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J. Shane Mercer, Published December 05 2009

LED Christmas: Lights offer holiday glow, energy savings

Snow, decorations and shoppers rushing home with their treasures. Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like a traditional Christmas, but don’t tell the holiday light manufacturers that.

Nearly every store you go into this year is hocking those newfangled LED Christmas lights as the packaging promises big energy savings. LEDs also offer a sturdier, cooler-burning bulb. Of course, those advantages come with a more hefty initial price tag.

Still, the energy savings can be pretty significant. Bonnie Lund, an Xcel Energy spokeswoman, says LED Christmas lights use about 75 percent less energy than traditional lighting. And some products claim 85 percent or more.

“They cost almost nothing to run,” says Dennis Eisenbraum, energy services manager for Moorhead Public Service Commission.

Eisenbraum calculated the cost of running a 50-light string of C7 LED bulbs at just 5 cents a month. He juxtaposed that nickel to the $3.65 a month for the old-school incandescent C7s.

Of course, if you’re using miniature lights, that energy savings isn’t going to amount to nearly as much. Eisenbraum put the cost of operating the traditional incandescent bulbs at only 30 cents a month in the first place. Not a lot of room for savings there.

Along with the energy savings, Lund says LED bulbs last about 10 times longer than traditional bulbs.

For some, there’s also that inner green glow of joy that can come from buying anything bearing the phrase “eco-friendly.” If you want even more of that glow, you can harness the power of the sun with solar-powered LED lights. Amazon.com has a 50-light set of them for $17.

LED lights are available in various forms such as nets and icicles. And the bulbs come in several different shapes including teardrop, mini and globe.

A significant number of customers seem to like the notion of an LED-lit holiday.

“I would say sales have been good across the board on LED lights,” says Dan Denk, seasonal manager at Scheel’s Home and Hardware in Fargo.

LED sets also offer some safety advantages over traditional lights. If someone connects too many traditional light strands, the wires can overheat and cause a fire, Denk says. But LED strands don’t pull the electrical current that incandescent sets do, so many more strands can be safely hooked together. The product box or owner’s manual should suggest how many strings of LED lights can be connected.

Incandescent bulbs can also burn curious little fingers while LED bulbs are cool to the touch.

On the downside for some people, there’s that nagging issue of the cost of LEDs. At the West Fargo Menard’s, for example, a 25-bulb string of the large, teardrop-shaped C9 incandescent bulbs were recently on sale for $6.47 (regular price: $6.98). A string of 35 LED C9s made by the same company was priced at $12.99.

So when trying to figure out if LEDs make good financial sense, you have to weigh the upfront cost against the energy savings. Also Denk says that if you get a good set, LED lights will outlast the traditional ones. That, of course, can add up to additional savings on the back end.

Moorhead Public Service is helping its customers bridge the cost gap by offering a $3.50 rebate on each strand of LED lights they purchase. The rebate is good for up to 12 strands of LED lights. Call (218) 299-5400 for more info, or visit www.mpsutility.com and follow the “save money through rebates” link.

Along with the cost, there may be an issue for some people with the appearance of the LED lights. LEDs emit a “cooler” shade of white than do incandescent bulbs. Though, there are “warm white” LEDs that have more of a traditional look.

But buyer beware. If you don’t get a quality strand, you may find that the wiring doesn’t hold up. Denk says to look for a set of lights with heavy-gauge wires and to examine what you can see of the light before buying it to determine if it is constructed in a sturdy fashion.

While Denk believes the LED Christmas light is “definitely going to find its niche,” he doesn’t see it replacing the incandescent bulb.

“I think the others are always going to be around. That’s my opinion,” he says. “I think the look is a little more traditional, and Christmas is a lot about tradition.”

What is an LED?

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, produce light “using nothing but the movement of electricity along the path of its semiconductor,” according to eHow.com. “As the electrons stream across the semiconductor, they create electromagnetic radiation. Some forms of this electromagnetic radiation can take the form of visible light, which humans can perceive via sight.”

Among other things, LEDs are used to illuminate traffic and brake lights, send information from remote controls, render digital clock digits and, of course, light up Christmas trees.

Bright ideas

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association recommend the following safety tips:


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734