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Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 11:42 pm

The lighter side

Color, technology and hippos help the holidays shine bright

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One of the great pleasures of the holiday season is driving around the neighborhood taking in display upon display of festive lights. Decorating one’s home is a pleasure all its own, an annual activity made all the brighter with a quick stroll through some local seasonal shop aisles.

LEDs are hot
The market for LED lights has grown steadily in recent years, despite the fact that they generally are pricier than traditional incandescent bulbs. Not only do LEDs use less electricity and last longer than their incandescent counterparts, they also don’t get as hot to the touch. But the big news in LEDs this year is the arrival of “warm white.” “It’s a white that doesn’t have a bluish tint and looks more like an incandescent bulb,” explains Gwyneth Lodge, an associate merchant for Home Depot. Retailers also are expecting solar-powered LEDs to gain interest.

String lights shed their stigma
The inadequacies of string lights could launch 1,000 punch lines, but there are some improvements that consumers should look for this holiday season including “continuous-on” LED strands, where the energy flow is better regulated to avoid pesky flickering. Another is better weather resistance. “In the past, the fault with the LED string was the two-piece construction that allowed moisture inside the bulb,” says Paul Sessel, owner of Creative Displays, Overland Park, Kan. Underwriters Laboratories Inc., an independent product safety certification organization, recently changed its standards and now requires copper contact points for the bulbs, which should make them more reliable. Also, a number of manufacturers are now offering sealed husks to protect those contacts from the elements.

Light shows shine
Unlike the icicle lights of a decade ago or the inflatables that have popped up over the past few years, there isn’t one, big breakout holiday décor item this year, but there is more movement, such as icicle lights that appear to drip and displays that change color. For the do-it-yourselfer, using software to coordinate light strands and even setting a light show to music is becoming more popular. Companies such as Light-O-Rama provide equipment and advice to create a Vegas-worthy display at home. Also, after years of elegant, all-white lights gaining market share, multi-colored strands are making a comeback, says Brad Finkle, owner of Omaha, Neb.-based Creative Decorating. “Everyone wants to be a little unique and different so their home stands out in the neighborhood,” he says.

Tradition takes a trendy turn
This year, stores are adding to their inventory softer-hued light strands in fun, fashionable colors, including pink. Lawn décor also is expanding beyond traditional winter themes. Target spokeswoman Tara Schlosser says the pink flamingo was so popular last year that the company has decided to add more novelty items this season, including a hippo and a pig. “Another unique trend this year are lighted twig stakes,” she says. “Add them to trees or greenery pots for a chic holiday update.” 

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