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Understanding Rope Light:

What rope light should I use?  I cannot tell you how many times these questions have been asked so I thought that I might get together a simple guide that compares and contrasts the different types of rope light so the choice is easier for people to make.  Starting at the beginning, there are 3 different types of rope light: standard 2 wire, chasing 3 wire and LED and for these 3 types, there are high voltage and low voltage options.  That means there are at least 6 different types of rope light and on top of that, there is color choices.  So let’s break it down so that anyone can understand what makes each of these unique so that you can choose which one suits your application.

120v 2 WIRE INCANDESCENT ROPE LIGHT

This is pretty much the industry standard choice for rope light.  Cut-able in 3’ sections, this type of rope light can be used for pretty much any application.  From accenting cabinets and stairs to outlining pathways and gardens to highlighting railings and decks to providing general lighting for patios and gazebos, this rope light is versatile enough to function in almost any capacity.  It is UL rated for both indoor and outdoor usage, however, this does not mean that it can used for underwater purposes.  This rope light can plug into any standard house outlet and comes in both white as well as multiple colors.  Without a rope light controller, the rope light will just illuminate which might be enough for what you need but with a controller, you gain the ability to use lighting effects.  2 wire rope light is dimmable and can statically flash (all on, all off, all on, etc.) with the use of a standard controller.

Now for a little more technical information: 

The power draw of 120v 2 wire rope light is 3 watts per foot. 

For clear 120v 2 wire rope light, the color temperature is 2000-2400 Kelvin, which is a slightly yellowish, white light. Incandescent Warm White Rope Light

120v 2 wire incandescent rope light is limited to 200 feet in a single run.

12V 2 WIRE INCANDESCENT ROPE LIGHT

12v 2 wire incandescent rope light has most of the same properties as 120v 2 wire incandescent rope light, however, it does require a transformer or a DC power supply (like a car battery or DC power supply system like those found on boat).  Also, the runs for 12v rope light is limited to 30 feet in a single run, 24v rope light restricted to 60 feet per run.  However, the advantage of this type of rope light is that the power draw is much lower than that of the 120v type of rope light, saving you money on your power bill.  

120v 3 WIRE INCANDSCENT ROPE LIGHT

Similar to 120v 2 wire incandescent rope light, 3 wire rope light is superior in one important respect: lighting effects.  With a 3 wire controller, 3 wire rope light not only can dim and static flash, it gains the ability to use chasing effects.  The ability to create a trail of lights might make all the difference for your project and probably the most popular use for this type of rope light is for use in lighting pathways as it will indicate the direction that people should be traveling. 

 Dimming Effect  Slow Chase Effect  Strobe Effect  Strobe and Chasing Effects
Rope Light Slow Fade Rope Light Slow Chasing Effect Rope Light Animation Rope Light Flash and Chasing

120v 2 WIRE LED ROPE LIGHT

Rapidly becoming popular with contractors and home owners, LED 2 wire rope light has the highest flexibility of any type of rope light and comes highly recommended for those looking to add rope light to their building.  2 wire LED rope light is almost identical to 120v incandescent rope light in characteristics and application but power consumption and color choice is where LED rope light shines.  The power draw on rope light is only 0.7 watts per foot, which is more than 4 times more efficient than 2 wire incandescent rope light, making running runs of LED rope light almost negligible in regards to your power bill.  Another advantage is that LED rope light has the ability to run much longer continuous runs than standard rope light (up to 600 feet with special rectifier).  Also, where 2 wire rope light only has one version of white color, LED rope light has 3: cool white (5000-5500 Kelvin)LED Cool White Rope Light, warm white (2700-3000 Kelvin)LED Warm White Rope Light and moonlight (4500 Kelvin)LED Moon White Rope Light.  LED rope light also has a wider range of color options as well compared to incandescent rope light.

12v 2 WIRE LED ROPE LIGHT

Almost exactly the same as 120v 2 Wire LED rope light but requires a transformer/DC power supply and are restricted in terms of length of single runs.  Since 12v LED rope light requires a transformer, it will lower the overall power usage however LED already has a lower electrical draw than incandescent so the difference between the two might not be readily noticeable.  Furthermore, 12v LED rope light is limited to only 100 feet per run.  Depending on the application, 12v 2 wire LED rope light might give you the extra edge but in most cases, the difference between 12v and 120v 2 wire LED rope light is extremely subtle.

The Final Word:

I would highly recommend running LED rope light over incandescent due to its greater flexibility in uses as well as the energy saving properties and color choices.  It has the highest number of advantages vs the other types of rope light and with its rise in popularity, the support and accessories are only going to grow in availability and shrink in cost.  3 wire should only be considered should you require those additional lighting control options and 2 wire is for those on the most restrictive of budgets.  Don’t misunderstand, all rope light choices have their advantages but all other things being equal, LED rope light is the all-around best and it’s what I would spend my money on.  In fact, it’s what I did spend my money on and I use it to provide lighting my staircase at night as well as provide cool under lighting for my computer system as well as my kitchen cabinets.

Lighting stairs with rope light Rope Light on Under Cabinet