Remember Grandma’s awful fake Christmas tree when you were a kid? The one with thin branches covered in what looked like plastic bread ties, and cheap flocking that came off if you so much as looked in its direction?
Well, since then, modern artificial Christmas trees have come a long way, not just in terms of realness, but in terms of quality as well. This, along with their comparatively low prices, means that more than 9.5 million artificial trees are sold each year (and growing), which is about 1/3 of the number of real trees.
Despite their potential savings over time, buying an artificial Christmas tree can cost you hundreds of dollars up front, and you’ll probably own yours for a decade or more. So it’s important that you make sure you understand what you need before taking the plunge, and that you look at it as a long-term investment.
To help you navigate the process of purchasing a fake Christmas tree, we’ve outlined 6 steps below that can help you find what you’re looking for and make the most of your hard-earned money. Before getting to that though, let’s review some pros and cons for artificial and real Christmas tress.
Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Pros & Cons
Real Christmas Trees
Probably one of the most noticeable benefits of a real Christmas tree is their wonderful pine scent. It can keep your whole house in a state of perpetual cheer all throughout the holidays, and losing it might make you feel less Christmas-y.
Overall, the Christmas tree industry employs more than 100,000 Americans.
But this doesn’t mean that all areas of the country have the same access to Christmas trees. In fact, depending on where you live, your tree may have been trucked in from somewhere hundreds of miles away, which has a greater impact on the environment.
Speaking of the environment, most major metropolitan areas features free tree recycling (known as “treecycling”) programs that reuse them in landscaping and gardening products.
Artificial Christmas Trees
As we mentioned above, probably the biggest drawback to an artificial tree is that you’ll be losing that traditional pine scent, which can definitely make it feel less like the holidays.
One of the biggest reasons that people purchase artificial trees is to reduce their yearly expenses on real trees. But do the numbers really add up? Let’s take a quick rundown:
- Average cost of an artificial, pre-lit Christmas tree: $149. Most manufacturers claim their trees are good for 10-15 years (we’ll talk more about this next), but the average life expectancy is generally 6-9 years.
- Average cost of a real Christmas tree: About $50. Over the course of 6-9 years, you’d spend $300 to $450, not counting lights, stands, or other decorating costs.
Overall, this means you could potentially save $150 to $300 over time by choosing an artificial tree. Of course, these costs can vary widely, so be sure to prepare a budget based on prices in your area.
Artificial trees are easier to set up and maintain, as they can be put in place in a matter of minutes (no more worrying about crooked trunks!), don’t require watering, and have little-to-no cleanup involved. If you’re someone who leaves their tree up well after Christmas, you’ll be able to keep yours in place without worrying about added fire danger.
Have allergy sufferers in your home? You won’t have to worry about that with artificial trees.
However, from an environmental perspective, artificial trees are largely understood to have a greater negative impact than real ones. Why? Their branches and leaves are made of metal and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PE (polyethylene), which are petroleum-derived products. Neither of these materials are recyclable or biodegradable, which means your fake tree will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years after you’re finished with it.
Finally, 80% of artificial Christmas trees are imported from China, so you’ll have to be diligent if you’re looking for one manufactured in the US.
Now that you’ve got a better handle on the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees, let’s put this information to use and help you decide which one is right for you.
The 1, 2, 3s of Buying an Artificial Christmas Tree
1. Prepare a Budget
Like you would with any other big purchase, set your budget before browsing different fake tree options. After all, even though we learned above that the average cost of an artificial Christmas tree is $149, you can easily reach the $1,000 mark if you’re not careful.
A large, often overlooked expense when shopping for an artificial tree is decorations, so be sure to factor this into your budget as well.
As we’ll see shortly though, it’s important to keep you expectations in line with your budget. In other words, if you’re expecting to get an uber-realistic looking tree but only have $150 to spend, you’ll quickly end up disappointed.
2. Measure Twice, Buy Once
Next, figure out where your artificial tree will be located (e.g. in the middle of the room, in a corner, etc.). Based on location, you’ll then need to take measurements and determine how much floor space and ceiling height you’ll need. Most experts recommend leaving at least 6 inches for your tree topper.
Pro tip: When shopping for your fake tree, check its actual diameter before purchasing. Don’t rely only on the tree’s shape, such as “full,” “narrow/pencil,” or “slim.”
Make sure you’re near outlets, and that you have plenty of room to maneuver around it while decorating, and for gifts. Just be sure not to put your tree close to electrical outlets, heat sources, or other potential fire hazards (be sure to verify that the manufacturer applied fire retardant to your tree). When in doubt? Use an extension cord.
3. Style & Substance
After measuring, the next consideration (and perhaps one of the most important) is style. This includes:
- What species are you looking for? Fir, spruce, baby redwood, or something else? There are even subcategories from there, such as balsam fir, white spruce, Fraser fir, and more.
- Do you want your tree flocked or dusted to give the appearance of snow? Would you like accents like berries or pinecones?
- How realistic-looking would you like your artificial tree? Those made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tend to be the least expensive, but also the least realistic. On the other hand, if you’re in the market for realism, you’ll want to focus on trees made from PE (poly ethylene), which uses an injection mold process for the most realistic results, but also higher prices.
- Another thing to consider is branch fullness. The fuller your tree is the better it will look, but the more it will cost. If you’re buying online, look for a close up/detailed picture of the tree to check the fullness of the branch tips. If you can clearly see the center pole, it’s probably low quality.
- Want even more branch considerations? Some manufacturers use attached branches that are locked in place, while others feature hook-in or hinged branches that allow you to customize their placement. Either way, just be sure the branches are sturdy enough to hold decorations.
- Finally, avoid plastic or flimsy metal stands. These are often permanently attached to the tree, so if it becomes damaged, your long-term investment might fly right out the window.
4. Lights: Included Or Excluded?
Another big aspect of style (but worthy of its own section) is your tree’s lighting.
In general, pre-lighted artificial trees tend to be more popular than non-lighted ones. Just keep in mind that if you buy an unlit tree, you’ll need to factor in additional money for separate light strands.
Artificial trees can feature clear, multi-colored or combination lighting—some even use fiber optics! But if you’re interested in a pre-lit tree, try searching for those with lights spaced 8-10 inches apart. This not only provides a more balanced look, but also is indicative of quality (generally, the farther apart the lights are, the higher their quality).
So, what is a “balanced” look? SantasTown.com recommends, “The best way to determine how well a tree is lit is to stand about 10 feet away and squint your eyes so the lights go out of focus. This will make any dark areas on the tree stand out.”
Another suggestion from artificial tree manufacturer Balsam Hill is to look for “at least 100 lights per foot of the tree.” So, if you have a 7.5-foot tree, you’ll ideally be looking at around 750 lights.
But remember: Not all pre-lit bulbs are created equal. In less expensive models, if one bulb breaks, it could short out all the remaining lights, leaving you with a dull-looking tree. To avoid this, look for the phrases “continuous on” or “with burn-out protection” on the label.
Finally, while you’re looking at the tree’s tag, make sure that it’s UL approved/listed, which references its safety. If you don’t see this designation, you’ll definitely want to explore other options before making a final decision.
5. Who Makes the Tree?
As we’ve already discussed, even though 80% of artificial Christmas trees are made in China, there can be a huge difference in quality between manufacturers.
So, if you’re thinking about a specific brand of tree, be sure to find out as much as you can about the company before buying. The Better Business Bureau is generally one of the best places to start, although since most of these companies are headquartered overseas, they might not be listed.
If not, try searching online for “[Company Name] + reviews,” or more specifically, “[Company Name] + Christmas tree reviews.” Bad news spreads quickly, so if customers are having poor experiences with specific tree brands, their complaints will soon be read by millions of consumers around the globe.
Lastly, the length of your warranty can also vary widely between manufacturers. Most high-quality companies offer 10-15 warranties, while less expensive models might only come with 3-5 years. Not all warranties are created equal though, as timelines can change depending on whether you’re talking about structural versus lighting coverage.
6. Storing Your Artificial Tree Once the Season’s Over
Once your artificial tree is finished for the season, you can certainly store it in its original box, although this might un-fluff the tips and could damage the lights (if pre-lighted).
Instead, you might want to consider purchasing a fabric or heavy-duty canvas container from a specialty retailer for easy, damage-free storage during the off-season. Remember though: This will add to your expenses, so be sure to include it in your original budget.
What Good Are the Holidays without Family?
Here at HighYa, we have a large extended family of readers from all around the globe—1.2 million per month, to be exact! So let’s hear from you!
Do you have any tips for buying an artificial Christmas tree? Want to share your experience buying or maintaining one? Whatever it is, be sure to pass along the gift of knowledge by leaving a comment below!
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