How to Find Quality LED lights for Christmas and Holiday Decoration
Last year Christmas lights using energy efficient light emitting diodes or LEDs were all over the news. The new holiday lighting technology hit the market at a time when the green movement was experiencing renewed dedication and vigor. After the holiday craze for the new Christmas tree lights subsided, consumers and industry critics began evaluating the performance of the new technology.
In a recent two article series by Solid State Lighting Design, the performance of the LED holiday lights was reviewed. Tom Griffiths. In the first article in the series, entitled 'In LED Lighting, Retro Isn't Cool,' the author, Tom Griffiths reports on his disappointing experience with LED Christmas lights. Griffiths examination of the 2 sets of 60 light LED lights he purchased revealed the following defects:
- 50% of one of the 2 strings completely failed
- The removable LED bulbs were not properly seated in their sockets
- Socket sizes were inconsistent
- White LEDs with poor color
Connecting wires corroded
Failure of LED bulbs
In a follow-up article entitled 'You Get What You Pay for in LED Lighting Christmas Part II,' Griffiths posts some comments from his readers to his first article. Here are a few highlights from his reader comments:
"All failed and for the same reason. None of them had any form of sealant at the point on the LED lamp housing where the leads exited. Water was sucked into the housings via capillary action. This then corroded the contacts; they rusted and the LEDs failed."
"The manufacturing process for LED Xmas lights can be described in three words: cheap, cheap and cheap. All manufacturing is in China and they use the lowest grade off-spec blue LED chips from Taiwan. (There is one spec - the chip has to light up when you put a voltage across it). And the assembly process is likely the lowest quality imaginable. No matter whose brand is on the box, they are all made in China with pretty much the same processes. I doubt if anyone is going to take ownership of this problem. To make truly good quality lights would push the price up so that no one would buy them."
Solid State Lighting Design is a reputable organization and Tom's readers make some good comments. The issues Tom and his readers identify are common defects in poorly made LED Christmas lights. It is unfortunate that American consumer's first introduction to the LED was, in large part, a poorly made LED Christmas light. However, the title of Tom's article makes a point that is not addressed in his article: that is, all LED holiday lights are not made a like.
All LED Christmas lights are not made alike
I did a fair amount of market research during the holiday and studied the offerings of all the major big box stores in my area. Most all of them offered LEDs but did not offer a very large selection. The LEDs that were offered appeared to be of poor quality and were offered at a very low price point in most case right around $10.00. Even with the tremendous buying power of these big box stores a retail price of $10.00 or less for a set of warm white LED Christmas lights is cheap. What happened is clear. The big box retailer wanted to get in on the consumer craze for LED holiday lights but they wanted to be able to offer them at a very low price point. Perhaps they didn't think that their customers would pay much of a premium for the LEDs. So what did they do? They specified an LED that was so cheap that it was essentially no better than a cheap incandescent light set. Tom didn't name names in his article but I think that anyone who has some knowledge of the industry would agree with this assessment. However, this doesn't mean that there aren't quality LED products on the market. In fact there are great Christmas lights using LEDs out there but you need to know what to look for.
Look for a high quality water-proof outdoor Christmas light
LED lights won't last any longer than incandescent lights if they aren't weather proof. Manufacturer's can do two things to make Christmas lights waterproof: 1) Seal the bulb to the socket so water cannot enter the bulb and socket; or 2) allow water to enter the bulb and socket but design it in such a manner so the water flows through and does not remain inside the bulb or socket. The latter can be an effective method of water-proofing; however, it can create new problems if other issues such as corrosion are not addressed. The SSLD article mention the corrosion problem. The manufacturers of these light sets may have had a decent flow-through waterproof design but apparently neglected to use non-corrosive components for the terminals. LED light strings with fully sealed, one-piece, bulb-socket design are available although I did not see any in the big box stores. This can be a very effective design as long as the seal is well-constructed. The problem with this water-proof design is that if it is poorly done the water can enter the bulb and socket components but won't be able to get out. The internal components of the LED will corrode quickly in this environment.
Avoid the Big Box Store Brands
One of Tom's readers observes that all LED light strings are made in China and use Taiwanese LED chips and are therefore cheap. I have no doubt that the cheap sets this reader is describing use off-spec cheap LEDs, but there are sets on the market that use high-quality LEDs that will last and offer excellent color rendering. When shopping for LED lights for Christmas applications or similar style lights usually it is not possible to evaluate the quality of the LED. However, one can evaluate what the retailer and manufacturer think about there product by comparing warranties. Any quality LED light string should come with a decent long-term warranty. After all, why should they expect you to pay three times the price for a light set if they aren't wiling to guarantee that it will last twice as long?