Sunday, November 11, 2012

Important Lighting Issues and Options

I learned something new about living in travel trailers again this week:  if you are planning to live in one full time and still plan to use the lights as you usually would have in a standard home, you should switch the light bulbs from incandescent to LED or fluorescent.

The 12 volt fixtures in an RV save a lot on electricity, and I really like them.  The bulbs last a long time in them, they are easy to change and clean and all that, but the incandescent bulbs that are made for them get too hot if you leave them on too long, and they can (do) melt some of the pieces of the bulb and the fixture.  It seems bad that they would sell you something that could cause this.  I guess they expect you won't be in it so much or something, I don't know, but it's a scary arrangement. I've heard all the stories about fires in trailers and electrical fires, and I don't like the thought of either of them.

We had a fixture short out in the bathroom.  This one was a two sided fixture, and we noticed the bulb in one side had gotten dimmer than in the other over time.  My husband took note of it one day.  I assumed if it was a problem he'd say something more, but he never really did until it blew a fuse.  He fixed the fuse, and it seemed alright, although the light was still dim, but when it blew another one he checked on it, and I'm glad he did.  It had melted the end of the bulb to the point that it came apart and had melted the wires in the fixture.  
I'm glad my husband understands electrical things, because I certainly don't, yet.  I'm also really thankful he was at home this week to fix it!  

The bulb itself never burned out on it's own, it just dimmed.  I didn't think much of it in the beginning because the bulbs in the fixtures are the same ones that were in it when we bought the trailer a year ago.  No telling how long they'd been in there before we got it.  They had been burning out, presumably because they were old, and I'd been replacing them as we went along, so I was expecting more to go pretty soon anyway.  One more was not too alarming. 

I did note it was the only one that just dimmed. I probably should have taken note as to which ones I'd changed.  It didn't seem important at the time, but looking back, had I kept track of it I might have had a reason to red flag it and have him check into it before we had trouble.  I could't remember if that was one I had already changed or not.  That's another good reason to keep journals.

The next day, fresh on the heels of this event and keenly aware of the heat of the bulbs now, I remembered having a bulb go out in the kitchen recently, so I went in to check on it.  Lo and behold, when I touched it, it flickered.  It wasn't burnt out at all, it was shorted out like the other one.   I was afraid to touch it!  I did, however, and managed to remove the bulb, and it, too had melted and parts of it had disintegrated and it had come undone in the socket.  Obviously we determined that we had to do something about the rest of them.  Short of sitting in the dark, we found two options.

#1 - LED bulbs.  
  1. They are COOL to the touch.
  2. I could keep my existing fixtures and just replace the bulbs.
  3. They are bright and come in lots of colors, or tones, or hues or whatever, to make it easy on the eyes.
  4. They last a very, very long time: 100,000+ working hours.  Obviously they would pay for themselves over time. 
  5. They are very cost efficient to operate.  They use about twenty percent of the power of an incandescent bulb, which matters on your bill when you are hooked up, but will matter even more if you are *off grid and have to monitor how much juice everything uses. If you take into consideration the number of bulbs in the trailer, and we have around twenty including outdoor lights, we could considerably reduce the battery drain by switching to LED.  If we had all twenty of our incandescent bulbs turned on at one time they would draw in the neighborhood of **20 amps, which would drain a single **12 volt battery in a matter of a few hours.  If we replaced them all with LED and then ran them all, they would use less than four volts.  That is significant.  

*I don't understand all I know about that, I'm only learning, but I know that using less is good.  
**Please don't ask me about volts and amps and power systems for off grid.  I'm Ned in the first reader on all this stuff.

I found these great links for more info on the pro's and cons:

The downside: 
  1. The bulbs are expensive.  I've seen them at RV stores for around $17.00 - $20.00 per bulb, and they aren't a lot better on the internet, at least for the ones we decided we'd like to buy. Some only shine in one direction and we want the multi-directional ones which are even more expensive, starting in the neighborhood of $35.00 each and up from there.  The prices seem to be coming down somewhat, but to replace twenty bulbs even at around twenty dollars apiece would really be quite a ticket.  We would have to do one or two at a time.  I will likely buy one of the directional ones and see how it works in one of the single fixtures before I spring for any of the really expensive ones.  When I do, I'll post.  
#2 Fluorescent lighting.
  1. Cool to the touch.
  2. Considerably more cost efficient than incandescent.
  3. Brighter than incandescent, and I prefer the light quality; that's just my personal taste.
  4. Replacement bulbs are around $5.00 - $10.00.  That is slightly cheaper than replacement costs for LED's, but they do not last as long.
The downside:
  1. The lighting fixtures will have to be replaced.  There is really not a great selection of beautiful fixtures available even on the internet.  The only one available locally was less than attractive, but not horrible, so we got it... for $50.00+ dollars.  At a dozen or more fixtures, you can do the math on that one.
  2. The bulbs do not last nearly as long as the LED lights.
  3. I haven't seen any replacement bulbs for these type of fixtures just lying around on the shelves any more commonly than I have the LED lights because they are 12 volt tubes.  You can't just go buy one at Wal Mart.  LED is taking over the market in RV and marine lighting, so it's actually easier to find LED now days.
We went ahead with a fluorescent fixture in the bathroom, mostly because that's all they had available and we needed something right away, as in NOW while my husband was home to fix it.  I'm not at all sorry, because I really like it where it is, but I have to say, I have completely talked myself into LED while writing this post.   

No one says I have to replace all of them at one time.  Besides, it's like the industry to change the standard occasionally.  In my short studies here it already seems to me like they are trying to switch over to a different kind of a flat base which would, of course, require a new fixture, so I might as well wait to do as many as I can until the die is cast.  For now I'll plan on  getting a few bulbs.  It pains me to shell out so much dough for one measly bulb, but if it lasts such a long time and isn't hot, I'm going to hold my nose and do it.  

Right now I have to say I like the light our new fluorescent casts so much that I may eventually get one for the kitchen over the sink, unless it turns out that we like the LED's even better.  I wish I could test one.  I wish they had sample bulbs or trials.  Well, I'll let you know when I get one.

Anyway, this obviously isn't all there is to RV lighting, and these are certainly not the only options, just  the ones we are looking at.  For the record, our trailer is a 2001 model.  I imagine a lot of things have changed about how they do things in newer ones.  

Feel free to post in my comments if you have any ideas or suggestions.  I'm brand new at this and learning as I go.  Any good info is money in the bank.

Ps119:105 ~ "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

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