When I was sitting in my newly purchased old motorhome. I noticed that all the lighting was old filament bulbs and ancient fluorescent tubes. Although this was the best, least power hungry lighting of its time, that time has definitely passed.
I decided the best way to upgrade my motorhome lighting was to change over to LED lights. A cheap, easy and very power efficient way to light a motorhome with limited battery power. LED lights are brighter and use less power.
LED lighting has become the norm for lightning modern motorhomes. Classic Motorhomes tend to have very power hungry lighting that can take its toll on your leisure battery.
We only have one leisure battery so if we are not hooked up to the mains we have a limited time before the battery runs out of power and we are in darkness.
I decided I would replace the lighting with led strips. These provide a good light with reasonable power use.
They also work with a large range of voltages including 12v which is what we needed. There are many types and sizes of led strip lights but the one I chose uses under 3 watts per meter. A rough equivalent for led compared to a filament bulb is ten times. So a 3 watt led gives roughly the equivalent light as a 30-watt filament bulb.
Most brightnesses are quoted in lumens now as the power usage is a poor indicator of brightness.
Preparing your old motorhome lights
The first thing to do, and this is important – make sure your lights are running from 12Volts and you don’t have mains powered lights.
Our motorhome has no mains powered lights at all and all run on the 12volt system. You can double check this with a multimeter and if you don’t feel confident doing this get some professional help – like an electrician.
I decided that I would use my old light fittings by taking out the internals and just using the old switch with the new LEDs.
This is easy enough, just find the positive and the negative after the switch. Those are the wires you want to connect to the LEDs. Just remove all the bits that are not required such as the circuit boards with the tube starters.
This sounds easy but some of the lights have a lot of parts. What you need is the positive cable from the switch and a negative cable that exits the light. Connect your LEDs to those cables and you should not have any problems.
Polarity for led is important
Before we fit any led lights we must make sure that the polarity is correct. For a filament bulb, the polarity is not important and will work no matter which way round the positive and negative are connected. For a LED bulb it is very important to get the polarity right.
The problem I found was the cable in the Hymer is counter-intuitive. In the UK the brown is live and the blue in neutral. In a Hymer the brown is negative and the blue is positive. To make things really challenging some of the wire is connected the old way and some of the additions are connected the new way. So there is really no choice but to find out which wire is which before you start.
The way to check this is with a multimeter. Once you have the correct polarity you can connect the LEDs easily and they will work.
When I was putting in our lights, some of the old spotlights took bulbs which I decided to change to led bulbs. Some would work and some would not. It took me a while to realise the lights had been wired up randomly and I had to re-wire to the right polarity for the new bulbs so the led lights would work.
Fitting the led strip into the new lights
Most led strips come with a sticky backing which is really useful for first putting them on. What I have found though, is that the adhesive is almost never strong enough to last any time and your beautifully placed lights start to drop off, usually the next morning. You have to stick them on. Usually, I will stick them on with the adhesive backing and then use little blobs of silicone in between the LEDs to hold them in position. You want the silicone on the led strip and the surface you are adhering to. That is why it’s best to have led strip out of sight somewhere you cannot see it directly thus providing an excellent ambient light.
This is the type of lighting I have used the most as it is a very indirect light so you don’t have any glare.
Testing your new lights
All that’s required is to make sure the polarity is the right way and connect them to your power source through the switch. It is best to use the motorhome lighting circuit, that way it will be on a fuse. If you are taking anything from the battery it is very important to put that through a fuse. If you do not you could very easily start a fire. Fires and motorhomes are not a good mix, they go up in flames very quickly, so always use a fuse.
Once wired correctly flick the switch and you should have a glorious new low energy light.
Tools required for the job
To complete this job you are going to need a
Silicone or adhesive
A sharp Knife.
All the tools that I recommend are on this page here
The cost of upgrading to led lights
Once you have all the tools the only cost is the led strip and you are buying 5m lengths which should do quite a few lights. The main expense is your labour, effort and planning.
The good thing about the led strips is that you don’t need the type that comes with a transformer to step down the voltage as we will be connecting them to 12Volts.
Led light cost £ check here
Adhesive/silicone – £ check here
When I completed the job it cost me about £11 for the materials and was able to do the three main lights with that.
I put about 3-4 strips of LEDs in each light, which were about 500mm long. The brightness is very good – way brighter than the original lights.
LED Lights in Use.
If you get the warm white LEDs then you get a nice warming glow. If you can put them in places where you cannot directly see them, you get a very nice ambient light. They use so much less power than the old bulbs and we get so much more light. We actually have a bit too much light but you can adjust to set for the mood but when you need to see something you can.
Waterproof LEDs or non-waterproof LEDs
I usually use the waterproof type of LED lights and have found them to be robust and reliable. In a few places I have used the non-waterproof ones and they also seem reliable. The waterproof LEDs are quite difficult to fit if you are taking them around corners and can be a bit stiff and tricky to work with. The non-waterproof type are much lower profile and much easier to work with the only problem being I am not sure how long they will last in the motorhome environment. Although I must say the non-waterproof type seem to be holding up very well. That’s about a year they have been in.
I used the non-waterproof ones under the countertop and have had no problems at all. I was a bit worried about the sink being there but has not been a problem. Make sure that any changes you make to the motorhome electrical system go through a fuse.
LED strip lights or LED Lights
You can buy specific LED lighting for your motorhome but they tend to be very expensive and a lot of the time they just don’t look right in an older motorhome, my opinion of course.
That’s why I just upgraded the light source of the original lights so was able to keep the old lights but fill them with new technology. A much better use of resources.
You can get LED bulbs that will fit the old fittings and these are good for things like spotlights but for all the other lights I chose the LED strip lights and I am happy with the results. The led strips seem to be the best form of lighting, especially for a non-intrusive hidden ambient light. You can tuck them out of sight and give the motorhome a nice light that is not in your face. It really changes the feel of the motorhome at night and can make the place feel very cosy. The LED strips are probably the most cost-effective way to upgrade your lighting.
Whatever you choose, have fun upgrading the lighting. You can really change the feel of the motorhome when you think about the lighting. The best thing though, its a relatively cheap job that can give you great results.