At certain times of the year, the sun sets depressingly early, and this can have a major effect on your mood. What if you could control when the sun rises and sets with a fake natural light window? We show you how to go about this DIY project.
Why a DIY natural light window?
If you live in a location with long periods of darkness, you know how important natural light can be. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is very common during these times of the year, and lack of sunlight is part of the cause.
There are many products designed to help with this problem. However, if you want window-sized light, you̵
We’ll show you how to create a fake window with natural light that changes in accordance with the sun, all for less than $ 100.
What you need
Before we proceed, keep in mind that we’ll be using SmartThings for this project. There are a lot of smart home systems out there, so it’s hard to write a manual that works for everyone.
If you want to get started with SmartThings, the first step is to buy a Hub to which all your next smart devices will connect. SmartThings supports many popular smart home brands. Once connected to the Hub, devices can be controlled via the SmartThings app.
If you don’t have a smart home setup, you can get similar results with a cheap “dumb” strip light. All you are missing is the dynamic color temperature shift.
We use ZigBee Sylvania Smart LED Strip Lights. They are all red, green, blue and white (RGBW) lights and the color temperature can range from 2,700K to 6,500K. If those aren’t in stock, you can try this similar set from Sengled.
Next you need a fake window. If you’re DIY-inclined, you can build one pretty cheaply (it only costs us about $ 30). It is essentially just a box with a diffuser.
We used a single 1 x 4, about 1/4 inch plywood and an acrylic light panel. We made a small channel for the light panel to slide into, and you can nail or place the plywood on it. We also recommend painting the inside white for maximum light reflection.
Alternatively, you can buy a shadow box to match the length of your light strip. Our lights are 72 inches tall, so the 18 x 18 inch or 12 x 24 inch shade box would be perfect. You can stick some printer or parchment paper to the glass or acrylic to make a diffuser.
There’s a bit of DIY that you have to do no matter how you get to your window, and that’s drilling a small hole in one corner so you can feed the power cord into the box.
Finally, we’ll also show you how to set up circadian rhythm automation with SmartThings. This causes the light to change color during the day, just like the sun. You can even set your own sunrise and sunset times.
Mounting the fake window
We start assembling the window. Basically you just need 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.
Then remove the paper from the adhesive backing and stick the light strip to the inside of the frame. Start with the end that plugs into the power source and make sure it lines up with the hole.
If you bought a shadow box, use some clear tape to attach a white printer, parchment paper, or wax paper to the glass or acrylic. This scatters the light and makes it appear brighter and more even.
That’s really all there is to the physical meeting. You can stop here if you want and still have a perfectly usable fake window.
However, if you want the color temperature to better mimic the sun, there is one more step.
Set up the Circadian Daylight SmartApp
SmartThings has a large library of community SmartApps that can do really cool things. We use one called ‘Circadian Daylight’, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of your lights according to the sun in a particular location.
If you’ve never used a SmartApp with SmartThings, the process may seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite simple. We’ll help you through it.
The process starts in the SmartThings IDE, the back of the developer. Simply go to https://account.smartthings.com/ in your web browser and log in.
Then click on “My SmartApps” at the top.
Click on ‘New SmartApp’.
On the New SmartApp page, click on ‘From code’.
To install the first part of the SmartApp, copy the code on this page, paste it into the text box under the “From Code” tab, then click “Create”.
Click “Save” after the SmartApp has been created.
Click on ‘Publish’ and select ‘For me’.
Go back to “My SmartApps” and click on “New SmartApp” again.
Switch to ‘From code’.
Now we are going to install the second part of the SmartApp. Copy all the code from this page, paste it into the text box and click ‘Create’.
Click “Save” after the SmartApp has been created, but it does not need to be published.
You will then see two Circadian Daylight SmartApps on your account.
You are now done with the SmartThings IDE. Open the SmartThings app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device to complete the process.
Tap the hamburger menu on the right, then tap SmartApps.
Tap the plus sign (+).
Scroll down to the ‘Custom’ section and tap ‘Circadian Daylight Coordinator’.
Tap “Next” to set it up.
The first thing you need to do is choose the minimum and maximum color temperature. For reference, sunrise and sunset are around 2700K while it’s around 6000K in the afternoon. Check the specifications of your light strip to see how close you can get to these numbers. When you’re done, tap ‘Next’.
Now you can decide whether to adjust the lights according to the sun in your location, or to manually set the sunrise and sunset times.
For the first, type your zip code and then choose an offset for the sunrise and sunset times.
To manually set sunrise and sunset times, scroll down and select a time for each. This is especially nice during those times of the year when the sun sets early. When you’re done, tap ‘Next’.
To receive notifications when there is an update for the SmartApp, enable the ‘Update notifications’ option and tap ‘Done’.
You have now configured how the SmartApp will work. The next step is to tell him which lights to operate. Tap “Circadian Daylight Coordinator” in the “SmartApps” section.
Select ‘New Circadian Daylight Setup’.
Tap the type of lighting you are using in your fake window.
Then select the radio button next to the specific light you want to use and tap Done.
Tap “Next” to continue.
You can enable the “Dynamic Brightness” option if you want the light to be dimmed to match natural light. Enter values for the minimum and maximum brightness, then tap Next.
You can now decide if you want to set “Sleep Settings”. If you do, just select the mode (s) it should work for, how warm or cool the color temperature should be, then select a brightness level. Tap “Next” when you are done.
Finally, select the mode in which you want the SmartApp to be active, or you can disable it when certain switches are enabled. Click “Next” to complete the installation.
Enter a name for your window light and tap Done.
To save what you just did, you have to go through the settings of the “Circadian Daylight Coordinator” again; just tap “Next” to skip them all.
When done, you are returned to the “SmartApps” screen. Keep in mind that the light changes every 15 minutes starting at the beginning of the hour, so you may not notice it changing immediately.
Your DIY version may not look as fancy as some of the expensive pre-made 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 don’t have SmartThings, hopefully this guide has inspired you to try something similar with whatever setup you’re using and add some extra light to your space.