The sun sets depressingly early during certain times of the year, and this can have a big effect on your mood. What if you could control when the sun rises and sets with a fake natural light window? Weâ€™ll show you how to tackle this DIY project.
Why a DIY Natural Light Window?
If you live in a location where there are extended periods of darkness, you know how important natural light can be.Â Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is very common during these times of the year, and lack of sunlight is part of the cause.
There are plenty of products designed to help with this problem. However, if you want window-sized light, youâ€™ll probably have to spendÂ several hundred dollars. We wanted to add some extra light to our dim basement office and decided to go the DIY route.
Weâ€™ll show you how to make a faux window with natural light that changes to match the sun, all for less than $100.
What Youâ€™ll Need
Before we go any further, just a heads up that weâ€™ll be using SmartThings for this project.Â There are a lot of smart home systems out there, so itâ€™s hard to write a guide thatâ€™ll work for everyone.
If you want to get started with SmartThings, the first step is to buy a Hub, to which all your subsequent smart devices will connect. SmartThings supports many popular smart home brands. Once connected to the Hub, devices can be controlled through the SmartThings app.
If you donâ€™t have a smart home setup, you can get similar results with a cheap â€œdumbâ€� strip light. The only thing youâ€™ll miss is the dynamic color-temperature shifting.
Weâ€™ll be using ZigBee Sylvania Smart LED Strip Lights.Â Theyâ€™re full red, green, blue, and white (RGBW) lights and the color temperature can go from 2,700K to 6,500K. If those arenâ€™t in stock, you can try thisÂ similar set from Sengled.
Next, youâ€™ll need a fake window. If youâ€™re DIY-inclined, you can build one for pretty cheap (it only cost us around $30). Itâ€™s essentially just a box with a light diffuser.
We used a single 1 x 4, some 1/4-inch plywood, and an acrylic light panel. We made a small channel for the light panel to slide into, and you can either nail the plywood back onto it or inset it. We also recommend painting the inside white for maximum light reflection.
Alternatively, you can buy a shadow box that fits the length of your light strip. Our lights are 72-inches long, so the 18- x 18-inch or 12- x 24-inch shadow box would be perfect. You can tape some printer or parchment paper to the glass or acrylic to create a light diffuser.
Thereâ€™s one bit of DIY youâ€™ll have to do regardless of how you get your window, and thatâ€™s drilling a small hole in one corner so you can feed the power cord into the box.
Finally, weâ€™ll also show you how to set up a circadian rhythm automation with SmartThings. This will make the light change color temperature throughout the day just like the sun. You can even set your own sunrise and sunset times.
Assembling the Fake Window
Weâ€™ll begin by assembling the window. Basically, you just have to attach the light strip to the inside of the box. First, figure out where the end of the cord will be, and then drill a small hole for the power cord.
Next, remove the paper from the adhesive backing and stick the light strip around the inside of the frame. Start with the end that will connect to the power source and make sure itâ€™s aligned with the hole.
If you bought a shadow box, use some clear tape to attach white printer, parchment, or wax paper to the glass or acrylic. This will diffuse the light and make it appear brighter and more even.
Thatâ€™s really all there is to the physical assembly. You can stop here if you want and still have a perfectly serviceable fake window.
However, if you want the color temperature to more closely mimic the sun, thereâ€™s one more step.
Set Up the Circadian Daylight SmartApp
SmartThings has a large library of community SmartApps that can do some really cool things. Weâ€™ll be using one called â€œCircadian Daylight,â€� which automatically adjusts the color temperature of your lights to match the sun in any given location.
If youâ€™ve never used a SmartApp with SmartThings before, the process might seem daunting at first, but itâ€™s actually pretty easy. Weâ€™ll walk you through it.
The process begins in the SmartThings IDE, which is the developer back end. Just go to https://account.smartthings.com/Â in your web browser and sign in.
Next, click â€œMy SmartAppsâ€� at the top.
Click â€œNew SmartApp.â€�
On the New SmartApp page, click â€œFrom Code.â€�
To install the first part of the SmartApp, copy the code on this page, paste it in the text box under the â€œFrom Codeâ€� tab, and then click â€œCreate.â€�
Click â€œSaveâ€� after the SmartApp is created.
Click â€œPublishâ€� and select â€œFor Me.â€�
Go back to â€œMy SmartAppsâ€� and click â€œNew SmartAppâ€� again.
Switch to â€œFrom Code.â€�
Now, weâ€™ll install the second part of the SmartApp. Copy all the code from this page, paste it in the text box, and then click â€œCreate.â€�
Click â€œSaveâ€� after the SmartApp is created, but this one doesnâ€™t need to be published.
Youâ€™ll then see two Circadian Daylight SmartApps on your account.
Tap the hamburger menu on the right, and then tap â€œSmartApps.â€�
Tap the plus sign (+).
Scroll down to the â€œCustomâ€� section and tap â€œCircadian Daylight Coordinator.â€�
Tap â€œNextâ€� to set it up.
The first thing you have to do is choose the minimum and maximum color temperatures. For reference, sunrise and sunset are around 2,700K, while at noon, itâ€™s around 6,000K. Check your light strip specifications to see how close you can get to these numbers. When youâ€™re done, tap â€œNext.â€�
Now, you can decide if you want the lights to match the sun in your location, or if you want to set their sunrise and sunset times manually.
For the former, type your zip code, and then choose an offset for the sunrise and sunset times.
To set sunrise and sunset times manually, scroll down and select a time for each. This is particularly nice for those times of year when the sun sets early. When youâ€™re finished, tap â€œNext.â€�
If you want to receive notifications when thereâ€™s an update for the SmartApp, toggle-On the â€œUpdate Notificationsâ€� option, and then tap â€œDone.â€�
Youâ€™ve now configured how the SmartApp will work. The next step is to tell it which lights to control. Tap â€œCircadian Daylight Coordinatorâ€� in the â€œSmartAppsâ€� section.
Select â€œNew Circadian Daylight Setup.â€�
Tap the type of lights youâ€™re using in your fake window.
Next, select the radio button next to the specific light you want to use, and then tap â€œDone.â€�
Tap â€œNextâ€� to proceed.
You can toggle-On the â€œDynamic Brightnessâ€� option if you want the light to dim to match natural light. Type values for the minimum and maximum brightness, and then tap â€œNext.â€�
You can now decide if you want to set any â€œSleep Settings.â€� If you do, just select the mode(s) for which it should run, how warm or cool the color temperature should be, and then select a brightness level. Tap â€œNextâ€� when youâ€™re done.
Finally, select the mode in which you want the SmartApp to be active, or you can disable it when certain switches are on. Click â€œNextâ€� to complete the setup.
Type a name for your window light, and then tap â€œDone.â€�
To save what you just did, youâ€™ll have to go through the â€œCircadian Daylight Coordinatorâ€� settings one more time; just tap â€œNextâ€� to skip through them all.
Youâ€™ll return to the â€œSmartAppsâ€� screen when finished. Keep in mind the light will change every 15 minutes, beginning at the top of the hour, so you might not notice it changing immediately.
Your DIY version might not look as fancy as some of the expensive, premade faux windows, but this is a great alternative for the price. It also offers a lot more flexibility because you can make your window as big or small as you want.
Even if you donâ€™t have SmartThings, hopefully, this guide has inspired you to try something similar with whatever setup youâ€™re using and add some extra light to your space.
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