By Chris Dougherty
Low voltage fluorescent lighting has been around the RV industry for many years, allowing for improved task lighting in our RVs from ceiling lights to under-cabinet lighting.
Fluorescent lights use quite a bit of power and have a somewhat frequent failure rate as compared to other types of lighting. A recent product on the market has solved this issue, however, according to Joseph Brignolo, inventor of Cabin Bright, and LED replacement for the fluorescent tubes in your existing 12- or 18-inch 12 volt DC fixture.
“One of the benefits of the Cabin Bright alternative is the flexibility built into the product.” Brignolo says.
The concept behind this product is that the fluorescent tubes are removed, and the Cabin Bright LEDs and wiring are installed in the fixture, but the fixture’s electronics are left in place. This allows for a simpler installation, and easy conversion back to fluorescent should the customer wish it. The kits, designed for either 12 or 18-inch, dual tube fixtures, use rectangular LED panels, which are attached to the inside of the fixture using a 3M adhesive pad. The fixture’s wiring is disconnected from the coach and tucked back into the fixture, and the wiring for the LED kit is connected either directly to the coach wiring, or, as you will see in our installation, to the power switch in the fixture itself. It’s a simple installation for anyone with even moderate electrical skills, or it can be installed by a Certified RV Technician.
The products flexibility, as mentioned by Brignolo, was demonstrated in our installation, as we only had access to a single tube 18” Thin-Lite Model 115 fixture, which we added to the test coach, replacing a standard incandescent under cabinet lamp. Upon mentioning this to Brignolo, has was pleased to see another version of the standard installation, and in our case, at least initially it has worked well.
The first step in doing this, or any electrical installation, is to de-energize the circuit, or the whole coach if that’s easier. Since we were installing a whole new fixture which we had in stock, we did the modification on the bench first, then went into the test coach, which we were renovating, to complete the install.
Disassembly of the Thin-Lite 115 is pretty easy. The tube or tubes come right out, and the electronic ballast cover is squeezed into tabs on the base plate of the fixture, and comes right off, exposing the wiring. We merely pulled the wiring back into the unit and folded it up out of the way in order to replace the cover. I made note of the fact that this model has a switch with spade connectors, so I would be able to use it for the LED kit. If the fixture doesn’t have a switch, or is part of a ceiling fixture that’s wired to a wall switch, that’s fine, just wire it directly. It may in rare circumstances be necessary to add a switch to the fixture, or nearby the fixture, to turn it on and off there, if that’s desired.
As this was a modification of the design, I needed to lay out the kit and test fit it to the fixtures initial dimensions. The end result we wanted was to have the LEDs evenly spaced in the fixture, and attached is such a way as to allow the original cover to fit on top. With this design, we needed to route the wiring through the metal ballast cover, as shown in the illustration. The Cabin Bright kit has tubing installed in spots to hold the wiring together, and in this case, worked well as a grommet, however it is important to make certain that the wiring is protected from chafing or cutting from metal edges by some type of grommet or wire loom. Failure to do so can result in a short circuit.
Once the layout was done, we secured the LEDs in their places, and connected the positive wire to the existing switch using a crimp on spade connector. We, of course, re-used the positive wire from the switch to the coach wiring, and connected the negative wire directly to the coach negative. We had to remove the ballast cover again to allow access to the mounting screw holes, which we replaced once we mounted the fixture to the cabinet, again taking careful note of wiring placement. The whole job took maybe 20 minutes.
As a comparison, according to Brignolo, an 18 inch fluorescent fixture uses 3.7 amps, but the Cabin Bright uses only one amp.
The result was impressive. There is far more light from this fixture now than there was previously, but without the harsh white color so often experienced with LED installations. The light from these is a soft-white color, but is quite bright.
I am always in favor of replacing lighting in RVs with LEDs whenever possible, especially for those who like to dry camp, as LEDs use far less power to operate, and thus make your coach batteries last longer. In addition, the cost of LEDs has been coming down, and with their extremely long life and energy savings, offset the higher initial cost completely.
Cabin Bright LED kits retail from $32 USD, and have a lifetime limited warranty. More information on them can be found at CabinBright.com.
Chris Dougherty is a certified RV technician. He wrote this while serving as RVtravel.com’s technical editor.