Back in December, I determined that 2020 would be my year for successfully growing starts in our new(ish)ly finished out sunroom.* The challenge is that our sunroom isn’t really…sunny. It’s graced with plenty of south-facing windows, but sits in tree shadow most of the day and sadly has a solid roof with no skylights. As with most indoor growing situations I knew I needed supplemental light. Thinking about my goals, I determined that I wanted:
- 3 separate lighting units with individual height adjustment. I wanted to start with 3 seed trays/stations I’d likely start at different times.
- LEDs, for their low cost of operation, low heat output and longevity. The room heater and heating mats already suck up a bunch of energy so I want to save where I can.
- Evenly cast light across all the seed cells. A few years ago I tried to grow starts with a single-bulb T5 fluorescent, and ended up with lush seedlings in the middle and sad stumpy ones along the edges.
So queue the online search for grow lights. In short order I found myself appalled by the cost of lights that satisfied all of these goals. I’m usually all in for buying things for hobbies I enjoy, but spending a bunch of money on lights meant I’d have to stick to it for several years to recoup the cost. I didn’t want to foist guilt on my future self like that – what if I decided to ditch seed starting for knitting next year? Can you tell I’ve done this to myself before? Then I happened upon this relatively inexpensive set of 6 LED light tubes. They are packaged with some basic fixed mounting options, and I decided I could use those parts to construct my own adjustable hangers. Once the DIY idea was in my head, a quick assessment of our scrap wood selection showed I could probably create the hangers without buying additional lumber, if my initial design idea passed muster. (I was not so bold as to assume I wouldn’t have to buy any hardware, however I think I actually accomplished this project with only one trip to the hardware store, if you can believe it). I could get all explainy now with how I ended up with the final design, but this preamble is already way too long, so let’s dive into the actual build.
So you know where we are going, here is a shot of a final fixture.
A (Maybe) Helpful Diagram
- Grow light strips (I bought these, which are sadly out of stock at the time of this post)
- Wood for light supports (I had ½” cabinet plywood on hand)
- Wood for cross brace (I had ¼” x 2″ x 4′ poplar on hand
- Light duty Chain (Zinc Plated Steel Jack Chain – I think I used #14)
- #212 Screw eyes
- ¾” S-hooks
- Small screws (shorter than your board depth)
- Zinc-Plated Screw Hook (I think I used #10)
- Drill, bits and screwdrivers
- Saw (I used a chop saw)
- Square or ruler or measuring tape
- Paint pad
Note on the chain/s-hook/screw eyes above – you can use whatever sizes you would like, just make sure the chain loop fits into the hooks and screw eyes!
Cutting the Light Supports
I had some scrap ½ cabinet plywood already trimmed at about a 3-1/2″ width – I just needed to trim them to length. You could potentially use a 1 x 2 or even a 2 x 4 for the two light supports. Just make sure the wood is thick enough to hold screws – you’ll be screwing both the light clips and the cross brace into it.
Test and Measure for the Cross Brace
You may be able to skip this part and cut the cross brace without testing, but I wanted to be sure reality matched my imagination (measure twice, cut once). If you have a product with sturdier clips, you may not need the cross brace – the LED units themselves can act as cross braces! I used ¼ x 2″ x 4′ poplar but you can use just about any type of wood. Just make sure you use a piece wide enough or cut long enough to accommodate 2 screws per end to prevent the whole structure from shearing.
Center CrossBrace on the Supports and Mark
Math time! Subtract half the cross brace width from half the support width. Measure that amount from the edge of the support and mark it. Do this on both sides of the support. My measurement is 3-¼ inch from the board edge.
Clamp and Drill Holes
Once you are all measured and marked, clamp the supports to your work surface at the correct distance apart and drill the holes through your cross brace and into the support. I simply held the cross brace in place with my free hand.
Fasten the Cross Brace and Paint
Next I screwed the cross brace in. I also felt like this was a good point to paint. I used some leftover house paint so the color matches the sunroom interior (neat) plus this spongy paint pad to lightly rub on two coats, cutting down on paint drips. I sanded the wood lightly with some 220 grit sandpaper before painting.
Trim and Attach the Chain
You need 4 lengths of chain for each light – 2 short ones that attach to the light, and 2 long ones that attach to the ceiling. I removed any excess chain by opening a link at the appropriate length with a wrench. The exact measurement of each chain depends on your ceiling and fixture width. I had to futz with the short lengths a bit make sure I ended up with an even amount of chain on each side of the S hook so that the light hangs correctly. Screw the eye hooks into your predrilled holes and attach the ends of the short chain by opening and closing the end link around the eye hook. You’ll attach the middle link of the short chain to the ceiling chain with an S hook, then attach the ceiling chain to the S hook and clamp it closed.
I saved this part for last because the clips are easily bendable and I didn’t want to mash them while working on the chain.
Hang Lamps and Clip in the LED Lights
Or vice versa depending on how your lights clip in!
So that’s the processes! I’ve had these in use for about 2 months now and they are working out great. I’m sure there are other, maybe better, ways to build these – I’ve seen some inexpensive rope and pulley systems you could use in lieu of chains. I’ve found an advantage of using chain is that I can temporarily raise the lights to water or otherwise work by hooking the chain up a second time. When I’m done, I unhook the doubled up chain and the height is right back where it was before. As always, I find I never take enough pictures, so if anything is unclear I’m happy to answer questions! Or if you’ve build your own light setup, I’d love to hear how you did it!
Those light fixtures are available on Amazon. I remember people installing them to offset bad lighting in basements and garages.
Thanks for the tip!