May 11, 2021

TT# 127 Awning LED Light Strip: Solving the Light Direction Issue

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

You are thrilled that your new RV is equipped with a factory installed patio awning with an integrated LED light strip mounted on the roller. You arrive at your first campsite, set up the coach and extend the awning to see how it shades the coach and to reveal the lighting. A quick press on the Extend Awning button on the multiplex control panel and the awning jumps into action, fully extending, then retracting a partial turn to drop the awning flap, then stopping. All seems great. What a nice awning, with such a simple procedure to extend and get set up. 

After dark, you press another button on the multiplex control to turn on the LED light strip and instantly there is light – aimed up at the awning fabric! You think – I must have done something wrong. You begin trying to toggle the extend and retract buttons on your panel to move the awning in small steps so that the light shines down towards the ground, where you want the light to shine. No matter how you sequence your button presses, you have a difficult time getting the roller to stop with the light in the proper position.

Such was my experience with our new 2021 Bounder. You long for the ‘old fashioned’ switch that instantly reacts to the on-off presses by extending and retracting, stopping exactly where you want the awning to.   I reviewed the operating manuals, the installation manuals, tried to contact Carefree of Colorado and had conversation with RV techs, all with the intention of changing the position where the full extension of the awning stopped. All to no avail: It is programmed and not adjustable. Jockeying the in and out switches is the only way to adjust the stop position once the awning is extended. Over time, I am learning the process to get the light shining where I want it. Patience is required! 

There Has to be a Better Way!
Upon reviewing the Carefree of Colorado’s (the awning maker) website, I learned that the coach builder has the choice of having a LED strip mounted on the awning roller, or one mounted on the coach body. The roller is doing what it is supposed to, by fully extending, then retracting somewhat to drop the flap, however there seemed to be no consideration for the final location of the light strip. Over the last few years, improvements have been made to the roller. It is now formed with a proper channel to securely mount the LED light strip. This contrasts with earlier versions, without this channel, that placed the full pressure of the retracted fabric on the light strip, contributing to the failure of individual LEDs. (See TechTip # 117). Compared to earlier versions, the LED strip is also a much higher quality one with silicone protecting the light strip from rain and weather damage. Ironically, upon close examination, I determined that the light strip on our Bounder’s awning is similar to the version that we sell in our online store. We have had a flawless, no defect record with our LED Strips. 

All that is missing on our coach’s awning, is a better way to control the awning stop position, so that the light direction can be controlled, or for the roller to stop in the optimal position, aiming the light strip correctly down towards the ground. This involves a better operating program and possibly adjustments to the roller’s initial mounting position, combined with the recognition that the awning system is controlled by the RV’s multiplex system that may have a time latency before reacting to the controls. All this will take time and does not resolve the issue in the short term.

The Solution: Install a New Bodyside LED Light Strip
The solution, as I saw it, was to install a matching LED light strip on the RV coach body, just below the awning rail between the awning arms, so that when the light was turned on, the light shines in such a way that the fabric reflects the light down and the light shines toward the ground, lighting up the patio area. The wiring for the existing light strip exits the body at the top of the front awning arm with a large loop of wire and then continues towards the roller, since it is sewn into the front edge side seam of the awning material. 

Planning the Installation:
Switches for individual LED StripsAdding a LED light strip on the bodyside was something I have done dozens of times with similar LED light on coaches over the last few years. I planned to add a remote-controlled dimmer to adjust the light brightness in the patio area, a feature missing from the coach’s awning light multiplex system. Ideally, this new dimmer would control both the LED light strip on the roller as well as the new body side one. In addition, being able to have either one, or both strips on, provides maximum flexibility, allowing a light to shine, even if the awning was not extended. Carefree of Colorado warns that the awning light should not be turned on when the awning is retracted. Since I was planning to use the same power source, being able to switch on whichever light strip (or both) as needed, provided the best option, while adhering to their recommendation.
Completing the Installation:Body Side LED Strip Installed
On our 2021 Bounder 33C, (which does not have the optional dropdown, front, over-the-seats bed), the power wiring to the awning is behind the patio side speaker for the front sound system. Removing the speaker from its cabinet, revealed the body wiring harness with the awning power and the thin twisted pair wiring for the existing LED light strip. This wiring was tapped as the power source for the newly added dimmer control, with its output connected to two new switches located on a panel in the adjacent over-the-door cabinet. The inverter remote control panel in that cabinet (shown in the photo beside the newly added switches) was temporarily removed to allow access to the newly installed wiring for the new rocker switches. This wiring will allow each of the two rocker switches to control the awning roller and the bodyside LED light strips after the awning light power is turned on by the multiplex control. Each individual light strip can be turned on or off by depressing the newly installed rocker switches. In addition, with the wireless remote control, both light strips can be turned on or off and the brightness of the light strips can be remotely adjusted, provided that the master power to the awning lighting is turned on. The wires from these switches were returned to the speaker panel area and connected to the roller LED strip and the newly installed bodyside strip. After completing the connections for the new wiring, the inverter remote control panel was reinstalled.

Comparing the two LED Light stripsInstallation of the light strip took about an hour to complete, beginning by properly preparing the upper body area where the new bodyside strip was to be installed (using alcohol to remove the wax). I started from the front where the wiring would be connected, then slowly unrolled and mounted the strip after removing the 3M adhesive strip’s protective tape and pressing the light strip onto the body in a straight line from front to back, about 2.5cm (1 inch) below the awning drip rail on the coach. The task was slow, yet with some care, the strip was installed. As it turns out, the distance between the awning arms is just over 5m (16 feet), so the standard strip length of 5m (16 feet) needed only to be centered in the area between the arms. This installation did not require any trimming. Should a light strip need to be cut, there is a procedure to follow (which we can supply) and a small piece of marine grade heat shrink should be applied covering the new end.  During our installation, the body side was cold (about 10◦C (50◦F), so I used a heat gun to warm the strip after it was mounted, to increase the adherence of the strip to the body. In the field, I recommend that owners turn the power for a new LED strip on and leave it on for twelve (12) hours to provide the heat necessary to secure the strip.

Testing and the Finishing Touches:
The wiring at the front was covered with marine grade heat shrink, after soldering on a short extension of the wiring. It was pushed through the existing access hole in the body, then connected to the switch for that strip. A little silicone caulking was used to fill and seal the hole and to secure the two ends of the strip to the RV body. After the connections were complete, the lighting was tested to ensure that all light strips operate and could be dimmed and brightened. Once the operation was confirmed, then the dimmer was secured in place and the speaker reinstalled. The final step was to properly label the two added switches with their functions (as shown in the photo). 
The body side light strip is brighter than the one installed on the awning. Knowing that, you can turn either one on or off and can dim each one when on, gives a lot of flexibility. The Bodyside LED Strip installedOverall, this was a worthwhile improvement that greatly enhances the RV and provides patio area light whether the awning is extended or not.


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