Saturday, June 9, 2012

Project: Fluorescent Lighting Upgrade

Well, I’ve once again managed to get lazy and not make any posts for a while….. Believe it or not, I have roughly 5-6 entries to post still that predate this one which I will hopefully get done this weekend, but we’ll have to see how my writing spirit holds up Smile with tongue out.


So, anyway, one of my biggest complaints I’ve had in all the time I’ve been camping were the rather dim Wedge-type twin light bulb light fixtures that my camper came with from the previous owner. 

While they weren’t bad looking, the light level, like all incandescent bulbs, would brighten and dim based upon the battery voltage and usually required all of them to be turned on to get a half-way decent light level in the camper. 

The popular trend these days is to convert to LED fixtures, which isn’t too bad, so long as you have a fixture that can be easily fitted with the LED blubs and have it still remain attractive. 

My fixtures, not so much.   The lenses on the fixtures are crystal clear plastic, which when I did attempt to scuff one to make it somewhat opaque, cracked. 

I do have one fixture that I was able to convert to LED, using a close to true cool white bulb over my kitchen sink, but it was an actual 70s original which an opaque lens masking the blub.   I did have to modify the fixture’s base to to accommodate the new nearly twice as long LED bulb (for the same light level as the original incandescent bulb I might add), but that worked out okay.

Had I been able to get a equal or greater level of light or, more simply, a similar Lumen output level, that didn’t look hideous in my existing fixtures, I would have likely gone the full LED route. 

So, I decided to take a page from what was the energy efficient choice of a previous technological generation, fluorescent tube lights. 

The first light fixture I upgraded was the dimmest of the two, the dual bulb unit over the dinette.  

For this one, I ended up picking up a vintage fixture from the 1980s manufactured by the long defunct McLean Electronics. 

It uses 18” F15 fluorescent blubs, which can be had at any Home Depot, Lowes, Maynards, Wal-Mart, etc…

I obtained the vintage pair (Sans one lens cover, the seller dropped it by accident) for $5, one to use and one for spare parts. 

I ended up disconnecting the original plastic switch and installing a newer flip switch on the end near the door where I’d normally be turning it on first when I came in. 

The new Fluorescent fixture consumes around 1.5 amps when running to generate 1650 lumens of light, not too shabby.



A couple months later, or more specifically, this past week, I upgraded the dual bulb fixture that was in the kitchen area from the dim twin bulb incandescent to a Circline fashion round fluorescent fixture from Thin-Lite

I chose to go with a Circline, or more simply round, fixture for the kitchen because the standard straight tube type suffer from the moderate draw-back of that the ends where the blub pins connect is darker than the primary output sides.

Since the fixture would have had to have been matched to the direction of the original fixture to cover the holes in the ceiling and the lack of finish paint (last owner), the darker sides of the light would have been facing the areas where I wanted to boost the light levels, the sink and the stove.

Now, Thin-Lite offers two sizes (and a variety of styles of the smaller size) of circline fluorescent fixture.   The 109 series is the smaller, using a 9” diameter fluorescent light, and more common, but only puts out a max of 1100 lumens of light. 


The 110 Series only comes in one style, which is less retro and a bit of attractive, but also larger, using a 12” diameter fluorescent light, with a light output of 1825 lumens (More if ya upgrade the bulb, which can easily be found in 2000+ lumen output units, which would be far too bright for an RV). 


I ended up going with the more expensive, larger 110 Series unit because I wanted to remain at equal or a little brighter for the kitchen as it’s the area that I do the most work in and need the greatest amount of light. 


Above you can see the new fixture in place and turned off.   Unlike the vintage unit, which still employs an old-fashioned transformer ballast and has a couple second warm up, the new Thin-Lite employs a modern electronic ballast which allows the light to come on and off as fast as an incandescent blub to full output. 

Here’s the kitchen again, with the new light turned on:


And here with the camera on the phone dimmed a little so you can make out the pattern of the diffuser:


While my power consumption hasn’t been really improved that drastically (roughly 6amps when both of the original fixtures were on to 3.8 amps), given that most of the LED converts calculate their savings of going into the less than 1 amp range per bulb,  my amps to light output ratio has been noticeably improved, having gone from roughly 1800 lumens total between the two original fixtures, to 3475 lumens with the new fluorescents. 

Now, to answer the big question that’s likely on the tips of a number of reader’s tongues, “Why do you need so much light?”  The answer is my camper is very dim on the inside, especially during the winter when the windows are blocked off with insulation.  

Now, add in the large amounts of dark colored wood making up the majority of the interior, which tends to absorb light energy vs reflecting it back, and that I don’t have the greatest vision in low light levels, and you’ll realize exactly why I wanted more light for equal or less power.

While I could have probably done this with LEDs, I came to the conclusion after crunching a few numbers that I would have had to double the number of light fixtures in my rig using some of the better LED Blubs to get a similar light level.  

Well, what about rope LEDS?   I looked into those too, they are promising, but I would have needed to have run a rope of them around the entire perimeter of the ceiling, in addition to adding extra into the fixtures to reach a light level I was aiming for. 

Given that I’m personally not aesthetically attracted to the look of rope LED lights, that would have shot down the running of a border of LEDs along the ceiling. 

In the end, I would have either ended up spending at least as much for new fixtures and quality LED bulbs (I consider anything direct ordered from Alibaba of China, a popular resource for LED converts, to of questionable durability) as I ended up simply replacing two of the existing fixtures ($85 total) both of which were manufactured in the US. 

So, to close, I’ve finally reached a comfortable light level in my camper again, and have done away with the age old brighter/dimmer game with the battery voltage levels for a nice constant level of light, or in short, I’m very happy with the end result Smile.


  1. I think it looks nice! I am going to replace the bathroom and dining area lights with LED since they get used a lot and generate a lot of heat. When, who knows! But someday!

    Have a great week!


    1. If I had had the classic big base bulbs that most newer RVs come with, it would have been a fairly painless LED conversion since there's LED bulbs big enough to produce the light levels I was after.

      Problem I ran into was I would have needed to buy new light fixtures, which as I've discovered, all of the newer units have a smaller foot print than the originals that were in my rig leaving holes and mismatched paint exposed in order to fit the bulbs in.

      Everytime I price those light fixtures out, they appear to be made of gold because the RV parts outlets all want $15 or more per light fixture.

      So, I ended up looking at $30-40 for just the new fixtures, then $10-12 per bulb for quality LED bulbs that would produce the lumen level I was after (Provided the lumen info was accurate, something I've discovered seems to vary depending on what seller is selling the blub), leaving me back where I started.

      The final thing that really synched it for me was the fact that A.) Finding LED Bulbs for replacement along the road is a gamble right now B.) Replacement bulbs are more expensive than a fluorescent tube (made in the US or an allied country) which I can find at just about any place.