Using LED Bulbs in Incandescent String Lights
You ask and we answer, welcome to our new series “Lighting FAQs.” We are taking our most frequently asked questions and expanding upon the answers. Our first topic is mini Christmas lights. Beautiful and versatile, Christmas lights can be used for every season. Recently, many of our readers and customers have been faced with the issue of replacing the individual bulbs on their light strings. LED mini lights, while just as flexible, do not play well with other light strings.
Anna asked: Can I plug an LED mini light into an incandescent mini light socket?
The short answer is no. You can’t use LED replacement bulbs (if you can find them) to replace traditional mini lights on a traditional light string. It may seem like a good idea, cost-effective and simple. However, the wiring for your classic lights is different and unsuitable to handle LEDs. LED light strings have extremely low wattages and require far less power than the standard incandescent light string. In fact, LED light strings have resistors built-in to the wiring to reduce and control the amount of current flowing to the bulbs. These resistors keep the power from overloading and frying the LEDs. As a caveat, C7 and C9 LED replacements bulbs are self-ballasted, removing the need for a resistor. Theoretically, you could use them alongside their incandescent brethren but color is a factor to consider.
Furthermore, not every LED diode, the actual light-emitting chip inside the plastic or glass casing of an LED bulb, is the same color or hue. If you read our glossary, binning is the separation of LED diodes by color. Binning becomes necessary because LED diodes are produced in large batches or production bins. Each production bin, regardless of the exact same color labeling, still maintains a slight variation in hue. Each bin is an approximate to the color before it. So if you are in love with certain color, you would need to purchase several LED light strings at the same time for consistency.
Picture this scenario: You buy a Princess Purple LED string in December. Three years later in July, you realize some of the bulbs have quietly stopping working. Since the light string color and brand is still in production, you think a simple click of the mouse (with expedited shipping) will solve your problem, right? Wrong. Your new LED string arrives and glows decidedly more like Vivaciously Violet than Princess Purple.
Setting aside the major electrical incompatibility and color consistency problems, mixing LEDs and traditional mini lights has aesthetical issues as well. LEDs are brighter than the soft incandescent glow of your childhood Christmas lights. Some LEDs attempt to mimic incandescents’ traditional shapes but the colors remain brighter and more crisp. This is because the LED illumination is almost exclusively comprised of visible light, whereas incandescents emit a large amount of heat in addition to their light.
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention how hard it is to find LED mini replacement bulbs. As a result of the binning factor, many retailers opt out of selling LED replacement bulbs since the color changes from bin to bin. LED strings with replaceable LED bulbs tend to be subject to corrosion of the interior electrical contacts. That means water can enter where the bulbs fit into the sockets and corrupt the contacts causing the wiring to fail. Also, many better quality LED mini light strings have the LED bulbs built into molded sockets, meaning fused to the wiring. You couldn’t remove the bulbs if you wanted to, especially if you are aiming to get the bulbs out whole and in working order.
We hope that this has been an informative fireside chat and encourage all of our readers to continue to submit their confounding conundrums and curious queries. If you have more questions about mini lights, stories about that one time in Light Engineering class, or suggestions on the best way to untangle string lights without going insane, please leave your comments in the section below. Find the best lighting jokes on the web, as well as great advice, on our Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. The folks at 1000Bulbs.com would like to share a PSA in the form of a poem, “Live wires are red, neutral wires are blue. If both are exposed, call an electrician—it’s the smart thing to do.”