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You Light Up My Life (5 Favorite RVing Lighting Solutions)

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.

Interior Solutions

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In our case, most our fixtures were also outdated style-wise and we had some noticeable ‘dark spots’ in critical places, so we didn’t just want to replace bulbs.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

One of our Thin-Lites in the hallway. Our bathroom door swings underneath it, so having a drop-in replacement put us at ease that everything would fit.

One of our Thin-Lites in the hallway. Our bathroom door swings underneath it, so having a drop-in replacement put us at ease that everything would fit.

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

The under cabinet lighting using LED strip lights.

The under cabinet lighting using LED strip lights. be a

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.

The wiring and dimmer installed.

The wiring and dimmer installed.

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)

IMG_9066Long 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.

 

Outdoor Solutions

Solar Ice Rocks

The problem.. variable soil conditions mean stake lights often don't go in without some digging.

The problem.. variable soil conditions mean stake lights often don’t go in without some digging.

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!

Traditional solar path lights have stakes.. which break too darn quickly. Solar Ice Rocks have no stakes!

Traditional solar path lights have stakes.. which break too darn quickly. Solar Ice Rocks have no stakes!

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!

Ahhh.. wonderful pleasant light to mark the ground, camp tables or anywhere else you want light. Even bring them inside for interior off-grid lighting!

Ahhh.. wonderful pleasant light to mark the ground, camp tables or anywhere else you want light. Even bring them inside for interior off-grid lighting!

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.

Our Ivation and d.light lanterns side by side.

Our Ivation and d.light lanterns side by side.

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:

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25 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Cherie, you are so cool, I’m a 71 year old dude living in Montana, I love reading about your adventures and I love how you write about tech stuff. Going back 60 years I was a radio amateur when I was 11, we had transistors replacing tubes and the beginning of computers. I love what this all means for my life in rural Montana. Cheers, Michael

  2. Just love the LEDs-I redid my whole RV (18 inside lights) with LEDs. Got a roll of 16 ft. for $10 then got a bag of pig tails for $5, cut to length, wired pig tails into the existing wires. Done! $15 bucks and lov’n it

  3. Love these ideas. We have an old 1984 Fleetwood PaceArrow with the originally lighting that runs off the engine battery that we are wanting to replace. It gives off too much yellow lighting for us to see properly. I can’t wait to try out some of your ideas.

  4. In in all your LED exploration did you happen to come across a reasonably priced, adjustable, dimmable, ceiling mounted reading light? I know – pretty specific. I’m looking to replace the 2 overhead lights in the dinette of my Roadtrek with LED’s. I scoured the internet but most that fit the bill were $40 and up. Decided to buy the components and build my own. Should be fun little project.

    Great article BTW.

  5. Love the d.light solar lantern and the solar ice rocks! I might just have to add those to my own lighting arsenal. 🙂

    In our bathroom, I have installed a motion sensing light, which is great for those middle of the night visits. We don’t need to leave a night light on, and there is no fumbling for the light switch. The batteries last a long time. It actually works out well for us as an all-around bathroom light, as long as we keep moving! 🙂
    Here’s a link to the Sylvania 72178 Motion Activated Battery Powered Safety Light
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001LJNS8U/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    We recently purchased a solar desk type lamp from IKEA, the SUNNAN solar lamp. It’s not super bright, but it is bright enough for one person to read by. Although the instructions say to charge it in full sun, it has charged up for me in a bright window inside the RV. I also like that it has replaceable rechargeable batteries that are powered by the solar panel.
    Here’s a link to it: http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/sunnan/sunnan.html

    I really appreciate all of the info you share. I’ve recently been watching your YouTube videos and I’ve learned so much from you two!

    • Thanks for the link to the motion sensing battery operated light.. that might do the trick nicely! We have a motion activated nightlight in there, but it’s on 110 – so not ideal for boondocking.

  6. Just put battery op leds in the tiny trailer, give great light and can use the inverter to charge our gadgets and run the fridge. Love the ice rocks! Very tempting.

  7. I’ve been switching to LED where I can. I’ve been buying USB lamps with an 18″ gooseneck, and little USB 110v adapters. For less than $5 you have a plug-in adjustable lamp. Be sure and get one with a switch. If 18″ is too short, just get a 3 ft USB extension cord. I like to get ones with a 2″ x 3″ shade, and about 18 LED lights. I also bought direct from the importer a 28 light “scissor” light. Very flexible, can be angled in any direction. A charge last hours. and it can be used for hard to get at repair jobs, or any place you do not have power.

  8. Ice Rocks look like a great product for RV’ers. In regard to the non-stick adhesive backing on the cheap light strips, that seems to be a common problem among the raw Chinese product – the light strips sold by North American vendors (for 10x the price unfortunately) in my experience don’t have the problem and also address other quality issues. Clear silicone is a good supplemental adhesive and insulator for indoor applications. Other problems I have run into with the “cheap” strips and bulbs is inconsistency in color temperature and brightness. Two “cheap” reels of 5050 strip LED’s I ordered recently from the same vendor were supposed to be 2700K “warm white” in color – while taken alone each could be considered “warm white”, taken together they were noticeably different in appearance. For “bulbs” of any flavor, if they are cheap, expect to have failures and buy extra – I’ve had outright DOA’s as well as flickering chips and otherwise flaky behavior from the cheap stuff. Caveat Emptor. Also note that 12v LED strips typically sold on Amazon and eBay are exactly that – rated for 12v, not 13.2v or 14.5v. They will work in an RV DC system, but their life will be reduced when exposed to the higher voltages standard on our RV’s, again buy extra. There are vendors in the US that will sell you LED strips rated for automotive use with an 11-15v guaranteed rating, but again for a lot more money. I would like to hear from others if they have found reputable sellers of cheap LED products that provide consistency in quality, lumens and color temperature among their products and/or that offer LED products that are truly rated for automotive applications.

    • Hi Rob –

      I too was concerned about the impacts of running the LED strips at typical battery voltages, and did a bunch of research trying to find out how likely issues might be. But from my research and most of the reviews I was able to find, people have seemingly rarely had any issues – even over extended continuous use.

      And the more expensive LED strips supposedly “rated” for automotive use seemed to be the exact same stuff, just for 10x the cost and with a slightly better warranty attached.

      In the end, I decided I’d rather buy the cheap stuff and replace any strips that die prematurely. Doing a warranty exchange on glued-down strips is always going to be more hassle than it is worth, anyway.

      I’d happily pay a little more for consistency and quality, but the price difference is too huge to ignore at the moment. But if anyone has any good reputable recommendations, I’d love to hear them too.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!
      – Chris

  9. Love your blog! One thing I have done on our last 2 trailers is to use a disassembled solar garden spotlight to provide a nice solar night light in the bathroom. Usually the solar spots have a separate solar panel that can be mounted on the roof and the battery box and LED mounted inside the bathroom roof vent. Some soldering will likely be required and you will want to remove and discard the reflector but when complete it works like a charm. So nice to not have to turn the main lights on during those midnight visits. Cheap too. They can usually be had for only $5 – $10 at most any garden supply or hardware stores.

  10. Think I have to add the d.light to our lighting arsenal. While not as stylish as the other, I really like that it’s solar. It’s hard to imagine those little solar blocks generating enough light to mark a path, but with endorsements from both you and Nina they must do the trick! And we might have to add a lamp just to have the groovy color options 🙂 Great info as always – thanks for the links!!

  11. Thank you Cherie – so many great options. I have learned a lot from your blog and appreciate so much all the details you share. I purchased the Mobile Internet Handbook a month ago (working my way through that, LOTS of great info) and when ever possible order from Amazon through your link. I hope you two get a chance VERY soon to rest and recharge from all the social goings on right now.

    Barbara

  12. I think the little ice cubes are great. I can picture one each on our motorhome steps while boondocking. Thanks for the great ideas. Becki

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