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Installing a LED Strip on a RV.

 


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A recent and popular trend in the RV world is the installation of LED strip lighting under the awning. Seems that just about all manufacturers have been installing them as standard equipment. The quick adoption of these stips mean that a RV just a few years old may not have such lighting, so in this project, we will install one.

If you look at LED strips on-line or at camping stores, you will find them priced at just a few dollars to over $100. And there are so many varities that it can simply overwelm the purchaser as which one is the correct one.

Tip #1. Do not buy a LED strip from a camping store... they are way overpriced, and you should not need to spend more than $50~75 for a complete package, including the LED strip itself, power and control module, and mounting method.

These things are all made in China, so buying on-line won't result in getting anything less capable than if you buy locally. Amazon, eBay, and similar all sell the same stuff.

So, lets start by sifting through all of the various types of LED strips. There are three predominant types on the market today.

  • SMD5050
  • SMD3528
  • WS2801
  • WS2811
  • WS2812

For a SMD5050, this model number simply means the LEDs in the strip light are Surface Mount Devices, and are 5.0mm x 5.0mm in size. Similarly, a SMD3528 LED (again) means Surface Mount Device, and 3.5mm x 2.8mm in size.

Typically, the larger SMD5050 are tri-color LEDs; that is, they have a Red, Green, and Blue color LED all within one package. This is also typically called a RGB LED.

The smaller SMD3528 are typically only a single color, which is a result of the smaller package.

 

Pretty Colors. Another distinction to make is the available colors each LED strip comes in. For SMD3528, each LED device is one single color; either all the same color (monochrome), or alternating in Red Green Blue. This presents a disadvantage if you desire to create a white LED color using the RGB type strip as there will be some color-banding, especially when viewed closely.

For the SMD5050 devices, they are all tri-color (RGB) or alternating tri-color and white (RGBW or RGBWW). RGBW means RGB and White, while RGBWW means RGB and Warm White.

Generally when you buy a RV with a factory installed LED strip, you will most likely receive a SMD3528 monochrome strip, either all white, all blue, or other color, as this is the least expensive to power, and the RV industry is nothing if not cheap. Still, it does meet most people's needs for lighting, whithout being so over-the-top you annoy your neighbors.

 

WS series (WS2801, WS2811, WS2812). I will only briefly mention these devices as you will run across them during your shopping adventures. They are higher-end devices, much more expensive than the typical SMD series. The primary difference is that they are "addressible", meaning each individual LED device can independantly be turned on, off, or color changed. This provides a lot more flexibility, and you can create a Theatre Marquee for example. They require a different circuit to operate, and they are largely in the realm of the hobbyist.

I really don't recommend these for RV lighting as they are more complicated for the typical RV'er to install, and do you really need multi-faceted "blinkie" LED strips at the RV Park?

 

Ingress Protection. IEC 60529 provides the standard for Ingress Protection (IP) as follows:

Typically, you will find most LED strips having IP64 thru IP67 protection, which should suffice for most applications.

 

Cutting to length.

Typically LED strips are 5meters (16ft) in length. If this is too long, you can cut them to a shorter length. Each strip has cut marks every 2" or so, and this is the only acceptable cut-point for the strip.

When you cut the strip to length, be sure to seal the open end so you do not get water intrusion into the strip. A good solution here is to use electrical conformal coating, such as MG Chemicals #422.

 


Project video.

 

Recommendation.

For most applications, the SMD3528 monochrome version will work well. You can buy them in white, blue, red, or green. If you want to go the extra step, consider a SMD5050 RGB strip. No need to go with the RGBW as this is somewhat overkill.

The item shown to the right is a good solution. It is not that expensive, a white monochrome SMD3528 strip 16ft in length, and includes a plastic mounting channel. It is connected to your 12V battery through a simple switch. Basically it has everything you need for a switched (non-IR remote) solution. This is the type of strip you will find as OEM from the RV manufacturers.


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Last reviewed and/or updated June 14, 2017