What is the difference between Retail, Pro and Commercial Grade LED Christmas Lights?
In general, there are three categories of LED Christmas Lights. While different sellers may use various names to identify each category, they can all generally be broken down into three categories: Retail Grade, Pro Grade and Commercial Grade. Understanding the difference between the three grades is important to ensure that you are purchasing the correct lights for your specific needs. Let's take a brief look at each grade and what makes one different from the other.
Retail Grade is the type of light set that is commonly found in standard retail stores such as Lowes or Home Depot. These lights are geared towards the average homeowner that is looking for an inexpensive light set to use for their own lighting during the holiday season. The bulb and socket are a two piece design with bulbs that pop out in order to replace the LED diode. Many retail lights also tend to be longer than the sets you find in the Pro or Commercial Series.
While the pop out bulbs and the longer set length found in Retail Grade LEDs tend to be the big selling points for these lights, the fact is that these two features are the primary reasons these sets tend to fail quicker than the Pro and Commercial Series. The pop out bulbs do allow for non working bulbs to be replaced, however, because the bulbs are not sealed, dirt and moisture tends to get into the system significantly reducing the life expectancy of the set. When it comes to the set length, it's important to understand that the longer a set of lights, the more potential failure points the set has. Each solder connection, every bulb, and every inch of cord length increases the chance that something can fail on the light set. This is the reason that most Pro installers use shorter sets in either 50 bulb or 100 bulb configurations. When you start to get 150 to 200 bulbs on a single light set, the set is significantly more likely to fail than a shorter set.
Retail Grade LED Christmas lights are not a bad choice as long as you understand that the cheaper upfront cost means that you will save money initially, but the set will only last a few years. If longevity is more important and spending a little more at the time of purchase is not a problem, then we recommend going with our Pro Grade LED Christmas lights.
Pro Grade LED Christmas lights are what most professional installers use for both residential as well as commercial lighting applications. Most lights in this category do not have removable bulbs. The lens and socket are molded together creating an effective barrier against water and debris. As a result, the light sets have a much lower failure rate since debris and water in the socket is a leading cause of set failure. While most Pro Series lights do have a one piece bulb and lens design, there are some newer lights in this series that actually incorporates a threaded lens that allows you to remove an LED, but at the same time still prevents debris from getting into the socket.
Most Pro Grade lights come in shorter lengths than what you find in the Retail Series. The shorter sets serve two purposes. The first being that when installing shorter sets, they are easier to handle and can generally be installed quicker than a bulky, long set that gets tangled up and is hard to hold onto. The second reason that most pro level sets are shorter is, as stated above, the longer a light set is and the more bulbs it has, the more potential failure points there are. A set with 200 bulbs has 4 times as many potential trouble spots as a set with 50 lights. The failure might be in the LED diode or possibly a solder connection between the wire and the bulb socket. These failures are multiplied several times over when the set is very long. Also with longer sets, the handling tends to be rougher on the set because it gets tangled and pulled and simply abused more than a shorter set that is easier to control. As a general rule, an installer will encounter more outages and less overall life expectency when dealing with sets that have more than 100 bulbs.
Commercial Grade LED Christmas lights are not always easy to categorize. Some sellers will take inferior LED light sets and put the name "Commercial" on them to make it sound like the quality is better than it really is. While there has not been an industry standard established for what a commercial light set really is, the generally recognized specs are that the cord must be at least 20 gauge and the plugs are typically a co-axial style screw connection. Between the heavier gauge of cord and the threaded set to set connections, these sets are meant to hold up better in commercial lighting applications.
For six years we exclusively used Commercial Grade LED Christmas lights for all our own installation jobs. We were huge fans of these lights and were very excited about the thicker wire and the improved set to set connections. However after a number of years using these sets we finally concluded that we were not seeing the benefit that was originally promised with this grade of light set. The only exception was in the C7 and C9 lighting styles, which did hold up significantly better than non commercial light sets.
Beginning in 2010, we switched all our own installation jobs over to the Pro Grade LED Christmas lights. Since making the change we have not seen any reduction in light set quality and overall service issues on jobsites have been very minimal. In addition to the quality and longevity being about the same between the Commercial Grade and the Pro, there is also a cost savings by going with the Pro Series.
As a general rule, our recommendation is to go with a Pro Grade LED light set if you want the best set for long term use that will hold up in a variety of conditions. While the upfront cost is more than the retail grade, in the end your annual cost will be less because of the much longer life expectency.
If money is tight and a shorter life cycle is acceptable, then go with a quality Retail Grade LED light set.
For more info on LED Christmas Lights and a wide selection of lights in all three of the standard LED grades, take a look at our website: LED Christmas Lights