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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why we've switched to LED holiday lights (and things to know about buying them)

If you remember, about a decade ago LED holiday lights hit the market, and they were very pricey. I remember seeing them in catalogs for $40-50 (US) per string! Yowza! Their prices have dropped substantially, and now you can find them in drug and discount stores for about $4-7 per string.

Three years ago, we began the transition to LED for our holiday lights, buying just a couple of strings per year. We now have all of our exterior lights as LEDs, and will buy some for interior use this year.

One caution, when deciding where to buy, these strings are still not so cheap that you feel okay if in year 3 you have a string that fails. Which is exactly what happened to us. So, where you buy matters. I'd recommend buying them in a store with excellent customer service and a very liberal return policy. I'd never, for instance, buy them at Wal-Mart, where if you're past the return policy window and they fail, you're just out of luck (and money). We bought ours from a local drug store chain (Bartell's for anyone in the PNW), where they are so helpful, and generous with their return policy, always. 

Well, Saturday, my husband went to hang the house lights, and one string would not light up. He took that one down, fiddled with it, replaced the fuse, twice, (just in case), checked the wiring as it entered the plug, etc. No luck. So, as I save receipts for durable goods in a box in my desk cupboard, I spent about 15 minutes combing through the receipts and found one for these lights sets, purchased in 2010. (We also save the boxes that these lights come in, and use for storage of the lights when not in use. On the package, there's a guarantee for 3 seasons of use. But they want you to ship the lights to some address in the US, which would cost us more than the lights originally cost.)

My husband took the non-working lights with the box and receipt to the store where we made the purchase, and they happily replaced them with a brand new strand. So, we're back in business here with our lights. (And I've decided to keep the receipts for these lights inside each box from now on, so I won't have to comb through all those receipts another time.)

You can't live in the modern world and not know that LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of standard incandescent lights. What I love about them is so often I turn the lights on at dusk, then totally forget about them. With the old type of lights, leaving the holiday lights on overnight, several nights of the season, just sucked up the electricity. With these, it's no big deal if I forget to turn them off.

Some bonuses of the LED holiday lights:

  • on the strings I purchased, the average bulb life is 25,000 hours! If I have the lights on for 6 hours per day, 35 days of the year, the bulbs will last 119 years!
  • the bulbs themselves are durable epoxy, that is break, and chip resistant (remember all those chipped-paint, colored outdoor lights?)
  • these LED outdoor strings use between 80 and 90% less electricity than traditional light strings. Your typical incandescent C-9 light uses 7 watts per bulb, that's 175 watts per 25-light string. Compare this to the package of lights that we bought that uses 2.4 watts per string! (Our 4 strings across the front roof line of our house will cost under a dollar for electricity for the entire season.)
  • LED bulbs are cool to the touch. You can handle them while lit. So, if you're like me, and when lighting bushes and trees in the yard, you like to have the lights on so that you can see your work as you go, you won't burn the tips of your fingers.
  • also, because these lights are cool, there is less risk of a house fire from hot bulbs. (Though I would guess this risk depends on your style of holiday lighting -- Clark Griswold-style perhaps a greater risk than single string of lights along the gutter's edge.)
  • because of the extremely low energy use, there's little chance of a circuit overload. Most incandescent holiday light strands will caution against connecting more than a few strings together. These LED strings can have up to 80 or 90 strings connected -- just in case you like the Clark Griswold holiday lighting plan.
  • and of course, LEDs are better for the environment. By using less electricity, LEDs lower carbon emissions.
One warning -- do not mix incandescent holiday lights  with LEDs. Keep them on separate wall sockets.

To save on your purchase of LED holiday lights, consult your local utility company and/or local Home Depot. You may find a light exchange program going on, where you bring in your old strings of lights and they give you coupons to use on new LED lights.

You may wonder if you will recoup the cost of the sets in electricity savings. We have 4 strings of lights across the front edge of out house. With our average usage of about 6 hours per day, for 35 days, we'll save about $14.00 on electricity per year for that roof edge alone (we also have lights in the back yard that are LED). We paid an average of $6.50 per string of lights, bought on sale. It took us 2 years to recoup the cost of these new LED lights.

And if you're wondering, are we white light or colored light people -- we prefer the white lights, as I use them in the yard and on the deck in the summer, for festive (and now very cheap) outdoor lighting. We definitely get our money's worth out of our "holiday" lights!


  1. Your lights are beautiful. When the LED holiday lights came out they were so ugly a little round dot at the end of a wire. So rather than buy them I began decorating without lighting. I did see a beautiful LED light strand at Ikea that just begged me to take it home with me. I didn't.

    1. Hi Lois,
      I think they've made a great deal of progress in the design and quality of these lights over the years. How are you liking your interior LED lights?

  2. We have switched to LED lights over the last couple of years. I am happy about the energy savings however, I find their light very intense. Outside, it's okay where I don't see them all of the time, but on our tree where we also switched to them, I find looking at the lights very hard on my eyes. The whole family noticed this but not as much as I did. Also, they are advertised that they are very durable. That is true on the outside. The bulbs are very tough, but the insides are not. We "broke" several of them with regular handling. So, be careful. They aren't as durable as you may think.

    On another light idea, we have our outside lights plugged into a timer that turns the lights on at dusk and turns them off however many hours later that you want them to. That means that ours automatically turn on around 5 PM and we have them turned off 6 hours later around 11 PM. This is one of the best investments that we ever made. Now we don't have to worry about remembering to turn off the lights. This is also a good thing when we travel. The lights still turn on and off as if we were home.

    One last comment. I have never had any problem returning anything at Walmart no matter how long ago I bought it. If I don't have a receipt, I get a store credit, but otherwise I get a refund. I wonder if there are regional differences or are you just talking about a seasonal item like Christmas lights?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Interesting about the interior lights. I'll keep that in mind.

      I bought an outdoor timer last year, and spent the entire holiday season fiddling with it. It would turn on at the right time, but would turn off at the wrong time or not at all. I gave up and returned it to the store for a full refund. Right now, our lights are on an outlet with an indoor switch in the kitchen. So at least turning them off is easy.

      Perhaps our Wal-Mart has a different return policy from yours. Returning anything after the return policy window is just not done at ours, even when there's a problem with the item, and I have a receipt in hand. I've been soured on Wal-Mart's customer service by several poor encounters. And no, this is not seasonal merch that I've needed to return. They will, however, take items back, if within the window, and I have a receipt, with no problems.


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