Last Updated on October 17, 2021 by Mary Pressler

Outdoor Holiday Lighting: How to Save Electricity with LED Lights

There’s an old saying that everything is bigger in Texas, and this also applies for Christmas decoration and lighting. However, Texans go the extra mile with holiday lighting, especially in Dallas, where outdoor Christmas decoration is so impressive that it has become a tourist attraction. Many neighborhoods essentially become holiday theme parks, in some cases including rides and guided tours. As you can expect, this creates a type of friendly competition among neighbors, since everyone wants to have the brightest and most impressive Christmas decoration around.

The basic principle to create an impressive winter landscape is simple: more Christmas lights and decoration require more cash. However, not all holiday lighting is made equal, and LED products offer the best performance features while being the least power-hungry and the safest to handle.

Lighting is probably the most important element of Christmas decoration, and the same energy efficiency tips that apply for normal residential and commercial lighting hold true here: LED lighting delivers savings above 80% compared with conventional incandescent lighting, and even greater savings can be achieved when LED is combined with smart controls. Sure, it’s the Christmas season and savings tend to take a back seat, but LED lighting also offers functional benefits when used in holiday decoration.

Why LEDs Are Ideal for Christmas Lighting

LEDs bring many practical advantages when used in holiday lighting. Assuming you have two light sets with the same number of individual lamps, but where one is LED and the other is incandescent, the LED light set will draw a much lower current. Have your incandescent light sets ever burned out because too many of them were connected in a row? Thanks to the reduced current draw of LED technology, you can connect more consecutive light sets without overheating issues.

LEDs also solve another tough choice when dealing with Christmas lighting: Do you want white lights or colored lights? With incandescent light sets, you are stuck with your choice for the entire Christmas season, unless you are willing to spend in two overlapping installations. On the other hand, there are LED light sets that can be configured to produce any color in the visible spectrum. You can even program automatic light patterns into them to impress passerbys.

Individual LEDs are very small, so it is possible to manufacture lighting products in almost any shape. In the case of Christmas decoration, LED has resulted in a broad range of products with built-in lights, which were not possible with incandescent bulbs. Even when fluorescent lighting reached the commercial market, Christmas lighting had continued to rely on incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent lights are not well suited to produce blinking patterns, and they are very vulnerable to cold temperatures, not to mention that their color rendition capacity is poor.

LED lighting is also characterized by an extremely long service life: most bulbs are rated for more than 20,000 hours of use, while incandescent bulbs typically last for less than 1,000 hours. Replacing burnt bulbs in holiday light sets can be a tedious task, but LED lights rarely need a replacement, especially when you only use them for a short time of the year.

  • If you are among the homeowners who like to install Christmas lights the first day of November and remove them halfway through January, it’s roughly 75 days of use.
  • If the lights are used 8 hours per night, they accumulate around 600 hours during the holidays. In other words, most incandescent lights will only last two Christmas seasons.
  • On the other hand, LED light sets can literally last for decades.

Since Christmas lighting uses patterns, an individual bulb may be switched thousands of times in a single Christmas. Among all lighting technologies, LED is the least affected by constant switching, adding to the reasons why they are the top choice for holiday lighting.

The idea of using the same Christmas lights for many winters in a row may seem boring, but consider the versatility of LED lighting. If you want to change the “theme colors” of your decoration each year, it’s just a matter of adjusting your light sets accordingly. Premium lighting products even come with smartphone integration and remote control features.

Ownership Cost of Christmas Lighting: Incandescent VS LED

If you use incandescent lighting, a 100-light set typically costs less than $10, while an LED light set of the same length may cost $20 or more. LED lighting seems more expensive at a glance, but it’s actually cheaper once the total ownership cost is considered. To break down the financials, let’s compare both types of lighting in a table:

Lighting Type LED Incandescent
Price $20 $10
Voltage 120V 120V
Power consumption 7W 40W
Current 0.06A 0.33A
Service life (hours) 20,000 1,000
Maximum consecutive sets 25 5

Assuming you use 10,000 lights in total (100 sets), the LED option will result in 700 W of lighting power, while the incandescent option consumes 4,000 W. Although 100 light sets may seem like a lot, consider that we’re talking about the DFW metroplex, which has some of the most impressive Christmas decorations in the country.

If the home in the example above uses decorative lighting for 600 hours during the holiday season, and the electricity price is 12 cents/kWh, the total operating cost for one Christmas would be the following:

  • LED lighting running cost = 0.7 kW x 600h x $0.12/kWh = $50
  • Incandescent lighting running cost = 4 kW x 600h x $0.12/kWh = $288

You would be paying almost six times more for electricity with the incandescent option. Also consider that they only last for 1-2 Christmas seasons. 100 sets have a cost of around $1000, and you need now ones after two years. Added to the $288 in electricity bills you get a total cost of $788 per Christmas.

With LED lighting, the purchase cost for 100 light sets is around $2,000, twice as much. With a service life of 20,000 hours they can technically last for decades, but let’s assume 10 years because by then there will be newer products in the market by then. The $2,000 are spread across 10 holiday seasons, which results in $200 for each. Add this to the electricity expenses and you get $250 per Christmas. In other words, LED lighting not only offers superior performance, you also spend much less on Christmas lights in the long run.

Even if you are willing to spend a lot on Christmas lighting, LED products give you more bang for your buck. If you plan to go overboard when decorating your home for the holiday season, you might as well do it with the best commercial lighting technology available! With their smart controls and color flexibility, LED Christmas lights can impress more than equivalent incandescent lights.

Considering that you can string more sets together, LED lighting also simplifies installation and gives you more flexibility to decorate your place. For example, you can get more creative when you can string 25 LED light sets in a row, as opposed to 5 incandescent light sets. Just keep in mind that LED lights can also overheat, so check the maximum number of connected sets allowed by the manufacturer.

There are also smart Christmas light sets that feature color adjustment, programmable patterns and other similar functions. They are more expensive as you might expect – a 100-light LED set with smart features can cost anywhere from $30 to $60, depending on the brand and the features included. LEDs are electronic devices, more closely related with smartphones and gadgets than with other types of lighting. Thus, they bring the benefits of these new technologies: fast response and personalized settings. Conventional incandescent lights are normally limited to a few blinking patterns, while high-end LED products can respond dynamically to ambient music and can even interact with people.

LED lighting can mimic all aspects of incandescent lighting, from appearance to providing the warm glow of incandescent bulbs. Do you like the look of those traditional flame-tip lamps? LED versions of them also exist. Perhaps you like the look of the filament itself? Some LEDs are even built to resemble an incandescent filament, while consuming 5 times less energy and lasting 20 times more!

Safety Benefits of LEDs

Although the risk is reduced if your property has adequate electrical protections, there have been cases where faults associated with Christmas lighting start a fire. Christmas lights are often installed close to flammable objects, and the risk is increased if light sets have loose connections or damaged insulation. LED lighting operates at a lower temperature than incandescent lighting, which minimizes the risk of burns from accidentally touching a light that has been on for long hours.The reduced operating currents of LED lighting also contribute to fire prevention.

LED products are also safer to handle even when disconnected: while most incandescent bulbs use glass, equivalent LED products use shatter-free acrylics or similar materials. If you have children, you have even more reasons to use LED holiday lights – the kids will likely be eager to help decorate your home, and LED lighting products are much more user-friendly, but don’t let them handle Christmas lights connected to the power supply!

Permanent Holiday Lighting: Forget About Hanging and Removing Your Lights Each Year

You might be interested in permanent holiday lights, which stay in place like a normal light fixture. This way you can have unique lighting for any occasion, not only Christmas. These light kits normally come with a smartphone app to create your own color combinations and set timers, among other functions. The following are some ways to use them:

  • Celebrations like the 4th of July, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, etc.
  • Birthdays, graduations and other special days at your home.
  • Showing the colors of your team on a game day.

Unlike the Christmas season, these are all one-day events. Many people would agree that hanging decorative lights only to be removed the next day is too much work. On the other hand, with permanent holiday lights you can simply pick the colors you want to use. They are installed in special tracks that are nearly invisible when the lights are off, and you can even use them as regular lights by setting up a neutral white tone.

Permanent holiday lights use LED technology, since older lamp types don’t have the ability to switch colors easily. They normally come with preset color schemes for various holidays, but you can also get creative with your own light combinations and sequences. You can find options with a service life of 50,000 hours, which means you can forget about replacements in a very long time!

Just remember you’re dealing with an electrical product, and low-quality holiday lights can represent a fire hazard for your home. The following are some recommendations to keep in mind before purchasing them:

  • Check the warranty offered by the manufacturer
  • Make sure they have a weatherproof design
  • Check if their temperature rating is suitable for your climate
  • Look for products with electrical certification marks like UL (Underwriters Laboratories), ETL (Intertek) or CSA (Canadian Standards Association).

You’re probably used to hanging your own holiday lights, but keep in mind you’re dealing with a permanent installation in this case. While there are many DIY kits available, vendors may offer a better warranty if you get a professional installation from them. This will also make the permanent holiday lights safer.

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