Lighting for Travel Trailers
Lighting for travel trailers has changed. Now, by far the most practical and least energy drawing are LEDs (light emitting diodes). This article shows why.
The best LED lighting for travel trailers now provides ten to twenty times as much light for the same energy as incandescent lighting. And ten times that of halogen lighting. An LED’s high efficiency is partly due to its light concentrated as a cone. Some light, however, is reflected from light coloured surfaces. If the need is to light a large space, compact fluorescents do so for similar energy use, and lower price.
LEDs work efficiently in travel trailers as for reading and cooking areas. They are also fine for outdoor lighting, and are good night lights. They draw so little energy there less risk of depleting an RVs battery.
Types of lighting for travel trailers – and their outputs
Low wattage (3-5 watt) LEDs fit the MR 11 thin dual-pin bases. Those from 5-10 or so watts fit the MR 16 dual-pin bases (used for 35 and 50-watt halogen globes). The MR 11 LED globe has pins 4.0 mm apart. It has a maximum of 35 mm diameter. The MR 16 has pins 5.3 mm apart. It has a maximum diameter of 51 mm.
This typical five-watt MR 16 base LED produces light in a 60-degree cone – ideal for reading etc.
The MR 11 and MR 16 are fine for travel trailer and motorhomes. Their tiny pins do not, however, grip sufficiently over rough tracks etc. The latter requires MR 16 light fittings that secure the globes securely in place.
The GU10 style LEDs have thicker two-diameter pins. They inserted with a push and twist action. These are made in larger wattages. Many are supplied with tiny power converters. These enable the LEDs to run from 230 volts.
The GU10 based LEDs have pins that hold the globes firmly in place.
LEDs ease cabling issues
A major benefit of LEDs is that many travel trailers and motorhomes have 12-volt wiring that’s far too thin. This caused lights to flicker or dim when fridges cycle on/off. LEDs draw so little energy the original wiring is ample. They are also less sensitive to voltage drop.
LED strips are useful for lighting dark cupboards etc. They provide ample light yet draw next to no power.
Whilst an LED’s power rating is in watts, this gives only a rough indication of the light produced. The reason is (a) LED efficiency varies a lot from brand to brand but is substantially price related. A really good (e.g. Cree) 5 watt LED may produce several times as much light as a 5 watt eBay special. The best indication is the output in lumens (total light emitted). The more lumens per watt, the greater the efficiency. A top-quality 10 watt LED will produce as much light as a 100-watt incandescent.
The cone of light
There is a further complication. Most LEDs produce light in a cone. This may be from 15 degrees to about 140 degrees. There is none (but reflected) light outside that cone. Because of this, an LED of say 250 lumens may be just fine for a reading lamp. It is suitable where a broad spread is required. Lighting shops have working examples.
A typical RV needs four or five good quality 5-7 watt LEDs. Only a few will be needed at any one time.
LED globes are made in varying shades of white. They vary from the warm white of incandescent globes, to a hospital’s harsh white. For those seeking a ‘warmish’ light use LEDs that have a ‘colour temperature’ of 3100 degrees K (Kelvin) or at most, 4000 degrees K. Lighting store staff understand what this means.
Some people report excellent ultra-cheap LEDS from eBay. While cheap these LEDs vary hugely in quality and reliability. We have over 80 LEDs in our three-story home. All are top quality products and all but two have (2020) lasted over ten years.
LED lighting in camper trailers, travel trailers and motorhomes is covered in depth in the Caravan & Motorhome Book. It is also covered in the Camper Trailer Book, and Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. The latter covers every aspect of the design and installation of electrics and solar in camper trailers, travel trailers and motorhomes. Even auto electricians use it as a text and reference book. Solar That Really Works! covers every aspect of using solar in camper trailers, travel trailers and motorhomes, Solar Success is for home and property systems. For information about the author please Click on Bio.
This topic often comes up on forums. If you feel this article may assist others please consider posting this Link on the relevant thread.
Collyn Rivers (brief bio)
Collyn Rivers is an automobile research engineer with a lifetime in the motor and writing/publishing industry. He spent a brief time with de-Havilland, before working at the Vauxhall/Bedford Motors Research Test Centre in the UK. Collyn moved to Australia in 1963, initially designed and building scientific and engineering measuring equipment.
In 1971, Collyn Rivers founded what, by 1976, became the world’s largest-circulation electronics publication, Electronics Today International. From 1982 to 1990, he was technology editor of The Bulletin and also Australian Business magazines. In 1999 Collyn Rivers started two companies: RV Books and Solar Books.
RV Books and Solar Books current books are the top-selling Why Travel Trailers Roll Over – and how to prevent it, the all-new How to Choose and buy an RV, the Travel Trailer & Motorhome Electrics, the Camper Trailer Book, Solar That Really Works and the soon to be launched American Travel Trailer Book. Also, Solar Success (this also for homes and properties).
Collyn is a regular contributor to major associated websites in America and Australia (and uses that name).