How To Change RV Lights To LEDs


Updating your interior RV lights to LED from standard incandescent or fluorescents is an easy way to cut back on your battery power usage while increasing the brightness of your interior. There are a number of easy options to get the benefits of LED lighting on any budget.

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How do you change RV lights to LED? You can purchase LED replacement bulbs for your existing light fixtures, or you can purchase new LED fixtures to replace your existing fixtures or you can retrofit your existing fixtures with LED strips.  

Each option has its advantages and will drastically improve both the quality of lighting in your RV living space and the energy efficiency of your rig. Let’s take a look at the advantages of converting to LED lighting and the best ways to do it including a video of my custom fluorescent to LED conversion for under $10.

Advantages Of Changing Your RV Lighting to LEDs

There are a number of advantages to converting your RV lighting system to LEDs from conventional incandescent and fluorescents.

Lower Energy Usage

One of the best reasons to do so is because LEDs typically use much less battery power than most other RV lighting options extending the amount of time you can run your lights without firing up your generator.

To compare the power usage of LEDs to your existing bulbs you can use the watt rating usually marked on the bulb. In most cases, the wattage rating of LED replacement bulbs will be half or less than older bulbs.

Lifespan

Another great reason to use LED bulbs is that they last a lot longer than traditional bulbs. Where older styles of light bulbs will last a few hundred hours LED can last thousands of hours because they are solid state rather than having gasses or filaments that age over time.

Light bulbs always die in the dark so avoiding the likelihood of your lights burning out while your camping off grid is a big advantage.

No Broken Glass

Unlike traditional methods of lighting LED bulbs are not made of glass that can break and damage your RV or cause injury to friends, family, and pets. It is also getting more and more difficult to dispose of glass in an environmentally friendly way and usually old bulbs get tossed in the bin and end up in landfills for eternity.

Replacing Your Existing Light Bulbs With LED Bulbs

The easiest LED conversion is to simply replace your existing light bulbs with LED bulbs of the same size. These days there are replacement bulbs for every one of the hundreds of different bulb styles and the technological advancements of LEDs gives us the option to go brighter and whiter or keep the same warmth of conventional bulbs.

LED light bulbs come in different intensities ranging from a single LED to 10 or more LEDs grouped together in a single bulb. More LEDs on a single bulb will typically correlate to more power being used by the bulb and depending on the placement of the fixture brighter isn’t always brighter. Having LED bulbs that are too bright in your lounging area can be overbearing at night so consider the fixture location when choosing the bulb brightness.

RV lights are typically small fixtures and use very small styles of bulbs compares to fixtures you’ll find in a house or workplace. For this reason, it’s important to note the physical size of the LED bulbs you choose because there may not be enough room to fit the physical size of replacement bulbs under the light covers even if they fit the receptacles.

The cost of using replacement bulbs falls somewhere between LED strip conversions and all-out fixture replacement. The cost will vary depending on the style of bulb your fixtures require and also where you purchase them. I’ve personally found that buying bulbs on amazon costs half the price of buying them at RV or hardware stores. Our Recommended Products page lists the bulbs we needed for our RV which are a very common size for RV applications.

Besides the standard round bulb shapes LED replacement bulbs are also available for fluorescent tube style lighting and though they have electronics inside many styles of LED bulbs are also dimmable.

Replacing Old RV Light Fixtures With LED Light Fixtures

There are a few good reasons to replace your RV’s old light fixtures with new ones regardless if LED bulbs are available in the styles you need or not.

Older lighting fixtures are often eyesores making it more appealing to just change out the entire fixture. In other situations, the fixtures may come as an entire assembly making it impossible to change the bulb even if you wanted to.

There’s also the situation where your light fixtures may operate on AC voltage requiring you to use an inverter to power them wasting extra energy unnecessarily. In this case, it may require some minor wiring changes to convert your lights to DC voltage so be very careful when you undertake this task or hire a professional if you aren’t comfortable.

It can be difficult to find new fixtures with the same footprint as your old ones so be prepared to do some paint touch ups or get creative with decorative mouldings. Inexpensive wood trim or caulking can be a cheap and easy way to fill small or medium sized gaps around fixtures.

We found a great selection of 12V RV lighting options on Amazon. We purchased the dome light below to replace our brass eyesores.

Dream Lighting LED Cabin Lighting Fixture - 4.5" RV Dome Light with Switch
  • This light embraces the concept of simplicity and low burden.
  • Ultra bright LED chips inbuilt on the aluminum board emit even and soft lighting distribution through the opaque lens.
  • Aluminum body allows for efficient heat sink.

Light fixtures installed under cabinets and in closets are rarely seen and therefore it is less important to match the sizing or worry about the style.

We replaced our old countertop light fixture located under the kitchen cabinets with a waterproof LED light strip along the entire counter length which gave us better lighting but is never seen. The LED strip came as a roll so we could cut it to the length required and it already had an adhesive backing to it which made installation super quick and easy.

32.8ft LED Strip Lights, HitLights RGB Ultra Brighter Color Changing Led Tape Lights 5050 300 LEDs...
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  • Safe and Efficient: After HitLights test, We promise the service life of these LED light bars exceeds 30,000 hours. This means a 3-year with...

Retrofitting RV Lights With LED Strips

RV light strips provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to the amount of lighting for cost. You can buy 16ft rolls of LED lights for under $10 which can be cut to the length you need.

LED strip lighting is best used for applications that have a length of 6 inches or more, but the longer the better. In our RV the ceiling lighting was made up of multiple 12″ fluorescent fixtures making LED strips a perfect solution.

We decided to retrofit our original ceiling fixtures for two main reasons. The first reason was that there were already holes cut into the ceiling to fit the size of the light fixtures so it was easier to reuse them.

The second reason was to save the cost of buying new fixtures and put that money toward other RV projects. The old fixtures were in good condition but the plastic had yellowed over the years. We applied a few thin coats of white spray paint to the plastic sections of the fixture housings and it made them look new again saving us a bundle of money.

LED strips have the electronic components built-in to them so all that is needed to operate them is some wiring and a switch. With our fluorescent fixtures we were able to remove the ballast and bulb sockets giving us a wide open space to clean up and apply our LED strips.

LED Strip Brightness and Power Use

Because LED strip lighting is categorized in lumens per foot the length of the strips and the total number of strips you install in the fixture will determine the final brightness of the retrofitted light fixture. I decided to cut my 72 lumens/ft roll into 12″ strips and use 4 strips per fixture. That gave me 4 ft x 72 = 288 lumens in each fixture.

My roll of LED lights was also rated at 1.3 watts per foot giving me a total of 4 ft x 1.3 = 5.2 watts per fixture which was 70% lower than the old fluorescent bulbs! It also extends the length of time I can run my lights on the battery before needing to charge it.

HitLights LED Strip Lights Warm White SMD 300LED 16.4FT 3528 LED Light Strip 3000K 12V DC Tape...
  • SIMPLE AND EASY TO USE low voltage LED light strips for commercial and residential use - in living rooms shelving lighted cabinets toe-kicks...
  • CUTTABLE AND CONNECTABLE - Compatible with our HitLights 8mm connector extensions and accessories. Simple connect - cut with a pair of...
  • DIMMABLE and FLEXIBLE these LED strips are great for a variety of indoor / interior uses including undercabinet lighting in kitchens ambient...

LED Strip Installation

As long as you thoroughly clean the old fixture before applying the new LED strips you should have no issues with them adhering. Simply peel off the waxed paper from the adhesive on the back of the strips and apply pressure to the tape with your fingers. try to avoid pressing too hard on the LEDs and components on the strips and focus mostly on the tape itself.

Check The Polarity

LED strip tape is labeled with a + and – side. It is important to be aware of the markings when you are making your connections or your lights will not work correctly. LEDs are “Light Emitting Diodes” and diodes only work in one direction of polarity. The + side will connect to your battery wire and the – will connect to the ground wire.

Making Connections

You have two options for connecting your LED strip lengths in your light fixture. One is using ready made press fit connectors that are easy to use but do take up extra room. The other is to solder wire between the terminals but this does take a basic knowledge of soldering.

If you are using press fit connectors to make the connections between your strips either install them before you stick down your strips or leave the ends of your strips unstuck so you can make the connections later.

I used solder and small pieces of wire to connect my strips together inside my 12″ fixture because I was limited in space and I had the tools to do so. I used the press fit connectors in my larger 24″ fixture where space wasn’t an issue.

You will need two wires between each length of LED light strip and two more that connect to the start of your first strip where you will connect the incoming power from your 12 volt supply, usually your RV house batteries.

Before you connect your fixture to the RV or battery wiring be sure the power is turned off to prevent the chance of getting a shock or causing damage to anything. Connect the wire from the – side of your LED strips to the ground wire of your electrical supply wire.

If your fixture has it’s own on/off switch connect one terminal of the switch to the + wire from your LED strips and connect the + 12V supply wire from your battery to the other side of the switch. If you have a wall switch that is controlling your light you can connect the 12v supply wire directly to the wire connected to the + side of your strips.

Check out my step by step video below showing how I retrofitted my RV lights to LED

In Closing

Changing your existing RV lights to LEDs will go a long way to reducing the power draw from your battery while also limiting the number of bulb replacements you’ll need to do while camping off grid.

Using a combination of all 3 of the LED conversion techniques mentioned in this article will likely be the best solution for most RV lighting systems. We changed bulbs, fixtures, and completed some retrofits as the video shows.

You can find all the materials we used for our lights as well as for our entire renovation over on our Recommended Products Page. Whichever direction you choose to go with your conversion you’ll never be left in the dark.

Beau

Beau is an electrical engineer with a knack for DIY repair and construction. When he's not tinkering with his projects he's on the road travelling and enjoying an exciting lifestyle with his young family.

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