More creative and safer festive lighting

New lighting solutions, mainly based on LEDs, are changing many aspects of holiday and festive lighting

By Morand Fachot

The end of year season presents lighting designers and individuals with the opportunity to give free rein to their creative imagination and bring a festive atmosphere to towns, buildings and homes in many countries. The range of lighting equipment now available offers great flexibility for dazzling effects whilst keeping power consumption in check and improving safety thanks to more energy-efficient systems. Standardization work by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 34 and its Subcommittees (SCs) makes this possible.

Saks 5th Avenue Philips
Saks Fifth Avenue store, New York (Photo: Philips)

Festive atmosphere coming to towns

The end of year holiday season is an opportunity for local authorities and businesses in many cities around the world to dress up their iconic landmarks and streets with holiday lights.

In some countries this tradition goes back a long time when candles flickered from windows, or when they were used to decorate Christmas trees in Christian countries. Electric lighting, first introduced around Christmas in the late 19th century, gradually brought lighting to many more towns and even villages, and significantly reduced risks from fires in homes.

The range of holiday lights is very extensive, from simple light strands and individual lights to complex compositions and even sculptures of fixed, flickering or animated multi-coloured lights.

Like in homes and elsewhere many different types of lamps are used, including incandescent bulbs or, increasingly, light-emitting diode-based lamps (LEDs), the latter bringing many more opportunities for creative lighting and ensuring the failure of entire light strands is a thing of the past.

Attracting business, warming up atmosphere at home  

Businesses want to draw as many customers as possible in the run-up to the holiday season. Making streets and shops entertaining and attractive gives shops the opportunity to display goods in the best possible light and to drive up sales.

A number of renowned department stores in certain cities are famous for their striking window displays, which certainly attract more trade.

Homes are the centre of usually less extravagant lighting efforts, but individuals give also a lot of attention to bringing a festive atmosphere indoor and sometimes outdoor too. Like in many other domains LEDs provide new opportunities for creative lighting.

The LED advantage

LED-based lighting presents many advantages for lighting in public places and homes during the holiday seasons as well as at other times.

These benefits are the same than those found for all LED-based applications. LEDs are much more energy-efficient than their incandescent counterparts, they last much longer and are getting less and less expensive. They also let people give free rein to their imagination to prepare their holiday decorations. The recent addition of connected lights, smart plugs and smart home technologies allows individuals to control their lights (LED-based or existing lights) even wirelessly from mobile devices.

LEDs are proving more and more popular, first introduced for large holiday lighting less than 10 years ago LEDs have now entered homes and it is estimated that some 40% of all holiday lights sold this year in the US will be LEDs, 35% being coloured lights and 65% white lights. The trend is similar in many other countries.

International Standards for LED-based systems are prepared by IEC TC 34: Lamps and related equipment, and its SCs.

As for the quality of LED-based lighting sources it is further improved thanks to the IECQ Scheme for LED Lighting – the latest scheme offered by IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components.

Safety first

Energy-efficient LED-based solutions allow many more lights to be linked to a single power source without overloading the system. Up to two dozen strands of LED lights can be connected to a single plug, more than five times what can be done with traditional holiday lights.

Electric holiday lights are far less hazardous than candles, in the UK alone candles sparked 1 000 house fires in 2011/2012, while "Christmas trees, decorations and cards were also a fire risk and responsible for 47 house fires."

The US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) noted in its latest report that "Christmas trees are a traditional part of the Christmas holiday. They can also be a major source of fuel in a fire." The NFPA indicates that they "were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 210 reported home structure fires per year."

According to the NFPA, electrical distribution and lighting equipment were responsible for 38% of these fires, including electrical failure or malfunction (30% of all cases). Overloading installations (mainly plugs) and heat from lights were the main reasons.

Energy-efficient LEDs, which do not overload installations and do not produce much heat to their surrounding environment, contribute to safer lighting installations, not just during the holiday season.

As the range of dedicated lighting solutions for the holiday season and festive occasions keeps expanding, more innovative lighting applications will be found that will allow energy consumption to be brought to reasonable levels.

Saks 5th Avenue Philips Saks Fifth Avenue store, New York (Photo: Philips)
NCTL-032 The 2015 National Christmas Tree, south of the White House in Washington DC, entirely decorated with LEDs (Photo: GE)
Christmas lights Paris Futuristic-looking Christmas lights in Paris (Photo: Out and about in Paris Blog)