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Dreaming of a bright Christmas

Take advantage of year-end LED light sales

Posted: December 19, 2008 8:03 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2008 4:55 a.m.

The Do It Center displays this sign highlighting the advantages of LED lights: energy savings, durability, enhanced colors and safety.

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Yes, we know. You already have your Christmas lights up on the house and on the tree. But here's the deal. Now might just be the best time to buy those LED Christmas lights you've been considering.

With end-of-December sales, you can get them for a very good price - if you act quickly.

For example, Green Thumb International in Newhall and the Do It Center in Valencia are hosting closeout sales on Christmas items; LED Christmas lights are included. But supplies are dwindling fast.

December price break
For a couple years now, LED Christmas lights have been taking a larger place on store shelves in December.

That's because they offer a number of advantages over incandescent Christmas lights. But, according to Howard Collom at Green Thumb and Keith Oien at the Do It Center, some folks have been reluctant to purchase LED lights because of their higher initial price.

For example, a 50-light set of mini-style incandescent lights might only cost $1.79, while a 60-light set of mini-LED lights could go for $7.99.

Though the energy savings of the LED lights should easily make up the cost difference over time, sometimes it's hard to pony up this higher purchase price.

However, during a late December sale, that price is significantly lower - as much as 50 percent.

Purchase price aside, LED Christmas lights are advertised as being more energy efficient, more durable, more convenient, safer and brighter than incandescent lights.

"LEDs are becoming more popular because they use less energy," Collom said.

"Most of the energy goes to light instead of heat. It's what makes them energy efficient," Oien said.

It's in the diode
Oien, the Do It Center's sales manager, has a degree in electrical engineering and understands how LEDs operate.

He said the Light Emitting Diode (LED) is basically a "hunk of metal." On a molecular level, the metal is altered, or "doped," so that electricity will only flow through it in one direction.

When electricity does flow through it, the metal gives off photons, or light.

The doping also affects the frequency of light given off and hence the color visible to the eye.

Unlike an incandescent filament, which has to heat up to glow, the LED gives off its light with very little heat generated.

This makes LEDs safer and far more energy-efficient. Oien said that LEDs have been around for many decades, but only in the last five to 10 years has the technology advanced to the point where they make good Christmas lights.

Oien added that LEDs don't give off a broad spectrum of light, as do incandescent lights.

This also adds to their efficiency and brings up an interesting point. The color of the light comes straight from the diode, not from a surrounding colored bulb, as is the case with incandescent lights.

"The LED bulb is basically a cap," said Oien.

Even more interesting is the fact that the different-sized LED Christmas lights are only the result of the cap.

The diode can be the same, and thus the energy usage and light output are the same, in two different sized lights.

The Do It Center displays a large chart on the wall (see above) that highlights the benefits of LED Christmas lights. We'll take a look at the points the chart makes.

Savings
As mentioned, the "savings" LED lights provide come primarily from their energy efficiency. This can be up to 90 percent or more over incandescent lights.

Durability
Because LEDs glow without significant heat, their bulbs can be made of thick plastic, rather than the thin glass of incandescent bulbs.

The plastic is much more resistant to breakage. Additionally, the LED, being a "hunk of metal," is not greatly affected by bumps and bangs, as incandescent filaments are. Oien used a repeated finger-flick on an LED bulb to illustrate this.

"This would put out an incandescent light," he said.

All of this adds up to LED lights lasting significantly longer than incandescents. The chart conservatively notes this as 25,000 hours or more.

"I've heard people quoting upwards of 100,000 to 150,000 hours of operation. There is a life to them," Oien said.

He added that these high numbers only occur when you use the lights properly.

New standard
LED lights are also more convenient to use than incandescents.

Because LED light strings use less power than comparable incandescent light strings, you can link up more LED strings together from a single outlet.

The wall chart indicates you can run 87 strings together. Oien said those are 60-light strings. That's 5,220 lights!

Look
The wall chart indicates LEDs offer "enhanced radiant colors."

Most people would agree, though some feel the look is a little too intense. Oien himself said manufacturers have had some difficulty perfecting white LED Christmas lights, and he felt they still have a bluish look, even when they are supposed to be "warm" white.

Safety
Because the bulbs are not made of glass, and because they are cool to the touch, LED lights are safer than incandescents. There is also a lower amperage across the bulb socket, which Oien also felt adds to safety.

Cash in
Oien added that the price of LED Christmas lights has been coming down as the technology advances. A string of lights that cost $11 three years ago is now only $8. And remember, at 50 percent off, that's down to $4.

Get 'em while you can!

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