Solar Christmas lights not worth the cost

Christmas houseSanta had it right when he went with Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, as the only light on his sleigh.

After almost a week of fidgeting around with solar LED lights, I've given up on trying to have a "green" string of Christmas lights on my house. They won't light up, no matter how much sun they get.I'm a big fan of saving on my electricity bill, especially during winter, so I thought I'd give solar Christmas lights a try and see if I could save money and help the environment. I wanted to test them out for WalletPop readers to learn if they're worth more than three times as much as you would pay for plug-in LED Christmas lights, or about 10 times the cost of regular plug-in holiday lights. I'll get to the specific costs in a bit.

I should preface this rant by saying that I'm not the best home repairman around, and that my installation of the Christmas lights may have been flawed. My results may not be typical, but if they are, the solar industry is in trouble.

Still, I followed the directions and charged the two light strands in direct sunlight for six to eight hours. If the battery is charged to maximum capacity, the Christmas lights are supposed to turn on automatically at dusk. They didn't.

After being charged in direct sunlight, the lights are supposed to light up even after being charged on a cloudy day. I talked with a representative at a solar company that I've written about before, and was told that while they don't make solar Christmas lights, their limited experience was that they need to be in direct sunlight for most of the day to fully charge and be able to light up at night.

One problem with my house is that for most of the day the sun shines on the back of it, so charging a string of solar lights and then moving them to the front of the house at dusk would be a hassle.

The long-term savings of not using electricity is what attracted me to them in the first place. Lighting the average Christmas tree can cost close to $30 a month, as WalletPop's Josh Smith reported last year, so stringing Christmas lights across the front gutter must cost much more.

The price of solar lights will have to come down if more consumers are going to buy them, as they probably will next Christmas. A 60-light solar string that's 16 feet long cost me $25, a one-time cost I was willing to bear if they worked.

LED bulbs, for example, have dropped dramatically in the last year. The 60-bulb LED string I bought this year cost $7, down from $20 I paid last year for a similar string to plug in. Still, paying $7 for LED plug-in lights or $3 for a set of traditional incandescent lights vs. $25 for solar lights is going to keep a lot of people away from solar.

For now, I'll stick with the LED lights I have, which use about 75% less energy than traditional lighting. They may not be as environmentally friendly as solar LED Christmas lights, but they work.

The worst part of the solar lights I installed? I lost the receipt and can't return them.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at
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