The right kind of lighting can make a big difference to your van conversion. While it seems like something you could easily take for granted, there are a lot of different things to consider before you start wiring up your van.
Generally, most camper van lighting will run on 12V and be LED; this is because energy consumption is very important in a van, and LEDs use significantly fewer amps than halogen or fluorescent lighting, meaning they won’t drain your batteries at night. It is possible to install 240V lighting in your van such as the kind you’d find in a house, however they will need to be run through an inverter to convert your leisure batteries’ 12V current into 240V, so this would be significantly less energy efficient.
The color temperature of your lights can really set the mood in your van. This is measured in Kelvin, with temperatures of around 7500K appearing more blueish and those around 5600K being closer to daylight and therefore a lot warmer. Warm lighting can give your space a cozy feel, while cool lighting is helpful for brightening up areas for working in and cooking. A dimmer switch can also be installed to help with that mood lighting.
The brightness of lights is measured in Lumens, however the power of a light is also measured in Watts. The higher the Wattage the brighter your lights will be, which is important to consider as you may want dimmer lighting above your bed area and brighter lighting in your kitchen for example.
Then there are the different types of lights: generally, spotlights are used in the ceiling, with strip lights around the edges and cabinets and reading lights next to the bed. However the style and positioning of your lights is totally up to you, and the more natural light you have coming in through your van’s windows the less you will need to rely on lightbulbs during the day. But one thing’s for sure: no one likes cooking in the dark, so we’ve compiled and reviewed the best types of lighting for your camper van conversion.
Recessed lights are lights that can be embedded in your ceiling much like the typical kind of lighting you might find in a house, except these are designed to be smaller and more power efficient to be used on boats and in RVs. They give a good level of general lighting in a van and add a touch of style and class, therefore these are probably the most essential type of lighting you’ll want to install.
Our top pick:
These super slim recessed lights by Acegoo are a great choice for your van conversion, made of high-quality aluminum which keeps the light cool as well as being lightweight, shock- and vibration-resistant. They consume just 3W of power running on 12V, project 200 Lumens and have a lifespan of 50,000 hours, a big reason why LEDs are ideal for vans and RVs as they consume five times less power than standard halogen lights and last virtually forever.
They are fitted using a simple spring clip system and are available in either a white or silver finish and with cool or warm bulbs that are also dimmable.
The stylish choice:
We love these recessed lights for their stylish black outer shell and warm white glow, creating a contemporary alternative to standard chrome or white recessed lights. They’re a bit dimmer than the Acegoo ones, delivering 110 Lumens running at just 2W, which is perfect for creating some mood lighting in your van conversion.
Cons: Due to their small size these lights are not overly bright, and the cool bulbs have a slight blueish hue to them instead of being pure white. The main downside to recessed ceiling lights is they have to be installed when converting your van and not as an afterthought, or you’ll end up taking your entire ceiling down to install or replace them. These lights require forward planning, but the end result is worth the extra effort.
Strip lights are reels of flexible LED lights embedded in waterproof plastic. The main advantage of these is not just their adaptability to fit into any space, but that they can also be cut down to a desired length or linked together to create longer strips. They’re a cheap budget option, can be used in any kind of van conversion, to illuminate cupboards, shelves, floors, roofs- you name it. They come in a variety of cool or warm whites or even multicolored, and require no installation apart from peeling off the backing paper and using the adhesive to stick them wherever you need.
Our top pick:
12V flexible LED strip light – $8.99
We’ve chosen this flexible LED strip light from Lighting EVER, however the great thing is that there is virtually no difference in quality between brands when it comes to this type of lighting.
It runs on 12V, consuming 18W of power and providing 3600 lumens of light with its 300 LEDs. It’s 16.4ft (5 Meters) long and makes a great budget option to light up those darker areas in your van or RV.
The high-tech choice:
Govee 32.8ft LED strip lights – $45.99
The coolest thing about these LED strip lights is that they can be controlled via a dedicated smartphone app, giving you complete customization over 16 million lighting colors and various brightnesses. This also gives you access to a timer, music sync and Alexa voice control, so long as you have WiFi in your van that you can connect the controller to.
Cons: There are several downsides to consider with this style of lighting, the main one being that they are not particularly hard-wearing and can snap very easily with a slight pull. They are easily damaged, meaning some of the LEDs may go off-color or just cease to function altogether. The backing is also not very sticky, so we would recommend securing the lights with staples, drawing pins or sewing pins for fabric surfaces.
Ceiling dome lights
Ceiling dome lights are a great alternative to recessed lights; although not as streamlined, they do offer a wider and more diffused beam of light. They are great for illuminating single rooms as just two or four of them will easily brighten up a small space. They are typically found in caravans or boats but there’s no reason they can’t also be used to lighten up a van conversion or RV. One main advantage over recessed lights however is that ceiling dome lights can be removed and replaced after your van conversion is complete, should you wish to change them down the line.
Our top pick:
Kohree ceiling dome light – $46.99
These lights run on 12V and consume just 6W of power, but they offer a dazzling 600 Lumens of brightness and a 60,000-hour life expectancy. They are heat resistant and anti-corrosive so the casings won’t melt, and come with a simple two-way switch to turn them on and off. The lighting is a natural white color, slightly warm to create a perfect ambiance in a van interior and they are particularly easy to install or remove.
Cons: These lights may be too large for a small space, particularly if it has a low ceiling as you could end up bumping your head, which would get annoying. The lenses have also been known to create an odd yellowish pattern on the surrounding ceiling area, which might not be so appealing.
Panel lights offer perhaps the broadest area of lighting and are super bright, making them ideal for use in a workspace inside your van or RV. They are slim, compact and can be mounted onto the surface of a van’s ceiling, although because of their brightness they may not be suited for everyday use.
Our top pick:
Dream Lighting 12V LED Panel Light – $43.00
These 12V panel lights from Dream Lighting offer a lot of brightness with a surprisingly energy efficient design, consuming just 1.06 amps and running at 14.3W yet somehow delivering a shining 800 Lumens of light. This is due to the light being dispersed across an 8.5” surface, with the LEDs mounted on an aluminum board not only to reflect the light but also to dissipate heat and keep them cool while running. The slimline design is surface-mounted and made with high quality, durable materials, and the light can also be dimmed with the installation of a dimmer switch.
The eco choice:
Another entry from Dream Lighting, who specialize in making energy-efficient 12V lighting that’s good for power consumption and good for the planet. This panel light of theirs might be a little pricey but it offers a stylish design in chunky clear acrylic with polished screw caps and a competitively low energy consumption at just 7.8W and 0.6amps.
Cons: If anything these lights are too bright, headache-inducingly bright, but this can work as an advantage depending on your intended use. If power is interrupted to the panel light then it will default back to the off setting, but if you have a constant source of power this shouldn’t be an issue. The other drawback is that one large light may not look as stylish as a set of smaller round lights, and the light may be too concentrated in one area depending on the layout of your van or RV.
Reading lights are pretty self-explanatory, however let’s talk through some of the key points about them. Reading lights are small, focussed spotlights with a dim light just bright enough to light up the pages of a book, which can be mounted to a wall and angled in any direction. They’re perfect for the bed or lounge area of a van if you plan to do a lot of reading or even working in the evenings, and they don’t occupy much space or draw a lot of power either. Reading lights are also particularly useful if you’re a couple, as the focussed directional light allows one to read without disturbing the other who’s trying to sleep.
Our top pick:
These 12V lights come as a pair in a variety of colors and finishes. You can choose between chrome, nickel or black as well as warm or cool lighting with the option of adding in a blue light too. The frosted lampshade helps to reduce eyestrain by diffusing the light’s glow, and the multi-directional swivel joint allows you to position the light any way you need it. They run at a tiny 1.9W drawing 0.14amps of power and providing a dim yet functional 100 Lumens of brightness.
The two-in-one choice:
These reading lights are a little more robust than the ones by Dream Lighting, offering a sleek nickel or chrome finish and a sturdier swivel neck. The 2.2W LED bulbs provide a soft warm white glow which consumes a minuscule 0.25amps of power. The main added bonus of course is that each one comes with a 2V USB charging port for your phone, making them a perfect bedside accompaniment.
Cons: These reading lights are quite small, even by camper van standards, and the flexible gooseneck of the Dream Lighting lamps is so short as to reduce the amount of mobility these lights have. Lights that are mounted on a wall also have a higher risk of being knocked, but for such low energy consumption, you can’t really go wrong, especially if you’re a bookworm.
If you want to take your van from plain to Instagram-worthy in two minutes flat then fairy lights are your best friend. They create ambiance inside your tiny home and add a touch of personality, style and flair. They come in an enormous range of styles and designs, but most importantly they’re a good backup to have in case you happen to run out of mains power as they generally run on battery. Pop a couple of rechargeable batteries in there and hang them wherever you like; string them up around the back doors, above your bed, create a feature wall or take them outside for some campfire mood lighting; the possibilities are endless, and no van conversion is complete without fairy lights.
Our top pick:
These copper wire fairy lights are a particularly good option as the wire is so thin it’s almost invisible. The LED bulbs are small yet bright and the entire string of lights is so lightweight that they can be positioned or hung pretty much anywhere to project a soft, warm glow. They even come with a remote control and nine different settings, and run off three AA batteries concealed in a waterproof battery case.
The versatile choice:
Luminoodle Portable LED rope light – $19.99 – $44.99
Power Practical is a relative newcomer to the scene, and after a series of successful Kickstarter campaigns, they launched the Luminoodle brand, offering ultra bright, quality, battery-powered lights for camping. Their portable LED rope light is one of the most diverse products we’ve seen, running on a USB-rechargeable lithium battery and with the ability to be mounted just about anywhere. Apart from the universal ties it’s supplied with, we adore the fact that its magnetic sliders can be used to effortlessly attach the lights to the outside of a van, creating an instant campfire setup. The rope light can even be stuffed into its pouch when turned on to create a bright and portable lantern.
Cons: Fairy lights aren’t the most durable form of lighting and certainly shouldn’t be used exclusively in a van; they’re more to complement any other types of lighting you might have. Having to charge or replace the batteries can get quite irritating, and most types of fairy lights are prone to snapping or damage, although the copper wire ones tend to be stronger than other types.
Lighting really sets the mood and makes a big impact on an interior, and a good set of lights can take your van conversion to the next level. Their many uses range from the practical to the decorative, so it’s up to you to decide what kind of lighting best suits your camper van or RV.
Do you need bright lighting for a workspace? Do you want warm, dim lighting for the evenings? Do you need a full set of panel lights or just a few spotlights in your ceiling? Do you want something that can be used outdoors too, or maybe some party lighting? And how can you make your van as energy efficient as possible? These are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself when planning a van conversion.
The combinations and the possibilities are endless, all it takes is a bit of thought and forward thinking, and using the information we’ve given you in this guide you should have a beautifully lit camper van in no time.