LED Christmas lights last 50 times longer than incandescent.
Incandescent lights cost about half as much new as LEDs.
LED lights are available in almost any color.
Incandescent lights cost 17–25 times more to operate than LEDs.
Incandescents can become a safety hazard if they get too hot.
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Christmas lights bring feelings of warmth and festiveness on even the coldest winter nights. But should you choose LED or incandescent Christmas lights for your home?
Whether on a Christmas tree or creating a sense of magic outdoors, colorful, twinkling lights are a staple of the holiday season. Learn the differences between LED versus incandescent Christmas lights to decide which one is better for your home.
LED Christmas Light Pros & Cons
Photo: Lost_in_the_Midwest / Adobe Stock
Before you can hang holiday lights, you have to parse through the different types of Christmas lights. LED Christmas lights use LED, or light-emitting diode, technology to create the glow of the light. The diode conducts electrical current in a highly efficient way to generate light.
Whether you hire a local holiday decorator or hang the lights yourself, turn your home into a beautiful display of light and color this holiday season with LEDs.
Uses a minimal amount of power to operate
Lasts decades with a lifespan of 50,000 hours
Generates thousands of different colors
Durable plastic bulbs are almost unbreakable
Carries a higher upfront cost than other light technologies
Doesn’t offer the traditional look of classic Christmas lights
Often has fewer bulbs per string than incandescent
Smaller bulb may not appear as bright as incandescent
Incandescent Christmas Light Pros & Cons
Photo: Angel Sharum / EyeEm / Getty Images
The type of light bulb you choose is reflective of your personal holiday style. If you love a classic holiday look and feel, incandescent Christmas lights might be the better choice for you.
Incandescent Christmas lights rely on tried-and-true lighting technology that’s been in use for more than 100 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When applying electricity, the filament inside the glass bulb heats up and generates light.
Has a traditional Christmas look
Carries a low upfront cost
Relatively easy to install with insulated cords
Comes in classic holiday light colors
More expensive to operate than LEDs
Glass bulbs aren’t as durable in harsh weather
Generates heat along with the light
Lifespan is significantly shorter than LED lights
LED vs. Incandescent Christmas Lights
If you want to have the jolliest home on the block, you’re going to need holiday lights. Even if you hire a local Christmas light installer, it’s still great to understand the pros and cons of the two bulbs.
While you can’t go wrong with either type, take a look at the differences between LED and incandescent lights below to see where each one excels.
If energy efficiency is important to you, LED lights are the far better choice. Yes, LED lights cost more upfront than incandescent lights (more on that later), but they also use about 90% less energy than an equally sized incandescent bulb, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In fact, typical incandescent bulbs result in 17 to 25 times more in electrical power costs than LED bulbs, says the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).
More energy efficient: LED
When used indoors in consistent temperatures, there is almost no difference in the durability of LED versus incandescent Christmas lights. Incandescent lights have glass bulbs, while LEDs use plastic bulbs. Although the glass bulbs are more fragile than plastic bulbs, the chances of shattering a glass bulb indoors are low.
For outdoor displays, LED Christmas lights are better, especially in areas with harsh winter conditions. In extremely low temperatures, the incandescent bulb could burst. Plastic LED bulbs, meanwhile, are able to maintain their energy efficiency and performance without failing in cold conditions.
More durable: LED
Length of Life
A typical LED bulb can last up to 50,000 hours of light-up time, while an incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours on average.
Are you likely to keep your strand of Christmas lights for less than a decade before you replace it with a different style? If so, you might replace the strand before any incandescent lights burn out and a few decades before any LEDs would burn out.
If having one or two bulbs burned out in your Christmas lights strand drives you crazy, though, go with LEDs. The chances of a single bulb burning out in an LED strand is significantly lower than in an incandescent strand.
Greater length of life: LED
When looking to purchase LED versus incandescent Christmas lights, incandescent is more affordable per strand. According to HomeAdvisor, a strand of LED holiday lights costs $6 to $25, while a strand of incandescent lights costs $4 to $10.
Although your upfront costs are lower with incandescent lights, the cost of operation with LED holiday lights is far lower, which may be an important part of the consideration for you.
Lower upfront costs: Incandescent
The installation process for LED versus incandescent Christmas lights is almost identical. Just plug the strand into an electrical outlet or extension cord, and you’re done! You can daisy-chain multiple strands together by plugging them into each other as well.
As long as the strands of lights both use an insulated type of electrical cord, installation should go smoothly. Some LED holiday lights make use of a copper strand, which tends to tangle and twist on itself more than an insulated cord.
If you choose to hire a pro, holiday light installation costs $1.25 to $3 per linear foot of light strands for labor, regardless of whether you are using LED or incandescent lights. (The cost for the actual lights and extension cords is extra.)
Easier installation: Tie
Early iterations of LED Christmas lights tended to be dimmer than incandescent lights. However, newer strands of LED holiday lights are as bright, and sometimes brighter, than incandescent Christmas lights.
Typically, the LED bulb is quite a bit smaller than some incandescent bulbs, which may give the incandescent bulb a slightly brighter appearance because of its larger size.
If brightness is a significant concern for you, pay attention to the lumens rating on the LED lights you are purchasing. A larger number indicates a greater level of brightness.
Greater brightness level: Tie
LED Christmas bulbs require little-to-no maintenance. These bulbs are not replaceable, and they don’t have fuses on the strands that may need replacing.
An individual light on a strand of incandescent Christmas lights could burn out, but replacing it can be tricky. Some strands contain fuses that may need replacing occasionally, too.
Because incandescent lights use glass bulbs, they require more care when storing them after the holiday season versus LED bulbs.
Easier to maintain: LED
LED and incandescent Christmas lights achieve their colors in a different way.
Incandescent Christmas lights use the color of the glass surrounding the light to create different colors. Green, blue, white, and red are popular classic colors for incandescent holiday lights.
LEDs, meanwhile, use the actual light source to generate the desired color. Consequently, LEDs can offer all the traditional holiday colors that incandescent lights produce, as well as non-standard holiday colors, like purple and pink.
More color options: LED
Incandescent Christmas lights generate heat as they light up, and they can become hot to the touch after a couple of hours. It can be tempting for a small child to reach out and touch these lights, which could lead to a skin burn.
The heat also increases the possibility of fire if the lights come in contact with dry Christmas tree needles or paper decorations. The National Fire Protection Association says one in five Christmas tree fires start from decorative lighting.
The technology used in LED Christmas lights means they do not generate heat along with the light. Additionally, because the incandescent lights have glass bulbs, they could break and cut the skin. LEDs use plastic bulbs that are almost unbreakable.
Safer lights: LED
Now that you know the differences between LED versus incandescent Christmas lights, you can decide which type is better for your home.
Whether you prefer a classic Christmas look or opt for non-traditional colors, lighting can transform your home into a festive wonderland. If you need help, hire a local handyperson or holiday lighting pro to handle holiday decorating for you.