Waterproofing those connectors
Water, water everywhere... but here
Water, water, everywhere, but I can’t seem to keep it outta here!
Here, being my light show, the water loves the electrical connections like I love Christmas displays, the difference being I like them turned on and bright and the water likes them shorted out and dark!
How to stop the evil water infiltration? Giant sponges? No, too hard to wring out each day. Umbrellas? Nope, blocks the lights. Hmmmmmmm, who will stop the rain, do’h, that’s a line from a song!
OK, so here are the standard ways to protect the lights: electrical tape and duct tape. They work, however, not always, i.e. water gets into the ends or slowly gets under the tape for ground connections.
So, what is a light deprived person to do? Indoor displays! Naw, they are nice but not what I do. I like to share the joy of the lights with others, and the outdoors works best.
Now what? Got it! Commercial waterproof devices. They work, they keep the lights on but they can be expensive. The one pictured here is $5.50, that adds up very quickly and does not cover three or four way connections.
The goal is low cost, effective waterproofing for two to four connections, and they need to be easy to make and deploy. This is like trying to teach a pig to sing. It just annoys the pig and wastes your time. So what is a crazy tech, light obsessed, tacky gone wild guy going to do?
What all of us do on an occasion, have a drink and think, think, think. Now picture a dream sequence, the lights are all on, the rain is falling and “look ma!” no shorts or black outs, but how to do it? Now I picture a small but beautiful island and a severely vertically challenged man comes running out and pointing at the sky and says “look, it’s the plane, the plane” and another voice rings out “welcome to Fantasy Island.”
I now it’s crazy, but even as I think it can’t be done the beginnings of a light bulb come on, slowing fading up to a clear, LED bright idea. Eureka I know how to do it, I know how to provide all of the above, now to see if it works.
So, with the idea bright in my mind I spring to my sleigh and eight tiny reindeer make ready to carry me away… oops, that’s another story.
Off to the store I go in with an idea in hand. The first stop is the local super discount store, around here one of them is known as Odd Lots, they have overstock items, and my first requirement to make many waterproof covers is it MUST be inexpensive, aka CHEAP. Once in the store I find what I seek. It calls to me with the bright shining hope of holding back the dampness, it’s, it’s, wait for it, here it comes, are you ready??? It’s a cheap copy of TUPPERWARE!
Yes, that wonderful container idea, it can go from the refrigerator or freezer to microwave; it keeps stuff in and other stuff out, like WATER. Now we’re talking.
But wait I hear you cry it will suffer from condensation build up and water will attack the connections. WRONG, I have yet another idea on preventing it so just sit back and keep reading while I explain my journey into madness and what it revealed to me.
So, I have the completed my first quest, I have the inexpensive containers, around $1.75 for four small ones, and $3.00 for the larger ones I need.
Quick, back to the bat mobile and a fast return to the bat cave, but that’s another story, so back to my house / garage so I can complete the second quest, find where I put my Dremel tool.
Fast forward through frantic search mode, and at least the second quest is completed, and now the requirements are met, I have the following:
- An LED bright idea on keeping water out of my connections
- Inexpensive plastic containers with lids that fit
- My Dremel tool and some plastic cutting wheels for it
- Electrical outlet so I don’t have to make a Dremel sound while I am cutting the plastic containers
And now the moment of truth. Can my idea work? Can I really hold back the water? Will it work? Can it stand the test??? The suspense is killing me. Well, not really, I already know it works since I had my crazy break with reality last November and already tried this out. But I want you to feel the suspense, the agony, the triumph of success, and I don’t want you to be bored by dry facts. Get it? Dry, as in there was no water hurt in the making of this
great idea! I can hear the groans from here, but hey you get what you pay for and the PlanetChristmas Magazine is free!
So, here is how you do it, first you decide if you need to protect two cords that are connecting or three or more, and then you chose which size container to use.
We will start with the two connection one, first take one of the small containers and check that the matching lid fits.
Now, remove lid and put aside, take your Dremel and start it, increasing the speed to about midway. You want a speed that will cut, but not burn the plastic and that allows you the most control.
I recommended holding the container from the side not being cut to give your fingers safety room.
OK, bring the Dremel to the lip of the container and cut down just until the lip itself is cut, then do the same thing again, about a quarter inch apart. The reason for this is the lip protrudes out and you need to cut it before the body of the container.
Now, turn the container so you are looking at its side where you just cut the lip, and slowly lower the Dremel down until it cuts into the container, the motion of the Dremel blade making contact will quickly pull down and cut the slot you need.
Don’t make one bigger than about ½ inch, I will explain why later, then cut the other slot and repeat on the opposite side. Take your time, if you rush or use too high a speed on the Dremel it can crack the container.
Note: there most likely will be a small bit of plastic that did not get cut between the lip and body, you simply need to wiggle the piece carefully and break the little piece to complete the slot.
So, you have the two slots cut, now what? Well first off, note you do not want to remove the tab completely; it still provides container integrity and serves to stop snow from getting in even if bent down by the cords.
Ok, so now you take the two cords you want to connect and lay them in the slots and connect them.
Now you simply place the cover back on, (note: if you want extra protection you can still wrap a piece of electrical tap around the area where the two plugs meet.
The lid is a critical part of the waterproofing, as it overhangs the container on all sides and helps keep the water away from the body. Even if in a heavy rain this works, i.e. the lid fills up and the water runs off the side. The tight fit of the lid insures water won’t go around the lip and into the container from the top.
Here’s the part you have been waiting for. Why is condensation not an issue? Simple, the two slots allow for air flow so even in high moisture you won’t get internal condensation in any amount that causes issues.
And now for this critical point. Why don’t you want to not make the slot too deep? If you live in a snow state you can, and most likely will, get several inches of snow or more, which will cover the container. As the snow melts some water can enter via the slots, by only cutting them down a ¼ to ¼ inch you don’t end up with the cords on the bottom of the container, but in fact end up
suspending them in the air as shown in the picture below.
Neat isn’t it? By hanging the cords in the middle you don’t have to worry about the little bit of water that can get in during snow or heavy rain.
Ok, so what if I have more than two cords to connect, say three or four? Easy, you do the same exact thing with a larger container, cutting either three or four of the sides.
Just make sure you get the lid’s on tight, don’t leave them up anywhere around the lip or water may get in from the top.
One final word: I tend to be a worrier, i.e. no matter how much I waterproof connections you can never have too much, so I do use the electrical tape on the connections before putting them in the container. However, as I noted earlier, there were no cords that were found to be wet.
I hope this works for you as well as it has for me, here’s to a great 2012 season of lights with waterproof connections.
This article was included in the July 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Wayne Gateman