Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning every day (LED's)

It's amazing what we don't know.
It's amazing what you think you know and find out that you don't know it at all.
It's amazing how people come and help!

My latest decision was to replace some of the light bulbs in the rig with LED's (Light Emitting Diodes).

LED's use way less power than the old fashioned bulbs and if you are boondocking your batteries will last way longer than if you are using regular bulbs.

Some searching on the forums brought lots of information so I knew everything I needed!

LED's come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, colors, power, voltage ranges and other things I'm sure I don't know about yet.

There are LED's that are flat arrays, round like bulbs, flat like mini spotlights, have single contacts, double contacts, two level light (Like auto brake and running light bulbs)

I'm including compatible sizes for auto and RV bulbs such as 1157 1056 and 1057.
1157 bulbs and compatible LED's are the brake/running light dual filament type used in the rear lights of vehicles. Generally they aren't used inside RV's but can be used in candelabra type bedroom fixtures. They have two contacts on the bottom.
An 1157 dual filament bulb

1056 bulbs and compatible LED's are single contact single filament type generally used in turn signals, running lights in vehicles and overhead lights in RV's.
An 1056 single contact single filament bulb

1057 bulbs and compatible LED's are two contact bulbs but have a single filament. They are used in candelabra type fittings in RV's which have no ground thru the side of the fixture.
From left to right 1157, 1057, 1056

White is white what's the problem?
Well in the LED world white can be several shades of white.


The problem is that the lights in our homes and RV's aren't really white. Filament type bulbs actually put out a yellow tinged light that you would never see until you put it alongside a pure white LED light source.

Then it becomes really obvious.
Pure white LED left, 1056 bulb right

LED's white light is extraordinarily bright which seems great, but it can be hard on your eyes. It's kind of like being in a white room with a bright white spotlight on. It can give some people headaches.
The answer is Warm White LED's which mimic the color of filament type bulbs.
Two warm white LED's

LED's are also available in every color of the rainbow and can even be remotely controlled to change color at will.

Filament bulbs come in 5 watt (W for short), 10, 30, 50, 100W etc.
The higher the number the brighter they are. You can't measure the light output in watts, watts are a unit of electric power so the wattage is actually telling you how much electricity the bulb will be using when it's switched on.

LED's use a unit called Lumens.
If you want to see how bright or dark an area is you use a light meter. It's units are lumens. A lumen is a measure of how much light is falling on something. The higher the number the brighter the light.

An LED might be labeled as 50 Lumens, 100 Lumens, 200 Lumens. With a light meter you could measure the brightness of them.

So far I think the 200 lumen ones are about right in Warm White.

Voltage Ranges.
Cars and RV's use 12 volts right so we need a 12 volt LED?


When we are running along the road the alternator on the vehicle will be charging the battery and it takes more than 12 volts to charge a 12 volt battery. It may reach as high as 15 volts even in a system that's working properly. The Generator and Shore Power in an RV can do the same thing.
When we're boondocking and leave the lights burning all night the batteries can get run down and the voltage can fall way below 12 volts if we're not careful.

LED's were invented in the electronics industry and used for warning lights etc. Generally the voltage in those applications is constant and LED's designed for constant voltage work very well there.

Standard electronic industry LED's DON'T like varying voltage and burn out quickly, so for auto and RV use we need to look for an LED that has a voltage range as wide as possible. 8v to 15v might be good and is what I currently look for.

And then?

And then I bought some single contact LED's and put them in our candelabra lights over the bed and started blowing fuses. I replaced the bulbs and fuses and everything was fine. I tried the LED's again and blew the fuse again. What the heck??
Candelabra fixture

Turns out when I looked again at the bulbs they were two contact 1057 type not the single contact 1056 I'd bought. The 1057's don't ground thru the brass base like normal bulbs but thru a second contact in the base. They look a lot like the 1157 brake light bulbs and in fact when I looked at the bulbs I took out they were 1157 type but worked in the fixture OK.
The single filament type just connected the two contacts in the fixture together via the brass base and blew the fuse.
1056 top blows fuses
1057 bottom doesn't

Happy 1057 type LED's

A little mail order later and I had it sorted out. I used the 1056 ones I ordered wrongly in the overhead lights and they work just fine up there.

You see? I'm Learning Every Day

Update April 2017

This article turned out to get the highest number of hits of all on my blog!! THANKS!!
Since I wrote it we've moved from a regular house and RV'ing occasionally to living and travelling full time in our RV. We've been on the road 2 years now and using the LED's I show above every night.

So how have they held up? What have we learned?

They have held up GREAT! We have had only one failure in any of them and that was the 1056 type that we fitted in the outside light over the entrance door, which failed after a year. 

Now give this bulb it's due. We spent last winter in Arizona in the same RV park. We kept forgetting to put the outside light on when we went out before it got dark so I just left it on ALL THE TIME, day or night that bulb burned for 3 months straight then a row of the LED modules went out, a few weeks later another etc until there was only 1 row left BUT IT STILL PUT OUT LIGHT!
We replaced it with another we had left over from the original purchase.
This winter we spent 4 months in Florida and the outside light with the new LED stayed on for 4 months straight with no failure.

So what did we learn?
LED's are great and there is no problem with the cheap ones we bought on E-Bay.
See Ya



  1. Good article. One thing to remember is that some LEDs have the buck driver (the little electronic device that allows the LEDs to work at various voltages) in the base of the LED. With the type that has a flat panel of LEDS attached with a couple wires to the base, if you think you cut off the base to fit a different type socket and wire the LED panel in directly, without the buck driver, they will quickly blow when you plug into shore power and the voltage spikes to charge your battery.

    Another confusing term for the newbie is "temperature" this refers to the color of the light, not the temp. at which the LED operates. Here is a good article on choosing color temperature:

    Also, for reference, a 60 watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens. An 800 lumen LED only draws around 9-10 watts to produce the same amount of light (depending on the color temp). Again for reference, a 14 watt fluorescent also produces about 800 lumens, though at a higher color temperature (bluer light) than most people are comfortable with. Most people prefer light in the 2,700-3,000k color range. But remember, the warmer you go (lower color temp) the less efficient the LED is, so one in the 3,500-4,000k range is a good compromise between energy consumption and light output, especially where a lot of light is needed, say in the kitchen.


  2. Great article and I learned quite a bit. Now, I will have the ammo required to do the job on our rig.