Let There Be LEDs

Posted February 17, 2016 – Narrated by Carmen
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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 six-pack naps – even for Pico.

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.

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

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.

3. Remove the two fluorescent bulbs

4. Then, the ballast cover must be removed.

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


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

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


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

10. Cap the connection with a electrical wire connector.

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

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.

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

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

Repeat for the second LED strip.

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

15. Replace the ballast cover.

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

17. Clean and replace the light fixture lens cover.

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!


If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.