By Janet Groene, F47166
One of the first surprises motorhomers experience during their initial day aboard a new coach usually doesn’t occur until the sun sets. Lighting, which is hardly noticed when you buy a motorhome at an outdoor lot or brightly lit showroom, may be all wrong for the routines of everyday living.
Think about all the different situations you may be in during a single day that rely on artificial light. Task lighting is necessary for peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink, filling out income tax forms, and writing postcards to the folks at home. Mood lighting is nice for dining or listening to music. Subdued lighting makes working at the computer easier. Focused lighting helps when reading in bed or playing cards at the dining table. Night lights make it easier to find the bathroom in the dark. Then there’s a whole realm of outdoor lighting for entertaining on the patio, security around the perimeter of the coach, and for hooking and unhooking in the dark.
More than likely, your new motorhome didn’t come equipped with every light you need, positioned exactly where you need it, in the right style, and with adequate coverage and wattage. We all have different lighting tastes and needs, so surely some fine-tuning will be required.
Decorators have long employed light as a beautification tool. It can be used to wash a wall, mask a flaw, and enhance complexions. It also is an essential part of the comfort, safety, security, and attractiveness of your rolling home. There is more to lighting than style, placement, and wattage, so start by acquainting yourself with the lingo of lighting. Today’s marketplace offers a huge choice of lighting options, each with its own pluses and minuses.
Kelvins and lumens are ratings often used when discussing lighting. Light quality is measured by color temperature and rated by Kelvins. Bulbs with a higher Kelvin number emit whiter light, while those with lower temperatures tend toward red or yellow. A bluish-white fluorescent light with a 5,000 Kelvin rating will be less complimentary to your complexion at the dinner table, but may emit a truer light at your oil painting easel when you need to see slight variations in colors. Lumens are a measure of light output over a given area; lumens per watt tell you how efficient a bulb is in terms of the energy usage.
Fluorescent lights burn cool and bright, draw minimal electricity, and have a long life span. Cold cathode fluorescent lights give warmer, more flattering light. They can be put on dimmers and hold up better to voltage fluctuation and road vibration than other fluorescent tubes. The lumen output of fluorescents is three to six times that of halogen and incandescent lights. This means more light per watt “” an important consideration when you’re boondocking on battery power.
On the minus side, they may not start quickly, especially at cold temperatures. They also can cause interference with some onboard electronics. Another minus is that when the ballasts in the fixture fail, it is a major chore to replace them. Radio frequency interference (RFI) also can cause problems when using fluorescent lights. Some lights made for the RV market aren’t RFI suppressed, so know what you’re getting before adding a fluorescent fixture.
Incandescent lights are the familiar, filament lamps that have been around since Thomas Edison’s day. They are inexpensive, producing plenty of light for the cost of the bulb and the energy. They last a long time, aren’t sensitive to temperature extremes, produce little or no ultraviolet (UV) light that can fade furniture or carpeting, and are easily dimmed just by adjusting the current. On the downside, bulb life is shortened by voltage extremes. Using a fast-charger system that jolts a 12-volt incandescent bulb with 14.4 volts can reduce bulb life by as much as one-fifth.
Halogen lights cost more, burn hotter, last longer than most incandescents, and produce a truer light quality. If you’ve ever put on what you thought were black socks, only to find out when you went outdoors that they were dark green and looked ridiculous with your black shoes and blue slacks, you know how much variation can be created by artificial light. With the true white light from a halogen bulb, you shouldn’t have this problem. However, halogen lighting emits more UV rays, which can fade upholstery.
Bulb life is as much as 2,000 hours “” approximately twice that of a typical incandescent “” but it can be shortened by as much as one-third by jolts of high-powered electricity during fast charging. Bulb life also is reduced by frequent dimming, so halogen bulbs might not be a good choice for lamps you want to put on a dimmer. Because they burn so hot, these lights require special handling. Carefully read the directions that come with any halogen lamp. Always beware of the fire hazard should you use the wrong shade or place flammable items too close to a halogen bulb.
Xenon lamps are similar to halogen lights, but have a much greater life expectancy. They are less affected by voltage fluctuations (dimming and hard charging). XH bulbs combine some of the best features of both halogen and xenon lighting and have some of the same drawbacks.
Tips on lighting choices:
- The harder it is to get to a bulb to change it, the more important it is to take bulb life expectancy into consideration. In addition to what is printed on the package, life expectancy is affected by other factors, especially voltage changes.
- Be aware of the special requirements for bulbs in terms of transporting them, handling them, and disposing of them. Just touching a halogen bulb with your fingers can leave oils on the bulb that can create a heat sink and cause the bulb to burn out the minute you turn it on. Fluorescent bulbs should be disposed of in accordance with community standards. They can contain mercury and other hazardous materials. With storage space at a premium in a full-timer’s motorhome, try to outfit as many lamps and fixtures with the same size bulbs so you won’t have to carry so many different types of spare bulbs.
- Physical size and shape of the bulb will affect future costs, and there is also the nuisance factor when it’s time to find replacements. For example, you may have one or more fixtures that use the same decorative exposed bulbs. If one bulb burns out and you don’t have a spare, do you want to put another bulb in that’s not the same style? Fancy bulbs aren’t always easy to find. Fixtures with frosted globes or other decorative covers can use ordinary bulbs, as long as they are a suitable wattage.
- As much as possible, stick to standard sizes, wattages, and bulb shapes. While some substitutions can be made in light fixtures, it can be dangerous to try to adapt halogen bulbs to incandescent fixtures that can’t handle the extreme heat that halogen bulbs generate.
- Discuss your needs or concerns with a lighting expert at a store that specializes in light fixtures. Even if the store doesn’t sell 12-volt-DC fixtures, you can gain insights into light types and qualities for specific needs.
The future could be rosy or blue, depending on the choices you make.
Debit card woes
Beware of letting the balance on your debit card fall too low. Many fuel pumps are now programmed to reject a card with a low balance. Even if you planned to buy only $20 worth of fuel, the computer electronically checks your account and may reject the card and refuse to turn on the pump if your balance is below its preset threshold. The fuel company’s rationale is that while other purchases can be cut off when you reach your card’s limit, fuel can’t be returned in the event your account cannot cover the purchase.
You can still go inside and prepay for the $20 worth of fuel, so the only drawback is that you can’t have the convenience of paying at the pump until your balance is high enough again.
After reminding readers in the February 2004 “Full-Timer’s Primer” column that only U.S. mail deliveries, not UPS or FedEx, can be made to a USPS post office box, I received this tip from Bill Swart, F168147, president of the 100%ers chapter: “We are full-timers and have used the local FedEx or UPS office for pickup when we had no physical address.” Do a little homework first, by phone or on the Internet, to find a UPS or FedEx office that’s easily accessible in a motorhome. Not all are.
In response to a request in the May 2003 column for a list of items that are indispensable to full-timers, Kathi Edwards, F281493, mentioned two. First is a surge guard to protect the coach from electrical spikes and surges. Kathi wrote that she and her husband lost several appliances to unreliable, quirky, campground electrical hookups before getting their surge guard.
“The second thing I can’t live without is my Sprint air card for my laptop,” she noted. “I can e-mail, fax, browse the Web, and access my Web page while my husband drives. We’ve been from Quartzsite to Massachusetts to Florida without an hour of interruption. The card lists for $179 plus $80 monthly for unlimited air time, no long distance charges, no roaming, and a good signal even when my cell phone can’t get a signal.”
The air card, which slips into a laptop’s PCMCIA slot, is actually a small cellular modem. Kathi says that many companies, including Verizon and AT&T, also offer air cards, and she suggests shopping around for the best deal. With the rebates, her Sprint card ended up costing only $50. Hers, she points out, works only for data transmission. Voice transmission requires different equipment.
Is there a product you can’t find in your cruising area? A full-timer friend you’ve lost touch with? A service, book, or Web site you have found invaluable? Please e-mail me your “lost and found” topics at [email protected].