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Concern About Switching A Small Display To Leds


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Hi all,

I know this subject is talked about a lot, but I'm trying to convince myself to take the plunge into the world of LEDs. I work at a large lighting company where we have been using LEDs to light products for 10 years. My current needs are 150ft of icicle lights and 5 artificial trees each containing 6 - 100 bulb light strings. To convert my small display to LEDs would cost me about a grand (figuring full-wave, sealed strings from online vendors).

When I analyze it, the payback on LEDs just doesn't seem worth it. The lights would have to last more than 5 years to make it cost-effective and based on all the quality issues that I've read about over the years in these forums, it almost seems like incandescent is the path to stick with.

Can anybody offer any suggestions?

Thanks!

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You are mostly correct. I only buy LEDs when it's a bargain & like you I intended to only use Full-Wave. However recently I acquired several hundred half-wave LEDs for pennies on the dollar. I had set out to sell them & purchase a few Full-Wave lights for my use. As it turns out there are a lot of great uses for Half-Wave LEDs. For example I took the "leap" and built several arches. As the lights on these will mostly chase and rarely study, the flickering is minimized and nearly eliminated. Same for my mini trees. I've stripped all of them of the incandescents and am in the process of putting the LEDS on. I'm still debating the idea of replacing the white incandescent on my Mega with LEDs.

Look for those bargains and don't be afraid to use some Half-Wave LEDs. Estate sales, Yard sales Craigs List, Extreme Couponing, Annual sales from Full-Wave vendors.

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You said it well, even cheap LEDs are too expensive for me to risk it with. I had to do a major electrical upgrade this year, and LEDs still wouldn't have been cost effective. The only thing they may have going for them is bulb life, but even then I've heard some strings randomly go out on people. I'd much rather throw out 50 cents, compared to a $10 bill.

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1. Longer life

2. More durable, less breakage, fewer failures, less head aches

3. Fewer power cords

4. No color fading

5. Less power requirements

6. Sealed sets have fewer GFI faults

7. Cheaper to operate

You'll have to add these all up and make the call if it's a good choice for your display.

I will say that the few incandescent installs we do cost us more than a similar LED install. Not in light cost, but in ext chord and labor costs.

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Like HotRod said in the above post all is true. He didn't mention that leds have a much more richer color and as in the case of C9s you don't notice color chiping off and getting duller with age. When gettin my display down from the attic this year I dropped my icicle lights that were on a 1" pvc pipe they came crashing down 12' on concrete with the pipe falling on top of the lights and no damage was done to the lights if those were Incandecent lights I would hVE to replace them. Also if you wait untill after Christmas most PC vendors have good prices on preorder lights. thats how i got all mine at a very good price

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I am a fan of LEDs but I am a realist, so some additions to your list:

1.a. I have incandescents that are at least 10 years old & some LEDs that lasted 1 season (commercial grade)

8. 3,000 x more expensive

9. Still require snubbers at an additional expense.

10. Issues with rust.

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True.

$10-$20 LEDs may last 1 season or who knows yet? Could be many, many years.

$.50 incandescent may or may not work at all or last 10+ years.

It's a trade off. If I hit the Lotto, I'd go 75% LED. As is, I buy ONLY when I can get them REAL cheap. There's a lot of promise with LEDs that has yet to be proven. They do save electricity, that's a fact. Longer life vs cost - still not there.

Sorry Jimmy, didn't mean to hijack your thread, but I hope you can see both sides of the LED/incandescent debate.

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Jimmy, I didn't see you mentioning colored incandescents in your post. If you have only clear bulbs and plenty of power to run them, then I wouldn't bother switching to LED's.

For me, the only obvious benefit is with the colored bulbs. All colored incandescent bulbs will fade and chip. Usually only after a couple of seasons, bulbs start to look awful. If you have a display that takes a long time to put up and you value the time spent working on new things rather than changing out faded sets, then you'll appreciate LED's.

As for cost, I modify all of my half-wave sets to be full-wave rectified. The flicker is dramatically reduced at 120Hz. So, then it's just a matter of finding similar warm white, red, green, and blue LED's to make super strings. Recently, I found a source of LED mini's for about a dime a bulb, but I've also got a number of sets from the big chains that I purchased at 50% off (so about a nickle a bulb). You may have to pay full price for hard-to-find colors like green. I can't bring myself to pay $0.20 a bulb that the online companies charge or $0.30 a bulb if it's something fancy like a net light. Just like I won't pay $9 for a 100-count set of incandescent minis no matter how energy efficient or failure proof they are.

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Very interesting..how do you do that?

Insert a Full-Wave (Bridge) Rectifier before the string (make them with 400V/6A rectifiers and discarded mini string plug ends). Then if the string has multiple circuits that are flipped to run each circuit on the positive or negative part of the AC sine wave, cut the two wires to the sections that run on the negative part and swap the wires to make it run on the positive side. Costs $0.35 each if you buy 100 from All Electronics Corp. And probably about $0.15 for a piece of 3/4" heat shrink to cover it (I also inject hot glue inside first to make the assembly watertight). So $0.50 for the conversion -- noting that the bridge works for all strings daisy chained onto it as well.

It does mean the string is running 2x power now (including the resistors), but unless you live in a warm locale and have the string turned on 100% and left on for many minutes, there is plenty of margin to handle the extra heat dissipation. The LEDs may also last a little less than 25,000 hours. I had 21,000 LEDs converted this way last year running in an animated show and didn't have any failures. I even checked a couple resistors that would have run the hottest and none of them showed any signs of overheating.

Do make sure you take a Sharpie and mark all the (+)'s on the bridge pigtail outputs and the string plugs so you don't have to spend time figuring out which way to plug the lights in later :)

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True.

$10-$20 LEDs may last 1 season or who knows yet? Could be many, many years.

$.50 incandescent may or may not work at all or last 10+ years.

It's a trade off. If I hit the Lotto, I'd go 75% LED. As is, I buy ONLY when I can get them REAL cheap. There's a lot of promise with LEDs that has yet to be proven. They do save electricity, that's a fact. Longer life vs cost - still not there.

Sorry Jimmy, didn't mean to hijack your thread, but I hope you can see both sides of the LED/incandescent debate.

Tim,

This is the kind of discussion I was looking for.

I've had a modest (incandescent) display for over 20 years and I usually only need to purchase new lights once very 10 years or when I have an addition. The typical burned out blub or (more typical) broken off lead is easy to fix; I've only needed to solder in a new lamp holder 4 times since, at this point, I usually relegate the string to "replacement blub" duty.

I completely agree that LED technology is here and has matured to the point of being reliable. The problem really is with the manufacturing and design of Christmas light strings. If you look at a typical string, you have 2 wire strips, 2 crimps and a wiper system for every blub so even if the LED itself is reliable, you still have 90% of all failure points that incan's have built into the design. It is because of this that huge price difference, for my purposes, just doesn't seem to make sense.

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Jimmy, I didn't see you mentioning colored incandescents in your post. If you have only clear bulbs and plenty of power to run them, then I wouldn't bother switching to LED's.

For me, the only obvious benefit is with the colored bulbs. All colored incandescent bulbs will fade and chip. Usually only after a couple of seasons, bulbs start to look awful. If you have a display that takes a long time to put up and you value the time spent working on new things rather than changing out faded sets, then you'll appreciate LED's.

As for cost, I modify all of my half-wave sets to be full-wave rectified. The flicker is dramatically reduced at 120Hz. So, then it's just a matter of finding similar warm white, red, green, and blue LED's to make super strings. Recently, I found a source of LED mini's for about a dime a bulb, but I've also got a number of sets from the big chains that I purchased at 50% off (so about a nickle a bulb). You may have to pay full price for hard-to-find colors like green. I can't bring myself to pay $0.20 a bulb that the online companies charge or $0.30 a bulb if it's something fancy like a net light. Just like I won't pay $9 for a 100-count set of incandescent minis no matter how energy efficient or failure proof they are.

Jason,

When I first started with Christmas displays in the late 80's, I found out quickly that colored lights only last a season or two before the colors started to flake off or fade. Within the next 5 years I converted over to clear lights only. Recently because of the molded LED caps and the availability of colored caps for incan's, I've considered adding light controllers and fading between colors. This is another reason for my post since this decision is the start of colored lights and computerization.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well - it happened - EPIC 24% FAILURE RATE.

I decided to take the plunge into the world of LEDs by converting my icicles to LED (mostly so that I could plug them end-to-end without power feeds along the way). I bought 21 full wave, sealed Diogen strings from an on-line vendor and 2 weeks after placing them outside, 4 strings are half out and a 5th has a bad plug. Seriously - I expected a lot more than this! $350 dollars later and I'm replacing them with my easily repairable, 2003 incandescent icicles.

How do these manufacturers expect us to pay through the nose for "quality" lights when Menards, Home Depot, Target, Walmart lights are so cheap you can buy new each year!?!

If anybody sees me asking about LEDs in the future, stop me at all costs...I've learned my lesson.

Edited by jhoybs
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Well - it happened - EPIC 24% FAILURE RATE.

I decided to take the plunge into the world of LEDs by converting my icicles to LED (mostly so that I could plug them end-to-end without power feeds along the way). I bought 21 full wave, sealed Diogen strings from an on-line vendor and 2 weeks after placing them outside, 4 strings are half out and a 5th has a bad plug. Seriously - I expected a lot more than this! $350 dollars later and I'm replacing them with my easily repairable, 2003 incandescent icicles.

How do these manufacturers expect us to pay through the nose for "quality" lights when Menards, Home Depot, Target, Walmart lights are so cheap you can buy new each year!?!

If anybody sees me asking about LEDs in the future, stop me at all costs...I've learned my lesson.

I think my HEART just skipped a beat when reading you post......I just purchased 25 strings of the exact type from an on line vendor, only do to FM Transmitter problems I haven't had a chance to run them except for testing. Have you contacted the vendor? If so will they do anything about it?
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They have promised to send lights to me to replace the defective strings along with a return shipping label. My bigger concern is how many more strings from my original order as well as the replacements are going to fail?

I burned these strings in for 24 hours in my basement and all were working when I hung them up. I had them hung outside (off) for a week. If the colder temps (35F versus 70F) is what caused the problem, I can't wait until it gets down to 10F. The vendor stated that the typical failure rate for these LEDs is 1% which I was expecting, but 24% is ridiculous.

I'd suggest you test your lights ASAP - let me know what you find...

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I was maxed-out on power, pulling 42 amps from two 20A breakers (I denounce myself). I moved cords to outlets inside the garage to even it out. The next year, I bought the commercial, full-wave sealed LEDs from a pre-order to re-do my mega-tree. What a difference! The minis were nice but the LEDs have a stunning brilliance. When I hit all of the reds on at once, the crowd goes OOOOOOOH!

I've since re-wrapped my multi color mini-trees with tri-color LEDS and changed my C9s to LED. Amps would have dropped nearly in half had I not kept adding more lights elsewhere.

BTW, I've bought all of my LEDS from CD and <cough>besides that one particular year<cough> they've performed perfectly, no rust, no failures that I didn't cause.

My case for LEDS is stunning color and lower power consumption allowing me to put up a lot more lights.

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I agree with all the comments regarding power draw. My display would go over the 20A circuit limit if I hadn't switched the icicles to LEDs. It is also nice being able to plug 20 strings in end-to-end without extra power feeders.

I'll have to be patient but it just burns me that full wave, sealed Diogens have lesser quality than (for example) Wal-mart LEDs!

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