Xmas Lights

Christmas lights are something I really look forward to this time of year. Ideally with snow, which lately seems scarce. But changing weather aside it still stays darker this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, and the extra light looks nice.

One of the changes since I was younger is the proliferation of LED lighting. In a way, LEDs are kind of natural for Xmas lights. They’re small, and of course more efficient. That means less heat, and you can string more of them together. Not only that, but they don’t have a filament, and last much longer.

Of course, there are a couple issues with LEDs. They’re diodes, and they only conduct in one direction, which presents an issue when running on alternating current, which changing directions. Early LED light strings were just a series string of LEDs connected to the AC line, meaning they were off roughly half the time. This made for some interesting strobing effects, particularly if the string blows in the wind.

That issue can be worked around in a couple ways. If you run the LEDs on DC, you don’t have this issue. Higher-quality light strings no include a rectifier and filter capacitor, which helps a lot. You can still see maybe a little flicker if you shake the string hard enough, since some ripple will get through depending on how the filtering is done, but it’s not hard to mitigate this. Of course, small strings that run on batteries also don’t have this issue.

Another issue is the light quality itself. LEDs produce a fairly “pure” monochrome light, which is a little jarring. This gives them a fairly cold and mechanical look. Actually, if you just want to use a single color, this can kind of be an advantage. But if you put multicolor strings up, it’s not quite the same effect as the incandescents.

C7 Lights

The lights I was referring to above are the smaller strings, with series connections. Bigger lights, using the C7 or similar-size bulbs, are run in parallel. These have their own nice warm look, but they use a lot of power – the C7 size uses about 5 watts per bulb, while the C9 size uses 7 watts. For a 25-light string, that’s 125 watts with C7s, and 175 watts for the C9s.

There are LED alternatives. You can get lights which are basically the smaller LEDs with plastic lenses that are the size of the bigger lights, as well as ones with a fake filament that run on 120 VAC and replace the incandescent lights in the same string. I had an earlier string of these, and they look okay.

Then, I became aware of Tru-Tone lights. These are made using a warm white filament-shaped LED, inside a bulb made exactly like the old, conventional incandescents. In other words, frosted glass. Here are some pictures from one of my trees:

Strings of C7 LED light bulbs on a leafless tree at night.
A closeup of the C7 LED lights on a tree at night.

Overall, these lights look great. In fact, they’re almost indistinguishable from the incandescents they replace, or close to it. Each of them uses only about 0.6 watts, so a string of 25 uses about 15 watts.

I would recommend these. I have plenty of the normal mini-LED lights, and they look okay. I wish they were warmer in color, and maybe we’ll see similar mini lights to these someday. But I’m still happy with them for some festive illumination.

(I will confess that I still use incandescent Xmas lights indoors and in places where they’re just not on all the time.)

Winter Weather and a New Year

Where I am, it’s about 40° F (4.4°C) right now, on January 1st, 2023. A week ago it was in the single digits, and there was a blizzard. I’m in Western NY visiting family, and was stuck inside for most of that weekend. Luckily, we had power and heat, and enough food. So we just sort of rode it out.

I’ve been caught in bad weather once in a while back home, once that took out my power for about a day and a half. It wasn’t too bad, except there was no power for my furnace – it’s natural gas, but what I presume is a small amount of power is needed to run the controls. And of course it’s hard-wired into the house. I have a small off-grid photovoltaic system I’ve cobbled together, with a 300 watt sine wave inverter that would probably have run the furnace with no problems. But I really didn’t feel like messing with the wiring right then and there. And, I was not interested in putting together a suicide cord. Something I’ll look at this year is wiring the furnace to a normal plug, and just having an outlet nearby. That way I can plug it into an extension cord next time this happens.

Between climate change, and the push for distributed energy in the form of home solar, I can see the need for individual dwellings to reduce their dependence on the grid. Not eliminate it, but just reduce it. This takes the form of backup power, as well as offloading some of the grid management difficulties regarding home solar to the homeowner. Batteries play a role here, something that a couple decades ago were in the domain of the off-gridder, but for which now there are commercial products.

Not that batteries are necessarily the perfect solution in the blizzard, unless you have a lot of them to last through a long failure. But they’re another tool.

Now, the weather is warming up, and it looks like the highs will be nearly 60° F (15.5° C) this week. At least there was snow for Christmas, I guess, and now we get a break. I find it a little unsettling, and hope for a tasteful amount of snow in a month or so. We’ll see.

I keep thinking about New Year’s resolutions, and I have varying degrees of success in keeping them. I’m just looking forward to feeling refreshed from vacation, and getting 2023 off to a good start.