Let There Be LEDs

Posted February 17, 2016

If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click the play button.

 

Because we needed sunlight for this post, our first RV practicum, we had to wait for the gloom to lift.

Long periods of rainy days with everything but the rain are called gloom in San Diego and each month has it’s own version: May Gray, June Gloom, NoSkyJuly, Fogust  … I have no idea what you call it in January  … Januhazy? Our formerly productive weekend trips to the KOA where we casually sip IPA and perform hours of menial tasks in preparation for going full-time this summer devolved into sixpack naps – even for Pico.

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The short days, dark sky and mysterious sedative effect of the Airstream (do they insulate them with tryptophan?) banished our anxieties about selling the house, closing down jobs, and prepping for adventure.

Then, last Saturday, pre-dawn avian announcements of blue sky and the rebirth of paradise so energized us that we grabbed our to-do list and hightailed it to the KOA storage lot, popped open a new box of LED replacements from Dan at www.LED4RV.com, drew open the curtains, lifted the shades and got at it.

Upgrades are all part of purchasing a used trailer. Because our Airstream had excellent service and care from the previous owners, the necessary repairs and elective upgrades for Beauty are quite minimal. Having handy skills can save you thousands of dollars in addition to the tens of thousands you already saved by purchasing used, and installing upgrades protects your investment – especially for us, since there have been several technological advances since 2001.

LED (light emitting diode) is a type of lighting that conserves electricity and lasts almost forever. Everything in the Airstream is powered by DC batteries and LP gas except the television, microwave and air-conditioning. There is little initial savings in LED upgrades except that less DC power will be used. So, when we’re boondocking (also called dry camping or off the grid) our batteries will last longer as we’ll need less AC power (whether from shore power or from our generator) to recharge the batteries.

Luckily, all older fluorescents and incandescents can be changed – and even at $15 a bulb, we consider the upgrade to be an investment.

Most of the lights in an Airstream can be changed quickly by pulling or twisting the incandescent bulb (whichever is required) to remove.

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But for fluorescents, it takes about 30 minutes to change out a fixture.

The only tools needed are a pair of wire cutters and something to strip the ends of the wire, like a wire stripper or utility knife and 2 wire connectors

wire cutterswire stripperutility knifewire connector

Click here to see the exact LED Jim used to replace the fluorescent bulbs.

Here are Jim’s easy steps to getting the job done.

  1. Turn off the power. This upgrade must be done in daylight since you need to cut power to the light fixture. Even though it is only 12 volts, it is not wise to mess around with hot electrical wires EVER! Jim unhooked the batteries.
  2. Remove the light fixture lens cover.

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3. Remove the two fluorescent bulbs

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4. Then, the ballast cover must be removed.

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5. Find and follow the black wire coming into the light fixture that goes to the ballast. Cut the black wire close to the ballast, maybe 1 inch away.

6. Attach the two red wires from the new LED strips to this black wire that is coming into the fixture, not the wire still attached to the ballast

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7. Cap the connection with an electrical wire connector.  Make sure it is tightened well.

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8. Cut the white wire on the ballast, leaving about 1 inch.

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9. Attach the two white wires from the new LED strips to the white wire coming into the light fixture.

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10. Cap the connection with a electrical wire connector.

11. Turn the power back on, letting the new LED strips dangle to test them.

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12. Turn the power off and peel back the adhesive tape from the back of one of the LED strips being sure not to touch the sticky backing with your fingers.

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13. Now, carefully fasten the first LED strip in the approximate place one of the removed fluorescent bulbs formerly spanned across the fixture …

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… pressing to ensure the adhesive is securely fastened to the fixture.

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Repeat for the second LED strip.

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14. Coil and tuck the wires out-of-the-way so you can replace the ballast cover.

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15. Replace the ballast cover.

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16. Turn the power back on and, once again, test the light.

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17. Clean and replace the light fixture lens cover.

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You now have 21st century light that uses very little of your 12 volt DC power and will last almost forever. Now, that is illuminating!

IMG_4271LUV THZ LEDs!

7 thoughts on “Let There Be LEDs

  1. A tip….for possible future upgrade…I have also installed several strips of LED’s around the AS… first was on top of the front upper cabinetry, then on the box above the curtains… control was via a PWM (pulse width modulator) which allows ‘dimming’ of the LED… If properly sized, a PWM could be used to ‘drive’ all the LED’s in the RV on the 12VDC ‘lighting’ circuit… so you could set the light ‘dim’ or bright as the need requires. I have seen the ‘bright’ LED’s give off a soft glow when dimmed using this process. Or, you could just put the PWM on individual LED fixtures if preferred.. email if I can help with details…

    1. Channing, thank you for your comments. I am intrigued with the idea of being able to dim the new LED lights in the Airstream. When I have finished replacing all the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs with LEDs I may reach out to you for the details of how you installed the dimmers.

      1. Tomorrow ain’t promised for us all, Pard.

        I searched Amazon… “led dc pwm” and got a bunch of Hits. Here is one like I bought:
        https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B003L4KKF2/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?qid=1456515510&sr=8-2&pi=SY200_QL40&keywords=led+dc+pwm&dpPl=1&dpID=41-eydXuLVL&ref=plSrch

        Cheap.. Less than $3. Handles over 100 watts.. By the specs. There are others. Look for a input range that accepts 12vdc (it will be a bigger span).. And check the output it can handle. I am running over 8′ of strip, 5500 temp… If you find one you like, send
        Me an email with the Link..

        Peace ..

    1. Kerry, in many ways I think it gives more light. There are two choices when purchasing LED lights, bright white and warm white. We have decided to go with warm white everywhere except in the bathroom (above sinks and shower) and the kitchen (in the stove hood and above the sink). The warm white gives the interior a glowing warmth like candle light. We find that soothing for normal times, but we like the bright white for cooking and the bathroom. Hope that answers you question. Dan at LED4RV can answer all your questions at http://www.LED4RV.com

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