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Gadget Guy: What Holiday Lights Are Best?

Published On: Nov 10 2009 10:06:32 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 10 2009 10:07:24 AM CST

By Steve Van Dinter Special To Channel 3000

There's just 44 days until Christmas and that means it's time to start decking -- or at least thinking about decking -- the halls. But will your holiday warmth shine from large or small bulbs, incandescent or LEDs? And is there really a difference?

You may not think a lot has changed when it comes to your choices in external holiday illumination, but the palette continues to grow. Ten to 20 years ago, our choices were limited to large or small bulbs, and boy did they look great. But they also made a great impact on our electric bills. Just one string of 75 of these large bulbs cost us $35 in electricity to run over the entire season. Yet a string of 100 of their smaller siblings cost just $2.88.

Now we have even more choices in the form of LEDs. These lights may be a bit more expensive to purchase, but a 100-bulb string costs just $.30 in electricity to run in a season and they look just as bright or even brighter than traditional lights.

This year there's another choice -- solar LEDs. There's two pluses with these. First, they cost nothing to run over their 25,000 hour estimated lifespan and you can put them outside anywhere there's sun -- no need to run a cord or look for an outlet. The string lights are noticeably dimmer than their plugged-in counterparts, but the pathway lights are not bad at all.

So how do you know what's right for you? Well there are actually two things to keep in mind: the cost to buy the lights and the cost to operate.

Let's look at those big bulbs from Christmas past. We can get 75 bulbs for $30 and then it costs $35.85 to run them for 90 days, from sunset to midnight or a total of $65.85. That's just 75 bulbs, and I guarantee you use more than that!

A just as bright an alternative are C7 LEDs. A string of 70 costs $12 but only 57 cents to run for the season for a total cost of $12.57

Maybe mini is more your style. A 100 bulb string of these will cost you about $2.50 right now and the electricity to run them for one season is $2.88 for a total cost of $5.38.

A string of 100 mini LEDs costs $12 but the electricity to run them just 30 cents.

And finally the solar lights. They are free to operate, but 100 of them cost $32, so your total is $32.

So it probably looks like the mini incandescent lights are still a better deal, right?

Just for one season.

Keep in mind LEDs are estimated to last 25,000 hours where your large bulbs get just 3,000 and mini incandescents just 5,000 hours.

But get ready for this. I crunched the numbers on what it would cost us to get 25,000 hours out of each type of light -- that means buying five strings of incandescent to equal the lifespan of one LED strand, for instance, as well as the total cost of electricity.

Here's how it works out. Your best bet over 25,000 hours of use is a strand of 100 mini LEDs. Their total cost, including electricity, is $22.67.

Next up is 100 solar lights coming in at just $32.

That's followed by the 70 bulb strand of C7 LED lights at $33.39.

Those mini incandescents -- $2.50 every year doesn't seem like a lot, right? But over 25,000 hours you've replaced them five times. Add in the cost of electricity and just one string of 100 has cost you $121.69.

Finally we come to these big incandescent bulbs. They have that traditional holiday look, but you've replaced those eight times to equal the lifespan of an LED strand. And when you add in electric costs just the one strand comes to a total of $1,520.29!

The bottom line -- while LEDs may look a bit more expensive, at 30 cents a season to operate they're a much better bargain. In fact, depending on how much you pay for the bulb, you may be able to recoup savings in just one season.

And this week you can take in your old lights to Home Depot, for instance, and they'll give you $3 off up to five strands of LEDs, making a 50-bulb strand as cheap as $2.97.

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