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Holiday LED lights burn bright and save energy too

You can still buy incandescent holiday lights but LEDs are better

Published: November 30, 2014 08:00 AM

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As you dust off and untangle strand after strand of Christmas lights it’s a fine time to think about switching to LEDs. Compared to incandescent lights, LEDs use significantly less energy, last much longer, and stay cooler, reducing the risk of fire. But LEDs cost a lot more. Here’s a look.

You can still buy strings of incandescent holiday lights. They weren’t part of the phase-out of energy-wasting incandescent bulbs. But Energy Star-qualified LED light strings use up to 90 percent less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs yet produce the same amount of light. We’ve seen LED holiday lights that are claimed to last 25,000 hours, while some claim as much as 100,000. And LEDs don’t burn out—they fade over time—so you won’t have to replace dead bulbs in a string of lights. Consumer Reports hasn’t tested LED holiday lights recently, but our ongoing tests of LEDs include Energy Star-qualified bulbs. We’ve found they meet high standards for brightness, color, and energy use and Energy Star-qualified light strands come with a three-year warranty.

So let’s talk money. The Department of Energy says if you light your 6-foot tree with LED lights, it will cost 28 cents for 12 hours a day for 40 days, while it will cost $19.50 if incandescent lights are used. That's based on C-9 lights, not the smaller mini-lights. So replacing your larger lights with LEDs will save you money over time, and unlike incandescent bulbs, the LEDs do not have a filament that can break. LED mini-lights use even less energy than the bigger bulbs. Look online for utility rebates and when shopping check displays of lit holiday LED light strands, or ask if you can see them lit, to be sure the color of the light is what you want. Some cast a ghastly bluish white, giving new meaning to “White Christmas.”

You can also save energy by using a timer to turn your holiday lights on and off at specific times, and by shutting off power strips when the holiday decorations aren’t lit since electricity is still being drawn. For a modern twist on holiday lights, check online for the iTwinkle app from GE that enables you to create your own light show. LEDs contain semiconductor chips and electronic circuitry so they offer possibilities beyond on and off.

Great Value 65W BR30 dimmable Soft White

Best LEDs from our tests

And if you’re thinking of brightening your driveway and sidewalk, you’ve come to the right place. Consumer Reports' lightbulb Ratings include dozens of LEDs suitable for outdoor use, and the prices keep falling.

In our Ratings of fllood/reflector bulbs, four of our five recommended replacements for 65- to 90-watt bulbs cost $11 or less including the top-rated Great Value 65W BR30 dimmable Soft White LED sold at Walmart and the Utilitech 13-Watt (75W) BR30 Soft White Outdoor Flood sold at Lowe's. Those same two brands also offer highly rated lightbulbs to replace 90- to 120- watt floods and reflectors. They include the Great Value 90W PAR38 LED Soft White Non Dimmable from Walmart and the Utilitech Soft White PAR38 90W 75232 sold at Lowe's. For more choices in all price ranges see our full lightbulb Ratings and recommendations.

—Kimberly Janeway

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