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Old 06-09-2012, 08:01 PM   #1
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Project: Fluorescent Lighting Upgrade

Project: Fluorescent Lighting Upgrade

Well, I’ve once again managed to get lazy and not make any posts for a while….. Believe it or not, I have roughly 5-6 entries to post still that predate this one which I will hopefully get done this weekend, but we’ll have to see how my writing spirit holds up .

So, anyway, one of my biggest complaints I’ve had in all the time I’ve been camping were the rather dim Wedge-type twin light bulb light fixtures that my camper came with from the previous owner.

While they weren’t bad looking, the light level, like all incandescent bulbs, would brighten and dim based upon the battery voltage and usually required all of them to be turned on to get a half-way decent light level in the camper.

The popular trend these days is to convert to LED fixtures, which isn’t too bad, so long as you have a fixture that can be easily fitted with the LED blubs and have it still remain attractive.

My fixtures, not so much. The lenses on the fixtures are crystal clear plastic, which when I did attempt to scuff one to make it somewhat opaque, cracked.

I do have one fixture that I was able to convert to LED, using a close to true cool white bulb over my kitchen sink, but it was an actual 70s original which an opaque lens masking the blub. I did have to modify the fixture’s base to to accommodate the new nearly twice as long LED bulb (for the same light level as the original incandescent bulb I might add), but that worked out okay.

Had I been able to get a equal or greater level of light or, more simply, a similar Lumen output level, that didn’t look hideous in my existing fixtures, I would have likely gone the full LED route.

So, I decided to take a page from what was the energy efficient choice of a previous technological generation, fluorescent tube lights.

The first light fixture I upgraded was the dimmest of the two, the dual bulb unit over the dinette.

For this one, I ended up picking up a vintage fixture from the 1980s manufactured by the long defunct McLean Electronics.
It uses 18” F15 fluorescent blubs, which can be had at any Home Depot, Lowes, Maynards, Wal-Mart, etc…

I obtained the vintage pair (Sans one lens cover, the seller dropped it by accident) for $5, one to use and one for spare parts.
I ended up disconnecting the original plastic switch and installing a newer flip switch on the end near the door where I’d normally be turning it on first when I came in.

The new Fluorescent fixture consumes around 1.5 amps when running to generate 1650 lumens of light, not too shabby.


A couple months later, or more specifically, this past week, I upgraded the dual bulb fixture that was in the kitchen area from the dim twin bulb incandescent to a Circline fashion round fluorescent fixture from Thin-Lite.

I chose to go with a Circline, or more simply round, fixture for the kitchen because the standard straight tube type suffer from the moderate draw-back of that the ends where the blub pins connect is darker than the primary output sides.

Since the fixture would have had to have been matched to the direction of the original fixture to cover the holes in the ceiling and the lack of finish paint (last owner), the darker sides of the light would have been facing the areas where I wanted to boost the light levels, the sink and the stove.

Now, Thin-Lite offers two sizes (and a variety of styles of the smaller size) of circline fluorescent fixture. The 109 series is the smaller, using a 9” diameter fluorescent light, and more common, but only puts out a max of 1100 lumens of light.

The 110 Series only comes in one style, which is less retro and a bit of attractive, but also larger, using a 12” diameter fluorescent light, with a light output of 1825 lumens (More if ya upgrade the bulb, which can easily be found in 2000+ lumen output units, which would be far too bright for an RV).

I ended up going with the more expensive, larger 110 Series unit because I wanted to remain at equal or a little brighter for the kitchen as it’s the area that I do the most work in and need the greatest amount of light.

Above you can see the new fixture in place and turned off. Unlike the vintage unit, which still employs an old-fashioned transformer ballast and has a couple second warm up, the new Thin-Lite employs a modern electronic ballast which allows the light to come on and off as fast as an incandescent blub to full output.

Here’s the kitchen again, with the new light turned on:

And here with the camera on the phone dimmed a little so you can make out the pattern of the diffuser:

While my power consumption hasn’t been really improved that drastically (roughly 6amps when both of the original fixtures were on to 3.8 amps), given that most of the LED converts calculate their savings of going into the less than 1 amp range per bulb, my amps to light output ratio has been noticeably improved, having gone from roughly 1800 lumens total between the two original fixtures, to 3475 lumens with the new fluorescents.

Now, to answer the big question that’s likely on the tips of a number of reader’s tongues, “Why do you need so much light?” The answer is my camper is very dim on the inside, especially during the winter when the windows are blocked off with insulation.
Now, add in the large amounts of dark colored wood making up the majority of the interior, which tends to absorb light energy vs reflecting it back, and that I don’t have the greatest vision in low light levels, and you’ll realize exactly why I wanted more light for equal or less power.

While I could have probably done this with LEDs, I came to the conclusion after crunching a few numbers that I would have had to double the number of light fixtures in my rig using some of the better LED Blubs to get a similar light level.
Well, what about rope LEDS? I looked into those too, they are promising, but I would have needed to have run a rope of them around the entire perimeter of the ceiling, in addition to adding extra into the fixtures to reach a light level I was aiming for.
Given that I’m personally not aesthetically attracted to the look of rope LED lights, that would have shot down the running of a border of LEDs along the ceiling.

In the end, I would have either ended up spending at least as much for new fixtures and quality LED bulbs (I consider anything direct ordered from Alibaba of China, a popular resource for LED converts, to of questionable durability) as I ended up simply replacing two of the existing fixtures ($85 total) both of which were manufactured in the US.

So, to close, I’ve finally reached a comfortable light level in my camper again, and have done away with the age old brighter/dimmer game with the battery voltage levels for a nice constant level of light, or in short, I’m very happy with the end result .
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Old 06-09-2012, 08:26 PM   #2
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Looks good Redneck. Good light can make a big difference.
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Old 06-09-2012, 08:36 PM   #3
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I've found the minor draw back is I can see things better and realize that I've been slacking a bit in my cleaning .
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Old 06-10-2012, 11:14 AM   #4
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There is an even better solution than the fluorescents - use the led fluorescent replacement bulbs from rvledbulbs.com. These are tubes that look just like F15T8 or F8T5 fluorescents but use almost no current and produce a lot of light. I have replaced all my fluorescents with these and am very please. A single 800 lumen F15T8 led tube is bright enough to replace two fluorescent tubes in my Thinlight fixtures while the F8T5 led tubes were replaced on a one-for-one basis.


Revolution Fluorescent LED Replacement Bulbs
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Old 06-10-2012, 01:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary RVRoamer
There is an even better solution than the fluorescents - use the led fluorescent replacement bulbs from rvledbulbs.com. These are tubes that look just like F15T8 or F8T5 fluorescents but use almost no current and produce a lot of light. I have replaced all my fluorescents with these and am very please. A single 800 lumen F15T8 led tube is bright enough to replace two fluorescent tubes in my Thinlight fixtures while the F8T5 led tubes were replaced on a one-for-one basis.

Revolution Fluorescent LED Replacement Bulbs
I actually looked into those as well, but like all LEDs appear to be rather directional.

All LED options were considered but decided to hold off until they can make a omnidirectional led and produce them state side. I can still get fluorescent tubes that are not made in China, but I haven't come across a reasonably priced led bulb yet that is made in the us or one of our allies.
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Old 06-10-2012, 05:26 PM   #6
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Whatever rows your boat...
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Old 06-11-2012, 06:04 AM   #7
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When replacing fluorescent lamps with LED's, are the ballasts disconnected and the LED's powered with 12VDC directly?
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Old 06-11-2012, 06:33 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GWinger
When replacing fluorescent lamps with LED's, are the ballasts disconnected and the LED's powered with 12VDC directly?
GWinger
Yes.

I did my 7 fluorescent fixtures and gutted everything except the switch. Then I used LED strip lights rather than "bulbs". The whole project was $50.
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Old 06-11-2012, 06:39 AM   #9
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Looks great. Thanks for sharing your project with us. This type of information is always helpful.
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Old 06-11-2012, 08:58 AM   #10
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I snipped the wires but left the ballasts in the fixture just in case I ever want to go back to fluorescent (doubtful, but who knows?). Didn't cost me anything to leave them. But you probably can't do that if installing the led strips - the ballast will likely be in the way of mounting the strips.
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Old 06-11-2012, 12:43 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary RVRoamer View Post
I snipped the wires but left the ballasts in the fixture just in case I ever want to go back to fluorescent (doubtful, but who knows?). Didn't cost me anything to leave them. But you probably can't do that if installing the led strips - the ballast will likely be in the way of mounting the strips.
Depends on the size of the fixture. With the twin tube unit I have over the dinette, there's not extra space in there for anything, it was a very compact model.

Another unit I have in my parts box that came off of an 86 Lazy Daze has a much larger and more robust housing which would easily facilitate sticking the LED strips along the inside beveled edges.
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Old 06-12-2012, 05:15 AM   #12
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Yes.

I did my 7 fluorescent fixtures and gutted everything except the switch. Then I used LED strip lights rather than "bulbs". The whole project was $50.
John,
Can you give us more details? Did you find the strip lights at Thin Light and what's the wattage of the strips you used?
Any problems with the lighting being 'directional'?
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Old 06-12-2012, 08:32 AM   #13
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Quote:
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John,
Can you give us more details? Did you find the strip lights at Thin Light and what's the wattage of the strips you used?
Any problems with the lighting being 'directional'?
GWinger
I don't remember where I bought them, but these are them:

Amazon.com: Flexible Light Strip 300 SMD White LED Ribbon 5 Meter or 16 Feet By Ledwholesalers, 2026wh: Home Improvement

My fixtures are approx 5" x 18" and contained 2 florescent tubes. Between the tubes, under a reflector/cover are the ballast. I removed the cover and the ballast clipping off all the extra wire to use later. Now with every thing removed except the switch, I cut the strips so as many LEDs would fit where the tubes were. I think this worked out to be 21. There is no need to remove the ballast or the old tube holders/connection.

These strips have a cutting line every 3 LEDs which you must use. This terminates the strip section so you only need to wire one end. These strips are self adhesive and just stick to the fixture. On my first one I just put one strip on each side as a test. This proved to be not quite as bright as the original florescents, but we were very pleased and thought the originals were too bright anyway. My fixtures were wide enough that I could have put 2 full strips on each side if needed. What's nice about these strips are you can put as many or at little as you want to get the desired light.

Once the strips were in place, I used a very small soldering gun as these things are pretty small. At the end of each strip on either side is the + connection and the - connection. Since I had 2 strips, I just soldered 2 wires from the + and - side of the switch to both strips. You could also just wire the switch to one strip and solder 2 jumper wires from the other end to the other strip. I found I had more room on the switch end. Once done, I just replaced the ballast cover.

I found using all the old wire to be a PITA because it was 14 or 16 gauge, very stiff as well as way too large. I highly recommend using a much lighter wire!

As far as directional, my lenses were opaque and defused the light anyway. The only way you can tell these are LEDs, is you can detect the string of individual lights rather than 2 tubes of light. Certainly not offensive and after a day, we don't even notice it.

I also replaced all the incandescent bulbs with LED as well as the 2 CRT TVs with LED TVs. Last winter in Fl, I performed a test at the CG. Having only 2 6v T-105s and fully charged, I pulled the plug on the charger. We both took showers everyday, ran the Fantastic fan most of the day, watched TV probably 5 hours a day and basically did everything we would normally do. It took almost 3 days before the batteries got down to 12v. With the 12v LED TVs, we have no inverter and no need for one.
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Old 06-12-2012, 08:55 AM   #14
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As everyone probably knows by now I am a huge fan of LED lighting. That being said I liked the "harsh" light from the fluorescents for cleaning and working when I had shore power.

I wrote an article a while back outlining the process I used to convert all my fluorescent fixtures to dual use. I can have fluorescent or LED or both (or neither!) here it is:

WanderMan: Convert Fluorescent Lights To LED Dual Use

This way you get the best of both worlds. The cost was way reasonable! under 40 dollars for everyting including the switches and the strips. The output is roughly equivalent to the fluorescents thay replace/augment

Rich "The Wanderman"
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