Our Wonderful Followers who come back again and again to read about us...

Thursday, September 10, 2020

MOTORHOME MODIFICATION - Changing Old 12 Volt Lights to New LED Puck Lights

I belong to several online groups of Safari motorhome owners. It's great when we share ideas, tricks, tips, and improvements. One of those members, John Williams, posted some pictures of some improvements he had made to the LED lighting in his motor home.

Originally, our Safari Serengeti had these crazy small halogen puck lights that were recessed underneath the cabinets. They had glass lenses with twist and lock type plastic frames. The heat from the halogen would get so hot that the plastic frames would flex and warp and would drop down out of the light fixtures from time to time. The glass portion lens was so hot it would burn you!

Autumn, a little girl of a visiting friend, got a burn on her leg one day when the light fixture fell down onto her lap when she was sitting on our couch!  I felt horrible that she got burned while sitting inside of our motorhome.  Also, the fire implications were not acceptable either.

That didn't set well with us, so back then in about 2007 or 2008 we removed all of those dangerous hot halogen lights and replaced them with these cheap 12 volt brass RV bullet light fixtures.

The 12 volt bayonet type bulb in these worked well, but they also generated a lot of heat. The worst part is they drained a lot more of the electricity. Think about it, they are like a car automobile bulb. How fast does a bulb drain down your car battery if you leave a car door open or the overhead dome light on?  Multiply that by 8 or 10 or 12 fixtures throughout the motorhome?

Over the years, the RV industry finally started coming out with LED light bulbs that would fit in the bayonet type fixtures. These bulbs were very very expensive! About 10 years ago we bought two of them. I think they were about $20 each!
(this was the greenish one)

Yes, they saved on the energy consumption when we were boondocking without hookups. But the light from them was an eerie funny green on one and a really icky pure blue white on the other. I really didn't like them, but we would use them when we were boondocking, because it was the best we had at that time.

(this was the blueish one)

Fast forward to now in 2020. John Williams said he added some 12 volt LED puck light fixtures to his kitchen area, where he used to have just the Thinlite brand of fluorescent 12 volt fixtures.  He said it made a huge difference to the lighting over his sink and countertop in his Safari.  The lumens were much higher, and they cast a lot of light with the 3 watt version.  The amp draw is only two tenths of an amp per hour.

I wrote to him and asked where he had gotten them and what type did he use. We need to use 12 volt DC dimmable puck lights, not 120vAC household ones.

I wanted something that would be bright enough--- not the 1 watt or 2 watt, I wanted the 3 watt with proper lumens and I wanted the warm white light. Not the cool or bright. Had to be warm so it looks like a nice normal glowing light. And that is just what John had found.

Honestly, I hate fluorescent or LED lighting to begin with, but it's the way of the future and I'm glad they're finally designed it where it's a warm white for the LED spectrum.

John shared the link to the lights he purchased on Amazon as well as the dimmer switch because it's nice to make a chain of lights dim down or brighten up as desired.

We decided to order up a set of 12 and replace all of the undercabinet lights as well as add four new lights to the kitchen area cabinets to shine down over the countertops.

Here is the link:

By looking around on Amazon,
you can also buy them in multiples of
4, 6, 8 or 12 as well.
(Buying them in a set of 12 comes out to $6.50 each)

The box came in 4 days. But then we quarantined it for a couple days to eliminate any risk of virus.  We don't take any chances with the upswing in numbers now, especially in our part of Wisconsin. 

The description gave the measurements of the lights and we knew it would be close to the existing holes we had on our 25 year-old motorhome.

Steve pulled down one of the existing bullet light fixtures and test fit the new light into place. It was just a tad too tight. So he got out his deburring bit and put it on his drill. He did the shaving off while I held a tray underneath to catch any of the sawdust. He was able to round out the opening just a tad bit more to snugly accept the new puck light fixture.

Of course, Steve is very cautious with electricity. He tested each and every wire to be sure which one was the 12 volt positive and negative. If you don't wire these up correctly, they are not going to work and could create a fire hazard as well.

Then he carefully attached the light fixture with the proper wires connected to the proper leads of the light. He made sure the wire nuts are firm and tight and then he added an extra piece of tape over each one so they never loosen up during vibration of travel.  (he didn't get the tape on yet in this pic below)

He tested each light from the switch to make sure that they are connected properly and that the light fixture itself does not happen to be defective.  That would be a bugger to get it all up and in place and have the light fixture itself be bad? That has happened to us with projects sometimes.

Because these are pretty snug he needed to tap them up into place. Tapping on the pretty aluminum ring around each one might cause a marred surface with the head of the hammer. Instead he found out that a heavy cardboard children's story book, our favorite "Bear Brown Bear", which worked great for laying flat across the fixture and slamming upwards with his hand. It was just enough to pop the fixture into place and not destroy the finish of the rim.

We started with the two bullet light fixtures over the loveseat. These are the lights that we use most often when we are boondocking for during the evening to settle back and watch TV or play cards or Yatzee etc.

We used the existing ON/OFF swiches that were already mounted in the cabinetry. Tah dah! Look at that!

One down, eleven more to go---

Soon we got the second one done over the loveseat. It sure made a difference with the warm beautiful light shining down,  giving us just enough illumination for reading or comfortable evening atmosphere.

Two down, ten more to go---

The next light that Steve decided to tackle was the one in the bathroom over the sink. That one also was a puck light up underneath that shines down whenever you want to do anything in the bathroom sink. It hasn't been operating correctly because we never replaced it with a bullet light fixture years ago. Instead we tried using a little LED bulb in that was not manufactured very well. It would flicker or not operate with all the little yellow squares of the LED illuminated.  For sure, I was going to be very appreciative once this light fixture got changed.

(this was a "sit down job")

Wow! Look at that! It lights up the whole area with beautiful light that also reflects off the mirrored backsplash.  Now it looks like FOUR lights! LOL

The whole bathroom now has enough lighting ---- and mainly I like it because there isn't any more of that ugly greenish glow that came from the old LED light bulb.

Three done - Nine to go! 

We took a little break. So now I had time to take a "BEFORE" picture in our bedroom. The light fixture on the left is an LED with the funny bluish glow. And the fixture on the right is the bayonet type 12 volt bulb --- so not only don't they match, but neither one is what we really wanted in the bedroom. Especially not for over the bed if we are reading.


It was kind of awkward to work on the light fixtures from sitting on the bed. While Steve worked on the wiring or the enlarging of the holes, I was next to him holding up a tray to catch any of the plastic wire stripping pieces or the sawdust from the drill.

Look at that! The beautiful warm glowing light aiming down over the head of our bed. The existing switches for these two light fixtures are down on each side of our bed, located on each of the side walls. We use them often at night from the position of lying in bed. We really are glad these have been changed, now that they harmonize, look the same, and illuminate the room and the bed.

and the artwork too...

We bought this framed print at an auction. It had been hanging in our bedroom,, and I stared at it for hours on end while I was so sick a few years back. It has a peaceful calming effect on me. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, and this print was so reminiscent of autumn camping days on a lake somewhere in the U.P. of Michigan.

I always wondered which lake?
I wondered if I had ever stood in the same spot?

It is by a Wisconsin Photographer by the name of Nick Bristol. 

I found out that this particular image IS from a lake in the U.P. of Michigan called Council Lake, near Munising. I love his work and a lot of his images on his website are from places I am familiar with. I got in contact with him and he sent me some other images I was interested in. He gave me permission to post this information and his print on my blog.

That was enough for one day,
Five down, Seven to go! 


Now the next three lights are going to go along the entire passenger side of the cabinets. The remaining batch of four lights are going to go under the kitchen cabinets to shine over the kitchen countertops. So yesterday, we went out to work on the ones along the passenger side.

We had a little helper with us. Sweet little granddaughter Claire was over for the day and she was going to come and help Grandpa. She was really good at picking up anything that he dropped on the floor. She would hand him things and although the process was taking a little longer, she knew she was "helping".

Now, with these next three lights, we had to remove everything out of the cabinets because he wanted to string all three fixtures together and put them on a dimmer. Presently each of the lights operate separately with individual switches. By removing everything from the cabinets he was able to lift up the false bottom. Now he could gain access to the area where the wires needed to be run, to join all three together.

The silly little girl kept us entertained with her antics, and we kept her occupied while we were trying to get the light fixtures wired up into place.

John Williams had also shared with us a link for the dimmer switch that he had purchased for his run of lights under his kitchen cabinets. It needed to be a 12 volt dimmer.  But we need two dimmer switches, and they were a little costly at $17 each. Here is the link for the single switch:

But while looking for that, I found a dual switch from the same company with the same device features. It was only $7 more. The only thing was it was connected down the middle so it could be two switches side by side mounted on a wall. We looked closely at the diagram on Amazon and figured we could probably just buy the double switch and cut it in half ourselves?

Which is exactly what we did! Steve carefully sawed it in half with his little oscillating tool cutting blade. What a guy....

We started to get the next three light fixtures ready to be put up into place. Steve got all the wiring installed, but realized we were going to have a little bit of a problem.

One of the original fixture holes was a little too big and the fixture would be falling out. The other two holes, we had originally installed ourselves to make a special cut out for a switch access when we had first installed the bullet fixtures. The old bullet fixtures had a surrounding flange that covered up that notch, but not these new LED ones.

Somehow we needed to cover up that extra notch cut out and that bigger hole. What could we use as a spacer to cover it up? And securely attach the LED light into place?

Well well well, we were going to use a trick that I had come up with years ago when we replaced the 2 map lights up in the front cockpit area. Those had left a big square hole that we needed to cover up for a round fixture.

What did we use back then? We used a blank CD painted black for those light fixtures! It worked very well and has held up well over the last 14 or 15 years.

So this time, I went and looked in my stack of CDs. Yes, I still have CDs. In my stacked towers of blanks I found three black spacer plastic discs that were used on tops and bottoms the towers of discs. I guess it prevented scratching during shipment? So now I didn't even have to paint any old CDs, I already had some nice black disks all ready to go.

Steve carefully drilled out the exact size hole in the middle of the plastic discs using his drill press and clamping all three together to get the exact size hole on all three discs.

Now these were the perfect size spacers to go between the light fixtures and the overhead cabinets. Two or three little dabs of a hot glue gun held them up into place perfectly so the light fixture could be inserted into the centers.  The clips on the back of the lights then held up tight into the wooden holes by bending out the clips a tiny bit further.

The dimmer light switch that will control all three of these lights is wired in a perfect location, right near the center of the three dimmable LED lights. This is where it makes the most sense, between the kitchen and the living room to turn them on, turn them off, or dim them down if we are watching TV.
Look at that! 
(it really is centered, just distorted by the camera angle)

Here are all three 
along the passenger side
of the cabinets:
and a "Wide Angle" shot... 

Eight down - four to go! 

Now for the next step, we needed to remove the two Thinlite fluorescent kitchen lights over the kitchen sinks. I never liked these lights in the first place, because I've never cared for fluorescent light at all. The existing holes where the wiring came down would determine the placement of the new LED lights. But that's only two holes. I wanted more light over the countertop---  especially in the corner between the sink and the stove.

(I listed these for sale on our local Facebook Marketplace
for $20 for the pair if anyone is interested.
New they would be $55 each)

So we prepared four holes in a evenly spaced layout with the dimmer switch at one end that would control all four light fixtures.  The blue tabs of painters tape are where each light was planned... spacing out evenly for the best coverage.  Especially one was centered over the sink.

Again, I had to empty out all of the cabinets so Steve could access the space under the false bottoms.  Once everything was out, he could start drilling the holes and running new wires.

The four lights fit perfectly into the new holes, and the wiring all joined up down at the far end, for the dimmer switch to control all four lights at the same time.

This sure improves the task lighting when we are doing things in the kitchen.  But then we can dim them down for less draw and more "mood lighting" during dinners.

I know in new rigs, LED lighting is all over, and sometimes controlled by one or two switches or a touch pad screen. All that fancy new stuff is becoming standard on the new motorhomes.  But retrofitting a 25 year old motorhome is a lot harder, because you can not open the walls or the ceiling to run new wires.  I am glad we are able to convert what we can.  The lesser drain on our 12 volt system with these new light fixtures will be a mere fraction of the draw of what either of those old light fixtures were!



  1. that CD trick is slicker than goose grease! terrific job!

    1. Thanks again, John, for your information that helped us select the right lights and switches that we needed. It sure made an improvement!

  2. LED lighting is such an improvement as well as an energy saver.
    You did a great job especially with the CDs.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  3. You have the BEST motorhome! That kitchen area with all the cabinets & some actual counter space is wonderful. Having a handy husband who can update things that need updating isn't bad either. Yay, Steve!

  4. Another fantastic project but you better get out there before the snow flies in Michigan.

  5. Thanks for the improvement ideas. Great job Steve and Karen.


Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog! I moderate all comments so it may take a little while for your comment to appear.