LED Decorative Lights – Low Voltage vs High Voltage

What is Voltage? 

It’s the force, or pressure of electricity.  

High voltage is often referred to as ‘line voltage’ and is the voltage that is supplied by most wall outlets – 120V. The most common light strings with familiar 2-prong standard plugs use 120V power. 

Low voltage ranges from 1.5V to 48V and is produced by either batteries or transformers that step the voltage down from the standard 120V. Landscape Low Voltage standards are in the 12V-15V range, battery-powered products are typically in the 1.5V-16V range.  

Which Voltage is best? 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both voltage option. Consider the points below to evaluate your needs then choose the best LED Decorative Light product to satisfy your needs based on each project. It’s important to note that all recommendations are based on products that run on DC current by either rectification or the use of a switching power supply.  

Voltage Drop – Voltage is the measurement of the pressure that the electricity is being forced through the wires much like water through a hose. The greater the pressure, the further the electricity can travel and power your lights. If your installation calls for large, wrapped trees or fields filled with lights, being able to connect and power multiple light strings without having to introduce another power source is a major consideration. A high voltage product would serve your needs the best.

GFCI Tripping – What good is having thousands of lights installed if they are constantly going dark due to GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) tripping? High voltages and water do not mix well. If your installation will be subjected to continuously wet conditions, choose a low voltage product that knows how to keep those GFCIs happy and the lights shining even when rain falls on your parade. Learn more about GFCI tripping here

Safety – Low Voltage systems win the battle in this arena because of the greatly reduced risk for shock. Low voltage systems run on Class 2 power sources which make installation, maintenance and use much safer. Consequently, these systems carry different, far more lenient electric safety code requirements. If your installation draws onlookers who are the curious sort, this should be the first place you begin your search. Learn about GFCI here

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Available Power – Admit it, we can’t get enough lights in our lives and often want them in areas that do not have a power outlet convenient. Low voltage battery powered products are an obvious choice here but tapping into low voltage landscape lines is an option that will supply the power you need to wrap those trees without laying out miles of extension cords.

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 Selection – Low voltage lights have been installed in large venues for over a decade and therefore now have the same amount of choice if not more for your inner stylist to go wild! Just as important is the range of infrastructure and control components to support your grand plan. Many light forms are available in both high voltage and low voltage options, so don’t limit your search options.  

Installation – Low voltage products take more installation planning and power supplies than high voltage products. However, the safer voltage and fewer maintenance calls to reset GFCIs often balances out the scales. 

Price – Generally, low voltage products cost a small percentage more than high voltage light products, plus the added cost of the required power supplies. 

Quick Guide 

For those who like to cut to the bottom line quickly, use this Pros and Cons Chart to determine which voltage type you should be shopping: 

Pros and Cons Chart 

 Pros Cons 
High Voltage  120-240V    Longer runs of lights from a single power source 
Generally lower first price point for products 
More susceptible to GFCI tripping due to greater current leakage 
Higher risk of shock  
Low Voltage  24V Ideal voltage for LED Decorative Lights 
Rarely causes GFCIs to trip shutting down lights 
Lower risk of shock 
Requires Power Supply Unit(s) 
Greater Voltage drop over distance = more power supplies needed for longer runs 
Landscape Low Voltage 12-15V Lower risk of shock 
Readily available power already installed in existing permanent landscape lighting 
Voltage Drop too great for longer runs 
Limited to Power Supply Wattage Available  
Battery Power Lowest risk of shock Convenience of no power cords Expense of Batteries 
Voltage Drop too great for larger runs 
Generally not as bright as other types 

  Note: All products and discussions listed above run on DC current via rectification or switching power supply.  

Still not sure? We’ve summarized a few scenarios of key criteria shoppers often consider first with recommendations: 

  • Expansive installation requiring long runs of lights that are not in curious onlookers reach. Benchmark & Ext RGB 
  • Expansive installation near water elements with large crowd of mixed age ranges Versaline & LVRGB 
  • Installation that requires tree wrapping and will stay installed for more than 3-seasons Everlastrings 
  • Installation near existing buried low voltage landscape lines. TapNGo 
  • Installation requiring battery operated lights. NeverDim 
  • Installation requires lining buildings or pathways Decorative Bulbs, Ext RGB