Monday, October 27, 2014


We noticed while shopping for our Airstream Interstate that newer models already have light-emitting diode (LED) coach lighting, but our 2007 model still had the original halogen bulbs throughout when we bought it.

There is an Air Forums thread on this subject but it dates back several years (commencing a decade ago, in fact).  There is also this Airstream Life article on the same subject, but it's also a few years old.  This technology is constantly changing, so I thought I'd publish an update here.

There are two related reasons why an upgrade to LED is desirable:
  • Most importantly, halogens pull too much power.  Using LEDs reduces that demand substantially.
This is watt I'm talking about.  Bulbs in the 10 - 20 watt range can be replaced with 3 watt LEDs.  Screengrabbed from a Google search page.  
  • Halogens are correspondingly hot in the enclosed space of an Interstate.  We live in the subtropics, and every bit of heat reduction helps.  

Do you see how unfortunately close that halogen is to this bin door when it is raised?  I had already noticed that the bulb is cooking that door.  Left over the long term, I bet I would end up with wood damage or at least finish fading here.  This just happens to be the bin in which I intend to store most of our dishes (hence the cup inside the athletic sock, a storage tip I picked up from a general RV forum), so I expect it to be raised frequently and for longer durations.   
I had a third reason why I wished to replace our lights:

  • The existing halogens were too dim for me (I have very bad eyesight).  Furthermore, after evaluating several brand new 2014 Airstream Interstates on dealer lots, I found that the LEDs currently being used by Airstream were also too dim for me (I assume that those for sale through the Airstream store are the same as those being installed in new Interstates).  Therefore, those were not going to be our choice.  

This is the replacement product that we decided to try instead:
They are about $3.50 each!! Prices certainly have fallen in recent years!

Screengrabbed from this Amazon listing.  
As of October 2014, the Airstream store listed three products with different color temperatures (5500-6000K "bright white" for about $15.00 each, 4500K for $20.00 each, and 3500K "warm white" for about $15.00 each).  You can see that there is a substantial cost difference, as well as one or two other distinctions.
If you read the specs, you'll notice right away that the non-Airstream product has a slightly larger diameter and has visibly longer pins.  I'll show how to deal with that below.  
We first bought a sample two-pack tested this product against the existing halogens to determine how the brightness and the color compared, because we've had some bad experiences with LEDs in certain experimental home applications lately - the technology has come a long way but quality issues still don't seem to have fully shaken out yet.
This is me lying on the floor looking straight up at the Fan-tastic and amidships ceiling section.  It's difficult for me to show you comparison photos because modern digital cameras tend to act strangely in extreme contrast scenarios, even if they are set to manual.  However, this is fairly indicative of the impression one gets when comparing these bulbs.  Those are two LEDs on the left, and two of the original halogens on the right.  The halogens are more yellow (which I don't like because the orange wood already throws an abundance of warm tones) and to my surprise, the LEDs are actually a bit brighter (dimness was the bane of LED existence up until recently).   
To replace the halogens, one must first use a very thin blade to pry off the glass cover of the puck light.
Once the blade begins to loosen it, you can use your fingers.  I was wearing gloves because I didn't want to get any body oil on the halogens.  Just in case these aftermarket LEDs don't perform, I want to be able to retain the halogens for use until I can get different LED replacements.  
This is what the halogen looks like nested in its socket:
You can tell right away that this socket was designed for a conventional-shaped bulb.  
Now for the issue of the slightly longer pins on these LED pucks.

It's just a millimeter or two in length difference, but that's enough to cause a problem, as this photo below shows.
If you leave the pins long, they won't extend all the way back into the holes, and you won't be able to replace the glass cover.  
For that reason, you have to use wire cutters and nip off a millimeter or two.  
Once you do that, the LED puck will nest sufficiently well in the socket.  Notice that it's not perfectly centered.  That doesn't really matter to me because nobody stares up at an Airstream ceiling puck light and thinks, "Hmmm, that's not perfectly centered." 
When you replace the glass cover, you need to do two things:
(1) Line up the wider channels with the support struts for the fixture.
(2) Pop it back into place by pushing only on the thin metal rim, not the glass.  If you push on the glass, it will come unpinned from the frame.  
See what I mean?  Not perfectly centered due to the original configuration of the fixture.  No biggie. 
LOL - try doing this with a halogen bulb - an acutely unpleasant surprise will be yours.  The LEDs remain much cooler.  
Brighter than it's ever been:  Again, this broad-daylight type of effect might not appeal to many of you whose eyes are in better shape than mine are.  But I'm quite pleased.   
In a future post, I'll talk about retrofits for the rear reading lights and also the three fluorescent lights (two over the sofa / bed, one over the sink).  We pulled off the fluorescent light covers and were amazed (in a bad way) at how hot the ballasts were.  Unnecessary heat sources must be rooted out and banished from the subtropical RV!!

As always, this is a noncommercial blog presenting personal opinions only.  No retailer has provided any consideration in exchanged for being cited.

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