How To Decide Between A Prelit Or Unlit Artificial Christmas Tree

Decorated Christmas tree with glowing lights and gift boxes on wooden background

To purchase a pre-lit tree or an unlit tree, that is the question. 

There are lots of considerations before purchasing your artificial tree, but one that often gets forgotten is whether or not you want a pre-lit or unlit variety.  Both options have their pros and cons and both options can be equally beautiful. 

Let’s look at the real differences in pre-lit v. unlit trees using a pros and cons list as well as five frequently asked questions.  If you’re still on the fence, make sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for an easy to use flow chart.  Just answer the questions and it will lead you to your ideal tree! 

Pre-Lit

Pros: 

When I think of pre-lit trees I think of Convenience, Less Frustration, and Saving Time. 

  • Convenience-lights and tree stay together and lights stay in place. 
  • Less frustration-No untangling or storing strings of lights each year. 
  • Save time-Quick and easy set-up and take down because the lights are already attached. 

Cons:

  • Less versatility-Limited choices for lights with most tree models. Lights are permanently affixed, so you can’t move them either. 
  • Higher prices- Because these trees include the lights. 
  • Buyer Awareness-Make sure to select a pre-lit tree that has burn out protection or continuous lighting. This will protect other lights and keep them on if one bulb goes out. If you don’t see this on the packaging you could risk having dark sections in your tree later on. 

Unlit

When I think of unlit trees I think of Versatility, Variety and Cost Savings! 

Pros:

  • Versatility, safe 
  • Versatility-Unlimited decorating options. Change the light style or color every year if you wish. 
  • Variety-Lights can be added in a new way each year for a completely new look. Maybe one year you have less lights and another you add more. You can also wrap each branch or apply in a zigzag pattern to mix-it-up. 
  • Cost savings-Unlit trees are generally more affordable than pre-lit. 

Cons:

  • Frustration-Untangling and storing strings of lights each year is not the most fun job. 
  • More time decorating-Set-up will take a bit longer than a pre-lit tree because you have to add the lights. 
  • Hard to find-more options are available for pre-lit trees. You may need to search more retailers to find what you want. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you add more lights to a pre-lit tree?

Absolutely!  This is a great way to add versatility to a pre-lit tree.  Consider adding a bulb with a fun or unique shape or adding some lights with color. 

How many lights do I need for an unlit tree? 

This depends on the look or mood you are trying to achieve.  A good general rule of thumb is 100 lights per vertical foot (a 6 foot tree would need 600 lights). For complete details on finding the amount that’s best for you, check out my article on how to Find the Perfect Number of Lights for Any Christmas Tree. 

Are pre-lit trees safe?

Yes, pre-lit trees are safe. Artificial tree production has come a long way in recent years making prelit trees safer with cooler bulbs and better materials. Pro tip: Be sure your tree is UL approved/listed. This should be clearly listed on the packaging. This indicates the tree has been rated for safety. I do not recommend purchasing a pre-lit tree without this distinction. 

How do I clean an unlit or pre-lit tree?

Cleaning a pre-lit tree is a bit trickier and more time consuming than an unlit tree due to electrical hazards. However, it is unlikely that you will need to clean your artificial tree each year. (This is largely dependent on how you store your tree in the off season). For step-by-step instructions see How to Clean Every Type of Artificial Christmas Tree.  

How long do artificial trees last? 

Artificial trees are generally supposed to last about 10 years.  However, each brand and variety will be different. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s website. Most artificial trees come with a warranty as well. Many are for 2-3 years and others can be as high as 10 years.  Read the fine print, because not all issues will be covered with each warranty.  

Still on the fence? Try this chart!

Which Tree Type is Right For You?

Flow chart with Christmas trees

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