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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
  • Connecting wires corroded

    Failure of LED bulbs

  • White LEDs with poor color

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?

Comments

What a worthless article

We all know there are lots of junky LED lights. What we want to know is WHERE, and WHAT BRANDS are high quality. There is no useful information in this article at all.

Good point. We try to be at

Good point. We try to be at least some what objective when writing this type of article but sometimes this gets in the way of providing useful information which I think was the case here. To answer your question, in my experience Holiday Creations, GKI/Bethlehem and Seasons Four all offer a very high quality light set. We sell all four brands as do many other online retailers. Amazon.com offers a decent selection of GKI products. Most of these products are not sold by any of the big box retailers I think mainly because these products are a higher quality item which (even considering their tremendous buying power) does not allow them to offer the LED Christmas lights at a price point that works for their market. I do know that the Holiday Creations brand is sold at some of the smaller hardware chains but I am not sure which. I do not have a lot of experience with the products sold by Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Lowes and the other big box retailers. When we first started this business in 2007 we did purchase and test several products sold at these stores and the quality was not good. However, I have read reviews and heard some positive comments about the Philips and GE products but have not tested them personally.

The other issue for consumers is that it is not always clear who the manufacturer is. Several products which are made by the same company are sold and marketed under a private label so its not always easy to tell who the manufacturer is. If this is not clear I would just ask. All things considered I would look for products manufactured by Holiday Creations, Seasons Four or GKI/Bethlehem.

I would also recommend that shoppers look carefully at the warranty offered with the product as well as what has to be done to submit a warranty claim. Christmas light sets that are Energy Star approved all come with a strong warranty but these warranties. However, these warranties are not all equal as most companies require you send the product back to the manufacturer who the customer has no relationship with. Warranty claims processed by the manufacturer often take months and in my experience customer service is not an area of strength of most original manufacturers. All of the products we sell are covered under a 3 year manufacturer's warranty but we decided to process all warranty claims internally. This shifts the cost of the warranty to us and we are not compensated by the manufacturer but a primary focus of our offering is extraordinary customer service and requiring a customer to ship a defective product to the manufacturer at their cost, wait several months for it to be processed and have to pay for return shipping is not good customer service and is unreasonable.

To make a long story short, look for the brands I mentioned which we sell, are offered at LEDChristmasLights.com and several other online retailers. Then compare the warranty policies of the companies offering the same products and chose the one that offers these products at a reasonable price and has the best warranty policy.

GE "constant On" C-5 sparkling crystal lights

Brand new and only half the string worked. I am rethinking using Christmas lights at all. These were made in the Philippines for 2009 Santas Best Craft.

cheap led lights

I'm going back to incandescant lights. I'm happy to pay for quality but haven't seen it anywhere. Don't worry about the old stlye lights fading out of existence; there are so many disillusioned led buyers and I've had no trouble finding the old reliable lights. I don't care if they use more power, it's Christmas, and anyways, in the long run led lights cost more.