LED lights are a decorator's dream

Cheaper, brighter, longer: Deck the halls with LED strands, the season's bright idea.

By Judy Stark, Times Homes and Garden editor
Published November 24, 2007

A major way you can celebrate a greener holiday this year is to deck your halls with LEDs - strings of lights illuminated by light-emitting diodes that burn longer and cost less than incandescents.

LEDs are those little lights that glow in your phone charger, on the control panels of consumer electronics (all those clocks around the house!), in tiny flashlights, in the car.

LEDs use 80 to 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. They don't get hot, and they're encased in plastic, not glass, so they're less of a safety hazard. The average life span is 100,000 hours, compared with 1,500 hours for standard bulbs.

GE estimates that its Watt-Miser string of 50 LED crystal minilights ($9.99 at Lowe's) costs less than $1 per season to operate (that's six hours a day for 60 days).

Consumer Reports says the operating cost of 50 feet of lights, burned for 300 hours, is $1.30 for mini-incandescents, 30 cents for mini-LEDs.

For the C7 size - the bigger bulbs, the ones you often see in color - the cost is $8 for incandescents, 14 cents for LEDs. That said, it will take several holiday seasons for savings to kick in, the magazine acknowledges.

LEDs can be slightly more expensive to buy than incandescents, Consumer Reports says, but they last longer: All the bulbs were working after more than 4,000 hours, while all the strings of incandescents they tested had one or more bulbs burn out before 2,000 hours of burn time.

CR's tests showed that mini-LEDs are brighter than mini-incandescents. But larger incandescents were brighter than LEDs.

If every American replaced conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, we'd save at least 2-billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in one month. That's enough to power 200,000 homes for a year, the Department of Energy says.

You'll see LEDs in the stores as strings of lights, both white and colored, and as icicles.

However you power your lights, reduce the number of hours you burn them, inside and outside your home. They needn't be on all night long. (And for safety reasons they shouldn't be.)

Energy columnist Ken Sheinkopf estimates utility bills rise about $13 each month that holiday lights are used, and that's for an average home, not one that rivals Disney World in its display.