The Bookworm's Musings

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DIY SAD Light Therapy Box

As I become more aware of my state of mind, now that I’m awake and living most of the time, I quickly noticed that sun effects my mood quite a bit. No sun = No energy or motivation. My anti-depression meds are a lot less effective when it is overcast and gray. And now that winter is coming and the sunlight that reaches us is weaker, even sunlight doesn’t help as much as it should.

So, I need a light box for light therapy, one of the most common treatments for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  But a commercial one cost $60 or more, like this one on Amazon. What?!!

It’s some light bulbs. In a fancy lamp. I don’t have $60+. And, you have to factor the cost of replacement bulbs into the equation. Bet those things are expensive too.

Internet Time! Some research on the internet brought me to this handy page, where I got the general idea. By reading the follow-up article, I realized that I probably didn’t need fancy light bulbs, just a lot of regular ones.  But sticking nine or ten 60 watt bulbs into a wooden box didn’t sound like a good idea: incandescent bulbs get very, very hot. So the bulbs would have to be fluorescent, which is what Boris (author of the previously linked page) recommends anyway. So the idea was planted in my mind.

But there were some obstacles:

  • I had a very tight budget. The light fixtures Boris used cost about $5 each here. $5 x 10 = $50. Way too much.
  • I am not an electrician.
  • I do not have any hole saw bits, and they cost at least $15, depending on size.

In order to overcome these obstacles, I needed to get creative. The answer to solving all of the above problems came to me as I was browsing the lighting aisle at Fred Meyers: I found a light bulb socket you can plug directly into an outlet. No lamp, no cover, just the socket you screw the light bulb into. Hmmm. If I plugged a bunch of these into a power strip or two (or three), I could have lots of light with no need for an electrician or a hole saw.

I would still need a box, though. The box focuses and directs the light, making sure you get the most out of it. No problem. I have wood. I have power tools. I have a Kreg Jig.

The only sticking point left was the cost of the light bulbs. Sure, florescent light bulbs really aren’t that expensive anymore. Unless you are buying 9 of them. So off to the dollar store I went. I’ve bought light bulbs there before and was pretty happy with them. $9 is better than $15 or $20, right? Right. But instead of a $1 each, the bulbs were 2/$1! So I got 10 light bulbs, for $5 and change. Project Lightbox was a go.

Here’s the cost list for my lightbox:

  • 9 light bulb sockets @ 2.19 each =  19.71
  • 1 can flat white spray paint @ 3.00 = 3.00
  • 9 light bulbs @ .50 each = 4.50
  • 1 small package 11” zip/cable ties @ 1.59 = 1.59
  • 3 power strips: On Hand
  • Pocket Hole Screws: On Hand
  • Wood for box: On Hand
  • Tools: On Hand

Total for Project: $28.80 + tax

Here’s the finished product with the lights on. Each of these bulbs is rated at 900 lumens:

The light is pretty bright, but not so bright that it’s uncomfortable to be near it. Of course, you aren’t supposed to stare into it, just have it nearby. I put mine about 2 feet from the side of my face, next to my computer desk, where I spend an hour+ every morning anyway. Sitting in this light for about 30 minutes a day is supposed to be enough.

Here it is with the lights off, so you can see more detail:

I used my largest drill bit (that fits my drill, anyway) to make the holes along the edges for the cords. And yes, the power strips did have holes on the back for mounting with screws, but I used zip ties instead because I have found they are more reliable, and I felt they would hold the power strips more snugly in place. I drilled holes through the back board,  above and below each power strip, and threaded the zip ties through the holes.

Here you can see it from the side, but keep in mind that the front box is about 1 & 1/2” shallower than it appears here, because of the way I assembled the box. And yes, I know the sides tilt inward. I could have built a perfectly square, perfectly aligned box, but that wasn’t my main concern.

Finally, here’s a picture of how I did the back of the box. I wanted to be able to mount this on a wall or ceiling if need be, as well as sitting it flat on a table.

Here’s where the extra cordage went. And with the niche in the bottom of the frame for the final cord to slide through, this can be mounted flat against the wall. I put the power strip with the longest cord on the bottom, and this power strip plugs into a wall outlet, controls the other strips, and provides an on/off switch in the front. Here on the back, you can see the pocket holes I used to assemble the box. If I need deeper sides later, it can be easily disassembled.  I only had enough paint to paint the inside of the box, which I did before assembling, so the outside remains unpainted. It’s not unfinished, however, as this box was made from plywood that had been previously finished on one side. I painted the unfinished side.  I could make it a little  nicer by placing another board over the back, to hide the cords and such, but I think it looks fine as it is. (The little cord you see along the top of the box is for charging my Kindle and isn’t attached to the light box in any way.)

The nice thing is, when I can afford it, I can use more powerful bulbs, or even LED bulbs, without re-working the box. Yay!

Is it a beautiful piece of home décor? No. Does it work? So far, yes.

Not bad for $30 and a little ingenuity! Let me know what you think. Have you done something similar? I’d love to hear about it.

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Good thinking!

Glad that you've found yet another tool to use in recovery from depression.

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