By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Boondockers – those who by definition “camp in the boonies,” away from utility hookups – have to be careful of their precious resources. One of the biggest pains is “running out of power.” Lighting up the inside of the rig can consume a lot of juice in a short period of time. Take a minute and add up how much power you use:
A typical incandescent bulb light fixture, sometimes called a “pillow light” by its shape, commonly uses an “1141” bulb. Each 1141 bulb consumes 1.5 amps per hour, and produces a pitifully small amount of illumination. At least that’s what our aging eyes tell us. So we turn on another one or two and, pretty soon, we’re happily munching away at the “house” battery.
When we say “pitifully small” in terms of the light produced by those incandescent bulbs, what do we mean? A brand-new, unused 1141 bulb cranks out 259 lumens – but with use, the light output begins to decrease, finally down to 104 lumens before it gives up the ghost. Even then, however, it’s still snuffing up your precious battery at the full rate. What’s to be done?
In our kitchen area, we’ve installed the typical “double tube” fluorescent lamp fixtures. These produce gobs of light for just four amps per hour. How big is a “gob”? Two F15T8 tubes blast out 1,450 lumens. Wow! What a difference technology makes. Of course, we don’t need that much light in all areas of our rig, and fluorescent fixtures aren’t cheap, nor are their tubes, which supposedly last 7,000 hours – but we’ve found that a bit optimistic.
Enter the “latest technology” light fixtures that produce light with light emitting diodes. Super-efficient, they produce almost no heat (hence, no waste), and use power measured in “milli-amps,” or thousandths of an amp. After hashing over a huge number of offerings on Amazon, we picked this breed of LED to replace the old incandescent ones in a half-dozen fixtures throughout our rig. The specs say these LED replacement bulbs put out 600 lumens each, while delicately brunching on just 292 milliamps per bulb. You could fire up to FIVE of these LED lights for the same amount of power used by a SINGLE incandescent bulb, and get 17 TIMES the amount of light of one of those bulbs, at their assumed half-life output. Wow!
And what about cost? At present, a box of 20 of the LED bulbs runs $19.59. We installed nearly a full box of these, and several months later, two of them stopped working. We contacted the seller, and they didn’t just give us two replacements, they just shipped us another full box of bulbs for our trouble. We haven’t had a bit of trouble since – and our original purchase was made 15 months ago.
How do you choose your lighting? With LED bulbs so inexpensive, for us it just didn’t make any sense to maintain incandescent bulbs. We did give LED bulb fixtures a try in our kitchen work area, but we found that they tended to be more “spot” in nature, not giving a large enough broadcast of the light. We installed two, double-tube fluorescents in the kitchen, and filled the rest of our fixtures – including those outside the rig – with LED lights. The color cast is “cooler” than the incandescent, and it may take a little while to get used to it.
After rearranging the furniture in our rig, we relocated our “office area” to where the dining room had been. Over the old dining room table was a phony chandelier that operates off the 12-volt system. The three incandescent lights were a special base, a T-10, common to some license plate bulbs. It cost us nearly $4 a bulb, but with 240 lumens per bulb, the desk and computer area is well-lit and takes very little power.
All in all, we’ve been happy with the choices we’ve made. Now our solar panels and wind turbine are putting more power in the batteries, with less being spent on lighting.
One problem with replacing your existing bulbs with LED bulbs is that the sockets don’t always work well with the tiny current that the LED bulbs use. You end up needing to tap the fixture to get the bulb to come on. Usually happens after a bumpy road. Shakes the bulbs loose a bit. You can bend the contacts to hold the bulb tighter, but eventually the problem returns. We ended up replacing all the old style fixtures with modern LED fixtures in one of our RVs a few years ago, and have had no problems since. There is a huge variety of light fixtures available. They have the standard cool white color, as well as the more yellow color that is usually called warm white. The warm white fixtures look most like the old incandescent bulb color. You can also find various brightness levels on the fixtures. The fixtures are often rated in amps, watts or lumens. The higher the number, the brighter the fixture.
I replaced almost all of the bulbs in our rig shortly after we bought it (Used from private seller) because LED bulbs have dropped in price as well as being offered in “Warmer” as well as “Cooler” light output. The cooler bulbs tend to look brighter, but can be bothersome to my eyes. The “Warmer” ones (Generally 2400 to 300oK) are easier for long term use. They generate very little heat, as stated – use much less power and can last a very long time.
BTW – “Warmer” bulbs do not get any hotter than “Cooler” bulbs, the term is simply the color cast of the bulbs (Also known a Kelvin, “K” or Color Temp)
We’ve replaced all of our interior lights with LEDs. I removed the fluorescent tubes and put stick-on strip lights and replaced all of the incandescent bulbs throughout. Much cooler and less power consumption.
I upgraded my kitchen fluorescents to led strip lights. Greatly improved the lumens and got rid of the ballast heat consumption.
You don’t have to get “cooler” colored lamps. Look for lamps that have a “color temperature” of around 2700K, that’s more of a yellowish light, similar to a regular incandescent lamp. The higher the color temperature, the bluer (and harsher) the light. A 5700k lamp will be great for storage areas and such, but 2700K will be more what you want for a bedroom or area you want to relax.
Look for lamp life hours too. Many are terribly low. Contrary to popular belief, LED lamps do *not* “last forever”.
I JUST UPGRADED FROM THE 1141s TO THE LED. I KNOW IT WILL BE COOLER IN THE SUMMER AND LOWER CONSUMPTION ON MY BATTERIES.
Many new RV’s now come with LED lighting. I , and many other have retrofitted the same way.
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Hi, Mark. I got a chuckle out of just finding this (a link to our article!) in our Spam folder, put in there automatically by our sometimes-overzealous spam-checker program. 😆 —Diane at RVtravel.com