Is It Time to Convert to LED Holiday Lights?

Every year you likely stand in the holiday lighting aisle wondering if it’s time for your personal conversion.

Should you spring for the more expensive LED light strands or stick with the less expensive, energy hogging lights that cost one-third of the LEDs?

Strictly judging from an environmental perspective, LED light conversion is worth it. Traditional, cheap Christmas light strands use incandescent bulbs, which rely on a glowing metal filament to cast light. Yet 90 percent of incandescent bulbs’ energy is released as heat rather than light. As the result, they use a lot more electricity to give you that warm, holiday feeling.

LEDs, in contrast, use light emitting diodes. They save energy because they don’t waste it in creating heat. They use 75 percent less electricity (thus produce less carbon pollution). Particularly if an extensive display is left on all night long, LEDs can save hundreds of dollars in electricity over the season. LED lights also tend to be more durable than incandescents. And, because the higher quality LED strands last longer than most commercial incandescent strands, less waste is tossed into the garbage.

Some folks have hesitated to make the switch to LEDs because they believe the color of lights isn’t as warm. The first generation of LED Christmas lights (still hanging on some homes) really couldn’t match the pure white light of incandescents and appeared to have a blue tint. That’s no longer the case. LEDs now are available in both options. You can choose cool white bulbs if you prefer the blue hue or warm white LEDs if you prefer the golden white glow of traditional incandescent bulbs.

Many commercial Christmas displays, and light displays in towns and cities that feature thousands of bulbs have made the switch. Most commercial decorators now prefer LEDs because they offer brighter illumination and sharper colors.

Bridges resident Rob Tucker, whose family offers an impressive display each year near Baybridge Park, offered that LED’s greater brightness should be considered when making any transition. “LEDs are a lot brighter,” he said. “The LEDs look completely different.”

“You’ve got to go all or nothing,” he counseled, saying that any attempts to mix LEDs with incandescents will be obvious. “You just can’t do a piece at a time.”

Tucker said they learned that the hard way when they purchased LEDs for the house and then noticed some incandescents they purchased for use in the yard were far dimmer. “It didn’t look as good,” he said.

But the real question most folks standing in the aisle have is whether the LED light strands last longer than incandescent lights. Do some internet research and you’ll read some hype that some LED strands will last 20 years. Strictly speaking, that may be true for the lights. But light strands have more components than just the lights. Holiday light strands are left out in the weather, where they are degraded by the sun’s UV rays. They’re banged around by wind and often stored in piping hot attic crawl spaces or garages.

And for Tucker, at least, his LEDs light strands face other occasional threats. “The one thing I’ve noticed is squirrels like to get to them,” he observed. The rodents especially liked the LED lights (which are plastic) that come in the shape of round berries. The squirrels simply bit them off at the light base, shorting out a portion of the strands.

Most commercial users will tell you can expect six to ten holiday seasons out of a strand of LEDs, depending on whether they’re used outdoors or inside. In general, that’s twice the lifespan of the less expensive incandescents.

Tucker says he cuts his cost in half by buying his LED lights every year the day after Christmas, when they are marked down 50 percent. He buys the less expensive store brands at Wal-Mart. “As far as longevity goes, they last somewhere in the range of four or five seasons,” he said. “I continuously replace them.”

As for incandescents, Tucker says he bought a bunch of store brand lights for a neighbor. “A lot of them burned out before the season was over. Going super cheap is not the way to go.”

The Wirecutter reviewers at the New York Times have tested over two dozen brands of LED lights and their picks suggest some name brands, while pricier, should last longer. The best in their testing for indoor use were GE’s Energy Smart Colorite LED Miniature Lights, which they’ve recommended since 2014. These strands should last 10 years if used indoors. An added plus? The warm white and multicolor versions pretty closely match the light from traditional incandescents.

For outdoor use, the Wirecutter reviewers recommended Christmas Lights Etc Kringle Traditions Wide-Angle 5mm Outdoor LED Christmas Tree Lights, largely due to their ability to withstand moisture. (The lights aren’t replaceable, which doesn’t allow moisture into their sockets. That actually prolongs their lives.) Popular with pro-lighting designers, this brand should last an average of six seasons.

Another benefit of LEDs? If you have a huge display, you can plug in far more LEDs than incandescents end to end before they exceed their limits or trip the breaker in your fuse box. If you’re outdoor outlets are already tapped out and you still want to expand your display without calling in an electrician, conversion to LEDs is the way to go.

Combined with the electricity savings over their lifespans, the economic benefit is likely worth it. Even if a wash, you’re paying more up front to be gentler on our planet. And that’s a deal worth making.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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