Light ’Em Up—Take Two - RV Enthusiast Magazine

Light ’Em Up—Take Two

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Pro Tip, RVEXPERT

Photos by Bill Gehr
After fumbling to find foodstuffs in an extra-large pantry, a LED light strip was installed and hooked up to a reed switch — plus a Bosch mini relay — so it could be turned on automatically when the door was opened. Now, I can see what I’m looking for.
Editor’s note: In last week’s newsletter (March 22), we presented a project that added new light to the pantry by installing a 12-volt DC light strip that would bathe all the shelves with bright light. Well, not all good ideas work the first time out. We installed a magnetic reed switch to allow the light to go On and Off with the door and miscalculated the load requirement of the light strip — and the reed switch failed. Going back to the drawing board, we added a Bosch mini relay to the upgrade — which did the trick. With egg on our faces, we encourage you to read on to learn how we did it the right way.

RV owners love a pantry, especially one that has multiple shelves and cavernous dimensions. And most people fill them up. But stacking numerous odd-size packages, plastic boxes and loose items presents a big problem: How to see what’s in there. For months I’ve lived with one lousy LED light above the top shelf, which really does nothing for the other shelves. Rather than hold a flashlight with one hand or in my mouth, I installed a couple of magnetic motion-sensor lights on the door so when opened, I could get some light. It was a good idea in theory, but when the door was wide open the light didn’t penetrate into the back of the pantry very well.

While the motion-sensor lights were better than the single, factory-installed fixture, it was still difficult to find foodstuffs that hid behind taller items — plus, these lights required USB charging periodically. Thinking how well LED strip lights worked under the patio awning, I figured they would be perfect, confirmed after seeing how a boat owner positioned a string of light strips in an onboard cabinet.

Perusing Amazon, I found a 16-foot LED light strip that looked like it would be perfect for my pantry. Search “RV Awning Light, 12V 16.4Ft White RV” and you’ll find a Lrimauix-branded strip for $19.99. It’s backed with 3M adhesive tape that sticks well, and the strip can be cut along marked points (which are every three LEDs). The polycarbonate composition allows for limited bending and the LEDs bathe the area with a highly visible white light.

The next step was figuring out a way to power the light strip without having to flip a switch manually. That’s when I turned to a reed switch that got us in trouble. There are multiple types of reed switches that are normally closed or normally open and I found one on Amazon, “Eplzon Magnetic Reed Switch,” for $9.99 (package of two) in black. Ultimately, this reed switch did not carry the load presented by the light strip (3.2 amps) so it needed to be wired into a Bosch mini relay. This relay, which is available on Amazon for around $7, is one that’s been used in vehicles for decades and is super reliable. Just follow the wiring schematic shown online (also see the image below) and mount it via the tab with the hole on the housing.

top view of the parts needed for the light strip intstallation: a 16-foot light strip with 3M adhesive backing, a collection of clamps and screws, a reed switch and some wire
The parts needed to light up the pantry included a 16-foot light strip with 3M adhesive backing, a collection of clamps and screws, a reed switch, a Bosch mini relay (not shown) and some wire. The entire project cost less than $40.

Wiring was straightforward since I was able to tap into the existing light fixture above the top shelf in the pantry. The first thing I did was remove the light and prep for tapping into the positive and negative wires. I was surprised that the factory used 3-way Wago connectors for splicing wires, so all I had to do was flip the lever up to tap into the power — without disconnecting the existing light fixture. The light-gauge wire made it difficult to use butt connectors; solder and shrink tubing can also be used if the Wago connectors are not at your fingertips.

close view of a drill gun being used to remove the factory-installed light fixture above the top shelf in the pantry
Access to the exiting 12-volt DC power leads was through the factory-installed light fixture above the top shelf in the pantry. The light fixture was removed for connecting to the existing Wago wire blocks, which made that job quite simple.
zoomed view of the two parts of the reed switch, each attached to the pantry door and pantry frame close to the core of the door
Wire was routed from the factory light fixture to the reed switch and relay. One red wire (positive) was connected to the COM side of the reed switch and one was connected to Terminal #30 on the Bosch relay. Another red wire was connected from the normally open (NO) side of the reed switch to Terminal #86 on the relay. The ground wire from the light fixture was split and run to Terminal #85 on the relay and to the light strip. The positive wire from the light strip was connected to Terminal #87 on the relay.
close view of the wired half of the reed switch being mounted to the pantry-door frame using a drill gun

The wired half of the reed switch was mounted to the pantry-door frame after drilling pilot holes. Mounting it high keeps the reed switch out of the way of stored foodstuffs.

upward angle view at a section of LED light strip attached to the inner ceiling of the pantry
Routing the light strip took some twisting at the transition of the door frame to the ceiling. Be careful not to damage the LEDs in the strip.

Installing the light strip required cutting it to the proper length to fit the pantry. My intention was to make a “U” shape out of the light strip, starting at the bottom on the left side of the pantry. After cleaning the surface with alcohol, the adhesive tape backing was pulled off one section at a time and the light strip was attached, which took a little twisting to make the bends at the top of the pantry. The 3M tape has a strong adhesion property as long as the surface is clean. I had to cut off roughly two feet. The light strip comes with plastic clamps and small screws to hold it in place in case the double-sided tape does not stick.

close view of the LED light strip being cut at the marked point with scissors
It was necessary to cut roughly two feet off the light strip for this pantry. The strip can only be cut where marked, which is every three LEDs. It can be cut easily with scissors.
close up of a hand holding two Wago wire terminals that were attached to the LED light strip
Wago wire terminals were used to connect the light strip to the wires routed from the reed switch and existing pantry light. Check polarity before connecting. These connectors can be found easily online.
zoomed view of the two parts of the reed switch, each attached to the pantry door and pantry frame close to the core of the door
The other side of the reed switch was installed on the door so it would line up with the other half of the switch. It’s not critical that the two pieces line up precisely; in this case, the light went out when the switches were three inches apart.
Once the light strip was in place, I ran a positive wire from the factory ceiling light to the relay and reed switch. One positive wire was routed from the reed switch to the trigger terminal on the relay; another positive wire was routed from the relay to the light strip at the bottom of the door jam. A ground wire was connected to the relay and routed to the light strip. Wire holders that came with the light strip were used to secure the wires.

Polarity was checked and, after all the connections were made, the magnet half of the reed switch was installed in the vicinity of the other half — it does not have to be lined up precisely to function properly. I was pleasantly surprised that this type of LEDs are not super bright but still provided plenty of light to actually see what’s stored in the pantry.

Now I can lose the flashlight — for this purpose, anyway — and refrain from buying food I already had in the pantry.

full view of the RV pantry with lighting emanating from the inner frame from the top to the bottom
The light strip provided plenty of illumination throughout the panty, making it a pleasure to retrieve items that were once in the “black hole.” I even found things I was missing for months — and I don’t think I’ll be buying unnecessary duplicates any longer.
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