If you do a lot of boondocking (no hookups while camping), then you know battery life is one of the most important things you must plan for, especially if you have a small battery bank. One great way to save a lot of power is to convert your existing incandescent lighting to LED lighting. LED stands for light emitting diode and provides light in a very different way than incandescent or fluorescent lighting sources. The biggest benefit for a boondocker is that LEDs require very little power to operate, so you won’t have to be so conscious of switching off lights when you don’t need them.
Just how much power can you save by going LED? In a typical travel trailer of say 27 feet with a super slide and a couple of bunk beds, you may have upwards of 20+ 12 watt incandescent bulbs. If you were to have all of these on at one time, you would be drawing around 20 amps of DC power. In a few hours, your single group 24 12-volt battery would be near dead. Even if you had two batteries, you wouldn’t have much left to finish out a 2-day weekend without a battery recharge.
Now if you were to replace every interior incandescent bulb in this fictitious travel trailer with a 24 LED array warm color lamp, each drawing 190 mA, the total power consumption drops to 3.8 amps, over 5 times less power consumption. You wouldn’t likely replace every incandescent bulb with a 24 LED array lamp but you could and if you did, you would be using 5 times less power, even if you had every light switched on.
There are several different routes you can take when doing the LED lighting mod: individual lights, such as a night or reading light, all or some interior lights, interior and exterior, storage compartments, etc. Much will depend on you budget and coolness factor you are trying to achieve. Replacing every incandescent bulb may just break your piggy bank, but doing a few can still help save some battery power.
Using a single LED for a night light, like in the bathroom, can be a real life saver. Well, it may not save your life but if you have to get up at 2am to go, you won’t be blinded by the light and you should be able to go right back to sleep. A single LED connected through a SPST toggle switch mounted on the bathroom light fixture can provide just enough light to do your business.
Perhaps you just want to change a few lights out, like the lights over your bed, that are generally too bright to read by. There are direct replacement LED lamps that require no modification to the lighting fixture, other than swapping bulbs. For this type of LED lamp, use the “warm white” type. The cool white LEDs provide a bluish tint to the light color and may not appeal to your reading tastes. The warm white LEDs provide a yellowish light color very similar to that of a normal incandescent bulb.
If you plan on replacing the main lights inside the RV and have the type of fixtures that contain two bulbs with a switch in the middle, you can replace just one of the bulbs to reduce cost. This way you not only save money, but you also can still provide more light when you need it by switching on the second bulb. For this case, you should consider LEDs that have a wide beam angle, at least 120 degrees. This is the angle at which light is projected from the lamp. The wider the better if you’re trying to light up a large area. These lamps are typically configured in a flat package with many LEDs, as many as 36 in some cases. They simply affix to the fixture with Velcro and plug in just like a standard bulb.
Another cool LED mod is to fit a LED rope light under your RVs countertop. Many upscale RVs have this feature as a standard option but there is no reason you can’t have this classy look either. First, have someone help you test fit the rope for length, ensuring you have enough for the whole countertop. Then get some double-sided tape and stick it to the cabinet or under the countertop where you want the rope to run. If you have any left over rope, drill a hole the size of the rope’s diameter and run the excess through the hole. Just stick the rope to the tape and press firmly. You can also add a switch to control the rope power as well.
A step light is also another easy LED mod that consumes very little power. If you forget to turn it off, you don’t have to worry since it can be on for days and still be easy on your battery. You can use a courtesy light or an amber side marker light. These mount with a couple of screws to the underside of the stairwell. Power can be run to an inconspicuous switch inside. Some even have light sensors so they can automatically turn on when it gets dark and turn off in the morning.
Outside compartments are also a great candidate for LED lights. These can be powered through a pin switch so that when you open the compartment door, the light turns on, and then off when you close the door. The color of the LED light is not so important as is the placement of the light. Compartments are usually rectangular in shape, so try and place the LEDs near the corners of the compartment. This way, you will get the most light to all parts of the storage area.
Finally, upgrading your RVs exterior lighting can make for a very clean look as well as improve safety going to the road. LED porch, marker, clearance, backup, turn, and running lights are all candidates for LED replacement. Fortunately for you, many companies, like Bargman for example, now make direct replacement fixtures that include everything you need to perform the upgrade. Just be sure to budget enough since total exterior lighting replacement can run in to the hundreds of dollars.
Tip: LED brake/tail lamps may not work with some older thermal flasher units found on some vehicles. An LED brake/tail lamp will require an electronic flasher/blinker unit which is commonly available at your local auto parts store. Just ask for the electronic equivalent of your thermal flasher.