Creating attractive, adjustable, power efficient and indirect lighting in a small space like an RV takes a bit effort. And finding suitable portable & durable outdoor lighting for a pleasant hangout space in the evenings can be a challenge.
It’s a struggle we’ve had for years, and we think we’ve finally found some great solutions for our needs, and it’s time to share some of them.
Like all RVs made before LED lights were common place, our bus conversion (converted in the late 80s) came with lots of incandescent, halogen and fluorescent lighting. We’ve been slowly working on converting everything over to LED.
Finding replacement LED bulbs for just about every fixture out there is not a problem these days. Just search Amazon, eBay or Google for the bulb type (it’s usually etched somewhere on the bulb) and shop away. There are also LED light vendors galore at most RV rallies.
In our case, most our fixtures were also outdated style-wise and we had some noticeable ‘dark spots’ in critical places, so we didn’t just want to replace bulbs.
Our bus has a combination of 110 and 12v lighting, so we also had two lighting systems to solve – ideal lighting for when we had hook-ups or running off an inverter, and suitable efficient lighting for when the inverter is off.
Thin-Lite LED Surface Mount Fixtures
When we started we had a couple Thin-Lite 116P fluorescent fixtures already in the bus. Thankfully, there were a couple spare bulbs in a drawer we found, and were able to get all of them operational. For a while. Due to age, the switches were getting finicky, and the ballasts wearing out.
We thought about just yanking all the innards out, getting some LED strips and converting them ourselves. But the fixtures themselves were yellowing and showing their age.
We also thought about changing the fixtures to a new style.
Then we discovered that Thin-Lite was just about to come out with LED versions of their fixtures, and our model was on the list. Even better, they had the style without the fake wood trim, so we could have a clean white fixture. We found a vendor who had some coming in, and put our name on the list to get two.
Aside from the fixtures being an exact drop in replacement (meaning we wouldn’t have to worry if they’d fit), the new LED style have two switch modes – low and high. We’ve been running these for over 2 years now, and have been very happy with them.
We have one in our hallway, and one over our sink – and both run on 12v. On low setting, they burn just 4w of power and on high 14w.
DIY Dimmable Undercabinet LED Lighting
When we yanked out our oven & stovetop from the kitchen, away went our hood light that provided illumination over the counter area. Since then, we had been trying to decide what would be our ideal lighting source.
Instead of trying to measure and find fixtures to fit, we decided to buy a cheap 16′ roll of flexible waterproof LED strips off Amazon, and cut pieces to fit. We played around with arrangements until we were happy, and Chris went to town wiring it all up with strip connectors (you could also solder).
Tip: These lights come installed with double sided tape that is supposed to adhere to most surfaces. Once we had the lights all cut and installed, the next day the tape stayed attached to the wood, but released from the silicon sleeve holding the lights. We ended up using an marine adhesive to re-attach them. We’d recommend just planning adhesive from the start and not trusting the stick-on tape if you’ll be installing these hanging like we did.
In addition to a nice solid glow over the entire kitchen surface that is a joy to prep food by – Chris also installed an LED dimmer so we can control how much light is created. It makes for really nice mood lighting at night.
All and all, we have beautiful 12v dimmable under cabinet lighting that cost less than $20 in parts. We’ve been super happy with this setup. We have six strips in all of similar size shown linked together, and at the lowest setting they burn just .5w of power and 11w at full.
We liked this so much, we used similar light strips for our pantry cabinet lighting upgrade recently, and we’re about to replace the old 48″ fluorescent tube lighting behind our valances that provide ‘upward’ lighting to the ceiling.
LIFX WiFi LED Bulbs (Screw in Style)
Long ago, before the Philips Hue bulbs of similar concept, we funded a Kickstarter campaign for LIFX WiFi controllable multicolor dimmable LED bulbs. Hey, we’re geeks, and we have to have our toys, right?
The LIFX bulbs were way behind delivery schedule, and when they finally arrived the Phillips bulbs were already on the market. While the smartphone app (iOS | Android) to control them was a little buggy at first, we’ve been pretty happy with these. And they certainly get ooooos and aaaaahs when we ask a guest what their favorite color is, pick up an iPhone light switch and change the color of the inside of the bus. Or match the music playing.
We have four of these bulbs (two in the living room and two in bedroom) in standard 110 lamp fixtures.. which is not something most RVs will have. Each is individually addressable and doesn’t require a central hub to control them (unlike the Phillips counterpart) – they just have to be on the same WiFi network as the smartphone addressing them.
They consume about 19w of power on full brightness with a white color, and deliver just over 1000 lumens (comparable to a 75w lightbulb). We can set them to just about a kabillion different colors, including a wide range of whites to suite whatever mood we’re in.
While they are super pricey for a lightbulb, they gain lots of geek points and should last over 20 years.
Solar Ice Rocks
For years, we’ve bought a wide range of solar garden stake lights. And it always ends the same way – the plastic stakes get broken or the lights get cracked in transit. These things are simply meant to be placed once in a stationary yard – not continually relocated to a variety of different soil types.
But the concept is so darn convenient – solar lights that you can place anywhere they can charge. It’s a great way to light up your outdoor camping space. It helps in finding your home in the dark and marking possible obstacles in a constantly changing yard. And not to mention, outdoor lighting is just pretty!
I went on a hunt for an elegant solution. And found Solar Ice Rocks by Frostfire. I put a set of 3 on the holiday wish list and Santa delivered them last month.
To say it was love at first site, would be an understatement. We immediately ordered a second set, and even ordered a set for our buddies Nina and Paul as a gift.
These things are perfect for RVing!
First, they’re small (3″ x 3″) and can pack up in much less space than stake lights.
Next, they are super durable and waterproof, and seem like they should have no trouble enduring being knocked around, stepped on or biked over. They’re also low enough to the ground that they don’t present more of a tripping hazard than a small rock – which means the cat can’t tangle her leash round them either.
They charge up by day via solar, and come on automatically at dusk and off a light. The light creates a very pleasant ground glow that doesn’t blind you, but is bright enough to light up the space around them for safe walking.
Just place them on the ground where you want light. They’re heavy enough that they won’t blow away. And there’s no stakes to break!! Wahoooo!
Can’t recommend these things highly enough. Every RVer should have a set or two.
Solar Rechargeable Lantern
We love our Ivation Rechargable & Dimmable Lantern (we reviewed it in our Tried & True Travel Gear post a while back) so much, that we wanted another. I was about to order a second one, but stumbled on this solar chargeable d.light lantern.
It’s a bit smaller than the Ivation, isn’t as bright and isn’t dimmable (it does have a high and low setting). But what I liked about this one was the versatility and durability of the handle (something the bottom hanger of the Ivation lacks) which would give us a second different option. The solar makes it ideal for boondocking, and it does have a power charger too.
Since we currently have no 12v lighting in our bathroom (a future project!) – we keep this one hanging in the bathroom for our light overnight when the inverter is off. It’s been super handy, and is a great light for grabbing for a night stroll or outdoor dining.
We still love and regularly use our Ivation too – it’s so darn stylish and can go much brighter – but this has earned its place in our lighting arsenal as well.
If you have any other great outdoor lighting gadgets, we’d love to hear about them. We’re always on the search for ways to spiff up our outdoor area.
Here’s some of our other favorite RVing Gear: