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Lighting Versatility for Your RV or Camper

| Updated Dec 9, 2014

Lighting is important to enjoy a space and to complete the task at hand. Have you ever fumbled in the dark for a latch or tried to remove a splinter with bad lighting?  It's frustrating!  If you read “house nifty” (as Roger calls them) magazines there are often articles about good lighting for your kitchen and bath, etc.  Our campers have all  these spaces too – and often the lighting is poor or overly harsh . You can increase your enjoyment of your motorhome by improving the light in the places that need it.  In a small camper, when every space serves several purposes, we may function better with different RV lighting for each use.

LED Light
LED Replacement bulb

Our 1995 Dodge Roadtrek 190 Popular came with an assortment of standard RV 12 V interior lights that used old fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Because these bulbs are notorious power hogs, and since we had a single Group 24 battery, saving energy was important when we were “off grid”.  One of the first things we did was replace the bulbs with LEDs.  We found LED (light emitting diode) replacements (at for all the bulbs. We thought the power reduction was so dramatic we had the world by the tail. Then we discovered 12 V  LED strip lights and 12 VDC dimmers.

Reel of LED Strip Lights
Reel of LED Strip Lights

Strip Lights for RV

Strip lights come in two color temperatures — warm white and cool white. If you've bought household fluorescent tubes over the years, you know which color temperature you prefer. Warm white makes you look human. Cool white makes you look dead. LED strip lights also come in waterproof for outdoor use, and regular for indoor use.  We used the waterproof variety everywhere.  The spool you buy is 16-feet long with two wires at each end. An adhesive backing (3M) is revealed when you peel away the paper backing. If it doesn't stick, use automotive trim cement.  You cut the length you need at special marks along the strip. If you wish to connect another strip to the first, connectors are sold to join strips or you can do your own soldering. You can find a compact dimmer on Amazon.

Kitchen with new RV lighting panels
Strip Lights barely visible in kitchen

Kitchen counter RV lighting

Our first trial modification was stringing waterproof warm white strip lights under our RV kitchen cabinets with an ON/OFF switch.   The improvement in workspace illumination was nothing short of spectacular! The virtually shadowless light was enough to allow you to do brain surgery on mice. The photo shows three black lighted switches in the kitchen above the power strip.  The blue is the LED strip lights, the red is the Snyder Kit fan on the fridge (an easy way to know the fridge is working), and the green is for an axillary fan.  After a couple of years of enjoying seeing what's cooking, Roger is about to upgrade the kitchen LED strip lights by hiding them behind an aluminum L shaped extrusion so the lights are hidden, yet look more attractive.

Toilet Shelf LED Lights
LED lights under bathroom shelf

RV Bathroom lighting

For some, the toilet compartment doubles as the reading room or makeup application room, so some light is needed.  Not to mention that a light is very useful for cleaning the bathroom and a quick check down the toilet to see if the idiot light saying the black tank is full is really telling the truth (it rarely does). Our bathroom had no light at all after we removed the TapLite installed by the previous owner, not that its dim bulb was sufficient. We strung a zig-zag pattern of LED strip lights — warm white of course — under the shelf above the toilet. Now we have enough overhead light to use a swing-away magnifying mirror.  We decide the zig-zag lights looked a bit klutzy, although you could only see them if sitting on the john.  So we replaced them with LED strips stuck on aluminum L- shaped extrusions screwed into the shelf bottom..  It looks nicer (if anyone notices).

RT Porch Light
LED Strip light (cool white) Porch Light

RV Porch light

Many RVs come with a porch light. Ours didn't, so we ordered one. It looked big and klutzy, so we decided to use an outdoor strip light mounted under the awning. We did not want to drill through the steel body of the RV to run wires, so we made two extension cords, a short one for use when the awning is furled against the body, and a long one for use when the awning is extended. The extension cords use Radio Shack plugs and sockets. Roger modified a dimmer by adding a socket to the unit he wired into a 12 VDC circuit. That way, you can have outside lights that look like Broadway and Times Square with the dimmer on high, or dial back to a discrete trail of dim lights to find your RV at night in a crowded campground.

Passenger LED Lights
Passenger LED lights

Passenger map light

The old light near the passenger seat of our RV was too feeble to read paper maps at night while traveling and it created glare for the driver. So we installed an 18-inch strip of LED lights with an ON/OFF switch on the underside of the shelf above the seat. Those lights let you read maps without blinding the driver.  Additionally it is useful light when camped and using the passenger seat.

Dinette LED Strip Light & Reading Light
Rear LED strip lights & dimmer & reading lamp

Romantic dinner lights

Having achieved some expertise at wiring strip lights and finding 12 VDC circuits to tap into, we were ready to mount a strip light over our dinette table, controlled by a dimmer and an ON/OFF switch. A fluorescent circular light provides great illumination for big dinners and working on crafts or writing. But soft light for romantic dinners is obtained by dimming the strip light and turning off the circle light.  Ah, candlelight (LED) and wine for our intimate dinners. The string quartet can sit up front, or you can turn on your surround sound music system.

Lighted Step
Lighted step glows brightly in the dark

Door landing light

Our most recent project we stole from Loren. He stole the idea from a friend with a newer RV. We bought an automotive door switch on the Internet  (chrome push button switch near bottom of door jam in photo) and an ON/OFF toggle switch (under the step). We mounted a strip light on an L-shaped 1/2′ aluminum extrusion and screwed it to the underside of the step at the side door of our RV. When you open the door the light illuminates the step and spills onto the ground for safer entry and exit. The toggle switch in the circuit is to shut off the door light to save electricity when we plan to keep the door open for some time.  We have also seen waterproof LED strip lights added under the door sill to light the ground outside when the door is open.

ITC Reading Light 3
ITC gooseneck reading light

Reading-in-bed lights

Strip lights were not the answer for reading at bedtime. We found some LED flush swivel eyeball lights as in some airliners, but their adjustment range was insufficient. Then we heard that Campskunk's wife favorite part of their new Roadtrek was the reading light.  We contacted Campskunk and found the manufacturer on the Internet, whose website provided a link to where they are sold on Amazon.  Our new adjustable 12 V reading lights provide a wide range of movement for whatever reading position you like.  A switch is built in.  We added a third light up front. The original three plastic bullet lights in Red Rover have been replaced by these gooseneck lamps. Campskunk's wife has excellent taste!

But Lynn is not an electrician! Roger spent one summer at college as an electrician's assistant and Lynn is an electronics engineer. So we are not exactly experts at messing with the wires in our RV, but we can do simple wiring. And our RV is old enough that we are not under warranty and are not concerned with resale value (of course, ALL our improvements add value, we tell ourselves.) However, those who are reluctant to install lights and wiring could buy the parts and hire an electrician from the yellow pages. RV modification specialist shops will be happy to perform this kind of work on your vehicle, but it may take longer than you hope and cost dearly. We suggest you make a list of lighting improvements and do them all at once. We have strung them out as we think of them, so whatever you do, don't deny yourself the pleasure, utility, beauty, and safety of good lighting!

Mike Wendland

Published on 2014-12-09

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “Lighting Versatility for Your RV or Camper”

January 19, 2015at8:31 pm, Walt Huemmer said:

Definitely want to start using LED’s in my RT too.

December 11, 2014at11:08 pm, Lynne said:

Love all of your ideas, wouldn’t mind a little more detail about the products you used (part numbers) and how you hooked them up.

Comments are closed.

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