Making the LED Swap
Replacing Traditional Bulbs with New Technology Leads to Improved Efficiency and Longer Light Life
In recent years, the “green” movement has come on strong in the RVing industry. It only makes sense that a lifestyle that promotes communing with nature should advocate preserving the same. But going green can be achieved in many more ways than buying a fancy new trailer built only with composite materials. It also means making a change to more durable, longer-lasting appointments and technologies — and the easiest way to do this is by swapping out as many of the traditional incandescent/fluorescent/halogen bulbs in your RV as possible with LEDs. And if saving the Earth isn’t your thing (Tsk, tsk, tsk!), how about this: LEDs can last as much as up to 10-15 times as long as other bulb technologies (depending on conditions and bulb type) and they use less energy, which nets more savings in the long run. Now that we have your attention, we should discuss the differences between LEDs and traditional lights and fixtures.
Traditional light bulbs generate light by passing current through a filament, which in turn heats the filament to a temperature resulting in a glowing, visible light. (Halogen lamps work in much the same way, but have a bit of the halogen gas added to cause a chemical reaction with the filament for improved brightness.) Fluorescent bulbs function by passing current through a mercury vapor, which emits ultraviolet light that is absorbed by a phosphor coating inside the bulb. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, aren’t bulbs at all; an LED is actually a dual-lead semiconductor that emits light when current is applied. In layman’s terms, that means LEDs are far more efficient than their dated counterparts.
“Typical halogen lights that are used in the RV industry are either 10 or 20 watts,” said Mike Camarota, president of ITC RV, a company that offers interior lighting products for the RV industry. “In contrast, the LED equivalent lights are 4 or 6 watts. This reduction on energy consumption of 70 percent means less draw on the power circuit of the RV. A fifth-wheel may have 20 lights in a ceiling, which would equate to 400 watts using halogen lighting but is reduced to 120 watts using LED lighting. In dry-camping situations the battery will last longer.” But the benefits of LED technology go beyond power consumption. Ever notice how hot the interior of your trailer gets when all the lights are on? “Lights produce heat,” said Camarota. “The process of converting energy into light involves two byproducts, heat and light. The difference between LED lights and non-LED lights is not that LED lights produce no heat but instead that they use less energy to produce light. In that conversion process, a greater percentage of energy goes into light emission than heat emission.” The additional heat from a non-LED light source can mean extra cooling costs. Costs continue to escalate when you factor in replacement bulbs. And who among us enjoys changing light bulbs every few months (or storing them in your already precious cargo space, for that matter)?
Buyers must also be wary of false claims from bulb manufacturers. “The ‘fake’ part about ratings on incandescents is that the manufacturers have historically rated them in watts, which only tells about power consumption, not light output,” said Jirah owner Tom Long. “[To dispel this], I always use the example of my wife’s blow dryer. It has all kinds of watts, but not much light! That being said, I would estimate the standard 1141 (most common bulb on the planet) at about 225 lumens.”
LED replacements are available in a variety of configurations, from entire fixtures to basic rewire kits to straight swaps. We’ve gathered a number of products to help you go green, and to even save some green in the long run. Although many of these manufacturers also produce LEDs for tow and/or dinghy vehicles — as well as turn, signal and brakelights for the RV — we’re saving these for another time in the interest of space.
When you think RV lighting, your first thoughts are likely the double-pancake type lights found on the majority of RVs. Diamond has you covered with these eco-friendly, energy-saving 12-volt DC LED fixtures. The 36-diode daylight white fixtures are surface-mount and easy to install, with just two wires. They draw a mere .22 amps and produce 350 lumens of light, and a three-way switch provides lighting from either side of the unit, or both. A bezel (sold separately) is also available to use this unit to cover square holes. Camping World price: $52.99. Also available in a single-pancake model: $26.24.
Another easy way to upgrade a trailer’s standard lighting with eco-friendly, energy-saving 12-volt DC fixtures is the LED Light click-light. It features on/off click functionality, with no switch required. Nine diodes combine for an impressive 80-lumen output from a 3-inch light. Camping World price: $24.86.
For replacing wedge-type lighting, Diamond offers a handy six-pack of LEDs for one-stop swapping. Each unit features 15 daylight white diodes capable of a 135-lumen output with a .073-amp draw. They are designed to replace a variety of bulbs recommended for overhead applications. Available at Camping World in a six-pack for $89.99.
A quick swap of LED Replacements for an old traditional bayonet bulb will brighten up an interior in no time. The warm-white, 25-diode units produce 175 lumens with a .13 amp draw. Simple installation with big results. Camping World price: $24.99
For the RVing bookworm, Diamond offers the Replacement LED Directional Reading Bulb. The bulb features a Single High Intensity LED chip for replacing No. 1383 standard bulbs. The warm-white output reaches 110 lumens while remaining cool to the touch. Camping World price: $29.99.
For a bit of eco-friendly retro chic, try a timeless 3-inch LED can light. The downward-facing light features frosted glass and is a great way to draw attention to an intended area. Spring mounting means no visible screws, and the 15 diodes rated for 100 lumens offer just the right amount of accent lighting. Camping World price: $26.7
Diamond Group | 800-456-4498 | www.dg-usa.com
Looking for some versatile overhead lighting that looks great? ITC offers the 3-inch (No. 69231) and 4.5-inch (No. 69240) Radiance Overhead LED lights that offer a pleasing warm white light output. The units are installed using a patented twist lock that holds the glass in place for easy removal and replacement, and no visible screws. The 3-inch model is offered with six or nine LEDs for an output of 110-160 lumens, while the 4.5-incher can be had with 12, 15 or 21 LEDs for respective outputs of 200, 260 and 340 lumens. MSRP: $17-$25.
The Surface-Mount LED Courtesy Light (No. 69360ss) is a scant 5/8-inch deep for clean installation. The trim ring can be cut for a custom look, and in addition to the cool white LEDs, buyers can special-order blue LEDs for an even cooler look. The fixture is watertight, and the unit comes in polished stainless-steel and brushed stainless-steel finishes. MSRP: $18-$20.
The Compass Switched Swivel Undercabinet Light (No. 69410-xx) swivels 360 degrees for unlimited lighting options. The unit features a 50,000-hour estimated life and cool-to-the-touch operation. The LED can be installed using a screw or spring-clip, and it’s available in nickel, chrome, truffle, black or white finishes, with an output of 86 lumens. MSRP: $37-$38.
The LED Exterior Porch Light (No. 69767) is capable of emitting 270 lumens of entry-illuminating, RV-key-finding brilliant light. The surface-mount design is ideal for patio applications, or for use as scare lights. The amber illumination is designed to reduce bug attraction, while an accent reveal allows for up-light functionality. Available in chrome, black or white finishes. MSRP: $37-$38.
For a simple LED swap, the Wedge Base LED Replacement Bulb (No. 69112b) uses a scant 1.5 watts and offers a direct replacement for wedge base types 912 and 921 bulbs. With a 50,000-hour estimated life and an output of 136 lumens, these LEDs should far outlive their three-year warranty. They are also dimmable using a compatible low-voltage LED switch (contact ITC for more details). MSRP: $13-$14.
The Compass Adjustable Reading Light (No. 69923S) offers 86 lumens of direct light sure to illuminate your favorite page-turner. The unit’s flexible arm allows for unlimited light direction, and a 50,000-hour estimated life means the fixture will likely outlive the RV it’s in! The screw-mount installation and attractive transitional styling give the light a classy appearance, and it only uses 2.17 watts while in operation. MSRP: $40-$50.
For a unique LED accent that can also enhance safety, Illumagrip Assist Handles offer a step up that’s available in straight or formed models. Both versions offer 20 inches of leg-up assistance rated at more than 400 pounds, and custom etching is also available. Either handle can be had with brushed or highly polished stainless-steel end caps, each of which features two mounting holes for additional sturdiness. The optional LEDs feature a quick-disconnect pigtail for easy replacement (not that it will be necessary given the life span of the LEDs). MSRP: $80-$160.
ITC RV Division | 574-389-8986 | www.itc-us.com
The Universal bayonet mount 1510-V64-R3 is reported to be brighter, stronger and smaller than most of the items available in today’s RV LED market. Emitting 320 lumens of white light and built on a 15-volt DC platform, this quarter-sized LED upgrade is designed to replace standard bayonet-based bulbs like the Nos. 1141 and 1156. All LEDs feature the latest technologies to provide bright, reliable light output. “All Jirah products that incorporate Surface Mount Diodes (SMD) use the 5050 three-chip technology that gives the most light for the money,” said Jirah owner, Tom Long. “They are non-polarity sensitive to eliminate the problems encountered so often with factory wiring.” All diodes face outward, meaning no light is wasted when mounted in typical ceiling or pancake-style fixtures. Also available in a warmer color (1510-V45-R3) and wedge mounting base (1530-V64-R3: Cool white; 1530-V45-R3: Warm white). MSRP: $19.95.
Puck-light (1240-S45-R3) replacements for the ceiling and under-cabinet puck lights use only one-sixth of the power and give a brighter, cleaner and cooler light than the standard 10-watt bulb. This upgrade slips right into the existing socket, so no removal or modification of the reflector is required. The contact legs are offset from the PC board, making installation as easy as changing a regular bulb. Solder joints are encased in shock-absorbing epoxy to offset the bumps in the road. There is a built-in bridge rectifier that ensures that polarity is correct. Output 275 lumens of warm white. MSRP: $19.95.
If you’re looking to replace old fluorescent tubes, a JC-42-FL LED conversion kit is available. With ratings of 460 lumens per (18-inch) strip, these low-profile strips broadcast 20 percent more light with only a fraction of the power usage. Plus, they allow you to ditch the ballast, and no mercury is required for operation. The low-profile fit ensures the light is projected at a wider angle than most other replacements, giving more light in a larger area. Solder joints are encased in shock-absorbing epoxy. And they are all populated with the 5050 SMD three-chip technology. The kit includes everything needed to make all the connections (tools not included). MSRP: $45/pair.
The flat-top (1230-S45-S3) replaces the 921-style bulbs and fits in the four-glass clamshell vanity fixtures found on higher-end coaches and trailers. The flat side allows all the LEDs to be attractively tucked behind the frosted glass of the clamshell. The replacement is brighter, cooler and lasts longer than the stock bulbs. The LEDs feature the 5050 SMD three-chip design, non-polarity and have a warm white glow. MSRP: $19.95
Jirah | 909-297-1926 | jirahled.com
Experience instant LED light by simply tapping the lens of the UCL60CSNB 3-inch diameter surface mount LED light. This light is ideal for interior under cabinet and slideout applications. The sealed, waterproof unit is available in black nickel or black finishes, and is capable of outputting a brightness of 168 lumens. MSRP: 16.99.
The Opti-Brite ILL36CB is a surface-mount LED interior light. The compact 2.75-by-5.75-inch size allows it to fit many applications, including ceiling mounts. The unit’s durable polycarbonate construction means it should last for many years, while its 3/4-inch thickness yields a surprising 227 lumens. MSRP: $11.99.
Another dome-light option is the Opti-Brite ILL22CB, a surface-mount LED interior light with or without an integrated switch. Its 1-inch thickness and 2.75-by-5.75-inch dimensions make it versatile for use in most vehicles. The unit is hard-wired with 6-inch leads, is waterproof and has an output of 810 lumens. MSRP: $17.99.
The ILL70CSB Strip Lights are low-profile, sealed slimline units designed with interior undercabinet and storage applications in mind. The lights feature a wedge-based mount that projects light at a 45-degree angle, and are hard-wired with lead and ground wires. They are available in a polished-chrome or black housing, with or without a switch and are capable of an output of 171 lumens. MSRP: $49.99.
The LL70CBAWN white LED strip light for surface mounting pumps out 171 lumens of clean light. The strip is ideal for above-entry doors, as a scare light, a hitching light or a docking light. MSRP: $35.99.
The RVILL33 and RVILL34 are traditional interior pancake-style single and dual fixtures with an integrated switch. The single fixture features 11 LEDs (the dual-fixture, 22) that reduce energy requirements and heat output compared to the incandescent and/or halogen bulbs they replace. The single fixture is rated at 407 lumens, while the dual is 815 lumens. MSRP: $6.99/$13.49
The RVILL39 is an Aero Style Interior Light with style. The surface-mount ceiling light features a push-button switch and a replaceable white snap-on bezel, and an 18-gauge 6-inch lead and ground wire. Its oval shape and 230-lumen output make it ideal for many interior applications. MSRP: $20.49.
Optronics |800-364-5483 | www.optronicsinc.com
For RV applications, the popular Brilliant Light series has several options. Among the most popular is the BL 3002, which is an Interior Single fixture with a 150-lumen LED bulb; the BL 3003 is an Interior Double fixture with two 150 lumen LED bulbs ($41.99 approximate retail). They are modular/customizable fixtures that allow the customer to add any or all modules, which include a dimmer dial, night-light, day/night sensor and motion detector. The modules are approximately $10.99 each retail. MSRP: $26.99 (BL 3002), $41.99 (BL 3003).
The water-resistant Revolution LED (No. 1141-200) offers 200 lumens of light ideal for porches or even interiors. Revolution units replace single-contact bayonet-style lights and fit most RV fixtures. The power range is 8-30 volts DC, and just 2.5 watts will run this LED, which Starlights claims will last 100 times longer than a standard bulb. Camping World price: $20.99. Also available in a 250-lumen version ($29.50) for brighter applications.
Enjoy the benefits of a bulb-type fixture with all the advantages of LED lighting with the Revolution Replacement LED Vanity Bulb (No. 2099-270F). The LEDs are placed in a bulb housing to produce 270 lumens of soft, natural light for an RV’s bathroom vanity fixture.
A direct LED replacement for incandescent vanity bulbs, it lasts 200 times longer and is 432 percent more energy efficient, according to the company. Camping World price: $26.99.
Keep the campsite and surrounding area illuminated with the Smart Light 2000 Replacement outside round light. Available in white or black, the 12-volt DC unit features battery and motion-sensor capabilities for added safety and security. It helps to prevent accidental slips, falls and theft by giving owners on-demand light wherever it’s needed. The Smart Light installs easily using the same hole pattern as most standard lights. An amber lens kit for enhanced pest control is included. It can be used with all Starlights Revolution series 1141 LEDs. Camping World price: $83.99. Also available in a more compact 1000 model ($69.99).
For wedge-base applications, Starlights offers the Revolution 921-220 LED replacement bulb. The extremely bright polarity-sensitive unit produces 220 lumens of soft natural light, and lasts 100 times longer than the bulb it replaces, with a noticeably reduced energy consumption of .32 amps. Starlights claims these LEDs have a life expectancy of 60,000 hours. Camping World price: $26.99.
Starlights | 800-883-5444 | www.starlightsinc.com