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I'm a bit of a noob when it comes to electronics so looking for some advice on this project I have in mind.

Introduction

The goal is to have my garage door opener (GDO) switch a secondary set of 12v or 24v lights on and off.

The GDO has it's own LED lights and I've measured the output (using my inexpensive multimeter) to be 18.4V. The LED lights dim then switch off after a period of time so I'm assuming it's using PWM.

The GDO also has a 24V 55mA output for accessories.

I don't yet have a specific secondary light I will use but one that I have in mind is rated at 24V 1W.

My plan

I'm thinking of using the IRF540N MOSFET to switch the secondary light on and off with the advantage of also having the PWM of the source dim them.

I'm thinking I could simply wire the Gate of the MOSFET into the LED source. I would then wire the Drain to the negative terminal of the secondary light and wire the Source to the ground of the LEDs and ground of the 24v source (which is probably common ground but I should probably check first).

My main concern is that I don't know if the MOSFET will over load the LED power source. I really can't mess around too much because it's an expensive door opener :)

Alternative

Since my original plan could possibly damage my GDO if I'm not careful my other plan is to use an LDR circuit to switch the 24+ on and off without the fancy PWM.

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There are various ways the LEDs may be driven/dimmed, without knowing more it's hard to advise exactly and with absolute certainty, but whether the main LEDs are constant current or constant voltage driven it should be usable for a rough control signal.

The MOSFET you link to has a Vgs (voltage from gate to source) max of +/-20V. If the voltage you measured was PWM and <100% duty cycle, then the peak voltage is probably more like 24V (would make sense if the secondary is 24V, probably both from the same rail)

So this would be too high to use with this part without a voltage divider (apart from that it is well over rated). You could make one with e.g. 2 x 10k resistors (e.g. two resistors in series between the source + and - and take output from the middle) so the Vgs has a max of 24V/2 = 12V, which is still plenty to turn it on with a Vth (turn on threshold voltage) of 2-4V.
I would use at least 10k, as the gate capacitance shouldn't matter much here. The resistors will also add a line of protection just in case, and should burn out like fuses if the voltage somehow happened to be much higher.

I think this should work okay, the lamp you have in mind should draw about 41mA so that's within the rated 55mA for the secondary supply. It may not dim in the same way as the main light, depending on various factors (it may be non-PWM, e.g. gradually controlled constant current in which case the voltage won't change much right up until turn off, but if it is PWM it should still work quite well), but I see no reason why it shouldn't work at all if you get things right.
You would only be drawing ~1mA from the main source (the MOSFET gate will draw nothing, just the 2x10k resistor divider), so no risk of overload as long as they share the same ground which is almost certain (you can check this easily with your multimeter)

If you are worried about damaging things then run some tests with a separate setup first. You could also attach the resistor divider across the main LEDs and measure voltage whilst the lights are full on and dimming to get an idea of what the MOSFET gate will see. If all looks well then hook it up properly (it is quite likely that both supplies will have some protection built in in the event of getting something wrong)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This helps a lot! Thanks! I hadn't thought of a voltage divider. I might as well get a much cheaper MOSFET (sparkfun.com/datasheets/Components/General/RFP30N06LE.pdf) if I use a 20k resistor on the positive side of the voltage divider. The only way to be sure it's PWM would be to use an oscilloscope right? \$\endgroup\$ – snoopen Sep 19 '11 at 4:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @snoopen - yes, a scope would be the best way to see what's happening. If you don't have one already, there are loads of old analog scopes almost given away on eBay all the time which are still very useful for so many things. Might be worth picking one up if you intend to do some electronics regularly. \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Sep 19 '11 at 5:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @snoopen - that part looks suitable if you adjust the divider as you say. Using 20k for the top resistor would limit to 8V which is within the 10V rated max so should be okay. \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Sep 19 '11 at 5:13

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