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The Van Conversion Series: LED Lighting

Wednesday 11th December 2019
By Ely Power
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By Ely Power

Light Up Your Van’s Living Space!

Cover image: Shinobi On Camplify

Find the right lights for your van conversion and its mood is set. So much more than a decorative touch, LED lighting makes a massive difference to any living space with its 24-hour practicality.

When it comes to deciding which type of lighting is best for your van, it’s all down to personal preference. Need bright lights for early-morning work or late-night meal prep? Dream of cosying up under a warm, rosy glow? Maybe you want the option to enjoy either at the flick of a switch!

With countless combinations and possibilities, you’ve got heaps of options to consider before wiring up your lighting system. Luckily, we’re here to help with our handy introduction to LED lights for vans.

As a van owner, you can earn over $10,000 each year by hiring it out on Camplify. As a holidaymaker, Camplify helps you to find the perfect rental so that you can experience the joys of van life without having to own one yourself. 

Interested? Learn more about Camplify here.

But First, Some Lighting Basics…


LEDs

LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, create light when an electrical current passes through them. Campervans generally use LED lighting that runs on 12V, and we suggest sticking to this combo. 

Why? 

Firstly, although you can technically install higher voltage lighting, it will be far less energy efficient - you’d have to use an inverter to convert your batteries’ 12V current to that of your lighting. As lights are powered by electrical or solar sources when you’re on the road, it’s smart to conserve as much energy as possible.

Secondly, thanks to a bunch of benefits, LED lighting is ideal for DIY van conversions!
  • They won’t drain your battery overnight, as they use way fewer amps than fluorescent or halogen lighting
  • They don’t radiate any heat, which is a serious bonus in a compact van!
  • Most LEDs last for a long, long time - about 50,000 hours to be exact
  • They’re very affordable, so you can stick to your van life budget
  • They’re available in a rainbow of shades, complementing any style

Colour

About those hues: the colour temperature of your lighting has a strong influence on your van’s vibe, so it’s important to make sure you buy the right tone. Measured in Kelvin (K) units, anything below around 3500K emits warm light, whereas you can expect a more bluish brightness above 5000K (in between, the light is quite neutral in colour). Basically, the higher the K, the ‘colder’ the ray.

Brightness

Luminosity is determined by the amount of power fuelling it - more watts mean brighter lights. This is an important consideration when it’s time to position your lighting. For instance, you may want to create a dimly-lit bed area but a bright kitchen. In that case, don’t forget to check the wattage of each light before you install it!

Design

There are tons of van lighting options on the market. While it’s common to install downlights on the ceiling, strip lights around the wall and reading lights bordering the bed, the design and placement of your lighting is completely up to you. 

Read on to discover the most popular lighting styles for van conversions (and our favourite models)!

Types Of LED Lighting

Downlights

Downlights are fitted to your van’s ceiling, just like what you would see in many modern houses. However, these awesome little lights are made specifically for vans, with a smaller, more energy-efficient design. Providing enough general lighting for any task and adding a stylish touch to your living space, these affordable all-rounders might just be the only lighting you’ll need.

The one significant drawback to this recessed lighting is that it can’t be installed once your conversion is complete, or else you’ll have to take down your whole ceiling! So think ahead - it’s worth it.


Strip Lights

These are flexible lengths of LED lights fixed in waterproof plastic. Installation at its most simple, all you have to do is peel off any backing paper and use adhesive to stick the strip lighting wherever you want. And when it comes to wiring, they are often powered with a flex and plug.

Strip lights are renowned for their adaptability, as they can be cut for a tailored length or joined to cover longer stretches. That means they can fit any type of van conversion, whether you need to light up cabinets, shelving or countertops.

That said, these reels are not very durable, malfunctioning or completely snapping if pulled. The backing can also lose its stick, so we suggest securing the lights with staples, drawing pins or sewing pins for fabric surfaces.


Light Panels & Tube Lights

LED light panels and tube lights create the brightest, most diffuse beams possible, so they’re perfect for campers wanting plenty of practical light inside their vans. These slim fixtures don’t take up much room either, mounted sleekly on the wall for minimal disruption.

With the sheer brightness, those looking to create a relaxing ambience should stay away - there’s nothing cosy or romantic about these lights! On a similar note, one large line of light might not be as visually appealing as a stylish set of smaller spotlights. But if no-fuss functionality is what you’re after, light panels and tube lights are hard to beat.


Dome Lights

So, you love the look of down lights but have already put up your ceiling - and after all that hard work, there’s no way you’re backtracking! Fear not. Ceiling dome lights are a fantastic alternative to downlights, as they can be installed at the very end of your van conversion. 

While not as low-profile as recessed lighting, each dome creates a wider, more distributed beam. With just two or three dome lights, you can illuminate your entire cabin. 

The downside to dome lights? If too large for a compact space, they can obstruct valuable head room and look a bit out of place. For these reasons, they mighn’t be the best option for smaller campervans.


Reading Lights

Fairly self-explanatory, reading lights are bright enough to light up your novel yet dim enough to let your partner sleep. These mini spotlights are mounted to your wall and can be angled to shine in any direction. 

Perfect for your bed or lounge area, reading lights allow you to read or work well into the night without using up too much power or taking up too much space. Given how convenient and energy-efficient they are, reading lights are a must for any bookworm!

We genuinely can’t think of any drawbacks, except perhaps their slightly higher price when compared to other types of van lighting. But, as always, there are options for every budget if you take the time to browse.


Fairy Lights

Having visions of a dreamy, Instagram-worthy van? 

Fairy lights are your new best friend. Their tiny twinkles will fill your cabin with charm, character and cosiness each evening. They are also sold in all sorts of styles, shapes and sizes for a very fair price (around $5-$20). Most importantly, however, these lights tend to run on battery so they’re a great backup if you run out of mains power whilst exploring the wilderness. 

Hang them up however you like, be it back and forth across your lounge area, along the walls or above your bed. You can even take them outside if you want some extra light for the barbeque! With so many possibilities, there’s really no reason why you wouldn’t add some fairy light flair to your van conversion! 

More for atmosphere than illumination, their glimmer isn’t bright enough to light up your van alone. What’s more, they can be easily damaged if tugged or smushed. We recommend opting for copper wire fairy lights, which are usually the strongest type.

How To Wire 12V LED Lights

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

Once you’ve decided which LED design complements your layout and lifestyle, you’ll need to work out how to wire van lights. While each product will likely come with its own installation instructions, the wiring process for any 12V lighting system is usually pretty similar. 

Before we begin, we’re guessing you’ve already attached a fuse box and bus bar to your battery. Also, double check that all power is switched off. 

For now, it’s best to forget about the fuse, only bringing it over when you’ve reached the end of your wiring process or need to check that your lights are working properly before installation. 

Lastly, make sure you’ve got the below materials by your side.

Wiring Supplies

Ready to go? Let’s do this!

1. Wire Your Lights Together

The first thing you have to do is wire together all of your lights, each of which have one black wire and one red wire. As every light runs on 12V, you’ll wire them in parallel:
A) Connect all of the red wires together, which run to the switch 
B) Connect all of the black wires together, which run to the bus bar

If you really want to release your inner sparky, connect these wires with a soldering kit. Feel more comfortable sticking to the basics? Simply twist and crimp the wires together using a butt splice or at a point where a terminal connector will be placed (check out this handy video to learn how to crimp wires effectively).

Pro Tips:
  • Use stranded wire, which can endure the tightness and vibrations of a van
  • Don’t join wires with twist connectors, which can’t handle the above
  • Test your lights and switches before installation, when it’s easier to identify and fix issues 
  • Run a few extra inches of wire so that you have a buffer zone for any splicing mistakes
  • If have several wires running together, separate your splicing to avoid a cluster of connectors

2. Wire Your Strands Into The Switch

One wire will run from your fuse box to the light switch. Use your trusty butt connector when joining this wire to the switch (unless it has spade terminals, in which case you’ll need a spade connector). The second wire will run directly to your lighting. 

And when your lights are all wired up, simply hit the switch to illuminate your home away from home, navigating your way around its bright interior at any hour.

Safety Disclaimer: We are not electricians. Working with electricity is a safety hazard so you need to do your research, double checking that the above information is correct and safe to apply to your build. Before you begin, always discuss your plans with a certified electrician, who must also assess and approve the finished work.

To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV, register today here.

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