I was looking at a comparison of LED based 5mm Christmas lights recently. One string was made in 2010, another in 2012 and the other was just received from the manufacturer (May, 2013). The older strings had been sitting in a warehouse and never used. All strings had the same number of lights and were fullwave rectified.
The 2010 lights were, well… kinda dim. The 2012 lights much brighter. The 2013 lights were… OUCH… really intense and I wanted sunglasses. It got me to thinking…
Are Christmas LEDs becoming too bright?
I started hearing concerns from indoor decorators last year. They had replaced all the incandescent lights with 5mm LEDs on their Christmas trees. Everything looked great during the day and they loved being able to see the lights but at night those same lights became too bright and distracted from the other tree decorations. Who would have thought Christmas lights could ever be too bright? But, if you think of the warm glow of incandescent light sources versus the stark intensity of LED sources, then you start ‘seeing’ the potential for trouble.
Walk down the light bulb aisle of the big box home improvement store. They’ll typically have a demonstration comparing an incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED bulb. First you’re impressed how the incandescent uses 60 watts of power compared to the compact fluorescent at 14 watts and the LED bulb at 9 watts. Now, really stare at those illuminated bulbs. You’ll notice the LED one has a certain harshness to it. The physical bulb might look like an old fashioned incandescent, but the actual light source is very concentrated on the inside. You’ll realize old fashioned bulbs distribute light in all directions but LEDs are just the opposite. The manufacturers end up putting a lot of small but super-bright LEDs in the bulb pointing in different directions to try and create a distributed light source. There’s nothing wrong with the latest generation LED bulbs that look like the old incandescents. Just don’t stare at them because you’ll sense the harshness of the discrete light sources.
Ever stood underneath an illuminated street light and stared up at the giant bulb? They typically give off a bluish (mercury vapor) or yellowish (low/high pressure sodium) color. We’ve grown quite used to the weird but bright color. Now find an LED based street light. They’re typically flat and instead of one light source there are a dozen or more little light sources. Each light source is bright white and very hard to look at while at the same time everything in the area it illuminates is a normal color. Now compare a LED street light from last year to one just installed. The bottom line is LEDs pack a lot of light into a very small source, are great at putting out light in one direction and they’re getting brighter every year.
Where in the world am I going with this? Make sure your LEDs are high quality and dimmable. Don’t be surprised if you need to lower the intensity of the LEDs on your tree, at least at night.