Lights! Camera! … Nothing.
That was the surprising result on Dec. 1 at the San Buenaventura Mission’s annual tree-lighting ceremony. Everyone counted down for the lighting of the two 120-foot Norfolk Pines, but then the tree lights did not come on.
The lights are LED strands, installed in 2012. Had these lights been the big, energy-intense incandescent bulbs that were used for 30 years prior to the LEDs, everyone might have suspected burned-out bulbs. In this case, an electrical problem was the culprit.
The mission leaves the light strings up all year and lights its trees for special occasions other than Christmas. A typical incandescent bulb lasts 1,000 to 2,000 hours, but manufacturers of LEDs typically claim their lights will last 25,000 to 50,000 hours. Moreover, LEDs just fade when they get old; the lifetime estimates refer to the time when light emitted by the LED diminishes to just 70 percent of its original brightness. A high-quality LED Christmas light will usually outlive the person hanging it on a tree.
“LED holiday lights have quickly gained popularity because they are more efficient, which saves money on monthly electric bills,” said Alejandra Tellez, program manager with the Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance.
Light strand exchanges used to be offered, but that’s no longer the case now that LED lights have gained a reputation for reliability and energy conservation. Tellez said they might be offered again on a limited basis — perhaps two strands per person — to convince any remaining skeptics.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of electricity spent by just one 7-watt incandescent holiday bulb could power 140 LED bulbs or two 24-foot LED light strands. PG&E calculated the average annual operating cost for 300 holiday lights — based on operation of 225 hours per year — as follows: large incandescent $91.43, mini incandescent $5.88 and 300 LED lights 56 cents.
LED lenses are made of epoxy, and the lights have no moving parts, so they don’t break as easily as incandescent light bulbs.
LED products are also safer. The bulbs are cool to the touch, posing less risk of burns and reduced fire hazards. You can connect multiple strings together without overload, and strand labels will tell you the chain limit. However, do not chain together incandescent strands with LED strands, or you will blow a fuse. Incandescent strands pull too much power, so they must be displayed separately and plugged into sockets independently from LED strands.