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Old 04-01-2012, 07:56 AM   #1
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LED Dimmer Failure?

My 2012 International came with recessed LEDs in the ceiling of the salon area (circuit 1) and bedroom area (circuit 2). They are controlled by factory-supplied LED dimmers made by American Technology Components, Inc.

After about a month of use, the LED lights on circuit 1 began to turn on and off intermittently even with the toggle switch in the off position. Flipping the toggle to on then off would turn the lights off but they would usually turn back on almost immediately or or at least within a few minutes.

So, under warranty, the LED dimmer was replaced with a new unit and all seemed to be fine. Fast forward about another month or two and the same problem has surfaced again. The lights on circuit 2 in the bedroom have never been a problem.

I've also noted the following:
  • When the lights come on on their own (toggle is in the OFF position) the back of the LED dimmer gets warm or even hot if they remain on for a while -- 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Deliberately turning the lights on (toggle in the ON position) works fine and the back of the dimmer does not get even the slightest bit warm after the same timeframe.

I've been tempted to take the dimmer from circuit 2 in the bedroom area and wire it to circuit 1 in the salon area and vice versa to see if the intermittent on/off problem relocates to the bedroom. However, when I inspect the labels on the two dimmers I see both are made by American Technology Components but the numbers are different:

Salon dimmer - AH-SLD-5-001, W/O:103744, REV F
Bedroom dimmer - AH-SLD-5-001, W/O:103005, REV F

I should note the salon dimmer is a replacement and I don't know what the numbers were on the original that has since been sent back to the dealer.

So I'm looking for thoughts and opinions on what the issue might be.

- Should I move forward with my test and do a switcheroo with the dimmers between circuit 1 and circuit 2? (or, is there any reason I should NOT do this?)

- Might the switch be fine and somewhere in the wiring of the lights on circuit 1 there might be a pinched wire allowing the mysterious on/off of the lights?

- ???
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Old 04-01-2012, 08:43 AM   #2
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For the time being, install a simple on/off switch in the lounge area, and see if the problem continues. If it does, the problem is elsewhere, and not the switch. I haven't seen the switches fail like you are describing, and it's possible something else is going on. A temporary rocker switch would only cost a few (less than 10) dollars, and might save you from having the switches replaced ad nauseum.
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Old 05-28-2012, 10:33 PM   #3
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I would opt for your switcheroo test and am anxious to hear the results as we have the same set up (single) in a 2012 FC20 ...
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Old 05-29-2012, 05:27 AM   #4
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Well, funny you ask . . .

I just had the good folks at J.D. Sanders in Alachua, FL do a thorough check on the system with emphasis on the problem with the LED lights. Although no cause was found, I couldn't be happier with the work Mark did in the Service department. The whole team of employees there have been a joy to work with.

Mark was in contact with electrical engineers from Jackson Center and ran a series of tests on each of the LED lights -- all checked out fine as did the wiring and the switch. JC said they had one other similarly reported incident. A fellow reported that his LED lights came on intermittently in his Airstream parked/stored in his back yard while, get this, disconnected from shore power and also with the battery disconnected!

And then there was his casual remark about living under high tension power lines. ;-)

I don't know anything more about that incident but I think it underscores the sensitivity that exists with the LED set-up. My brother, also an accomplished electrical engineer, explained to me early in the discussion of this problem that dimmer switches in general are sensitive to "electronic noise" -- a dumbed-down term for my benefit, I'm sure. A common element in nearly all of the 7 or 8 incidents of this that I have seen have involved some local weather events. Either clear electrical storms directly overhead or in the vicinity or the beginning of one nearby. I can't help but think this has something to do with it. Although I lack the skill set to say exactly how.

In the meantime, I'm just going to continue to monitor the situation making note of environmental conditions at the time. With the onset of summer storms in Florida I will have ample opportunity to examine this theory.

One thing that does concern me, however, is that the back of the dimmer switch gets hot (not warm) when the lights come on "automagically" which means the on/off toggle switch is still in the off position. When the lights are deliberately switched on the back of the dimmer switch has little noticeable difference in the temperature. I don't know that I'd even call it warm.

If anyone else notices a similar problem I'd like to hear from you either as a part of this thread or via PM. I'd like to emphasize that my particular problem has been with the ceiling mounted LED lights on a dimmer. No other LED light has been a problem -- including, oddly, the 7 similar LED fixtures on a dimmer in the bedroom/bathroom area.
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Old 08-07-2012, 12:25 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoonanea View Post
Well, funny you ask . . .

I just had the good folks at J.D. Sanders in Alachua, FL do a thorough check on the system with emphasis on the problem with the LED lights. Although no cause was found, I couldn't be happier with the work Mark did in the Service department. The whole team of employees there have been a joy to work with.

Mark was in contact with electrical engineers from Jackson Center and ran a series of tests on each of the LED lights -- all checked out fine as did the wiring and the switch. JC said they had one other similarly reported incident. A fellow reported that his LED lights came on intermittently in his Airstream parked/stored in his back yard while, get this, disconnected from shore power and also with the battery disconnected!

And then there was his casual remark about living under high tension power lines. ;-)

I don't know anything more about that incident but I think it underscores the sensitivity that exists with the LED set-up. My brother, also an accomplished electrical engineer, explained to me early in the discussion of this problem that dimmer switches in general are sensitive to "electronic noise" -- a dumbed-down term for my benefit, I'm sure. A common element in nearly all of the 7 or 8 incidents of this that I have seen have involved some local weather events. Either clear electrical storms directly overhead or in the vicinity or the beginning of one nearby. I can't help but think this has something to do with it. Although I lack the skill set to say exactly how.

In the meantime, I'm just going to continue to monitor the situation making note of environmental conditions at the time. With the onset of summer storms in Florida I will have ample opportunity to examine this theory.

One thing that does concern me, however, is that the back of the dimmer switch gets hot (not warm) when the lights come on "automagically" which means the on/off toggle switch is still in the off position. When the lights are deliberately switched on the back of the dimmer switch has little noticeable difference in the temperature. I don't know that I'd even call it warm.

If anyone else notices a similar problem I'd like to hear from you either as a part of this thread or via PM. I'd like to emphasize that my particular problem has been with the ceiling mounted LED lights on a dimmer. No other LED light has been a problem -- including, oddly, the 7 similar LED fixtures on a dimmer in the bedroom/bathroom area.
That accurately describes our problem, too. No help from the local dealer.
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Old 08-08-2012, 11:09 AM   #6
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So now our dealer service advisor told me yesterday to call AS. Both of our dimmers are starting to hum after the lights being dimmed for the length of watching a blue ray video. Anyonbe else experiencing this problem?
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Old 08-08-2012, 12:47 PM   #7
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Will be watching this in my Intl. So far, no dimmer issues, but thanks for posting this so I can be on the lookout!
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Old 08-08-2012, 03:00 PM   #8
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I have had a similar experience with one string of LED strip lights I installed on the outside of my Excella. I have them wired to a dimmer with a remote control that is installed in the compartment at rear of the fridge. They came on by themselves several times. I changed out the dimmer and all has been good since. I have 3 other dimmers inside that have not had any issues yet.
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Old 08-08-2012, 03:24 PM   #9
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A few thoughts about dimmers—the 120 v. ones in houses is what I have, but the principles should be the same.

Some of them buzz when the lights are low. The lights may also flicker at very low settings and I just raise them a little. Some may get hot when on since the rheostat creates heat from sending only part of the power to the lights. The rest of the energy has to go somewhere and heat results. These events were fairly common years ago and may have been from poor design or me buying cheap dimmers.

Other things that can cause problems are contacts that are too close together and expand in the heat and cause a temporary short, or dust accumulated in the switch also causing a short. The guts of the dimmer are usually encased in plastic and if so, you may not be able see the contacts or clean them.

I doubt switching the dimmers to the bedroom circuit will tell you anything about the main cabin circuit. You can test the circuit that is acting up by removing the dimmer and then keeping the wires apart and seeing if the lights go on, and then by installing a simple switch, turning it on, then leaving it off and seeing what happens. If there's a problem in the circuit, it should show up with these tests. That way you will not have the unpleasant surprise of the lights in the bedroom going on and off all night while you try to sleep.

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Old 08-08-2012, 06:10 PM   #10
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I am not an electrical engineer or even an electrician. I sold electrical products to resindential and commercial contractors for 38 years before retiring this past January. Here are just some thoughts to your problem:
1. As you know, you are dealing with the newest of new technology, dimming LED's.
2. The things that apply to normal 120V AC circuits do not apply to LED's. They operate from a "driver " similar to a ballast in a flourscent lighting fixture except the "driver" is a very, very small electronic device on a very small printed circuit board in the fixture.
3. Even though LED's provide very good light output at a much reduced energy cost, and last virtually forever, the main hurdle manufacturers had before they could be used in Residential & Commercial buildings was the dimmer issue. They had not figured out how to dim them. Dimmers for these applications only became available in 2011.
4. I googled the manufacture of the switch you refered to but could not find the part number you listed. That tells me one of two possibilities: Either the manufacturer does not catalog the device you have or they already know there is a problem with it and have removed it from their web site. ( a 3rd option could be that the number is an Original Equipment Part number not used for resale purposes to the general public.
5. Here are some technical thoughts I have, but again I'm not an engineer: I would assume that AS is operating the circuits from the 12V DC side of the inverter, so they work like all other lighting in travel trailers. This is a good thing, since all LED's opererat at 12V supplied by the "driver". All that dimming really does, is applies less voltage to the lamp to get less light output. They do this by putting a resistor in the circuit. The problem with dimming LED's is that they go off before the voltage reaches 0. That means that voltage is till be applied even though the lamp appears to be off. You may check and see if your switch has a definite off position, rather than just the lowness of the dimmer. You may not be turning or sliding it far enough to go to the fully off position and therefore it comes back on when you think it is off. The heat could also be explained from this issue. As long as the dimmer is in the low postion and the resistor in the circuit is coking the voltage, it will heat up. That's what resistors do! When you have the switch in the full off postion, the is no voltage to the resistor and there for no heat.
OK, I'd better stop my speculating. My solution would be to deal with the AS factory on this issue. It is probably something out of most of our skills to solve, and maybe even the engineers at AS or the switch manufacturer.
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Old 08-08-2012, 07:38 PM   #11
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James, thanks for an informative post.

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Old 08-11-2012, 12:20 PM   #12
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With some recent activity on this thread I thought it might be a good idea to post an update on my situation.

Earlier I reported that I took my Airstream back to the dealership in Alachua, FL. Real good folks there. Mark, the service leader, did a thorough check on all of the lights and their connections and ran some diagnostic tests. Nothing specific to the problem was found.

Since then, I have been in the Airstream for several nights and a few business trips to South Carolina. There have been plenty of summer thunderstorms -- an event that I had initially thought was related. I'm happy report that the problem seems to have gone away. I really think something was resolved during the thorough exam that Mark did at the dealership. While he might not know what it was the fixed the problem I think having it looked at thoroughly was a good idea.

My brother, the Electrical-Engineer-Nerd (I tell him that's an endearing term; he remains skeptical), told me from the beginning that LED dimmers work very differently from an incandescent bulb dimmer. The LED dimmer is "PWM" which means pulse width modulation. The dimming effect is created by pulsing the electric current. So the LED still gets a full 12v on every pulse. A slower pulse gives a dimmer effect while a faster pulse gives a "full on" effect. By contrast, an incandescent bulb dimmer uses a rheostat to change the voltage. Lower voltage means a dimmer bulb. Full voltage means a "full on" bulb.

My LED dimmers have never had a hum to them but I'm familiar with it from my household dimmer switches.

As a side note, another simple change I made in my Airstream with the dimmers was to change which fixtures the factory installed dimmers control. From the factory, the dimmer switches control two separate circuits for the ceiling puck lights. But in the same area where the switches are located are also a bank of regular on/off toggle switches that control other lights. So, I swapped the lounge area ceiling light dimmer switch with the on/off toggle for the single overhead dinette light. That light was just way too bright at night or when having a meal at the table. Similarly, in the rear of the trailer I swapped the dimmer switch with the on/off toggle that controls the two lights above the bathroom vanity.

The changes were easy to accomplish. I just unscrewed each of the light switches from the wall and pulled the wires off of the contacts on the rear of each switch and connected them to the other switch. It's no doubt the easiest "mod" I've done to the interior.
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Old 09-28-2012, 09:38 AM   #13
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Problem has resurfaced -- humidity a factor?

So I'm bumping my own thread today to provide an update and to see if anyone else is having a similar problem. To recap:

My 2012 Int'l came with factory installed dimmer switches for the ceiling puck lights. I've had intermittent problems with the lights turning on completely on their own with the switch still in the "off" position.

The dealer investigated the issue and did thorough testing on the wiring and found no issues. I am very happy with their work and I agree with their findings. Initially, I had been concerned that a pinched wire somewhere in the circuit was allowing the lights to come on.

Several months have passed without any problems. However, I think it's worth mentioning that during this time (summer) I've had the AS parked on a leased site at a campground near my home and I leave the AC set to come on and keep the interior at a temperature of 84 degrees. This is solely to control the interior humidity.

During this time, there hasn't been a single incident with the lights. Fast forward to this morning. I'm away camping this weekend and a rain storm came in last night and cooled things down a little. I took advantage of the situation and turned off the AC and opened all of the windows to enjoy the breeze and the sounds of nature during the night.

I woke up this morning to heavy humidity, dew, and fog. And guess what? The light turned on by itself again this morning! In my previous posts, I've noted how there has always been a weather event associated with this problem and humidity would be consistent with storms actually occurring or in the vicinity. So, I'll go out on a limb and bet my next 6 paychecks that this is definitely a humidity related problem.

Product testing of the dimmer switch most likely occurred in a laboratory with a controlled climate where there was very little humidity so this problem would not have been noticed.

Also worth pointing out is that in a previous post I mentioned how I changed which lights get controlled by the dimmer. From the factory, the dimmer controlled the ceiling pucks. I changed it to control the overhead dinette light and the ceiling pucks are now controlled by the basic on/off toggle switch that used to control the dinette light. It was a simple switcheroo of the wires on the back of the switches which are all located in the same place by the entry door.

It was the dinette light that came on this morning. This is the fixture now controlled by the dimmer switch. So clearly this is an issue with the dimmer and not the wiring.

My AS is still under warranty and I'll probably pursue this as a warranty issue hoping to get a newer revision of the dimmer switch that might have this problem addressed. But I don't thinks this is Airstream's issue. I think it's a problem that needs to be dealt with by the switch manufacturer.

These dimmers were standard issue beginning with 2012 models and I think some late 2011 models might have them as well. Now that there are more of them on the road, I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed this problem? And, if so, would you say there was high humidity at the time?
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Old 02-04-2013, 09:08 PM   #14
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LED Dimmers Turn On their own

Saw your post from last Spring. Did you ever resolve your problem? My brother is going through this now and has noted carefully that the problem seems to be related when their could be condensing on the inside of perimeter walls -- not interior walls between rooms. The walls that are in contact with outside air could develop condensation then drip or otherwise form condensation on the dimmer causing it to turn on in a manner that isn't correct and result in full brightness and a warm or hot dimmer.

One suggestion he was told was to put a few layers of electrical tape on the dimmer heat sink to insure it was not touching the outside skin.

A thought I had for you was to swap dimmers IF the working dimmer is on an inside wall not in close proximity to the outside skin. If they are both on outside walls then look to see if one is closer to the skin than the other.

Another thought relative to touching the skin or having a moisture connection to the skin would be that the skin can act like an antenna if you are not grounded well. It will then pick up stray 60Hz noise from nearby power lines, power cords, AC lighting, etc. and be enough energy to turn on the electronic component that is attached to the heatsink that switches the current on and off to the lights. This is an FET in the switch I looked at and an FET has a very sensitive control input that could be triggered by noise coupled into it.

The dimmers used are based on two wires. One wire is 12v feed (red) and the other (white) goes off to the LEDs. The end of the LEDs return to ground to complete the circuit. When you throw the on/off switch the lights may come on a little, but you may not be able to turn off completely with the slider because some current needs to flow through the dimmer to drop enough voltage inside to power the very circuit that dims the LEDs. Similarly, you will never go full bright because some voltage is robbed by the dimmer for its circuitry.

LEDs are dimmed by changing how long voltage stays on -- not by the level of the voltage. They call this PWM or Pulse-Width Dimming. Pulses will go up to about 12v and down to around 6v. No lower than about 5 or 6v because that's the voltage dropped inside the dimmer for its circuit. When the pulses are spread apart (few pulses) then the lights are dim. When the pulses are almost always at 12v (very wide pulses with short off time) the LEDs are as bright as the circuit will allow. A dead short to the full 12v would give more brightness than the pulses which means that's a clue that something else has gated the voltage on to the LEDs.

This two-wire dimmer scheme is likely a carry-over from the dimmers used for regular 12v bulbs. These dimmers could simply vary the voltage (no pulses required, but pulses could work as well) to cause dimming.

In my mind, a better circuit would have the switch in-line with the red 12v input. It is not in-line to the 12v input on the American Technology Components dimmer. A friend and I designed and simulated an alternative dimmer that puts the switch in-line to the power. So, when the switch is off there is "no" chance of false turn-on. I just didn't get around to building it. I think I will just try modifying the ATC dimmer instead.

After I posted this reply I noticed my brother's post in this thread! He is Hoonanea.

That's my short reply!

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