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Upgrading the RV's lighting to LEDs.

 

 

One of the easiest and first projects you may wish to do for your RV is to upgrade your interior lighting to LEDs. The fact that most RV's still come with incandescent bulbs is a testament to how budget concious (dare I say cheap) the RV industy is.

Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs makes sense for many reasons:

  • LEDs require much less energy, which means they are boondock camping friendly, and a Green technology.
  • LEDs can last forever. Incandescent bulbs will need replacement periodically.
  • LEDs are cooler, which cuts down on running the A/C, fan, etc.
  • LEDs can be purchased in different color temperatures, which may be more soothing.

Yes, there is an initial purchase required, but the smart buyer can retrofit their entire RV for less than $100. Perhaps your biggest decision is what LEDs you should buy. There are big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, and so on.

And to make matters worse, The LEDs themselves are highly directional - whereas incandescent bulbs have a more universal lighting pattern.

And there is no direct correlation of light output between the two. Incandescent bulbs are rated in Candlepower while LEDs are rated in Lumens. While there is a conversion factor between the two, the difference in the light radiation pattern makes it all but impossible to compare one with another.

The simple solution - just test a couple of LEDs and see how they work. What I recommend is buying one or two of the LEDs that interest you, and test them in your RV against the incandescent bulbs to judge brightness and color.

As daunting as this may sound, there is a shortcut to this process. Incandescent bulbs have an industry standard numbering scheme, and many replacement LEDs use that same numbers.

For example, a popular incandescent bulb used for interior lighting is the #1141 bulb. So look for a replacement LED intended to replace a #1141 bulb. The replacement LED will have base so it should directly plug into the fixture.

If you follow this process, the only thing you should have to look at is intensity and color temperature. Color temperature is rated in degrees Kelvin, which is a somewhat arbitrary measuring system. However, any measurement system can be used as long as it is standardized for different colors.

 

Incandescent bulbs are generally around 3,000Deg K, which is a rather orange/white color. Noon-time daylight is somewhere around 5,000Deg K, and shade is a bit higher, around 6,000Deg K, and tends to cast a blue/white color.

Which color you prefer is up to you - I like 5,000Deg K the best as it casts a more natural daylight, and for me, 6,000Deg K is a bit too blue.

At any rate, I prefer any of the higher temperatures to standard incandescent bulbs.

 

 

 

Testing. I purchased small quantities of a couple different replacement LEDs from different on-line retailers. You may want to do some research here as the cost of these replacement bulbs vary wildly, and some RV specialty stores sell them as high as $20 each. While it is true that you may not find the exact one you want, and may have some throw-aways, it's better to buy a small quantity for testing so you are not wasting a lot of money.

 

 


Testing and installing video.

 

After testing both LEDs, I ended up with a preference for the units I bought from Amazon, as at 5,000Deg K, I liked the color the best. And the light intensity was similar to the incandescent bulbs, although the radiation pattern was a bit narrower. However, there are so many light fixtures in the coach that it should not be an issue.

The next step was to buy the lights in quantity. I ended up buying 12 pair of LEDs, which gave me a few extra as spares (I really only needed 18).

 

Conclusion. I wanted to confirm the difference in energy consumption between the LEDs and incandescent bulbs - therefore I came up with a simple test jig to measure the current consumption, which was a 12VDC power supply, a B&K Precision 316 MilliAmp Clamp Meter, and of course, the bulb under test.


incandescent bulb = 1.476Amp
@12VDC=18W
 

LED = 0.184Amp
@12VDC=2.2W

The energy demand difference of the two bulbs is very significant. The incandescent bulb consumes almost 18Watts per bulb (36 Watts for a two light fixture), and each 2 bulb fixture puts a 3AH drain on the battery. If all 18 bulbs in my coach were turned on (27AH), the house batteries would be completely drained in 8 hours or less - just from the bulbs. Forgetting to turn an incandescent bulb off in a storage compartment when boondocking would be a significant event.

The LED bulb on the other hand, consumed 2.2Watts (4.5Watts for a two light fixture), and each 2 bulb fixture puts a 368 mAH load on the batteries. This is fairly insignificant, and again if all 18 bulbs were left on (3.3AH), then it would take 65 hours to drain them. This is almost a 10x gain in efficiency.

The discharge difference is even more significant when you consider that for longevity, deep cycle batteries should never be discharged more than 50%.

And worse, that inefficiency of the incandescent bulbs manifests itself in wasted heat.


Ambient Temperature.

LED Temperature.

Incandescent Temperature.

And as the photos above show, the LED runs much cooler than Incandescent lighting.

 


Upgrading the Porch Light to a High Intensity LED.

 


Exterior "porch light".

This is also an opportune time to upgrade the exterior "porch light" to a LED. Unfortunately, the LEDs I used for the interior are not bright enough for my liking, so I installed a high intensity LED in the porch fixture.

The LED I used is advertised as being the brightest available in the BA15 style, and has 66 individual LEDs built into it, and it just fits into the porch light fixture. However, at 5W, we are using a bit more current than the interior lights (about 420mA). But it is still much less current than the original incandescent light bulb. This LED is surely going to illuminate the campsite and keep the boogey man away.

 


Exterior Lighting Video.

 

Here are a few additional (1141 style) LED sets my readers have purchased that you might be interested in.

                

 

Another popular style used for RVs are the Wedge, 906, or T10/T15 base LEDs. This base style has exposed wire ends, and simply plugs in rather than the twist-on style such as the 1141/BA15 style. The wires may be on opposite sides or the same side of the tang.

They may not be quite as common as the 1141/BA15 style sockets, and these types are where you will typically see overpriced replacements, and the choices may be more limited.

 

        

 

Note:

The above sets may differ in physical length, base style, brightness, and color temperature, so verify that these are the ones you want prior to purchase. If you are interested in any of these, I would highly recommend purchasing one or two LEDs as a test prior to making a committment of purchasing a large set.

 

2017 UPDATE


In the 3yrs since I published this article, the price of LEDs have been drastically reduced... by some 60%. Due to the benefits of LEDs (low power consumption, low heat signature, etc.) and their lower cost, there is no reason you should not consider upgrading your RV to LEDs.

 

 


Last reviewed and/or updated May 9, 2017