Right around this time every year, I make a promise to myself that I will invest in LED Christmas lights. This is the third year I've blown my promise. Three years ago, a 200-bulb string of LEDs approached the $50 mark. This year, pre-Black Friday, the same strand was closer to $29. Still I hesitate.
The reasons vary. Year 1, they were too expensive. Year 2, they were out of LEDs when I finally decided to make the switch. This year, I talked to an expert on the matter — my brother — and found out there are some complications with changing bulbs. I also cleaned out my garage and found a dozen strands of conventional lights I forgot I had, and they even work.
I am not among the people who enter their homes in Christmas decorating contests. My home is surrounded by shrubs and bushes that look great when they are strung with lights. During the dark, gray winters of New England, it's nice to come home to lit-up trees — except when that one strand blows out and half the display goes dark.
The Wall Street Journal published an article this week comparing LED costs for big users of lights, such as department stores. The cost-per-LED is still pretty high. The cost savings for industrial users of LEDs really comes in during replacement. You actually have to use cherry-pickers to replace parking-lot lights and technicians for overhead lights and lamps in freezers. The Journal cited something like $50 per hour to replace a light bulb. But if you only have to replace that bulb once every five years, that's a big savings.
Back to Christmas lights. There are about three major kinds of LEDs — button lights, bulbs, and miniature lights that look like the typical “twinkle” lights I use now. At least one of those types didn't allow you to easily replace the bulbs, at least when my brother bought them. Now it looks like there is a little hinge you can undo to replace the bulbs. But I haven't gotten that far yet.
I figure I lose between four and eight strands, 50 to 100 lights per strand, every year. First I replace the fuses. Then I look for bulbs that are broken or loose. I yield about two strands for those efforts, and throw the rest away. Then I go to a discount store (around here, it's Ocean State Job Lot) and pick up a couple replacement strands. I get through the current winter season and then start all over again.
This was going to be the Year of the LED. We haven't started decorating yet — it's been 60 degrees here, and it feels like spring. I haven't tested the dozens of strands that I used last year. I'm trying to figure out a risk/reward ratio that works. How many LEDs does it take to restore the average homeowner to sanity?