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Conserving battery power in an RV can be a challenge, especially if you spend much time boondocking off the grid. Even with solar panels collecting energy from the sun, or running your generator to replenish batteries, it may be a struggle to guarantee that your electrical system has power when you need it. Saving power is a critical piece of the energy puzzle, and RV LED lights are a great way to decrease your energy needs. Upgrading to RV LED lights is a modest investment that will pay big dividends.
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What Are RV LED Lights?
Like most lights in a residential home, your RV has many different types and styles of lighting. Many RV fixtures come with incandescent bulbs that are very inefficient. But you may also have fixtures that use halogen or fluorescent bulbs. Luckily, you can replace most bulbs in RV light fixtures with comparable LED bulbs.
LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. Diodes are electrical devices that carry current in only one direction and block it in the other. These devices are used in many circuits, but one type in particular releases photons when electricity passes through it. This is seen as the light within an LED bulb.
LEDs are what we call solid-state electronics since they’re made of one piece of silicon like a microchip. Because of the way LEDs emit light, they use less electricity and generate much less heat. As a result, LEDs utilize up to 75% less energy than a typical incandescent light bulb. And as an additional bonus, compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, they also last a lot longer!
How Much Do LED Lights Cost?
The price of LEDs depends on the type and size of the bulb you’re replacing, but RV LED lights generally do cost a bit more than the traditional bulbs (incandescent, halogen, or fluorescent) they’re replacing. They can typically range from 3-5x more expensive. The upside, though, is that if you’re willing to invest in replacing your old inefficient light bulbs with their LED equivalents, you’re sure to save quite a bit of money in the long run, as the LEDs will last many years longer, and of course use far less power during that time.
LED Lights vs. Incandescent
Most incandescent light bulbs come in one color – warm white. It’s the familiar, slightly yellowish light we associate with a traditional bulb. The problems with incandescent bulbs are that they use 80% to 90% of their energy to generate heat rather than light, and you must replace them much more frequently than LED bulbs. You could end up replacing an incandescent bulb 25 times before one LED burns out!
In comparison, RV LEDs come in many light colors. You can purchase bulbs in warm white (the same slightly yellowish color we’re used to from incandescent bulbs), natural white (which is whiter and more like daylight), or cool white (which has a bluish cast). Because they are so much more energy-efficient, they also run much cooler than incandescent and halogen lights. This enables them to be built into many different shapes and used in things like interior overhead pancake or dome lights, awning lights, backup lights, and even rope lighting. Many LED bulbs last up to 50,000 hours before requiring replacement, but lifespan is highly dependent on the bulb design. And, as we already mentioned, LED bulbs will typically cost more than their traditional counterparts.
How Many Watts do LED Lights Use?
Watts are a measure of the amount of power a device uses. While we’ve become accustomed to referring to how many “watts” a light bulb is, and we associate that with a particular amount of light, using the power rating of a bulb isn’t a great way to compare different types of lighting technology.
The amount of light output from a bulb is more accurately conveyed in lumens, which is a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time. A fair comparison might be a standard 40-watt incandescent light bulb. This would put off the same number of lumens as a 9-watt LED light bulb. So, if you replace your standard 40-watt bulb with a comparable 9-watt LED, you’d be using 31 fewer watts of power. That’s a 77% energy savings!
70-80% less energy for the same amount of light is typical for LED energy savings.
The Lifespan of LED Lights
Along with saving you energy, one of the most significant benefits of using LED lights in your RV is their long lifespan. Many LED bulbs will last 25 to 30 times longer than their incandescent counterparts. So even if you pay up to 5 times as much for an LED, you’ll be saving money in the long run.
By installing these energy-efficient lights, you’ll not only save on the lifelong cost of the bulbs, but you’ll save on the cost of the fuel/electricity needed to operate them. It’s a win-win!
Of course, not all LED bulbs are created equal when it comes to lifespan. While we mentioned that LEDs don’t generate as much heat, they can still get warm, especially at the base. Poorly designed LEDs will fail prematurely, not due to a bulb burnout, but due to heat burning out the electronics. High-quality LEDs will have good (metal, usually aluminum) heatsinks to draw heat away from the electronics and make them last much longer.
Additionally, the voltage that the devices in an RV can be exposed to can vary greatly. When your batteries are low, the voltage can sag below 12V. But when charging, the whole system will see much higher voltage… often 14.4V or higher. These variations need to be dealt with, which requires circuitry to help smooth things out.
Cheap bulbs will have, well, cheap electronics. When exposed to the voltage extremes that are common in RVs, they tend to fail prematurely. Some fail quite dramatically. But by spending a little bit more, you can ensure you get LED bulbs that are properly designed to handle the situation… and therefore last much longer.
What Size LED Bulb Do I Need?
When replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, the physical size and brightness ratings need to be considered.
For the brightness, you may want to replace an incandescent bulb with an LED that has the same light output. But with traditional bulbs, we’re used to using the power rating (in watts) as a measure of brightness. As we discussed above, though, LED lights are 70-80% more efficient than incandescent bulbs. So their power usage, measured in watts, is significantly lower as a result. So it doesn’t feel like we’re comparing apples to apples.
LED bulbs usually have their output listed in lumens, which is “a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time.” While not familiar to us, this is actually a much better attribute to compare. Instead of focussing on the amount of power a bulb uses (watts), it makes it much easier to compare bulbs that use different technologies (incandescent vs LED, for instance) and figure out which bulb we want.
To simplify things, we’ve included this handy “Watts versus Lumens” guide to help:
Incandescent Bulb Approximate Lumen Output (courtesy of Wikipedia):
- 25 watts = 200 lumens
- 40 watts = 450 lumens
- 60 watts = 800 lumens
- 75 watts = 1,100 lumens
- 100 watts = 1,600 lumens
So, using this chart, you should be able to more easily determine if a particular LED bulb will provide the same amount of light you’re expecting.
Another thing to consider in regard to RV LED lights is that they’re directional, meaning they emit their light in only one direction. Thus, individual LED bulbs are great for spotlights, but panels or rings of LEDs are needed to create less-directional, ambient lighting. This may sound like a negative, but it’s another part of what makes LEDs so energy efficient.
A traditional bulb emits light in all directions. But in most lighting applications (like a spotlight installed in your ceiling), you want the light directed to a surface or an area, not everywhere. The light being produced by the side of the bulb facing away from the surface you’re trying to light is being wasted.
That’s why so many fixtures have a reflector built into them… to try to direct the light coming out of the “back” of the bulb in a more useful direction. The reflector helps, but there’s still a lot of energy being wasted. LEDs don’t have this problem, since they emit light more directionally. This usually results in the LED bulb/module being a bit larger than the original bulb, so you’ll want to be sure to measure the available opening so you can make sure the replacement LED bulb will fit.
Because of their directional nature, LEDs are also well-suited as replacements for the lights on the exterior of your vehicle.
Many of the bulbs you’ll need to order can be found online through Amazon, eBay, or other websites. As mentioned previously, however, not all LEDs are created equal. Many low-priced options that you’ll find won’t have the quality of circuitry or the heat sinks that are needed to ensure their longevity, so they can end up burning out MUCH sooner than you would expect. So we recommend purchasing directly from a high-quality manufacturer like M4 LED Products (you can save money at M4 if you keep reading…).
When removing an incandescent light bulb, look at its base for the appropriate model number (or make note of the type of base it is: wedge, bi-pin, or bayonet/round), and use the “Watts versus Lumens” guide above when necessary, to find comparable LED replacement bulbs.
Benefits of Using LEDs
Hands down, the biggest benefit of upgrading to LEDs is their energy savings. In an off-grid application, this will give you longer battery runtime before needing to recharge. You’ll also be saving on energy costs, as you won’t be spending as much money on fuel for your generator or at an RV site with metered electricity. If you switch all of your incandescent bulbs, you’ll use about 75% less electricity than you did with their predecessors!
RV LED lights can not only add years to your light bulb inventory, but they give you an option to change the color of your ambient lighting as well. For instance, in a work area, you may want more natural or brighter white lighting, but your living area may be a place to add soft, warm light. Since you have options available to you with LED replacement bulbs, you can mix-and-match light colors to suit your needs.
LEDs also don’t produce as much heat, which is vital in a small living space. You’ll appreciate that your LED bulbs don’t add much heat to the RV on a hot summer day!
You’ll also appreciate that these powerful lights don’t use mercury like fluorescent bulbs do, and they always illuminate instantaneously compared to fluorescents.
Factory-Installed RV LED Lights
Having been built in 2005, our RV came from an era before LED lights were commonly used. Since then, however, prices have come way down and RV manufacturers are shipping new RVs with LED fixtures already installed.
Not to cast aspersions on RV manufacturers, but their drive to keep costs down means that the LED fixtures they often install tend to be lower quality (price being a huge factor, of course), which leads to failures. Unfortunately, unlike our “traditional” style of light fixtures (where there’s a socket that accepts a standard bulb), most of these new LED lights have the LED modules hardwired into the fixture. That means, when they fail, the entire fixture usually needs to be replaced.
Under warranty, it’s no problem (other than the inconvenience of bringing your RV in for service). But after your warranty expires, you’re left holding the bag to pay for a complete replacement.
That is, until now. M4 LED Products has begun offering replacement LED modules for several common factory-installed LED fixtures (from suppliers like ITC, Command Electronics, and SunLink). These replacement modules utilize higher-quality LEDs and electronics, have more effective metal heat sinks, and come in your choice of light color (warm white, natural white, or cool white).
Because of their improved components, the M4 replacement modules will be significantly more reliable than the factory-installed units that failed you in the first place. So you can spend more time enjoying RVing, and less time replacing bulbs. ????
Save Money On RV LED Lights
Right now, M4 is offering RVgeeks viewers a 10% discount (that’s 2x the usual discount) for a limited time. Place your order by March 31, 2021 and use the following discount code to save!
But don’t worry… if you’re reading this after the March 31, 2021 deadline, you can still save 5% (sorry, the discounts can’t be combined):
We’ve replaced virtually all of the incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs in our RV with high-quality M4 LEDs. In addition to the power savings while dry camping, we haven't had a single...Show More
We’ve replaced virtually all of the incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs in our RV with high-quality M4 LEDs. In addition to the power savings while dry camping, we haven't had a single LED bulb fail since upgrading.
Use the discount code listed here to save 5% on your entire order!Show Less
With all of the benefits of LED light bulbs, there seems to be no reason to keep incandescent or halogen lights around. Save the headaches of using too much electricity and constantly changing light bulbs, and give your electrical system a well-deserved ‘power down’ when replacing your old bulbs with energy-efficient RV LED bulbs. They’re sure to bring you out of the shadows and into the light!
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the bottom of this post… and your reward is that you can enter for a chance to win a roof-mounted, motorized, 60W LED spotlight, courtesy of M4 LED Products, with a retail value of $250. Our winner will be chosen after the contest ends on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 8PM ET / 5PM PT.
You can enter the contest using either your Facebook account OR your email address (use whichever button applies). There are also several options to gain additional entries in the giveaway by performing tasks every day… so be sure to come back now, ya hear?!?!
The Giveaway Results
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Even though we're handy RVers, we're not professional technicians. So although we're happy with the techniques and products we use, you should be sure to confirm that all methods and materials are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.