Christmas Mini Lights Buying Guide


Walk into any big box store this holiday season and you’ll see two, maybe three, options for Christmas mini lights: Number of bulbs, bulb color, and if you’re lucky, wire color. After all, these are the only choices most people consider.

But “most” people aren’t informed buyers. Any informed buyer craves selection, and that’s why we offer literally hundreds of mini light choices at 1000Bulbs.com.

Of course, with so many choices available, we realize it can be frustrating to find just the right mini lights you need, so to make that process easier, here’s a quick guide to buying mini lights.

Bulb Spacing

Have you ever had to double or triple-wrap a Christmas tree with lights to make it bright enough? The typical set of mini lights has bulb spacing (the amount of wire between individual bulbs) of 12 inches. In almost all cases, that’s too far apart.

The maximum bulb spacing for a Christmas tree, gutter, or house trim should be 6 inches, not 12. To wrap an outdoor tree trunk, pole, or banister, tighter bulb spacing of 4 inches is better. For wreaths, garlands, and other objects with a small diameter, you may even want to go with 2.5 inch spacing.

Wire Gauge

Wire gauge isn’t just a topic for electricians. When it comes to mini lights, the thicker the wire, the longer it lasts and the more end-to-end connections you can make.

The standard wire gauge for mini lights is 22 AWG, but for especially long runs or harsh outdoor conditions, use a thicker wire gauge of 20 or even 18 AWG (the smaller the number, the thicker the gauge).

Lead and Tail Length

Lead length is the distance from the outlet (the male plug) to the first bulb in a set of mini lights. It is typically 3 to 6 inches, but many shorter “craft” lights have longer leads of 2 feet or more.

Longer leads are great for wall-mounted items like wreaths that are usually far away from a wall socket. Having a longer lead means you won’t have lights “floating in space” before they reach their destination.

Tail length is the other end of the string (the female plug) that connects to the next string in the series.

Connection Options

Mentioned earlier in the section on wire gauge, mini lights with a thicker wire gauge are able to handle more end-to-end connections. Though the exact number may vary, most 22 AWG 100 light sets are UL listed for up to three end-to-end (male to female) connections. A 20 AWG set of the same length may be rated for twice that—6 connections. Exceed that recommendation and the fuses within the light string will overload and burn out.

Interestingly, the recommendation for a 50 light set is usually the same. Why? For safety reasons, UL does not recommend more than three end-to-end connections for a 22 AWG string light of any length. If you plan a particularly long run, it is better to use a few 100 or 150 light stands than several shorter strands.

What Are Your Plans?

What are your Christmas lighting plans this year? Let us know what you have in store. Drop us a line in the comments below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus. If you have something especially interesting, we may even pin it on Pinterest!

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.

  • φωτιστικα

    Thanks for the article. Love christmas lights.

  • David

    Benjamin – My wife and are trying to find red and white led wide angle mini lights for our bushes outside and can’t find them. Do you know of any way to accomplish this? I thought maybe buying a strand of white and a strand of red, then replacing every other bulb would do the trick. Is this possible with mini lights or are the bulbs permanently installed?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Thanks for the question, David. Unfortunately, the bulbs on LED wide angle lights are permanently installed.

      If you’re willing to go incandescent, these candy cane mini lights will do the trick.

      Another option is to get a set of red wide angle lights and white wide angle lights with relatively wide spacing (6 inches or more) and twist them together.

      I hope that helps!

  • Gary Adam

    Benjamin, Thank you for all the great information you have to offer. My wife and I were thinking about LED bulbs compared to incandescent bulbs, and were wondering how they compared with power consumption and brightness (lumens) output. We found that the typical incandescent bulb uses about 0.41 watts of power as compared to LEDS using 0.04 watts of power. But how many lumens do they each put out?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to determine lumen output for colored bulbs like Christmas lights, LED or otherwise. What I can say is that we make a point not to carry any LED Christmas lights without at least a visual inspection to confirm their brightness is comparable to their incandescent counterpart.

  • Chris

    ok I have a prelit christmas tree. Some of the bulbs are out and when I test them they are indeed dead. The only problem is that while they are mini incandescent lights, they are larger in size than the other minis I have. So when I go to replace the bulbs in the bulb holder they are loose. Do you know what style of mini this may be? I would like to buy a bunch to replace the burned out bulbs. Thanks

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Incandescent mini lights come with either 2.5 volt or 3.5 volt bulbs. 2.5V are used on 50 or 100-light sets and 3.5V are used on 35 or 70-light sets. Are you sure you have the right ones? I don’t know for sure, but their bases could be slightly different as some sort of safety precaution.

  • Kim

    I want to replace my traditional mini light with LED lights but I’m not sure how many LED lights I will need. I typically use about 12-1500 lights on a 10 foot tree. How many LED light would you suggest?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      The spacing and output from LED lights is equivalent to incandescents. You should be able to use the same number of LED lights as you would normally.

  • Ashley Hunter

    Probably not. The lights are incorporated into the design of the tree, it will probably require more effort than it’s worth to try to remove the incandescents and rewire the tree with LEDs.

  • Ashley Hunter

    There is no way to tell what the milliamp rating is on a removable incandescent mini light by looking at it since different makers use different lamps. Your lights are dimmer because they are the wrong milliamp for the string. The current going through the wire is just shortening the life of those bulbs considerably thereby causing them to prematurely fail.

    • Elaine Tuohy

      Thank you, Ashley. I think it is time to just toss them. Merry Christmas!

  • Ashley Hunter

    No. You cannot mix LED with Incandescent. One important reason (of several) is the wiring is all wrong and not suited for LEDs. You would need wiring with resistors built-in to keep the current from frying the LEDs. The two kinds of lights are just not able to swap like that.

  • Ashley Hunter

    There is a very high chance that your new replacement bulbs are rated 2.5 volts. Since the wiring is meant to carry 3.5 volts, the higher electrical current is causing your bulbs to burn out. My advice is to buy new replacements and check the package to make sure it specifically says these bulbs accept 3.5 volts before you purchase them.