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LED vs. Incandescent Christmas Lights


Back in the day, decorating for the holidays was easy. We pulled our big, heavy strings of multi-coloured lights out of storage and spend half the morning trying to untangle them from a big, messy ball of wires and bulbs. Now, there seems to be too many choices to wrap our heads around – mini-lights, LEDs, expensive strings, cheap strings – where do you start?

What’s the Difference?
There were the old-fashioned big bulbs (think Clark W. Griswold)…then the smaller, mini-lights…now LED. What’s the difference?
Both the older, bulky bulbs and mini-lights have incandescent bulbs. They use a filament (which can make them hot to the touch – bad for dry Christmas trees, kids and pets) and are made of glass, which is left clear for “white” lights, or painted in a variety of colours. Premium strings recommended not plugging together more than 5 strings so if you have a large space and you need a continuous strand, look for the longest strings (150 bulbs or so). They have on average a 2000-3000 hour life-span, which depending on how much you leave your lights on or how long your holiday season lasts, could last for 10-15 years.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights don’t have a filament and instead produce light by electrons moving inside a semi-conductor material. Because there’s no filament, they stay cool and last longer, plus, they’re made of molded colour-dyed epoxy plastic (reportedly “unbreakable”) - better for safety and colour retention. Not only that, but you can safely string together more than 40 consecutive strings – perfect for large spaces.  LED lights have a lifespan of 200,000 hours – so much you’d almost never have to purchase bulbs again – which is good, because they can be more expensive to purchase. A string of LED lights can run you anywhere from $16 to $35 dollars and replacement bulbs average $1.00 apiece.
Incandescent string lights are fairly inexpensive, so if a bulb goes out, or the colour chips, it’s not a big deal to replace the string. You can still purchase strings for around $10, especially at the end of season sales. The bulbs are replaceable and are cheap – around 15 cents each (or almost free if you can score them off a string that doesn’t work anymore).

Incandescents do cost more money to operate, however. A mini-light bulb uses approximately 0.4 watts per bulb, but LED manufacturers claim that an LED bulb uses only 0.07 watts – a dramatic savings if you like to overdo it with the lighting displays. However, you know what you’re getting with incandescent mini-lights. They can be plugged into a dimmer to set the mood (LEDs don’t work well with a traditional dimmer). The colour is consistent, unless paint chips and you don’t have to think about cool or warm whites as with LEDs. Because of this, “white” lights may not be exactly the same colour, but the colours do appear as quite pure compared to their incandescent counter-parts.  Plus, it may be more difficult to string together older LEDs with new because strength of bulbs as well as differences in colours have changed as technology has improved. Because of this, it’s often recommended to buy extra strings of LED lights in more traditional colours just in case since finding an exact match can be tricky. Also, there is still a complaint that LED bulbs don’t live up to their incandescent counterparts in terms of brightness.

The differences between incandescent bulbs, professional quality LED strands and consumer quality strings can also be quite noticeable especially when it comes to “flickering.” In our power systems, we have what’s called “alternating current” so the power is shutting off to the bulb dozens of times a second. Because of an incandescent bulb’s filament, it keeps glowing when the power is cut off, so our eyes don’t recognize that anything is shutting off. With LED lights, as soon as there is no power, the lights go dark instantly, creating a flickering sensation in our minds because the lights are actually shutting off and on rapidly. Professional strands of LEDs have solved this through a process called full wave rectifying, but less expensive consumer-grade LEDs may still have this issue.

So why LEDs?
So all of that being said, why are LEDs all the rage? As described above, they last more than 60 times longer than incandescents, since they’re rated for upwards of 200,000 hours. They use 80-90% less energy and 90% fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Because they last longer, there is less waste going into our landfills.

Another benefit - LED Christmas lights are no longer found just in string form. Net lights are great for bushes and small trees since you throw them over the top and pull the strings out to cover, like a big net. You can purchase trunk wraps, which go around your larger tree trunks which will keep you from getting dizzy going around and around your trees with strings. Rope lights are great for running along window sills and icicle lights hanging from the eaves can create a magical effect.

Bulbs can also come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The mini-lights come in 5mm size (really small), M5s are similar in size to the incandescent mini-lights, and G12s are round. If minis are too small, you can purchase bulbs (from smallest to largest) in sizes of C6, C7 and C9. You can also purchase strands of up to 500 bulbs, at varying widths.

However, because of the quality of components used in professional versus consumer-grade string lights, professional is the way to go, making for a more consistent product. As the old adage states, you get what you pay for, making for a more expensive up-front cost.

Let Us Help!
If it’s just too much choice and you don’t have the time or desire to figure out all the nuances of which lights are right for you, let the professionals at Christmas Décor Ottawa help! They’ll do all the work for you!

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