LED Christmas Lights vs. Incandescent Christmas Lights

Hi There! My name is Darren Vader and I'm the founder and head elf here at TheChristmasLightEmporium.com. Today I'd like to share with you some of the differences between LED Christmas lights and incandescent Christmas lights and why the time is right to make the move to LED Christmas lights for use in your holiday decorating.

Over the past few years we have seen the demand for incandescent Christmas lights plummet. As a matter of fact, 2009 was the last year that any of our commercial display clients used incandescent lighting. Starting in 2010, 100% of our commercial clients had retired all of their incandescent Christmas lights and were using LED Christmas lights in 100% their displays. However, I am often still asked the question, "Why should we pay for LED lighting?" Four or five years ago this was a legitimate and difficult to answer question since LED Christmas light technology had not yet matured. Today, the reasons for making the move to LED Christmas lights are many. There are a few well known reasons and there are a few not-so-well-known reasons to make the move to using LED Christmas lights in your Christmas display. All of these should be considered as you build your ROI case for investment in LED Christmas lights for your Christmas display.

THE WELL KNOWN REASONS TO USE LED CHRISTMAS LIGHTS:

DURABILITY

LED Christmas lights, especially the 5mm wide angle, C7 and C9 form factors, are manufactured in such a way that they can withstand much more punishment that their incandescent counterparts. I have tossed many LED C9 retrofit replacement Christmas light bulbs across parking lots and down streets and watched them bounce off the ground or get run over by cars and trucks while explaining the durability virtues to prospective customers. Try than with a glass incandescent C7 or C9 bulb!

LONGEVITY

Although the verdict is still out with regard to the long term lifespan of LED Christmas lights, they are typically rated at anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 hours of life. No one that I know has had LEDs in service long enough to test these limits. However, relative to their incandescent counterparts, LED Christmas lights have already outlasted their incandescent counterparts as incandescent bulbs burn out and break on a regular basis.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

When LED Christmas lights first came on the market, lots of people touted their energy efficiency as a primary selling point. However, for a typically Christmas light display the electricity savings was (and still is) so minimal that using energy savings as an ROI basis for investing in LED Christmas lights should only be a small part of the equation. Typical displays will never see a financial payback on the investment if looking at energy savings alone. Large commercial displays, on the other hand, can see a large positive financial impact by using LED Christmas lights. It is still a small percentage of overall cost, but the larger the display, the larger the savings. Still, energy savings alone is not usually a good reason to invest in LED Christmas lights. It is one of many factors that should be considered when calculating your ROI.

LESSOR KNOWN REASONS TO USE LED CHRISTMAS LIGHTS:

MAINTENANCE

Long time Christmas decorators will recall the annual ritual of testing and repairing incandescent Christmas lights prior to installation followed by 30 days of constant repair/replacement of bulbs going out and fuses blowing. LED Christmas lights can be vastly easier to maintain especially single molded strands (see below Form Factors) which are way more waterproof and don't have removable bulbs that can jiggle loose in their sockets. C7 and C9 LED retrofit replacement Christmas light bulbs are some of the most stable Christmas lights ever made. Of the thousands and thousands of these bulbs that we have installed over the last few years I have only seen a few go bad. Those that have gone bad were mostly failures in the plastic lenses that allowed moisture into the LED circuitry and fried the electronics. The plastic lenses don't shatter like glass incandescent Christmas light C9 bulbs, so maintenance is a breeze.

FORM FACTOR

There are some shapes and manufacturing processes unique to LED Christmas lights that make them superior to incandescent Christmas lights. For example, the 5mm wide angle lens is unique to LED Christmas lights. This form factor provides a very bright point of light that has a wide viewing angle making them great for installing on smaller Christmas trees and for wrapping tree branches and trunks or just about any other general light wrapping. Many people have complained about the failure rate among cheaper/inexpensive LED Christmas light strands. This is a side effect of not taking advantage of the form factor improvements with the LED Christmas light strand manufacturing process. For example, I get requests all of the time from customers asking for LED light strands WITH removable LED lights. I always respond with "Why!?!?" and the typical response is something along the lines of "I need a removable bulb to make them easier to repair," to which I reply "You realize that the removable bulb itself is typically the problem in the first place, right?!?!" LED Christmas lights that mimic incandescent Christmas light strands in terms of manufacturing them with removable bulbs are poor quality LED Christmas light strands and will provide you with nearly as many maintenance problems as their incandescent counterparts. However, the more modern single molded construction LED Christmas light strands are very, very reliable. They are waterproof and the bulbs will not come loose in their sockets because there is no socket. Many people I have spoken to assume that single molded strands are a bad investment, but that is simply not true; in fact, they are a much better investment than either LED or incandescent removable bulb strands. A good quality single molded construction LED Christmas light strand will not fail if just one of the LED circuits fails. Rather, the rest of the strand will remain lit. The only way to break a single molded strand is to interrupt the circuit/flow of electricity by creating a gap in the circuit. For example; if you crush a 5mm LED with a sledgehammer and break the flow of electricity through that circuit, the rest of the strand will go out. Even it this does happen, it is very easy to pinpoint the bad LED, cut the LED node out of the strand and reconnect the electrical flow through the wire. However, that is an unlikely scenario. Most of the time when there is an LED failure it is a node or circuit failure that will not interrupt the flow of electricity, and thereby will not shut off the rest of the strand. The last form factor variable that makes LED Christmas lights a superior option is that LED Christmas light strands are available in many different lengths relative to their incandescent counterparts. LED light strands are typically available it 35, 50, 70, and 100 count strands with bulb spacing of 4" or 6".

EASE OF INSTALLATION

Of particular note is the time savings that can occur during installation by using LED Christmas lights instead of incandescent Christmas lights. The durability of LED Christmas lights increases speed of installation and single molded construction of LED Christmas light strands helps with weatherproofing further increasing speed of installation. The single molded construction also makes sure that bulbs don't fall out of their sockets during installation. Some of the available LED Christmas light form factors, particularly the 5mm wide angle lens, are superior in terms of handling during installation because there are no large/long bulb lenses that get caught on each other or surrounding objects during installation. Some installers also swear by the G12 globe style LED lens because it's round and doesn't get caught on surrounding objects as easily as the traditional M5 or mini light form factor. LED Christmas lights also allow the connection of many more strands in a series than incandescent Christmas lights. This not only saves time during installation, but also saves money in terms of less wiring and plugs/extensions being required in order to complete an installation. The very low power requirements for LED Christmas lights also mean that you will have far fewer electrical problems if only because your electrical system does not need to be overly complex. LED Christmas lights are approximately 90% more efficient that incandescent Christmas lights when it comes to electrical consumption and requirements. This is a key ROI factor especially for large Christmas light installations.

COLOR

Not that many years ago most decorators had very valid concerns about the color, brightness and general viability of LED Christmas lights. My what a difference just a few years can make! Remember the old "pure white" LED Christmas light sets that looked more blue and sort of looked like they were vibrating when you looked at them? Yuck. The three biggest problems that had to be overcome before the public would accept LED Christmas lighting as a suitable replacement for incandescent Christmas lighting where color accuracy, brightness and wave form rectification. With commercial grade, high quality LED Christmas lights all of these problems have been solved. Warm white now closely resembles a traditional incandescent color with its warmth. LED reds, greens and blues are deep and rich. And even the pure white LED Christmas lights are now very clear and truly pure white. One of the early problems with LED Christmas lights was the flickering that would occur because of the way that AC voltage is flipping between positive and negative 120 times a second in order to create 60 complete waves per second. Most early LED Christmas light strands only operated at "half wave" meaning that they were only actually on during one half of the AC wave. That's what created the flicker. Today, however, all high quality commercial LED Christmas light strands contain one or more rectifiers that solve the flickering problem by converting the AC current to a DC current thereby eliminating the flicker.

ENERGY POLICY

Starting back in 2009, legislation started moving through the senate that would slow phase out production of incandescent lighting. As of this writing, 100 watt and 75 watt incandescent bulbs have been phased out and within a year 60 watt and 40 watt production will end. It is only a matter of time before demand diminishes and the price of incandescent bulbs begins to rise. Eventually, even incandescent Christmas lights will not be economically viable to produce due to lack of demand. We will then see supply chain problems appear with regard to availability of spare parts and bulbs In the end, all roads lead to more efficient lighting standards for industrial, household and decorative use.

HEAT

Incandescent Christmas lights emit a lot of heat relative to their LED Christmas light counterparts. I have seen a marketing campaign by Cree lighting in which they demonstrate this by placing a chocolate Easter bunny under a incandescent flood light and another under an LED flood light. Guess which one melts. The incandescent Easter bunny ends up with no head very quickly while the LED Easter bunny simply basks in the glow of LED efficiency. Incandescent Christmas lights emit a level of heat the LED Christmas lights do not. This becomes especially noticeable with flood lighting and with some of the professional DMX and stage lighting that is used in large commercial Christmas displays and animated Christmas displays. 90% of the energy emitted by an incandescent Christmas light is in the form of heat, not in the form of light. LED Christmas lights are all light, no heat and are massively more efficient.

QUALITY

Today, there exists a large gap between the quality of LED Christmas lighting that is available for purchase from big box retailers and the quality of commercial grade lighting available from specialized suppliers. Big box retailers are outsourcing the manufacturing of inexpensive LED Christmas lighting at the expense of quality and consistency. What this means is that you don't really know what you are going to get. Although some production runs may be rectified, the next may not be. The quality of construction is inconsistent and generally poor. The wiring uses less insulation, the wire itself is often a cheap mix of metals other than copper (often including lead which also makes them more dangerous to your health!) and the molding is often cheap and sometimes amounts to nothing more than a colored plastic cap set over a single inexpensive LED diode. These LED Christmas lights tend to fall apart more quickly and the colors are nowhere near as appealing or rich as the commercial quality strands available from specialized suppliers.

WHAT DOES CONSUMER REPORTS HAVE TO SAY?

HOLIDAY LIGHTS: INCANDESCENT VS. LED

Consumer Reports compared LED and incandescent bulbs to determine how much it cost to light up strings totaling 50 feet for 300 hours.
  • Price: It's a toss-up. While operating costs for LEDs are lower, LEDs can be a bit more expensive than incandescents per string.
  • Energy Use: LEDs won. They used 1 to 3 kilowatt hours of energy, compared with 12 to 105 kWh for the incandescents, saving $1 to $11.
  • Durability: LEDs won. All LED bulbs were working even after 4,000-plus hours, while each string of incandescents had one or more bulbs burn out before 2,000 hours.
  • Brightness: Incandescents won when compared to inexpensive big box varieties of LED Christmas lights. However, LEDs won when compared to high quality commercial LED Christmas light strands.
For more information about the LED Christmas lights we carry, visit TheChristmasLightEmporium.com at the links you see here. Happy Decorating!

Comments (18)

Christina - Jan 25, 2017

I like the incandescent lights. I was driving around town this year , looking at how people decorated their houses. Every one went L.E.D… and the difference in the color is horrible. The colors of the L.E.D changes the color of Christmas. The lights feel more heavy then joyful. I really saw the difference this year because it’s not one house on the block that did L.E.D but them all. It’s a sad thing.

Ellen Mueller - Jan 25, 2017

I’m 56 and the LED lights increasingly hurt my eyes, both while driving as well as in-home Christmas lights. Hence, LED is not a choice for me. If manufacturers stop making incandescent lighting or installing them in public places, then I will have to wear eye protection at night and use candles. Am I the only one with this growing problem? LED lights are popping up everywhere!

Tony - Jan 25, 2017

I have the old C7 twinkle lights. How do the LED twinkle lights compare in brightness and color quality? The LED C7 twinkle lights with the plastic “cut glass” lens look a little cheap when off, is it noticeable when on a tree and on? I like the idea of the LED being cooler but I love the look of the old glass C7 twinkle lights.

Debbie - Jan 25, 2017

Have multiple strings of LED manufactured in 2013 from Home Depot that will not light. If the fuse is ok, can something be repaired or do I just throw them out?

bob found - Jan 25, 2017

I haven’t found an LED replacement for a C9 incandescent bulb that has the same luminosity. I tested a few setups, even a high intensity laser beam on my house and only the C9 shows up. LED lights very low in lumens. Now maybe I didn’t have the right bulb to compare it to. (A cheap LED light string probably is not a good comparison). So what LED equivalent to C9 gives the same luminosity, is available in RGB colors, and is cheap?

Gillian Scott - Jan 25, 2017

I would love to know if a light fails on a net of led lights are they safe to use as your the head elf please answer me merry Christmas Gillian

Allison - Jan 25, 2017

I have chronic migraines and LED Christmas lights always trigger an attack for me. I hope everyone doesn’t switch.

The Christmas Light Emporium - Jan 25, 2017

Hi Gillian – as long as all of the wiring is intact – ie no exposed wires or broken wires you should be fine.
THanks!

Elizabeth - Jan 25, 2017

You are wrong the LED Christmas light color problem has been solved. You can drive up any street and tell right off the bat which white and/or multicolored outdoor lights are incandescents (warm and glowing) and which are LEDs (harsh and glowering). This is true even of the 2018 crop where even mainstream LED Christmas light manufacturers are producing lights on the cool rather than the warm spectrum so that they cast eerie rays. I spent over $100 on strands of Philips multicolored C6 LEDs and am disgusted with how they look. I will junk them all after this season and go back to incandescents.

The Christmas Light Emporium - Jan 25, 2017

Hi Elizabeth – you are correct in that not all manufacturers and suppliers are offering products that use the latest LED technologies. but that doesn’t mean the issue of color and brightness has not been solved – it definitely has in large part. But it is still new technology and still rolling out. Even in my neighborhood – like you point out – I can look down any street and my eyes just hurt soooo badly! There are TONS of bad colors, weird colors, off colors, dim bulbs… ugh! However – you won’t find those issues with the newer technologies like SMD (surface mount diode) bulbs and fine tuned colors of pro grade LED strings like we sell here at The Christmas LIght Emporium. When it comes to whites – that’s the tricky one and always will be. That’s because with incandescent bulbs you didn’t have much of a choice – white was never actually white – it was yellow (still is!). Whereas with LED you can have ANY color of white your heart desires. Hence, folks still get a bit bent out of shape when they buy some warm white leds that aren’t the same color temperature as an incandescent bulb – or a cool white that has a nasty blue tint to it. LED white is hard to manage as a supplier because everyone has a different definition of what they want in a ‘warm white’. Our warm white is usually about 3000k – which is cooler than what folks who are die hard incandescent fines are really looking for. But we think it looks better :) Because its not as yellow. But I digress! LED technology has come a LOOOONG way and it will take some time for all those nasty lights in our neighborhoods to be replaced with newer, brighter, more accurate colors. Merry Christmas!

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