the length of our ceiling was about 13ft, we settled on 16ft strands. This gave us some slack to navigate around the framing while also allowing us to position the motor at our ideal spot. The strand bundles come coiled up, so you can imagine what it’s like to untangle this. They do have an option of coming untangled, but you know – more expensive. Here are some best practices:
- Ask your wife for a favor before telling her what it is
- Be visually frustrated early on so she feels the onus to step up her game and not complain to you when she inevitably gets frustrated (this works in many different facets of marriage by the way)
- Do not yank or pull the strands – you will end up pulling them tighter together.
- Raise one side as high as you can and work down as opposed to laying it all flat. When you shake, gravity kicks in and helps a brother out
- Don’t give up. While it may feel like forever, its won’t actually take that long. We sorted out our 650 strands in about 2 hours.
- Aim for bundles of 10 and then tape them together with painters tape or electric tape. Since these were 16ft, we taped bundles together every 5 ft or so to keep them tight and isolated from the others. If you have a lot of strands, I recommend doing even more tape points. We found that even with 3 tight points on the strand, some of the bundles still messed around.
- Map out your drywall or foam board and cut to size. In the craziness of this, for some reason I didn’t stagger the drywall on the ceiling. I think in my mind at the time, it was easier to mount the boards directly on the wall and mud them together but didn’t anticipate the lack of clearance to do this. In hindsight, it would have been a few more minutes of planning but would have gone a long way towards blending the boards. If you are doing the foam board method, I’d recommend focusing on symmetry. Since the lines will be lightly visible, its best to make the seams look intentional. I’d work off center and out, ie if you had a 6 x 6ft ceiling with 4ft boards, I’d cut each board down to 3 x 3, so you have 4 perfectly centered boards. Another option would be to completely center one board and work squarely from there similar to coffered ceiling designs. In short, drywall stagger to better blend, and foam board symmetrical to better show.
- Find your joists and install your support beams. If you are doing this with drywall in a finished or unfinished room, you will need at least a 1/4-1/2 inch of clearance between your existing ceiling and your starlight ceiling so that the cables can run freely behind. I got around this by installing some 1×3″ framing perpendicular to the ceiling joists to provide mounting locations for the ceiling drywall. Given the weight of drywall, I aimed for framing around the ends of each sheet, as well as some support every 16-24″. Make sure you leave breaks in your framing to route your cables through. For foam board installs, you don’t need a lot of framing. Aim to have anchor points at each corner of your board, and a few in the middle. Map them out and marked on your ceiling.
- Blackout Felt (or colour your Foam Board) – Foam Board install only. Since you can’t paint the foam boards, at this time you need to lay your foam boards down over a sheet of felt. Bind together with spray adhesive. Pull sides of felt over to cover edges and trim excess. I’d prefer not to leave too much excess behind the scenes as again, it’s flammable and what you see is better than what you don’t. Make sure you have good coverage here, as you want the felt to fully bond to the board and not sag over time. Watch for creases.
- Fireproof your foam board – Foam Board install only. Since felt is highly flammable, I’d take a moment to fireproof it. Spray some fire retardant protection all over your felt. In the event of a fire this will greatly reduce your felt from being a catalyst. Don’t breathe this stuff in or get it in your eyes.
- Roughly plumb (or transpose) your support framing or anchors onto your drywall or foam board and map out a route for your cables. This doesn’t have to be perfect. It just provides you a visual representation of what will be happening behind the ceiling. We broke more than a few of these cables in the install process, and no one would know any better, so don’t sweat it. The cool thing about optic cables is that if you snap a cable, light just comes out of the new tip.
- Poke your holes. Going back to your calculation, if you wanted 4 lights per sq ft, and a sheet of drywall runs 8ft x 4ft = 32ft, then you know you need 128 lights for this sheet. Pick up your drywall, and predrill 128 holes in random spots. For foam board, don’t use a drill. Use a nail instead and push it through. In both cases, try to avoid your framing points and push through from the front towards the back. This will make sure any tearout is hidden. Don’t over think this, no one will know. Pro tip: have fun with it – draw things, write things, and spread things out. We wish we wrote more hidden words and drawings here as it definitely adds to the cool factor over time. Dark spots are nice. This is one of those times where chaos will really pay off.
- Run your strands. Once done, grab each bundle and thread each strand through a hole. Pull it through about 6-8inches, so that it doesn’t fall out once you lift your board to mount. When complete, put a dab of elmers glue on the hidden face of the board to hold the strand in place. Again, you don’t want to raise the board to the ceiling only to lose all the strands.
- When completing each sheet I bundled all the strands together for the board into a single channel, and used electric tape to tighten them together. As you can imagine, each board will have its own channel and as they join adjacent boards, we’ll be creating larger bundles. By the time we reach the motor, we will have all the strands binded together and ready to be installed.
- Install all boards. Raise the completed drywall sheet and mount it to your support on ceiling, while ensuring your bundle has enough slack to reach the motor. For foam boards, the process is quite simple. Raise each board to its intended spot and mount them to your anchors with a black screw and washer. Since the boards are resting on your washers, you can raise and lower each end until level. In either scenario, be careful not to apply stress to the light channel as you don’t want to rip out all your hard work. Continue until all your boards are up.
- Once you completed raising all the boards, you should have a fully mounted ceiling with a series of bundles running in the ceiling towards your motor. Again, mistake I made was not staggering the boards. Don’t make this mistake. At this point, all your strands should be bundled together into an ultimate bundle. Make sure they are held tightly together with electric tape and you have some slack to your motor.
- Now time to insert the strands into the motor. Again, make sure you have enough clearance. Your goal is to cut the ends of the strand bundle flat about 1/4 inch from your electric tape. You can do this with a hot knife, snippers or x-acto knife. Doesn’t really matter as long as you are close to flat. I just used flat snippers and cut 10-20 at a time. Once done, insert your flat head into the motor coupling and fasten with the motor lock.
- Turn off the lights and turn on the motor. Sweet.
- Use a set of nail clippers or snippers to trim the excess strands to about 1-2 inches. Wear glasses as some of these strands can blend in with the wall.
- At this point you have the pain of mud, tape, sand, repeat until you get the desired finish.
- Prime and Paint. Here’s a picture of my dad getting started with the sprayer. Here we are using a grey primer, so that our black will adhere better.
- Once your ceiling is up and ready to go, turn off the lights and turn on your motor. Again, use a nail clipper or scissors to trim the strands to your desired position. You’ll notice the moment you snip the strand, it will shine really bright! Change the angle, depth and direction of your cuts, as this will give your ceiling a 3D effect. Of course, wear eye protection. We cut ours down to 1/8″-1/16″.
- Lie down and stair into the sky, you did it.
Whether you opt to do drywall install or foam board, I hope this helped! If you are feeling this vibe, and looking for more design inspiration, check out our full section on more Millennial Lifestyle ideas.
Let me know what you think and leave a comment below.
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