LED Decorations Great, Have Hidden Dangers

December 10, 2008

Do you dread getting your December electric bill? Holiday lights and decorations can be a drain on your wallet, as well as the environment. However, new technology can help you save money and lower your carbon footprint.

LED holiday lights:

  • Are safer (they don’t heat up like normal incandescent lights)
  • Use less electricity (40 watts for a 100 light incandescent strand, versus approximately 8 watts for a similar LED strand)
  • Last longer (average expected life is 25,000 hours)
  • Can be strung together in larger amounts (up to 25-75 strands in one long string, versus 3-5 for incandescents)

Sounds great, huh? But, as I discovered, there may be some hidden issues with LEDs.

While doing an internet search on how LED holiday lights work, I found only one entry, which surprised me. But, the entry is a good one. If you are not an electrical engineer, it can be a bit technical, but it has some interesting things to say about LED light strings.

The page was written in May of 2007, so it is a bit dated. It provides a very technical overview of how LED strand lights work, and don’t work. All the benefits I listed above are detailed, and some hidden dangers are exposed.

Bulbs Do Burn Out

I had been told that one of the main benefits of LEDs was their long life and the fact that the bulbs almost never need replacing (as evidenced by the fact that spare bulbs are not usually included in LED packages). However, it seems that bulbs do burn out, generally due to faulty wiring or bad connections. Luckily, the bulbs are easily changed, much like standard light strands. But, because spares aren’t provided, this requires purchasing extra strings.

Manufacturing Issues

The author of the page detailed several problems with sockets being installed backwards. Due to the way LEDs work, there is a “right” and “wrong” way to install a socket and a bulb. As the author says, it is surprising that these issues were not noted and handled by the manufacturer. Luckily, he was able to repair the reversed sockets, but not all of us are trained electricians.

Outside Lights Rust

Based on the author’s experience, it appears that the LEDs he purchased were not rated for outdoor use (if there is such a rating for LEDs). Rain caused the leads of the bulbs (the wire prongs coming out of the bulb) to rust, thus causing a short circuit. He recommends rope LEDs for outdoor applications to prevent this from happening.

I am no electrician, nor an expert on holiday lights, so a lot of this went over my head. But I was surprised to learn that as little as a year and a half ago, there were so many issues with these lights. My intention with this article was to praise this new technology and its benefits for the environment. My hope is that improvements have been made since this page was written, because otherwise LEDs are a great investment. They are available almost everywhere this year, and their pricing is closer to that of incandescent lights. Not to mention all the great options in bulb shapes and novelty designs.

I’d like to hear from our readers. What has your experience with LEDs been? Have you had issues similar to those listed above?

Photo courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh on Wikipedia, through a Creative Commons License.


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Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.
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