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Old 10-13-2014, 03:16 PM   #1
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Inexpensive LED lighting for the Airstream

I am not impressed by most of the built in LED lighting I see in Airstreams. It may look good in a showroom, but is not really nice to live with in reality. It is too harsh in both color and locations. Fixed overhead lighting is not really very nice even if it comes from some other source than LED’s as it did in older Airstreams with incandescent lighting.

In my mind, conversion from incandescent or fluorescent lighting to LED lighting is expensive and does not really give better light, it only uses less power.

Here is a way to use LED lighting very inexpensively using standard bulbs you can get at any Home Depot or Lowe’s along with standard residential fixtures.

The newest generation of 120 volt home LED lightbulbs are super efficient, warm in color, very low cost and have a high light output at minimal energy input. They work very well on inexpensive modified sine wave 12 to 120 volt inverters which are also very low cost and have low standby loads and high efficiencies.

Take any small inverter such as the type shown in the first photo. Cost is about $20.
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Plug in any home type fixture you take a fancy to that holds regular screw in type bulbs.
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Put one of these three 60 watt equal LED bulbs into the socket. The Phillips on the left takes 10.5 watts, the center Cree takes 9.5 watts and the Osram on the right takes 8.5 watts. They all produce 800 lumens which is the same as a standard 60 watt incandescent bulb. All are around $10, sometimes less. The all plastic Phillips flat bulb is nice and rugged and light weight, and has no glass to break. Although they use different power, in theory, I have measured very little difference when operated on the inverter. Do NOT buy the “daylight” version of the lights, get the one labeled 2700k or warm white.

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Plug your fixture into the inverter and enjoy a lot of light with a very nice residential quality.

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My measurements show that these LED bulbs take about 1 amp at 12 volts DC through the inverter. Some inverters are not as good as others but the ones I have measured all run from 1 to 1.2 amps supplying any one of the shown bulbs. Each additional bulb on the same inverter adds about 1 amp of input power. To compare this to the incandescents used in older Airstreams, those little 12 volt bulbs took 1.5 amp EACH, and some fixtures had as many as 6 bulbs. And they gave very little light.

Use a simple modified sine wave inverter such as the one shown in the photo for this project. The sine wave inverters supplied in Airstreams today (as well as the Magmum sine wave inverters) have a stand by loss which is excessive, in the range of 1.75 to 1.9 amps doing nothing, and the power to run the bulb is on top of that. If you have lots of battery power available and a good solar charging system you can ignore my caution about using a factory sine wave inverter. But, in this case, a simple inexpensive inverter is better to use. If you have a large trailer and want one small inverter in the front and one in the back, you will have no big energy penalty.

I use this system in both my old Argosy and my new FC 20 Airstream and find the amount of light and the warm residential quality of the light to be very nice and the extremely low energy use is a great bonus. The cost is very low too, much less than RV LED lights and probably more efficient than them too. Unfortunately there are no lumen output numbers available for any RV lights I have seen, so it is difficult to say for sure. But in home LED lighting, there is a huge push for higher efficiency higher light output with less input wattage which is probably not true in the RV field.

Try it out, see if it works for you.
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Old 10-13-2014, 08:57 PM   #2
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Well done, thank you. Will put to use.



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Old 10-13-2014, 10:30 PM   #3
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idroba

My Tradewind has 5 light fixtures that had 4 incandescent 12v lights in each fixture. I went out on a limb and bought 10 6x6 pad smd? led lights directly from China about 2 years ago. The cost was only about $3 each or $30 for all 10 pads. They are warm white and I have been very happy with them. Light output is more than the 4 incandescent bulbs.

However when I want light outside on the table or to do some reading in the evening I have a small table lamp with a 13w compact florescent bulb, 900 lumens, that does a very nice job. I run it off either a 200 watt or 400 watt inverter. I plan to upgrade it to an led bulb when I need to, but it has not broken or burned out just yet. I agree that using a small inverter works the best as long as it does not have a fan that comes on to cool it. I find the ones with a fan very annoying plus I suspect not very efficient.

Thanks, Dan
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Old 10-14-2014, 02:58 PM   #4
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Just to let everyone know, Lowes has a 60 watt equivalent LED light bulb on sale now for $6.98. The specs show 9.9 watts and 800 lumens. The bulb is sold under the name Utilitech. Here are some photos of the bulb package and the bulb installed and operating.

Also shown is my stock Tradewind ceiling light retrofitted with two 36 smd light pads. Total light output, warm white, is 864 lumens. The cost for each pad is about $5 from China.

Dan
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Old 10-14-2014, 04:15 PM   #5
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Glad I got people thinking in this area. BTW, the quality of the LED home bulbs is variable, and I recommend you stay with one of the majors, GE, Phillips, Osram/Sylvania or Cree (pioneers in LED lighting). I am not saying that the Utilitech or any other bulb is not good, but there have been some problems with a number of the unknown brands as to life and light output. Time will sort these out, but for now, be a bit cautious. BTW, the Cree's are all US made if that is one of your criteria.
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Old 10-24-2014, 07:19 AM   #6
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Overall not a bad idea, but my limit is one power inversion...

Seriously, the 12 volt to 120 volt inversion, then the bulb has to convert it back to DC before using the power on the LEDs, I'm pretty sure. That's probably where most of that 1 amp is going, not to actual light production. Regular 12 volt LEDs don't draw anywhere near as much power as even the 1 amp - you would have to have a LOT of them to add up to that much draw.

So, it's an improvement over the incandescent standard, I agree, but not as good as it could be either. Plus then you have a lamp to store and hope the cats don't knock over (which is an issue in our house).

For your comment about the color (harshness) - I've noticed that the newer LEDs are better than the older ones at replicating that incandescent warm-white color (I can't speak to what's installed in new Airstreams). We have some in our bathroom in the trailer, for example, that you'd probably never know were LEDs; our reading lights above the couch and the lights above the kitchen table are the same way. This is an improvement over what they were even two years ago.
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Old 10-24-2014, 08:09 AM   #7
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When I converted to LED on my 2008 Classic I used Warm White LEDs. These put out a more residential glow too. Maybe Airstream uses cool white LEDs in their fixtures.
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Old 10-24-2014, 11:46 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skater View Post
Overall not a bad idea, but my limit is one power inversion...

Seriously, the 12 volt to 120 volt inversion, then the bulb has to convert it back to DC before using the power on the LEDs, I'm pretty sure. That's probably where most of that 1 amp is going, not to actual light production. Regular 12 volt LEDs don't draw anywhere near as much power as even the 1 amp - you would have to have a LOT of them to add up to that much draw.

So, it's an improvement over the incandescent standard, I agree, but not as good as it could be either. Plus then you have a lamp to store and hope the cats don't knock over (which is an issue in our house).

For your comment about the color (harshness) - I've noticed that the newer LEDs are better than the older ones at replicating that incandescent warm-white color (I can't speak to what's installed in new Airstreams). We have some in our bathroom in the trailer, for example, that you'd probably never know were LEDs; our reading lights above the couch and the lights above the kitchen table are the same way. This is an improvement over what they were even two years ago.
There is a lot going on in the LED development area. LED's are not inherently 12 volts to begin with, most are around 4.5 volts I believe, so 12 volt LED lighting already either uses several in series, or use a voltage conversion driver to produce what the actual diode uses (LED = light emitting diode). The conversion efficiency of most modern electronics is amazingly high so that is becoming much less of an issue these days.

It is too bad that we don't have Lumen data on the type of LED's now used in Airstreams as that is the only way to really rate how efficient a system is.
The LED residential bulbs I have suggested all produce about 800 lumens, but how much the factory ones in my 2014 FC 20 produce is unknown. I can tell you that the 6 overhead LED's supplied as original equipment take 1.18 amps on their brightest setting, which is just about the same as one of the 120 volt residential bulbs operating through the little inverter I have shown. But I have no idea of the actual lumen output of those 6 puck light fixtures, so it is impossible to compare them. The human eye is not a good judge of light quantity and equipment to measure lumen output of bulbs is relatively rare and expensive. So, for me to say that the one table lamp I showed in my photos is as bright or brighter than the 6 overhead lights is a complete judgement call. The light output and spread is so very different any statement on my part is meaningless.

Huge development dollars go into the introduction of an energy star rated residential bulb, so I expect they are very efficient in terms of lumens per watt. The 12 volt puck lights that are used in Airstreams don't have anywhere near the market, nor development budget, so I suspect that they are no where nearly as efficient in terms of lumens per watt, but again, without numbers we cannot tell for sure.

The main point that I am and was trying to make is that you can get an inexpensive off the shelf residential LED bulb and operate in with a small inexpensive inverter and reduce your power use for lighting when boondocking very substantially and cheaply. In addition, you can have nice warm white lighting, similar to the original incandescent, or to replace the very cold LED's that Airstream provides in their new units.

I am not pushing it, only suggesting people might try something like this out if they are interested.
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Old 10-24-2014, 12:39 PM   #9
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This might be limited to the Phoenix metro area, but Costco has three, Feit, dimmable, 60 Watt-equivalent, 120-volt LED bulbs for $19.99, minus a $9.00 rebate from the power company. Net price is $10.99, or $3.67 per bulb (plus tax). (Bulb looks similar to the one in TouringDan's post, above.)

These draw about 9.5 Watts, versus about 13 Watts for an equivalent CFL bulb. However, for the $3.67 for one LED bulb, you can buy four CFLs (also with a rebate) that use only 3.5 Watts more (each).

One advantage to the LED bulb is that it is dimmable.

Color temperature is 2,700K ("warm white"), and they appear to be about the same color as an old 60W incandescent bulb.

Note: I have no affiliation with Costco or Feit, other than being a satisfied customer.
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Old 10-24-2014, 07:28 PM   #10
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The sine wave inverters supplied in Airstreams today (as well as the Magmum sine wave inverters) have a stand by loss which is excessive, in the range of 1.75 to 1.9 amps doing nothing.

I install in my 23FB FC an Xantrex pure sine wave 600 watt and the "no load" current is about 1 watt with the remote control plug in. Less than the shown spec!
I am fully satisfy of this product.

On usage of inverters let me share some information on the increasing power required from an inverter relative to the 'state of charge" of the Travel Trailer battery.
In the attached table I show a constant load (25 W incandescent lamp) to the inverter in relation to state of charge of batteries (SOC).

For the same load the inverter 'sucks" 13.4% more energy from a 40% SOC. And close to 22% more energy from a 0% SOC battery.


Good suggestion: Keep your battery as full as possible!

Michel
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Old 10-24-2014, 08:41 PM   #11
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Like LED bulbs, inverters are constantly changing and it is good to see the specs on this Xantrex unit, which looks to have a much lower idle current draw than other sine wave inverters on the market. That is very good news. There is one discrepancy though, in the first introduction it states the standby load is 800 mA which is 8/10 ths of an amp, and in the second chart it shows it as .084 amps which is a factor of ten lower. The statement that it has a 1 watt idle draw seems to indicate that the .084 number is the correct one. That is good.

I expect that either some new circuitry has been developed, or there is a built in search mode which shuts the inverter off and looks for a load about every second. Those reduce the idle load very considerably.

I have a Morningstar 300 watt Pure Sine wave inverter which has this search function and I am very pleased with it, but it's cost was over $220 which most people don't want to spend. The little modified sine wave inverters which i showed in my original post also work well with the LED bulbs and are less than $20, while still having a low standby loss. That is why I mentioned them in my post.

The Airstream factory inverter, and most other pure sine wave inverters have a much higher stand by loss, in the range of 1.75 to 2 amps. Those are the ones you don't want to use on this LED bulb project as the idle losses and minimum input current are far higher than the LED bulb load they are supplying.

Thanks for posting the information on the Xantrex unit. I plan to look at it more closely.
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Old 10-24-2014, 09:55 PM   #12
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LEDs

Yeah. I installed these along with LED driver to control them. I can make it soft or bright.
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Old 10-25-2014, 07:22 PM   #13
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Yeah. I installed these along with LED driver to control them. I can make it soft or bright.

I install LED "Under Cabinet Light" Warm White (2,850 K) with dimmer on the top of cabinet both sides. I do not like the factory ceiling LED lights (no dim in my year manufacturing). Their color temperature is to high (6,500+ K) and the color rending index is too low: less than 45%.
See attached photos, your can observe the difference between them.



About the idle power of the Xantrex pure sine wave inverter, the 1 Watt figure is a real life measurement in my unit!

Michel
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