LED Lighting Guide
While LED Christmas lights have been widely available now for several years, it's still new technology to many folks. LED Christmas lighting has also allowed for a lot more options in styles and colors of Christmas lights so people who are shopping for new holiday lights are often overwhelmed by all the choices. If you are new to LED lights or just feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the choices available, this is a good place to start. HolidayLEDs.com has been selling LED Christmas lights since 2007 and we've learned a lot about the products over the last 7 years. This page will help you learn about LED Xmas lights and help you choose the best product for your needs.
What Are LED Christmas Lights?
Simply put, LED Christmas lights are just like traditional incandescent Christmas lights except they use light emitting diodes for lamps instead of incandescent bulbs. For all intents and purposes, LED Christmas lights function and are installed and used just like traditional Christmas lights. With the exception of our line of commercial grade LED Christmas lights, our light sets do not require any special adapters and plug into to standard household outlets just like your old incandescent sets.
LED Christmas Lights vs. Incandescent Christmas Lights
Many people think that there is something different about how LED Christmas lights work that requires special knowledge, adapters or other accessories. In fact, LED Christmas lights operate and function exactly the same as incandescent Christmas lights. While LED Christmas lights are nearly the same as comparable incandescent sets when looking at their core functionality, there are some differences and many advantages to LEDs.
How Are LED Christmas Lights Like Incandescent Christmas Lights?
- LED Christmas lights plug into standard household power and do not required a special adapter.
- LED Christmas lights have a male plug on one end and a female plug on the other end so multiple sets can be connected together end-to-end.
- LED holiday lights are constructed in the same manner as traditional Xmas lights with three strands of wire which is twisted together with bulbs affixed to the wire spaced apart equally.
How Are LED Christmas Lights Different Than Traditional Christmas Lights?
While LED Christmas lights are basically the same in how they are constructed and used, there are some differences that are important to understand.
- LED light is highly directional unlike incandescent lights. As a result, the type of bulb style you choose will greatly effect how the lights appear. The 5MM wide angle bulb does the best job of equally diffusing the highly directional LED light in all directions. Other bulb styles may appear more or less bright depending on the angle from which they are viewed. Generally speaking, this issue becomes more apparent with the larger LED bulb styles.
- With LEDs, bigger does not mean brighter. Incandescent lights need to be bigger to produce more light because the bulb has to house a larger filament. The brightness of an LED lamp has nothing to do with size. The brightness of an LED is largely determined by the quality of the LED and the lens used. With the exception of our C7 and C9 LED replacement bulbs, all of our LED Christmas light sets have one LED per bulb. The only difference between the various bulb styles is the shape and appearance of the bulb or lens which covers the LED. With the exception of the wide angle light sets, the only purpose of the bulb is decorative and to make LED holiday lights look more like traditional incandescent light sets.
- The light produced by LEDs looks a bit different than the light produced by incandescent holiday lights. The quality of the color produced by an LED light set has a lot to do with the quality of the LED. This is most noticeable in low-quality sets of white LEDs. Many white LED Christmas lights produce a blueish light that is not attractive. We offer three colors of white: warm white, pure white and frosted warm white. Our warm white and warm white frosted are very close in color and appearance to incandescent clear or white. Our pure white is a crisp, clean white that is not blue. However, even high quality white LED Christmas lights will look slightly different if you compare them closely to comparable incandescent sets. This is because incandescent bulbs produce light by running electricity through a resistant filament. This heats up the filament until it glows and creates light. As a result, incandescent lights typically have a very bright glowing center. In contrast, LEDs produce light directly and there is no bright glowing center which creates a slightly different appearance. Most people who are not experts in holiday lighting cannot tell the difference between a high quality warm white LED light set and an incandescent clear set when viewed from a distance.
- LED lights produce very little heat so they won't melt snow very quickly that incandescent bulbs. If you are going to install your LED lights in a location where snow is likely its best to choose a set with smaller bulbs what won't collect much snow.
What Are the Advantages of LED Christmas Lights?
LED holiday lights are quickly replacing incandescent Christmas lights entirely because they have many advantages over the old style holiday lights. Over the last 4 years I have seen the shelf space dedicated to LED Christmas lights in the big box stores grow from about 5% in 2007 to nearly 80% in 2010. I suspect that very soon incandescent Christmas lights will be very hard to find. Although there soon may not be a choice between LEDs and incandescent lights there will be for a few years to it is still important to understand the advantages of LEDs.
- LEDs are 80-99% more efficient than incandescent Christmas lights
- Our LED light bulbs are made of durable epoxy plastic, not glass so they are very tough.
- LEDs don't have a fragile filament that can break or burn out.
- Our high quality LED string lights will last 10 times as long as comparable incandescent light sets.
- LED Christmas lights produce truer, crisper colors because the colored light is produced directly by the LED, not by passing white light through a colored bulb that will fade over time.
- LED Christmas lights create very little heat so they are not a fire hazard like hot incandescent bulbs.
- LED light sets are safer because they draw so little power there is less risk of overloading circuits.
- You can connect at least 30 times more LED light sets end-to-end on one standard household circuit.
What Are the Disadvantages of LED Christmas Lights?
Most people who have some knowledge about Christmas lighting know that there are very few disadvantages of LED Christmas lights. However, there are a few disadvantages you should be aware of and consider.
- LED Christmas lights are more expensive than incandescent light sets. While there are now several LED light sets on the market that are relatively inexpensive, this is largely because now that LEDs are more popular many low cost, low quality manufacturers have entered the LED Christmas lighting market. It is now possible to find LED light sets that are only 10-15% more than comparable incandescent sets. However, most of these low cost sets are of such poor quality that they won't last long enough for the consumer to realize the benefit of the cost savings one can obtain because of the LEDs superior efficiency. Competition and increased supply has driven retail prices for high quality LED holiday light sets down a bit. The cost of the LED chips has gone down significantly over the last 4 years but the cost of other raw materials such as copper and gas have gone up significantly which has resulted in an overall increase in production costs for Christmas lights of about 10% in the last year or so. As a result, high quality LED light sets still cost about twice as much as a comparable incandescent light set.
- Depending on the type of lights, number of lights used and length of time the lights are used the amount of time it takes for the consumer to recoup the cost difference between LEDs and incandescents may take several years. For example, if you are replacing C7 or C9 incandescent with LEDs the payoff should be quick since traditional C7 or C9 bulbs used about 7 watts of power while comparable LEDs use less than 1 watt. In contrast, traditional mini lights use about .5 watts and comparable LEDs use approximately .075 watts per LED. The difference in efficiency is still substantial but it may take 3-5 years for the consumer to recoup the cost difference. At the end of the day you need to consider all of the benefits of LEDs vs. incandescents and decide if switching to LEDs makes sense for you.
- Some LED versions of Christmas lights don't produce as much light are have the same appearance as comparable incandescent light sets. This is generally only an issue with the larger bulb styles such as the C7 or C9. The primary reason for this is that the C7 and C9 bulb style is a terrible lens for LED lights. This bulb style was designed for incandescent lights to house a large filament that was necessary to produce more light. With LED C7 or C9s, the only function of the bulb is to make the lights look like traditional incandescent C7 or C9s and actually hinders the performance of the LEDs. This is also a problem in low quality LED C7 and C9 sets because most low-cost manufacturers only use one LED in their C7 and C9 sets which is not sufficient to overcome the handicap the large bulb places on the LED. While our C7 and C9 replacement bulbs contain 3 and 5 LEDs, respectively, and are comparable in brightness, they are still not quite as bright as comparable incandescents and don't create the same appearance.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between Low Quality and High Quality LED Christmas Lights?
As with many products, there is a wide variance in quality among the LED Christmas lights offered in the retail stores and online. If you don't care about the overall quality of the light set, the color and quality of the light produced and choosing a light set that will last you can find several cheap LED light sets at most of the big box retailers. However, if you are concerned about quality choosing your LED holiday lights takes a bit more work. Here is a list of a few things you should look for:
- Don't buy any LED Christmas light set that is not UL approved and Energy Star qualified. While there are several low-quality light sets on the market that are UL approved and Energy Star qualified this is a good place to start.
- Look for light sets that are "full-wave" or "rectified." Many low cost LEDs are not rectified and produce a light that has a flickering or strobing affect that is not attractive. Sometimes it's not easy to tell from the packaging if a light set is rectified. This is because many sets in the big box retail stores are not rectified so they don't want to point this out. Look for light sets that are labeled or advertised as "rectified" or "full wave." If that is not apparent, open up the packaging and look for the rectifier. In most cases, the rectifier will be a small elongated cylinder installed inline with the wire. Some rectifiers are placed near the plug.
- Look for a light set that has a one-piece bulb and socket assembly or a two-piece construction set that uses corrosion proof components. Two piece construction sets without corrosion proof components will malfunction quickly in wet climates. Most low quality sets are two-piece construction and do not have corrosion proof components because they are cheaper to manufacture.
- Plug the lights in or take a close look a product photographs to see how the lights actually appear when illuminated.
- Buy LED Christmas lights from a retailer that has a strong warranty and return policy. If you are considering buying from an online retailer be sure you can return the lights if you plug them in and don't like them after you receive them.
- If shopping online, read customer reviews about the the online retailer and products. You have to be a bit objective when reading these but you can usually weed out the bad products and bad retailers fairly easily.
How to Choose the Best LED Christmas Lights for Your Application
In addition to selecting a quality product and reputable retailer, it is also very important that you choose the best style of LED Christmas light for your application. There are many good multi-purpose lights sets out there but you really should carefully consider your intended application and select a light set that is best suited for your intended use. Here are a few things to consider:
- Consider the Installation Location. Will the lights be installed indoors or outdoors? With the exception of some battery operated sets, most Christmas lights are intended for indoor or outdoor use. However, this doesn't mean all indoor/outdoor sets will perform equally well in an outdoor environment. If you are planning to install your lights outdoors make sure you select a light set that uses a heavier gauge wire and one-piece bulb and socket assembly or a two-piece assembly with corrosion proof components. All of our light sets use a heavy gauge wire and are either one-piece construction or utilize corrosion proof components.
- Commercial Grade or Standard Grade? Many retailers who specialize in LED Christmas lights offer a standard grade and a commercial grade light set. Most commercial grade light sets have a heavier gauge wire and a different connection system. For example, our commercial grade light sets have 20 gauge wire and most of our standard grade light sets are 22 gauge (smaller is bigger in wire gauge just like in shot guns.) Our commercial grade sets also have a threaded and compression fit connection system which does a better job of keeping the light sets securely connected and moisture out. HolidayLEDs.com commercial sets also offer a wide variety of accessories which can make more complicated installations easier. While there are clear advantage to commercial grade sets, high quality commercial grade sets are significantly more expensive than standard grade sets. Whether or not the additional cost makes sense for your application depends on a few things: 1) If the lights will be installed in a harsh weather environment with high winds and lots of precipitation; 2) If the lights will be installed in a location where it would be difficult or costly to fix or trouble shoot the lights such as tall trees or high buildings where you would need a lift truck to deal with any issues; and 3) The length of time you plan to leave the lights up. While all Christmas lights are only UL rated for seasonal use (90 days) many people leave their lights up year round. Commercial grade sets will generally last longer than standard grade sets.
- Select the Best Bulb Style. Bulb style is really important. Different bulb styles produce different lighting effects and some styles are better suited for some applications than others. Generally speaking, the wide angle (5MM) bulb style is the best choice in LED holiday lights. As discussed above, this is because the wide angle lens is specifically designed for LED light and does the best job of evenly diffusing the bright and highly directional light produced by the LED. The wide angle bulb style is also the brightest of all the bulb styles (excluding our C7 and C9 replacement bulbs.) However, the wide angle bulb is pretty small, not as decorative as some of the other bulb styles and does not look like "traditional" Christmas lights. The next best choice for a general purpose LED light set is the LED mini light. The mini style bulb is very similar in appearance to traditional incandescent Christmas mini lights and the bulb is small enough that it does a pretty good job of diffusing the directional LED light. The mini light or wide angle light sets are also the best choice for wrapping trunks and branches of trees because the smaller bulbs are less likely to get tangled during the installation process and also don't require precise orientation on the tree to obtain a uniform lighting effect. The G12 is the third best choice for a general purpose light set. The G12 is also suitable for wrapping trees and has a bulb that is a bit larger and more decorative in appearance. If having a light set that looks like your old fashion larger incandescent lights is important to you then I would consider the C6, C7 or C9 light sets. The C6, C7 or C9 bulb style is also the traditional choice for decorating roof lines. However, if you are looking for a C7 or C9 set that is comparable in brightness to incandescent bulbs I would recommend our C7 or C9 LED replacement bulbs as they have multiple LEDs in each bulb.
- Special Purpose Light Sets. There are also several special purpose Christmas light sets that are designed for very specific applications. For example, icicle lights are designed primarily for decorating eaves or roof lines. Net lights are specifically designed for decorating bushes or shrubs. Trunk lights are designed to be installed on the trunks of large deciduous trees. If your intended use is consistent with any of these applications you should look at these specialized light sets.
- Wire Color. Choosing the best wire color for your application is also a key consideration. Most people do not have any particular desire for the wire to be visible. The wire has to be there but for most applications is best if its as discrete as possible and blends in with the background. Green wire is the standard color for Christmas lighting wire presumably because most Christmas lights are installed on evergreen Christmas trees. However, green wire isn't always the best choice. If you are installing the lights against a white or light colored background, white wire Christmas lights might be a better choice. In addition to green and white wire, we offer Christmas lights with brown wire. While green wire works well for decorating against the dark bark of most trees, for some applications brown wire is a better choice. Brown wire is a great choice for decorating palm trees or dark wooden decks or other structures. HolidayLEDs.com also offers Halloween lights with black wire which are a great choice for Halloween decorating.
- Light Color. While the choice of light color is largely up to the personal taste of the individual, there are many more color options in LED Christmas lights than are available in traditional Christmas lights so there are a few things you should consider. First, most specialty Christmas light retailers offer at least two varieties of white LED Christmas lights. The two principle choices of white LEDs are pure white or warm white. (Sometimes pure white is also referred to as "cool white" or "winter white.") Warm white is similar in color and appearance to traditional incandescent white or clear. It is a warmer, softer light that is closer to the red, orange and yellow end of the color temperature scale. In contrast, pure white is closer to the neutral white and slightly towards the blue end of the color temperature scale. It produces a crisp and clean white light that is similar in color to cool white fluorescent lamps. However, a high quality pure white LED set is not blue in color. We also offer a third variety of white lights: frosted warm white. Our frosted warm white lights are the same color temperature as our warm white set but the wide angle bulb is frosted or opaque which softens the color of the bright LED light just a bit. Frosted warm white is a great choice for indoor decorating since the light is a bit less intense. If you are choosing a colored LED light set there certainly are no shortage of options. In general, the LED colors are similar to comparable incandescent colors but LED colored lights tend to produce a crisper and more true color.