The cost of converting all the RV lights in our fifth wheel to LED lighting was the primary reason we waited so long.
Funny how frugality kept us from being frugal. Sure, we can save big on rent by camping off the grid, but no formal cost benefit analysis is required to determine that it could take quite a while to recoup the costs of installing all new LED lights. It’s more of a comfort level investment. LED lighting will allow us to enjoy boondocking more without having to run the generator as often or walk around with our Petzl headlamps on just to do the dishes.
LED RV Lighting, Big Expense or Business Opportunity?
Changing all the lights in an RV to LED bulbs can be very expensive, unless you know where to look. Once I discovered there are plenty of RV LED lighting deals to be had on Amazon and eBay, I had one decision to make. Was I willing to wait weeks for delivery and prepare for the uncertainty of ordering directly from China. Sure!
As a location independent entrepreneur, the next question came naturally. Was this a potential business opportunity? Indeed, the keyword being potential.
I had to test the products first. I’ve always held a firm belief in only representing products I believe in. Oh, and products with high profit margin. On that front, LED RV lights could clearly make us some money if we:
- Worked directly with a manufacturer,
- Bought in bulk,
- And carried a narrow product line.
There are many Chinese eBay stores to choose from for sourcing cheap LED bulbs for RV fixtures. But there are clearly a number of others out there that know this already. That’s why you’ll find single LED bulbs at the big Quartzsite RV show for as much as $15.00 each, and most distributors pushing new LED RV light fixtures which are completely unnecessary.
Seriously, why pay as much as $42.00 for an LED replacement tube for your RV light fixture when it can be easily rewired for less than ten bucks? Thus began my product testing.
I purchased a selection of various LED replacement bulbs to determine which would work best. I was able to outfit our entire rig for less than $60 including shipping. Yes, I had to wait a few weeks, but it was worth it to save the money and determine whether or not I wanted to open another online store.
From all of the LED panels and bulbs I bought, only one of the bayonet style lights was faulty. The manufacturer has a money back guarantee, but I wasn’t about to mess with returning a single bulb to China for three bucks. That’s right, all the lights I bought were in the three dollar price range, $6.99 for a pair at most.
With $3.00 unit costs I could easily double my money while steeply undercutting the only competition I found. I would clearly need to compensate with some serious volume though. By focusing on only two or three of the most common RV interior light bulb sizes, not selling expensive replacement fixtures, and promoting package deals, this might just be worth pursuing.
The only thing stopping me so far is the attention I need to pay to our various current business endeavors. Further research has also led me to ask, why is nobody else doing this? I clearly need to spend more time thinking this over, preferably somewhere in the desert where I can enjoy my new LED lighting.
How to Replace RV Fluorescent Tubes with LED Lights
In the meantime, check out how easy it is to save yourself some money by rewiring a fluorescent RV light fixture with 12v LED panels.
- Remove fluorescent tubes.
- Snip positive and negative wires to bypass ballast.*
- Re-wire circuit using enough LED panels to achieve desired brightness.
*Traditional fluorescent light tubes require additional power during startup to quickly achieve full brightness. This surge and subsequent reduction in voltage is controlled by the ballast which can damage sensitive LED electronics.
When sourcing LED panels, note that some include adhesive foam backing. Depending on the manufacturer this may or may not withstand the heat generated by the light. Yes, heat – and the related power loss – of LED bulbs is much less than incandescent bulbs, but panels can still fall and potentially melt plastic light covers if not secured properly. One site I found suggests using high-temp silicone to hold the panels in place.
As expected, the brightness (lumens) of LED bulbs is not quite that of incandescent lights but personally I feel the benefits of less power consumption make up for that. When checking our amperage use now if not plugged in to shore power, turning on all lights in the rig measures no drop whatsoever on the remote meter for our charge controller.
I did not find any bayonet style bulbs which provide the brightness that larger LED panels did for overhead lighting in our main living area, while the 28 LED T-10 bulbs I found provide more than sufficient light for bedside reading. The LED panels get warmer than expected so sufficient adhesive is required to keep them attached to the fixture. The color of light from LED panels varies from a sterile blue hue to warm white. Different RVs have a wide variety of light fixtures but the most common seem to use 1156 and T-10 bayonet style bulbs or mini fluorescent tubes. Bulk LED panels can be sourced inexpensively from the manufacturer but it will take increased volume to compensate for lower unit costs when competing against the current selection of more expensive distributors. Many RVers may just be willing to pay more for the perceived value of retail packaging and higher cost.
With all of these considerations, more research is necessary before investing the time and money to open my Cheap RV LED Light Store. Time to get back to boondocking somewhere soon!
What say you?
Have you converted your RV lights to LED bulbs? If so, did you pay extra to replace the fixtures? If not, what’s keeping you?
Will you pay up to $15 per bulb just for retail packaging, or consider buying enough bulbs for the entire rig at about $7 each? Or, would you be cheap like me and just buy them from China yourself at three bucks a pop?