It’s almost that magical time of year again – 'tis the season to choose Christmas trees, flex those decorating skills, and create the perfect centerpiece for our holiday celebrations. One question remains, though, and this year it was our Parks great debate: should the modern tree-hunter opt for a real or artificial Christmas tree?
We’ve dug up the real dirt on this decades-long tree skirmish, and we have good news: it’s not as complicated as you might think.
When analyzed from financial and environmental perspectives, one clear winner emerges – but which will be best for your home this holiday season? Read on for our advice.
Money Matters: Which Type of Tree Fits Your Budget?
Buying a traditional live tree will set you back somewhere between $50 - $200, depending on your region and the size of your tree. To bag a big tree for a song, look for an independent tree farm near you! You’ll have the thrill of the hunt, spend some time outdoors, and support a local business owner as well.
When compared to artificial trees, live trees are much less expensive.
The cost of artificial trees varies wildly; some bargain options are around $300, while the most luxurious, hand-crafted creations can set you back more than $4,000.
While it’s true that these plastic trees can be packed up after Christmas and then re-used, they often begin to look slightly shabby within 5 – 6 years, which must be factored in when considering cost per use. Most artificial trees are only less expensive than live trees if they are used for about a decade.
Let’s not forget the cost to store your artificial tree throughout the rest of the year. In order to keep your plastic beauty looking its best, it’s important to store the branches loosely packed. The larger the tree, the larger the square footage you’ll need to dedicate to its storage from approximately January through Thanksgiving.
Often owners of manufactured trees do the most damage not during storage, but during breakdown and packing up. With that said, it’s also important to store an artificial tree in a cool, dry spot. If you take the time to consistently treat your tree with care, you’ll be much more likely to love it just as much in ten years as you did when you first brought it home.
Warranties do exist to cover artificial trees, especially the higher-end models, but we recommend buyers beware of pre-lit models. We’ve found that the warranties on lit trees likely exclude the lights themselves, which creates a two-fold problem: on a tree made of plastic and metal, fragile lights are the first thing to fail. Worse yet, the lights are usually integrated into the tree so securely that replacing strands of lights – the way one does on a live tree – is not an option.
The experts we spoke to suggested buyers steer away from “flocked,” or snow-sprayed, trees as well, saying:
“You may have the look you want for a few years, but the artificial snow will quickly fall off. Before long, you’ll have a pile of fake snow to clean up, and a patchy tree to work around. Choose a classic model and add white lights and ornaments to capture that snowy feel.”
The Takeaway: If you want an artificial tree for your home, but only at a bargain price point, consider shopping 10 to 14 days after Christmas. Purchasing unlit trees on clearance remains the insider’s pick for securing the best deal on a beautiful artificial tree!
When compared by carbon footprint alone, there’s no contest between artificial and live trees. Live trees are intentionally planted for harvest at Christmas, and whether burned, chipped, or composted, there’s virtually no negative impact from the human habit of dragging cut trees into our homes every winter.
By stark contrast, most artificial trees are made from plastic, which is derived from oil. From the manufacture of their parts to their packing, shipping, and eventual end as a non-biodegradable pile in a landfill, news isn’t great on the impact of perfect, convenient trees.
We’re sure you’re wondering about recycled PVC trees; sadly, the current technology creates trees with bedraggled branches that simply don’t look very good. In our research, we only found trees that were disappointing despite the extra care that goes into their manufacture. Unless you’re willing to pay full price for such a tree, we don’t recommend this option.
Experts are conflicted on the exact number of years a home should reuse an artificial tree to minimize its impact, but if you are ready to commit to using and storing your artificial tree for at least a decade – preferably two – you can choose a plastic tree without feeling guilty. Otherwise, experts recommend sticking to traditional trees if your goal is putting the environment first.
If someone in your household has an allergy to live trees, has difficulty breathing, or has a compromised immune system, choosing a manufactured tree is the smarter option by far. Hospitals, hotels, and other commercial locations choose artificial trees for just these reasons. Everyone who wants a tree in their home should have one, regardless of their health status.
From our perspective, there really is no such thing as a “bad” Christmas tree. No matter the type of tree you choose, whether you fetch it from storage and unfold it or drag it in from a neighboring farm, we can already picture you relaxing in the glow of your tree. Merry Christmas from all of us at Parks!