LED Christmas Light Shopping Guide and Buying Tips

October 14, 2008

Each year American families spend hundreds of millions of dollars decorating for Christmas, and other winter time holidays. A major cornerstone of most holiday decorating projects is the Christmas string light. Although the progress in lighting technology has moved slowly, there is a new and better option for holiday and Christmas lighting: LED lights. LED string lighting is still relatively new to most consumers, as it has only been widely available for a few years. Even thou this is a new technology, LED Christmas lights will most likely be even more prominent on retail shelves this year, than they were in years past. So, if you are shopping for LED Christmas lights this year, here are a few things you should consider:

Look for Flicker-Free or Full Wave LED Christmas Lights

Like most products, all LED Christmas lights are not created equal. One of the most common complaints about LED Christmas lights is that they seem to “flicker” or “flash.” This is true. In fact, most of the Christmas lights using LED lighting technology do flicker. This is because they are what many people in the LED holiday lighting industry refer to as “half-wave” or “non-rectified” light sets. Essentially, a non-rectified LED Christmas light set turns on and off at a rate of about 60 times per second. While this is very fast it is not fast enough to trick the human eye. Full-wave or rectified LED Christmas lights, on the other hand, do not produce any flickering effect. In addition, full-wave Christmas lights are up to 40% brighter than 1/2 wave sets.

How do you tell if an LED light set is “Full-Wave”

Most of the LED Christmas light sets we have analyzed from the big box retailers are not full-wave. That’s not to say there isn’t a big box retailer out there that offers them–we just aren’t aware of any. In any case, it’s safe to say that if the product is full-wave it will be advertised as such, since it is such a great feature. (So a general rule of thumb is to assume it is not full-wave if it does not say so)

Look for Weather Resistant Bulbs

LED holiday and Christmas string lights are offered with LED bulbs that can be replaced, and sets with bulbs that cannot be replaced. Being able to replace a bulb was critical for incandescent lights because they would fail so frequently. It is not such an important feature with LED string lights because the bulbs fail so infrequently, and the failure of one bulb will not cause the rest of the string to fail. One of the main advantages of LED Christmas lights, is that they last longer than Incandescent Lights. However, if the light set is not designed to withstand long term exposure to the elements, it will never have a chance to last that long. The advantage of the one-piece construction (which render the LED bulbs irreplaceable) is that the one-piece construction is virtually weather and moisture proof. That is why it is critical that you look for Christmas LED light sets that utilize non-corrosive components and are 1-piece bulb construction – This assures that the LED is protected from moisture, which is the most common cause for failure. Most products offered by big box retailers do not have 1-Piece bulb construction or non-corrosive components, and thus will be listed as having replaceable bulbs.

Make sure you buy from a Supplier that offers, and backs up, their Warranty and Advertising Claims

Most big box stores do not offer warranties on the LED Holiday Lights they sell. The product itself may have a warranty offered by the manufacturer, but it is not something that will be fulfilled thru the store you bought the lights from. They instead will tell you to go on the manufacturer’s website, or call the 1-800 number, and will send you on your way. It is also important to look at the fine print of the warranty. What do you have to do to get a replacement set? How long will it take to get a replacement set? In many cases, the manufacturer will require that you return the defect set (postage paid), and wait up to 8 weeks for replacement product – Comparable products are often sent, which might not even be what you originally purchased.

HolidayLEDs only supplies premium grade product, and the LEDs are among the best in the industry. All products are either UL or CSA/US approved for temporary installation, and are warranted against manufacturer defect for 90 days.

Other Considerations

The first 3 items we mentioned are the most important and easiest for the consumer to analyze; however, there are a few other characteristics that can differentiate high quality LED Christmas lights from low quality sets as well as a few other things the shopper should consider.

Number of Lights

Most people are accustomed to purchasing a standard set of 150 mini incandescent lights. Strings of 150 lights are pretty standard in incandescent string lighting. However, LEDs are wired in series, and thus come in different string lengths than their incandescent counterpart. You will usually find them offered in configurations of 25, 35, 50, 70, or 100 bulbs, and because they are wired in series, a 50 light string is actually two 25 light strings that are wired together at the factory (70ct is 2)35ct wired together – 100ct is 4)25ct. wired together). Each time you have two series wired together, you have an additional connection point inside of the strand, and thus another point for failure. We have found that the 70ct or 50ct sets are the most reliable, while still giving you a long enough strand, that is still easy to work with. When shopping for LED Christmas lights, be sure to determine how many lights are on each string, and what the bulb spacing is. You can find sets that have the same number of bulbs, but have different bulb spacing, and thus the length of the set will vary. It is also important to compare the lighted length to the total length – some companies will put extra-long lead or tail wires on their sets to make them appear longer – product is listed as being 25’ long, but there is 3’ of lead/tail wires, which in all actuality means the set only has 22’ of lighted length. Make sure you are getting what you pay for, and that your strings will match up in length/bulb spacing, by verifying the bulb count, bulb spacing, and by comparing the lighted length to the total length of the set.

Commercial or Residential Grade

LED holiday and Christmas lights, are offered by some retailers, in both a commercial and residential grade. In most cases, the standard or residential grade LEDs will have regular male/female plugs attached to the sets. These are strung on 22g wire, and are UL approved for connection of up to 45 sets end-to-end. Residential or standard grade LEDs are great for indoor/outdoor applications, and will connect right to your outlet, extension cord, or timer. The commercial grade sets will connect with a water-tight co-axial connection, which require a power adaptor plug (sold separately) to be able to plug into a regular outlet/extension cord/timer. They are strung on 20 gauge wire, and are UL approved for connection of up to 60 sets end-to-end. If you are doing a large display–indoor or outdoor–you might want to consider the commercial grade LED product. The heavier gauge wire, water-tight connections that won’t pull apart, and the reliability of 1-series (25ct) sets, will cut down on issues or troubleshooting. When shopping for LED Christmas lights, be sure to verify the differences in types of product, so you can choose the one that will work best for your application.

Buy Early

Although manufacturer’s continue to increase production to meet demand, in each of the last 3 holiday seasons demand for LED Christmas lights has exceeded supply, and many retailers ran out of product well before Christmas approached. Whether you had not yet purchased your lights for the year, or you ran short and needed a couple of extra sets, you were out of luck. Many retailers and big box stores only bring in so much stock, and once it is gone, it’s gone. They do not, or cannot order additional product, and simply mark the items as “sold out”. Don’t let this happen to you – If you are thinking about purchasing LED holiday string lights this year, try to buy them early. Many retailers offer pre-season sales, and the selection is always better the earlier you buy.

Who knew there was so much to know about LED Christmas lights?