What are LEDs?
LEDs are a lighting technology that work through electroluminescence, a property of certain materials that cause them to emit light when an electric current is passed through them.
The mechanism behind LEDs was first discovered in 1907 by British electrical engineer H.J. Round, who was experimenting with early crystal radios when he discovered that light was emitted by silicon carbide crystals when a particular voltage was applied. No real progress was made in this technology until 1955, when Rubin Braunstein reported that certain diodes emitted light in the infrared spectrum when current is passed through them. The first LED to emit visible light was created in 1962, producing red light. From there, the technology snowballed and went from $200 per piece in 1968, to $0.05, in the 1970s, thanks to improvements in manufacturing processes.
LEDs are used in everything from the backlight of LCD TVs to flashlights, and have even penetrated indoor lighting, where they’ve begun to displace compact fluorescent lamps.
Today the LED industry is massive, and is predicted to rise up to $30.5 billion in 2016. They’re used in everything from the backlight of LCD TVs to flashlights, and have even penetrated indoor lighting, where they’ve begun to displace compact fluorescent lamps. The White House Christmas tree is illuminated by LED lights, as well as New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Even city streets are getting intelligent LED lighting, with streetlights equipped with a variety of sensors that can gather data for crime prevention, traffic monitoring, and much more.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on with LEDs that suddenly make them so widespread in Christmas lighting these days. We break things down into 5 reasons that can explain why they’re a better choice than incandescent, not only in decorative lighting but in many other applications as well.
1. LEDs save power
Let’s get the immediate question of power consumption out of the way: LEDs can use at least 75% less energy than equivalent incandescent bulbs. A $2.74 bill for lighting a Christmas tree for an entire season with tiny incandescents is showed up by a similarly-lit LED Christmas tree that would only run up to $0.82. Scale that up to a complete Christmas lighting set and you can rack up hundreds of dollars of savings over the years.
These power savings naturally apply to LEDs for home indoor lighting as well. Purchasing LED bulbs to replace incandescent lighting will definitely help alleviate your monthly electrical bill. LEDs are also more efficient even than fluorescent lighting, so they’re a practical choice.
2. LEDs are safer
One direct result of LEDs consuming 75% less power is a natural reduction in heat output compared to other lighting technologies. Larger incandescent bulbs used in Christmas decorations can actually get hot enough to burn skin, whereas LED Christmas lights stay relatively cool to the touch even after prolonged periods of use. This makes LED lights much safer to handle than incandescent Christmas lights, as they can be touched regardless of how long they’ve been on.
More critically, LED bulbs being cooler also means that they are less of a fire hazard. While this is a relatively infrequent occurrence, the heat output of larger incandescent bulbs can build up to the point that combustion of a Christmas tree’s branches is actually possible. Decorative LED lights don’t get anywhere near hot enough for this to occur.
3. LEDs won’t break as easily
Incandescent light bulbs are composed of a thin tungsten filament through which electrical current is run, and an evacuated glass bulb. These two fragile components contribute to the overall fragility of incandescent lights – even a light impact can destroy the glass enclosure, while a sudden shock or heavy vibration can break the filament. Christmas light enthusiasts will understand the struggle of accidentally breaking tiny incandescent bulbs while setting them up against a wall or stringing them up, and even in storage they are at risk of being broken just by being moved around.
LED bulbs on the other hand are encased in epoxy resin that doesn’t shatter as easily as glass does, and the LED assembly itself is a relatively sturdy solid-state semiconductor. This composition makes LEDs less prone to breakage, more resistant to the effects of jarring motion and vibration, and overall more durable.
In addition to this, LEDs are not susceptible to extremely cold temperatures, and will function just as well in them as at room temperature, making them optimal for outdoor display especially during winter.
4. LEDs last longer
Even disregarding material durability, LEDs simply have a vastly longer usable lifespan than incandescent bulbs – as much as 25 times longer, in fact. The average incandescent lifespan will be usable for approximately 1,000 hours before burning out. Meanwhile, LEDs can last as long as 25,000 hours, at which point their brightness will be diminished by 70%. You can expect a string of LED Christmas lights to last up to 40 holiday seasons.
LED lights in general are more expensive than incandescents, and therefore have a higher initial cost. However, this investment is offset over time by a greatly reduced need to replace your lights, as bulbs will quickly burn out and need to be replaced, while LEDs will continue to shine.
5. LEDs can be installed more easily
Household electrical outlets come with amperage limits that represent the maximum amount of current that can be run through them. For most outlets, this is 15 to 20 amps, and you should only use 80% of this rated capacity for prolonged periods of time in order to avoid engaging your circuit breaker. Of course, you can’t bypass this with a power strip, as the importance is in how much total power draw is occurring at the socket.
As strings of incandescent Christmas lights can accumulate a very large power draw, fully decorating a home may require as many as 6 outlets in order to accommodate the necessary lighting. With LED lighting and its vastly reduced power requirement, this isn’t the case – you can daisy-chain as many as 25 strings of LED Christmas lights onto a single socket, making it much easier to setup.