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The Color of Light

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Saving energy is not only a good idea for the environment, but it can make our RVing
experience even better, as well. Fluorescent lights typically use less electricity than do
incandescent lights, so fluorescents make sense for RVs that are selfcontained and used for
dry camping. Nevertheless, the “cool white” color of the fluorescent bulb can be rather
harsh for some occupants’ tastes. Thin-Lite Corporation of Camarillo, California, the
leading provider of low-voltage fluorescent lighting fixtures to the RV industry, is now
offering a “full-spectrum” bulb that is visually warmer, yet maintains its low appetite for
power. Thin-Lite’s full-spectrum bulb features the most accurate color reproduction,
closely simulating natural light. David Szymanek, chief operating officer of Thin-Lite,
says full-spectrum bulbs are popular with dentists, jewelers and ambulance operators, for
whom accurate color reproduction is crucial, and are becoming very popular with RV owners.
Thin-Lite also offers several bulb designs to suit the needs of the user. The standard bulb
features the aforementioned “cool white” light, or the kind you are accustomed to seeing in
drugstores, warehouses and the like. Then, there is “warm white,” which is slightly more
yellow in color and not as brilliant. Even with all the advantages of fluorescent lighting,
the quality of the light and the flicker and buzz that often emanates from the ballasts are
common objections of RV owners. These problems have been addressed by Thin-Lite engineers,
who have eliminated flicker and hum from the company’s line of fluorescent lighting, says
Szymanek, who started Thin-Lite in 1969. To handle the flicker and buzzing sound, Szymanek
explains, “Thin-Lites use electronic, not magnetic, ballasts. Electronic ballasts function
at 30,000 cycles a second, as opposed to only 60 cycles per second for magnetic ballasts,
which are typically used in a home or office. Human beings can hear and see up to 15,000
cycles per second, which is why fluorescent lights with magnetic ballasts bother some
people. At 30,000 cycles per second, our lights have no perceptible flicker and they are
absolutely silent.” Two basic designs are offered: surface mount and recessed mount.
Surface-mount units are flat on the top of the housing, allowing the complete unit to be
affixed to any flat overhead surface, such as a ceiling or the underside of cabinets.
Measuring only 1.5 inches thick and weighing around 1 pound for an 18 * 5.5-inch size,
these units can be mounted using the supplied wood screws and by connecting the two wires
to a positive and negative 12- volt DC source – usually the existing wires used to mount
the incandescent fixture. Flush-mount units are more often used by original equipment
manufacturers because a hole must be cut in the mounting surface large enough to
accommodate the light’s housing. And though Thin Lite’s off-the-shelf offerings are 12 and
18 inches in length, the company also can handle custom orders. Several different series,
including the company’s new Elegant line and a variety of other fixtures, in various shapes
and sizes, are also available; there are approximately 100 models in all. Prices range from
$28 to more than $50 (suggested retail). The benefits of using fluorescent lighting in your
coach are many, according to Szymanek. First and perhaps foremost, fluorescent lighting is
very efficient – up to 4.5 times as efficient as comparable incandescent or halogen
lighting. The typical incandescent bulb yields 18 lumens per watt (a standard method of
rating lighting efficiency); halogen bulbs produce 20 lumens per watt. By contrast, a
fluorescent can yield between 70 and 100 lumens per watt. This efficiency means that very
little of the light’s energy is wasted as heat, which is why fluorescents are also up to
4.5 times cooler than incandescent or halogen lighting (something you can appreciate in the
summer months). Fluorescent bulbs are designed to last seven to 10 times longer than their
incandescent counterparts, and three to five times longer than halogen bulbs. Those RVers
camping without hookups and pinching amperes will be pleased to know that an 18-inch
two-bulb fluorescent fixture draws about 2.2 amps, while incandescent models take roughly 8
amps to provide the same amount of light. Another advantage of fluorescent lighting that is
of particular interest to RVers is the way they react to low-voltage situations.
“Incandescent lights are designed to provide optimum light output at 12.8 volts DC,”
Szymanek explains, “and they lose 27 percent of light output for every 10-percent voltage
drop below optimum. Our fluorescents are designed for optimum light output at 12 volts DC,
and lose light output in direct proportion to the voltage drop. For example, a 10-percent
voltage drop equals a 10 percent drop in light output.” In addition, Szymanek maintains
that Thin-Lites are also much more resistant to voltage spikes – surviving up to a 42-volt
surge. The advent of the full-spectrum bulb and improvements in design technology – along
with the ease of retrofitting – make fluorescent fixtures a very practical addition to any
RV interior. Thin-Lite Corporation, (805)987-5021, www.thinlite.com

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