Bethel Park High School senior creates holiday light display using all recycled material
Matt Ennis, 17, designed and built a holiday light show timed to music for his front yard in Bethel Park.
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Traffic is usually pretty quiet on Pleasant Street in Bethel Park. But it's picked up in recent weeks with the unveiling of a holiday light display with music, built by 17-year-old Matt Ennis.
The Bethel Park High School senior crafted his own festival of lights, made of 100 percent recycled materials.
The 1,500 lights came from family and friends. Matt made his own circuit breaker box with unused breakers from an old house. Outlets were taken from another home that is being remodeled. Speakers came from garage sales and even from neighborhood garbage. He used AC wiring from an old extension cord from his grandmother. Even the reindeer and candy cane lights on the front lawn were collected from folks who no longer wanted them.
"I could have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars, but I used old supplies," Matt said.
The first proverbial light bulb went off in Matt's head last Christmas when he received a micro-controller as a gift.
"It started with four little LED lights that he programmed to blink in different rhythms," explained Matt's mother, Lisa Ennis.
"The micro-controller allowed me to, on a small scale, test songs and patterns," he said, adding that he used the computer software, Vixen, to program four Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas songs, including the popular "Christmas Canon," for background music.
"I built a box that takes 1 to 2 volts through circuits that turn the light strands off and on," he said.
"What he didn't understand, he would teach himself," Ms. Ennis said
When he ran into problems, he researched online, consulting Youtube videos or other sources.
Throughout the 11-month-long planning process, detailed diagrams of wiring hung on the family room walls of his home.
Along with wiring issues, there were safety concerns, he pointed out.
"I had to make sure that there were no exposed wires ... that if someone got close it wouldn't cause injury," Matt said.
He mounted all the components in a plastic container, making sure the wiring was the right color, "allowing me to know what was hot and what was neutral in the circuit," he said. He placed all the cords that needed to be plugged into the house in a second plastic container to protect them from the weather. They plug into the house through a hole Matt cut into the side of the container.
He started mounting the decorations, including a tree made of lights and twinkling wreaths mounted on the home's white picket fence, during his Thanksgiving break. His mother and 10th-grade brother, Gavin, held the ladder when he climbed up on the roof.
"I would test everything at 2 a.m. so no one would see it. I revealed it on Dec. 8 to the public," Matt said.
The lights and music are timed to go on from 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly and the community is excited about the festive exhibit, said Ms. Ennis.
"It's been wonderful," she said. "The principal of his school and others have driven by."
Not surprisingly, Matt plans to study electrical engineering next year and has written his college application essay on the trial and errors he encountered in this experience.
"He has actually always been into wires and has taken so many things apart," Ms. Ennis said.
First Published December 20, 2012 5:42 am