RV LED Lights Conversion Made Easy
After working on our RV LED light conversion project, I thought it would be great to share the process with you. RV lights are not very pretty.
They usually have the glowing fluorescent lights under all the cabinets and the incandescent light bulbs are usually small little fireballs after they’ve been on for a while so I was excited to switch them out with led lights.
Mind you this has been about 3 years in the making and I hope that you don’t wait as long to change yours.
To be honest I hesitated because I thought it would either be expensive, difficult, or both.
Turns out changing to led lights was neither.
You can convert all your lights for less than $25 for the two main parts you need. If you add the cost of the electrical tape or wire strippers, then it will be more around $40.
Why LED Lights for RV?
So why do you see so many people looking to upgrade their RV lights to LED?
One reason is the wattage is lower with LED lights which helps if you are boondocking and you need to save on battery power. If you have solar panels on your RV, then this reduces the amount you need to recharge your batteries. These are the times when you’re not hooked up to shore power and have your RV surge protection setup.
The other reason is LED lights are not as hot so you don’t have to worry so much about heating up the under cabinet. When we had our fluorescent lights under the cabinet in the kitchen and it would heat up the spices in that cabinet.
They’re not hot enough to burn anything but you just don’t want that kind of heat dissipation in your RV.
What Kind of RV Light Bulbs Do You Have
For us we had 2 different types of lights to switch out. The first one was the fluorescent 15 T 18 inch light bulb and these were my least favorite in the RV.
We had 6 of these fixtures to deal with and 12 fluorescent bulbs to consider.
For me these bulbs give off this unnatural glowing light and I’ve never been a fan of the lighting. Maybe it reminds me of the days in the office cubicle.
The second type of light are the 1156 little light bulbs. And all of our littler light fixtures congregate in the back for some reason. We have 5 in our bathroom/hallway area as well as a porch light outside.
Changing these out is no big deal anymore. A few years ago finding the led replacement for 1156 or the 1141 led replacement bulbs was a nightmare and you had to go through shady looking sites or buy one from Camping World for like $10-15.
That’s probably why we never did it before.
Now, it’s easy peasy. We got this light pack through Amazon Prime and changing them out was no problem.
How to Find out Which Bulbs You Have
You’ll need pull a bulb out to see what it reads. For the smaller bulbs, many RVs use the 1156 automotive bulb. Most led replacement bulbs will cover several like the 1156 or the 1141 bulb in your cab. RV bulbs are mostly standardized to these three configurations: 1141/1156 and 921/T10 and 1142 or equivalent.
To find out what size your fluorescents are you can just remove one and read the end and it should say something like 15t 18 inches.
How to Change the Fluorescent Light Bulbs to LED Light Strips
First thing you want to do is figure out how you want to do this.
Before you had little choice in how you could handle the fluorescent bulbs and many used the strip of led lights to retrofit their fixtures.
I’ll show you that process in a minute.
Fortunately for some they have come out with LED fluorescent replacement bulbs which many people love, but you’ll make a pretty good initial investment on these.
If we just bought the 12 replacements, they would have cost us $200-400 depending on the lights we went with.
The pros to this process is that there is nothing to do except take out the old ones and install the new ones and you’re set.
The cons as I mentioned before are the upfront costs of doing it. If you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s they range from $15-50 per bulb.
You COULD try getting them through Amazon but I’m not sure if they will get to you in one piece. If you do try it this way, email me and let me know. I’d love to know how it goes for you.
Installing LED Strips in RV Lighting: DIY Style
But if you like to be a little DIY, then just swapping out the bulbs isn’t as much fun.
The other way you can switch out your fluorescent bulbs is to actually install the 12 V LED strips like this. This is how I did it and I’ll outline it below.
First you want to get all your supplies ready:
- Wire strippers
- electrical tape or electrical twist caps
- 12 V LED strip of lights– I chose the warm white for the “real light” feel
- 3M Double sided tape
- LED Strip to wire Quick Connector
- Rubbing alcohol to clean the area
- Digital Multimeter
- Measuring tape
One of the reasons I went with this is it seemed like we were replacing fluorescent bulbs quite often so I thought one of our fixtures was going and I didn’t want to mess with having to change out the whole fixtures.
I’m sure it would have been easy but I’d been wanting to change them out to LED anyway.
- Remove the light cover, remove the bulbs, and the cover to the ballast.
- Take your digital multimeter and check to verify which wire is the “hot” wire and which is the neutral. Usually the black or white is the neutral and red is the hot, but verify just to make sure.
You’ll have to turn the light on for this.
Once you verify the wires, make sure you turn the switch back off!
- Take your wire cutters and cut the two wires from the ballast.
- Strip the ends so you have bare wire exposed.
- Measure the length that you want your light strip to cover. I eyeballed it, but you can get more technical with the measuring tape if you want to.
- With your cutters, cut the area of the strip where it shows little scissors.
- Use that strip to measure out your second strip. You can do more than two if you want brighter light, but at least do two strips per light fixtures to have about the same amount of light as you did before. (My photo assistant didn’t think you needed a pic of this.)
- Match up the positive and negative from the 12V strip to the wires and slide it in so you’re making contact. Then you can close the plastic part off.
- Do the same thing for the second strip. (Again, photo assistant…read the end to #7)
- On the other end, strip the wires and touch them to the wires hanging from your fixture. It should be black to black and red to red (or white to white).
Turn on the fixture to test that it’s working. Be careful not to touch the wires with your hands. You don’t have to do this part, but I like to make sure it’s all working before I permanently attach everything.
- After you see the light! Turn off the switch!
- Now we can attach the wires permanently. To do that twist the black wires from both strips and from the hanging fixture wire together and add the electrical screw cap. I didn’t have them so I used white electrical tape to connect them.
- Do the same thing for both the red wires and the red wire hanging from your fixture. Add the screw cap for that one as well.
- Now you should have two strips hanging down. Go ahead and turn the switch on to make sure the lights are still working. If they aren’t, then the three wires aren’t making contact like they should.
- If you see lights, go ahead and turn the light off and grab the alcohol. No, the rubbing alcohol.
- You want to go ahead and clean off the ballast cover to remove any dust from it.
- Tuck as much of the wires up behind the ballast cover and put the cover back on the light fixture.
- The back of the strips have 3M adhesive. Just peel back the tape so you can apply it. This takes a bit of finesse so you can line it up in a straight line across the ballast so take your time in applying it.
- After you finish doing this for both of them you can replace the light cover and turn your new light on. (I’m not a photographer and all the money light shots came out with this yellow hue. My actual light is a warm light, but isn’t this yellow.)
- Feel free to bask in the glow…and then get started on all the others you have to change 🙂
This is how impressed my English Bulldog was with all my efforts.
Hopefully the steps are detailed enough for you. If not just shoot me an email and I’ll update it. After the first one I got pretty fast with changing out the others and you will too.
Here is a quick video from the RV Geeks that shows you how they did it as well.
So which one do you prefer to do? Just changing out all the bulbs with LED bulbs or are you looking to convert your lights to led strips like I did?