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Tips & Applications

Here are some tips and applications for using LEDs in your RV or Boat, as well ideas on how to handle some of the problems you may run into when doing so.  

Search this page for the information you want
Live off-grid on solar
Look for LED Applications in Your RV or Boat
If Your New LED Does Not Light
Protect your LEDs from over-voltage conditions
Save your fixture lenses with LEDs
Never, Ever exceed wattage ratings and overload circuits in your RV
Sorry, LEDs are not recommended as heating elements
Eliminate the heat of those Halogen puck lights
Use zipLEDs to direct the light where you need it
Construct chandelier lighting that works
Replace fluorescents with fLEDescents
Use LEDs in exterior patio lights
StepLights can save an ankle
Have an LED LightWand handy
Could you use a little Sewing Light
Wire lightstrips into a fluorescent fixture
Fix a W9.RV... bulb that does not fit the socket
Recharge your batteries



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Tip: Live off-grid on solar power using LEDs

In most coaches and boats with incandescent and fluorescent lighting, the lighting uses more than half of the 12-volt DC load. If your power source is the sun, power is an immediate concern and excessive usage can make the difference between staying out as long as you want or coming in to find a recharge.

Take my experience. We are running a business while boondocking on the desert floor and require about two hours of Internet and TV connectivity per day. I typically need 25 amp-hours each day to power our TV, DISH receiver, HughesNet Satellite Internet, Modem, Router, and two laptops. 

In the evenings we use about 1,600 lumens of lighting running for five or six hours. With incandescents and fluorescents, this would require about 8 amps for 6 hours, totalling about 48 amp-hours. 

My rig has only 240 watts of solar panels using a solar boost controller, so on average I can expect to recharge my batteries with as much as 45 amp-hours on a good solar day. That means I could be 28 amp-hours short at the end of the first day, and every day thereafter.

But if I use LEDs for my lighting, I require only 1.6 amps to produce the 1,600 lumens, meaning I only need about 8 amp-hours each evening. Now my solar system only has to replace 33 amp-hours each day, and the 240 watt panels can do that, even on an overcast day. I can even surf the web a little longer each night.

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Tip: Protect your LEDs from over-voltage conditions

Light Emitting Diodes are 21st century semiconductor devices that are very sensitive to over-voltage conditions. You can ZAP them faster than a speeding bullet if you apply too high a voltage.

LightBlaster LED circuits are designed to operate between 11 and 14.5 volts. Unfortunately, the 12-volt circuitry in an RV or boat cannot be guaranteed to operate at a steady 12 volt level. Starting the generator, plugging into shore-power, solar power changes, and battery equalization will all cause the voltage on the line to range from 11.5 to 15.5 volts, or possibly even higher.

Those high voltages can KILL an LED!

If you want your LEDs to last as long as they are rated (up to 100,000 hours of continuous usage), you must ensure they are not exposed to voltage spikes higher than what they can stand. That is why voltage regulation circuits are so vital.

LightBlaster bulb replacements using the nexLED technology have voltage protection built in. That is why they can be warranted for the full life of the LED: 11 years. If your LED vendor does not offer voltage regulation and a guarantee, he is telling you to not bother calling him when the LED fails.

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Tip: If Your New LED Does Not Light

LEDs require the correct polarity of electricity to light up. If you connect them backwards, they do not light.

W9s and G4s have bridges so they can be plugged in either way and still work; they reverse the voltage if needed. B15d expects one pin in the base to be ground and the other to be +12-volts. When it does not light, remove and reinsert into the socket after turning it 180 degrees.

The B15s expects the socket shell to be ground and the contact to be +12-volts. In a very few cases, I have seen rigs where the light fixture has been wired backwards, and the socket shell is the +12-volts. This can actually be an unsafe condition. Here there are two choices. One is to rewire your rig to make it right. The other solution is to use zipLEDs with a B15s base, and rotate the LightStick connection to make the LED work.

When wiring in LightStrips, it is best to use a volt-meter to check that the voltage polarity before doing the final wiring connection
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Tip: Protect your LEDs from over-voltage conditions

Light Emitting Diodes are 21st century semiconductor devices that are very sensitive to over-voltage conditions. You can ZAP them faster than a speeding bullet if you apply too high a voltage.

LightBlaster LED circuits are designed to operate between 11 and 14.5 volts. Unfortunately, the 12-volt circuitry in an RV or boat cannot be guaranteed to operate at a steady 12 volt level. Starting the generator, plugging into shore-power, solar power changes, and battery equalization will all cause the voltage on the line to range from 11.5 to 15.5 volts, or possibly even higher.

Those high voltages can KILL an LED!

If you want your LEDs to last as long as they are rated (up to 100,000 hours of continuous usage), you must ensure they are not exposed to voltage spikes higher than what they can stand. That is why voltage regulation circuits are so vital.

LightBlaster products using the nexLED technology have voltage protection built in. That is why they can be warranted for the full life of the LED: 11 years. If your LED vendor does not offer voltage regulation and a guarantee, he is telling you to not bother calling him when the LED fails.

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Tip: Save your fixture lenses with LEDs

Folks bring by their melted fixture lenses all the time. They are an obvious sign that something got too hot -- hot enough to melt plastic -- hot enough to start a fire under the right conditions. Each has a story.

One lens came from the basement of a brand new Beaver coach. A new full-timer filled the slide-in tray to the top, and when forgot to turn off the basement light (with a single 1156 bulb) when he closed the compartment door. He drove 150 miles down the road and stopped at a rest stop. When he opened his basement, smoke boiled out. Lucky for him, the hot light had only melted the lens and some of the vinyl tire cover, and no there was no fire burst. He bought a full set of LEDs to replace his basement lights.

A lady brought in the cover for a puck light. It had fallen onto her lap when heat from the halogen bulb melted the tabs and cracked the lense. She wondered if I had a replacement cover. I explained how close she had come to a fire in the cabinet above her head, and gave her a new cover. She purchased a full set of LEDs for all the puck lights above her couch

I was changing out my 921 bulbs for LEDs when I removed the lens under the light we used most of the time. To my surprise, the center of the lens crumbled. The plastic had been destroyed by the hot light.

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Tip: Never, Ever exceed wattage ratings and overload circuits in your RV

The light fixtures and switches used in RV coaches and Boats are usually tested by UnderWriters Lab and CSA to verify that they can operate without danger at the specified voltages and wattages. These items with their wires are made using plastics that can ignite and become dangerous fire hazards when subjected to higher voltages and wattages.

Unfortunately, I have found that not all RV manufacturers or RV owners pay attention to the ratings of the fixtures. They put the rigs at risk by overloading their circuits or using higher wattage incandescents and halogen bulbs than specified for the fixtures.

The typical halogen "puck light" recessed into the ceiling or over a work surface is rated for a 12-volt, 10-watt bulb. Some people want more light, so they purchase a 20-watt, or even 30-watt, halogen bulb to put in place of the 10-watt. The light level may increase a bit, but the heat level increases a lot. What was a simple charring problem before can become a full-blown fire in a matter of minutes.

The better solution is to replace the halogen bulb with an LED replacement, like the G4.RV3H. It only draws 200 milliAmps, for a total of 2.4-watts.

In another situation, I found a Phaeton coach with a 10-amp-rated toggle switch servicing eight 921 wedge bulbs above the vanity plus a fluorescent, for a total of a 15 amps draw when all were turned on. The problem was noticed when the wiring melted behind the counter, creating smoke and almost starting a fire.

After replacing the switch, I replaced the 921s with zipLED W9.ZL3s, reducing the load to 560 milliAmps for the same amount of light.

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Tip: Sorry, LEDs are not recommended as heating elements

A friend in Ottawa has complained about using the LightBlaster LEDs in his motorcoach. He can no longer turn on the lights to warm the coach.

Incandescents must reach a temperature of 600 to 1,200 degrees F to work. Between 75% and 85% of the electrical power is used to create the heat needed to reach that temperature, and that heat radiates out from the bulbs. That is why they get so hot -- hot enough to produce third degree burns.

LEDs must be kept cool and should not exceed 188 degrees F at the junction or they will fail. LightBlasters uses metal heatsinks to pull what little heat is generated away from the semiconductor. They are warm, but you can touch them without fear of being burned.

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Tip: Eliminate the heat of those Halogen puck lights

Some of the high-end coaches have many halogen puck lights (named this because the fixture is the shape of a hockey puck). Those notorious puck lights found in the ceilings and under the counters of many high-end coaches and noted for the amount of heat they produce -- enough to start fires.

Puck light fixtures are rated by UL for 12-volt, 10-watt usage. Even with that size of halogen bulb, they get very hot, and the inside of the cabinet above such a light is warm enough to make the bread moldy within a day.

Some people even relace the 12v10w halogen bulb with a 12v20w bulb. It looks just the same, but more than doubles the heat produced.

A better idea is to replace the halogen bulb with an LED, like the LightBlaster G4.RV3-H.

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Tip: Use zipLEDs to direct the light where you need it

Bulbs are bulbs because they require a glass enclosure to protect the filament (or gas) as it heats up. Bulbs shine their light in every direction, whether that is the way you want it or not.

One of the latest innovations from LightBlasters is the zipLED LightStick, and 0.5 by 1.5 inch board with three HyBright.3 LED chips plus voltage protection circuitry. This will direct all 45+ lumens produced by the 70 milliamp current in a 150 degree cone on light. You just make sure the light is pointing the way you want, and don't waste it shining the other way.

The zipLED feature allows the lighting to be configured to the into many different configurations to fit the different needs found in an RV.

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Tip: Construct chandelier lighting that works

Many RVs and boats have nice chandelier fixtures over their dining areas with bulbs that shine their light everywhere. These fixtures have three or four incandescents (921 or 1141), and draw 5 or 6 amps of current.

By mounting zipLED LightSticks onto aluminum plates (three per socket) and directing the light downward it is possible to produce the same amount of light on the table with a draw of only 600 milliamps.

If you want more light to see to sew or read, mount four to six LightStick onto each plate.

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Tip: Replace fluorescents with fLEDescents

I remember when fluorescent fixtures became popular in RVs about twenty years ago as a means to reduce power consumption. They have improved over the years, but still the best they can do is about a 50% efficiency of use of the electrical power to produce light. Even though the tubes may be more efficient, there is power used in the ballast, and the tubes must be replaced from time to time, and you MUST dispose of the old tubes properly because they contain mercury, now considered a hazardous waste.

A new product from Prudent RVer is the fLEDescent, a replacement for the insides of your fluorecent fixture. It requires removing the tubes and ballast and using the original case, switch, and lens cover. The LEDs used produce the same level of light as the fluorescent tubes, or you can add more or use fewer. You can also get a dimmer for the fixture to allow variation in the lighting level as you need.

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Tip: Use LEDs in exterior patio lights

The light most often left ON all night is the one you don't see, the patio light just outside your door on the side of your rig. It typically uses 1.5 amps, and in 12 hours will use 18 amp-hours out of your battery. That is over a third of the 50 amp-hours you can safely pull from a typical type-27 battery before doing it damage.

With the new zipLEDs you can vary the amount of light available from each of your patio lights while keeping the current draw to a reasonable level. Put two LightSticks in one and four in another. Get about the same level of light as a scare light by using six LightSticks.

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Tip: StepLights can save an ankle

Have you walked up to your coach at night and been unable to see the steps because you did not turn on your patio light. It hurts when you kick the step trying to find it.

Mount a section of water-proof LED Wand Light on the steps into your motor home. You can either leave the light on all the time or wire it through the handle light switch.

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Tip: Have an LED LightWand handy

Another great use for an LED WandLight is to wire it to the switch in the glove compartment. It has a six foot connecting wire so my wife can take it out of the glove compartment and move it around to where she wants to look. It is great for map reading, so much better than the "map reading" lights mounted near the roof. You can even use it to look under the seat.

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Tip: Could you use a little Sewing Light

A zipLED LightStick makes a perfect light to mount under the neck of a sewing machine. It is connected to a 120vac power supply that can plug into the wall socket where you plug the sewing machine.

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Tip: How to wire lightstrips into a fluorescent fixture

If you do not use the fLEDescent modification for your fluorescent, a couple of LED LightStrips make a great accent or replacement for fluorescent lightbulbs in a 12-volt RV fluorescent fixture. However, there is not a simple plug-in for using them. You must wire them into the light fixture, and, since you will need to put a voltage regulator in-line to protect the LightStrips.

One thing for sure: you CANNOT plug or wire your LED lightstrip into the wiring to the bulbs; you must wire them into the primary 12 volt DC lines (power and ground) coming into the fixture or immediately after the switch. DO NOT wire them to any of the lines coming out of the ballast. The 48 volt AC will destroy the LEDs.

The first step is to determine which wire from the lightstrip connects to the ground and which connects to the power wire. Power usually runs through the toggle switch at the end of the fixture. Touch the bare wires from the lightstrip to exposed active power and ground points in the fixture. If the LED does NOT light, reverse the wires and try again. If you have connected to power, the strip will light up. Once you know which way works, do not forget and attach them backwards.

Next decide if the lightstrip is to attach before or after the toggle switch on the fixture. In our bath area, we have a wall switch and a toggle switch on the fluorescent fixture, so we can attach the lightstrip before the toggle switch. This allows us to turn on the lightstrip without turning on the fluorescent bulbs. We can also turn on both by using the toggle.

Without a wall switch, or if we were tossing the fluorescent tubes and just using LEDs, we would wire power in after the toggle switch so we can turn it ON and OFF.

Now decide where you are going to place the lightstrips on the outside or inside of the fixture and route the lightstrip wires from that place to where you will tie to the RV wiring.

Use the "press-on wire tap" component available at most hardware stores to connect the wires. One side of the tap straddles the RV wire (usually 14 or 16-gauge) and you push the correct wire from the lightstrip into the closed end side and press the metal slider down to connect the two wires. Test that the connections are correct and connected by turning on the LED lightstrip.

Finally, remove the covering from the double stick tape on the back of the lightstrips and mount them in your chosen position. When you are satisfied, call in your significant other and show off your work. They will be impressed.

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Tip: Fix a W9.RV... bulb that does not fit the socket

There is a 9.5mm specification for the size of the W9 base and for the socket into which it sits. However, different vendors have designed their products at both limits (tight and loose) of the specs. LightBlasters has built its bulbs to be sure they are not too small for any of the fixtures. It is sometimes necessary to trim them down to fit into the smaller sockets.

If the W9.RV3-V bulb does not slid into the recepticle (using a moderate amount of force), you can trim the edge of the printed circuit board that slides into the socket on the sides and on the top where the solder traces have been built up. I use a Dremel with a small grinding wheel to shave the edges of the slide and lower the height of the solder runners.

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Tip: Recharge your batteries

If some of your LED appliances must run on batteries, may I suggest that you choose appliances that use AA batteries and then buy a recharger and rechargable NiMH batteries. They will pay for themselves over time, and you will not be disposing of your old alkaline batteries into some landfill.

It makes good economic and earth sense.

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