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Old 10-05-2013, 07:23 PM   #1
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My experience with LEDs (warning: long, but lots of info & pics)

I dry camp a lot, so the LED threads have kept my interest for some time. My Class C has a very open layout, which means lots of space to illuminate, and unfortunately that means lots of lights/fixtures. My interior lighting consisted of 7 double bulb fixtures and 4 single bulb fixtures, all using #1141 BA15s bulbs (measured current: 1.41A @ 12.6VDC) and having opaque lenses. Of course there are also a few additional bulbs; porch light & step light, stove hood light, wall sconce, etc. With that much space and that many bulbs, it’s easy to get the imaginary meter spinning, yet I was never really happy with the illumination provided. So my goal was not just LESS current, but MORE light as well. That seemed to be a tall order. But with the prices on LEDs decreasing and the variety and styles increasing, now was the time to try.

Now, personally, I dislike the yellowish “warm white” that many seem to prefer (both in LEDs and incandescents). Especially with an older MH like mine, they just seem dim and dingy to me. But I similarly dislike the cold bluish tint of the “cool white” LEDs. What I was looking for was something in the middle, something that mimics the daylight sun, with true color rendering, and lots of it. I learned that what I was looking for is about the 5000K–6000K temperature range; any higher starts to look blue, lower starts looking yellow. This “middle of the road” color is sometimes referred to as “pure white” or “bright white”, and as a plus it actually “looks” brighter than either the warm or cool colors. But you have to be careful; unless the actual color temp (in Kelvin (K)) is listed by the distributor, you can’t be sure what actual color you’re getting.

I started with outdoor lighting. I was using a 120VAC rope light hanging from hooks on the awning roller, but it was really more of yellowish “accent” lighting than anything else, and of course could only be used with the genset or hookups. There was also the hassle of putting it up and taking it down every trip. Surely today’s LED technology would allow me to do better. So I purchased a 5 meter (16.4’) LED strip light, containing 300 LEDs. These strips are 12VDC, thin, flexible, waterproof (the one I bought is inside a robust rectangular silicone tube), and can be cut to length (more on that later). The full 5 meter length was perfect for my application; it is glued (silicone) to the awning roller and rolls up inside. No hanging or installation/removal necessary; once the awning is unrolled, I simply plug it in, and my entire campsite area under the awning is brightly illuminated. Measured current: just 0.91A @ 12.6VDC. It was such an unqualified success, that I decided to jump in with both feet for my interior lighting. I read everything I could on these and other forums and websites, and then I bought a few of these, a few of those, tried them here, tried them there...and here’s what I ended up with:

-All ceiling fixtures in the main living area as well as the bathroom, entry, and closet got the (flat) panel style LEDs in the 48-5050 configuration (I first tried the 48-3528 panels, but wasn’t satisfied with the light output). The 48-5050s put out a similar amount of light to the 1141 bulbs they replaced, at only 1/4 the current drain. Measured current: 0.37A @ 12.6VDC (74% less than the 1141 incandescent).
-In the overhead bunk, I used the 48-3528 panels (first ones purchased, originally intended for the living area. While they were deemed insufficient for that larger area, they work fine for the smaller bunk area). Measured current: 0.21A (86% savings).
-For the 4 under-cabinet double-bulb fixtures (couch, chairs, dinette, kitchen), I chose a different route entirely. Here, I purchased another (5 meter) LED strip light, this time with 600 high output LEDs. I cut it into 4 sections of just over 4’ each, and attached them under the front edge of the cabinets with silicone, installing a rocker switch for each and removing the double-bulb fixtures in those 4 locations entirely. IMO, this is what makes the whole setup work so well. The light output is nothing short of amazing, yet the measured current of each 4’ section is just 0.78A (72% savings over the 2-bulb fixture each replaces).
-Porch light: First I tried a 36-5050 panel in the porch light, but its “eye-level” location (porch light/grab handle combo) blinded you as you approached the door! So instead I went with a 13-5050 “bulb style” replacement. It’s still quite bright when approaching, but bearable, and still produces a usable amount of light. Measured current: 0.28A (45% savings over the #89 bulb it replaced).
-The interior step light (tied into the porch light circuit) got a small green 5-5050 bulb style. Measured current: 0.05A (55% savings over the small #53 incandescent it replaced).
-I used the 36-5050 panel (remember the porch light?) to replace the 2 wedge type bulbs (0.91A ea.) in the stove hood. Not quite as much light through the double-layer opaque lens, but still sufficient. Measured current: 0.2A (89% savings).
-Finally, although it doesn't run off the house batteries, I replaced my #57 incandescent dome light in the cab with a white 5-5050 bulb style. Measured current: 0.05A (79% savings).

Overall current savings? IF EVERY LIGHT in my RV were now used all at once; the ceiling, under cabinets, o/h bunk, bathroom, entry, closet, stove hood, porch/step lights… the current is equivalent to just 5 of the original 1141 bulbs (2 ˝ fixtures)! And the illumination would literally drive you from the RV and/or blind you! More light AND less current? Mission accomplished on both counts.

A more typical evening use, inside & out, would look something like this:
Old incandescents: Couch fixture, dinette fixture, 1 ceiling fixture, porch light = 9 Amps.
New LEDs: Couch strip, dinette strip, 1 ceiling fixture, awning strip = 3 Amps, with significantly more illumination, especially outside (using the porch light instead of the awning light would drop the current even more, to about 2.5 Amps).
And what did I spend? Using Amazon and eBay, the 300 LED strip for the awning was $22, the panels (48-3528, 48-5050, 36-5050, 12-5050) were all about $4 - $5 each, the 13-5050 and 5-5050 bulb styles were about $2 each, and the 600 LED strip was $33 (all prices include shipping). Add in 4 small rocker switches @ $2.50 each for the under cabinet strips, and the grand total was about $125.



A few final notes:

-LED replacement bulbs/panels are typically called out using 2 numbers; the first is the # of SMDs (Surface Mount Diodes), the second is the SMD size. Examples; a 48-3528 contains 48 SMDs, each one measuring 3.5mm x 2.8mm. A 13-5050 contains 13 SMDs, each one 5.0mm x 5.0mm.
-3528 SMDs each contain a single LED, while 5050 SMDs each contain 3 LEDs. Therefore, the 5050 SMD is brighter (though not 3x brighter) than the 3528, but also consumes more current.
-Layout; the bulb style layout emits light all around (360 degrees), while the flat panel type directs all the output in one general direction (usually about 90-120 degrees).
-Bulb style LEDs are available in various base types, and the flat panel LEDs typically come with several base adapters, so make sure you know what type of base/socket you will be needing before ordering; wedge, festoon, BA9s, BA15s, BA15d…
-Your existing fixtures will also have an impact. Those with clear lenses seem to work better with LEDs, while the more opaque lenses tend to diffuse the LED output quite a bit.
-The 3M tape on the flat panels did not work in my fixtures since the interior surface in concave. A small dab of silicone at each of two corners did the trick for mounting.
-Regarding color temps; a typical incandescent is about 3000K-3500K (Kelvin), is considered “Warm White” and actually appears "yellow" compared to higher temps. "Cool White" has a bluish hue to it and is typically 6500K and up. 5000K-6000K is neither yellow nor blue, instead closely matching midday sunlight and giving the truest color rendering. It is also a bit brighter than either warm or cool, although it draws just a bit more current as well. It also seems to be the hardest to find.
-Take any "listed color temp" with a grain of salt until you have actually purchased and tried the unit. I wouldn't bet a large sum on the accuracy of any listed numbers, particularly from overseas vendors.
-Amazon & eBay; most LEDs can be found with free shipping. While some will come from US distributors, others are from overseas (China, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.). Expect 2-4 weeks shipping time for the overseas orders.
-I suggest, as others have, ordering 1 or 2 each of several styles to try out first. Once you find what you like, order enough to do your whole RV, along with a couple of spares.









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Old 10-05-2013, 07:41 PM   #2
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Interesting.

Thanks for the information.
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Old 10-05-2013, 07:45 PM   #3
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Very informative and well done documentary. And way less heat so easier to cool in hot weather. Amp = heat. Less amps, less heat.
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Old 10-05-2013, 08:02 PM   #4
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Thank you for sharing your research and results.
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Old 10-06-2013, 01:25 PM   #5
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this will save you about $10 a year. so a little over 12 years to break even.
whats the point?
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Old 10-06-2013, 01:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dros_d View Post
this will save you about $10 a year. so a little over 12 years to break even.
whats the point?
It's a recreational vehicle, it's for recreation, it's fun. It's about spending money.
It's about reducing heat, increasing battery life, and accepting the challenge.
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Old 10-06-2013, 02:40 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dros_d View Post
this will save you about $10 a year. so a little over 12 years to break even.
whats the point?
Not sure exactly how you calculated $10 a year. I'm not sure it even matters.

Part of it is that the OP (and I) don't particularly like the color spectrum of most standard RV lighting. The OP provided some good background on how he came to select LED lights.

For some boondockers LED lighting is important in managing power usage. Lower power usage means less generator time and/or a more modest solar panel array.

So, I guess what matters it that the OP shared some interesting info that may be of use to others looking for ways to reduce power usage to remain on batteries longer.
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Old 10-06-2013, 02:53 PM   #8
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Very interesting post OP. Thanks for sharing!

It's only when you start to spend a lot of time boondocking that you become aware of amps and learn about power efficiency... :-)
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Old 10-06-2013, 02:55 PM   #9
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A couple thoughts for the OP...

1. Do the LEDs you use have any circuits to control current? I recently bought some LED tubes to replace my fluorescent ones. I've read 2 thoughts on this. The first one is that controlling current is more important than voltage to improve the lifespan and light quality from LEDs.

2. I would think that the information you provided would be especially helpful to smaller RVs with less battery capacity. The normal lighting needs of smaller units with less capable battery reserves would seem to use a higher percentage of their battery reserves compared to larger units with more/larger batteries.
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Old 10-06-2013, 11:43 PM   #10
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6 amp at 12 volts is 72 watts, if you had them all on, which is unlikely.
say half that nightly is maybe 40 watts for maybe 4-6 hrs is 200 watts used.
typical batteries have 1000 watts avail. your battery drain from the lights is relatively
insignificant. TV and furnace are the battery killers.
I boon dock all the time. its why I know what pays and what does not.
I´m not saying new tech isnt fun, just dont think your doing your wallet (or the planet)
any favors. you´re not.
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Old 10-07-2013, 02:19 AM   #11
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dros d,

You don't appear to like LED lights do you?

You shouldn't assume everyone can live in their RV with only a couple of lightbulbs burning!

1000watts as you put it (or 100Ah) isn't great if you plan to spend a few days in the same location without shore power or generator. You seem to be very economical with your light usage and well done to you. "40 watts for 4-6 hours"... That's what, just two 20 watt incandescent light bulbs for 4-6 hrs...?

My family still haven't figured out the whole battery thing and I'm constantly turning off lights to save battery. We don't have a huge camper and we only have one 95Ah leisure battery so we need to be very economical with our usage. That's why LED's are a huge benefit to me...

For our particular situation, we have 17 light fixtures in our camper. 15 inside and 2 outside (porch light and grab handle). 16 of those are 25w incandescent bulbs and one 5w incandescent outside in the grab handle. that's an overall potential draw of 405watts (33 amps) if EVERYTHING was switched on.
But you are right, only half of those would usually be switched on. At that rate we'd be using around 17 amps or 200w per hour typically. In less than 5 hrs my 95Ah leisure battery would be completely dead, and that's only with using half of our 12v onboard lights. (Running a battery down to dead isn't good for the battery either BTW )

I've recently changed all of our incandescent lamps over to LED and it simply gives me huge peace of mind.
With LEDs fitted, if we continue to use half of our lights in the existing manner, we will now only consume 25w/hr total for 8 fixtures (2amps). That gives us <40 hours worth of battery capacity if using half of our lights. That's a couple of days between charges in real terms. A lot better than just <5hrs when using the old incandescent bulbs...

The next step for us is solar power. We now have a 4ft x 2ft 130w solar panel & controller but I haven't connected those up yet...

Our 3w LED panels are every bit as bright if not brighter than the incandescent bulbs. The gains of this is that we don't need to have as many lamps switched on.

I'm one of the folks who insist on warm white LED's. I prefer the warm cosy feeling of the warm white LED's. I'm sure if I compromised and went with pure or ice white LED's I'd gain by having even more lumens to play with and an even brighter cabin, but I like the cosy feel in our camper, so I'm exactly where I want to be in terms of lighting.
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Old 10-07-2013, 03:05 AM   #12
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A Simple Way To Go LED

Since I am electronically challenged when it comes to LED's, I went for a 1-to-1 replacement of bulbs in existing light fixtures in my 2014 Wilderness 2175 RB.
Unplug the old incandesent (hot) 921 bulb and insert new LED bulb.








12 bulbs replaced. Total cost about $110.
Much cooler. Doesn't melt the plastic light fixtures.
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Old 10-07-2013, 03:48 AM   #13
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Pics?

OK,

My first attempt at LED's wasn't very inspiring (bulb on left of this photo). I first went with 2 watt 1156 bulb replacement LED's and I wasn't impressed with the light output or colour temperature from them. A friend recommended the 3 watt flat LED panels, and after fitting them, I couldn't be happier!







Flat LED panels - Warm white -

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Old 10-07-2013, 04:20 AM   #14
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Our teardrop was built for us and I supplied the marine LED light fixtures that went into it. I had adapted the conventional RV lights in our first tear to use LED arrays in a manner similar to Blag. My wife was not happy with the cold 5500K color temperature so I made sure all of the arrays were warm 3200K color temp. There are 13 LED light fixtures and all of our power is from a 185W solar panel. I have only had one amber (bug light) array in the 'porch light' fail. I am in the process of switching to LED Lights in our house and we live in an area with lightening and power surges so I have a whole house surge protector at the main panel, this saved us from a major surge that fried neighbors electronics. This experience inspired me to install a Progressive Industries EMS. The Morningstar solar controller and Progressive Dynamics converter are reliable in their voltage output.
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