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Real vs. Fake Artificial Christmas Tree Types (Facts & Comparison) – Which Should You Buy?

By Heather Levin

Did you know that the first artifical Christmas trees were actually made in the early 1930′s by a company called Addis Brush? They were in the business of making toilet scrubbers and brushes. So, the first fake trees were really nothing more than gigantic, green toilet bowl scrubbers. Imagine that! It’s pretty funny to think about now.

Since their invention, artificial trees have continued to gain widespread popularity. In 2007 alone, almost 18 million were sold here in the U.S. That should hardly be surprising especially in tough economic times. It’s commonly believed that buying an artificial Christmas tree saves money. You invest the money once, and use the tree year after year. Plus, you help the environment by saving a tree from being cut down.

So really, buying an artificial tree over a real one is a no brainer, right?

Well, not really. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the “real” versus “fake” debate when it comes to Christmas trees. Let’s look at the various pros and cons so you can make the best decision for you and your family this holiday season.

Fake Artificial Christmas Trees

Advantages
1. One of the biggest advantages of using artificial trees is the cost savings. As I mentioned earlier, once you invest the money you’re done. You can use the tree year after year.

2. Artificial trees are convenient. All you need to do is drag it out of your attic, basement or garage once a year and you’re good to go. It’s always that “perfect shape”, and you don’t have to worry about haggling with the Christmas tree lot salesman to get a good deal. The trees don’t need any watering and won’t scatter mounds of messy needles all over the floor.

Disadvantages
The bad news is that there are a lot of disadvantages to using artificial Christmas trees, many of which you probably didn’t know about.

1. Artificial trees are made from PVC plastic. Researchers believe that millions of artificial trees, especially older models, could be harboring lead, which can easily spread inside the home. Furthermore, PVC plastics release dioxins over time. These dioxins are extremely toxic to both humans and animals. When they’re released into the air or water, they’re stored in our fatty tissue and can cause cancer, neurological damage, and many other serious health issues.

2. PVC is a petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastic. Once you throw your artificial tree away, it’s going to be in the landfill forever. And because the plastic fibers are fused and glued to the metal frame, artificial trees can’t be recycled.

3. Over 85% of all the artificial trees sold in the U.S. come from China. This not only adds to the carbon footprint, but it means we’re buying (yet again) more products from China instead of something that’s produced here in the U.S.

4. Fake trees are a fire hazard. The Farmington Hills, MI fire department conducted a burn test to see which was more dangerous in a fire: an artificial tree or a real tree. Take a look at what happened.

(images courtesy ChristmasTree.org)

artificial christmas tree fire

Pretty scary right? Well, look how the real tree burned in the same sized room, under the same conditions…

real christmas tree fire

The difference is incredible. The fake tree went up like it was doused in gasoline. And the real tree? It only singed on one side.

Not such an easy decision anymore, is it? Let’s move on to the pros and cons of the real trees.

Real Christmas Trees

Advantages
1. According to the USDA, almost all of the real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. are grown by U.S. farmers. On average, 25-30 million real trees are sold each year. This helps employ over 100,000 workers right here at home in all 50 states where Christmas trees are grown.

2. Right now, there are over 350 million Christmas trees growing here in the U.S. These trees help keep our air clean and also provide sheltered habitat for wildlife. And for every tree cut down, 1-3 trees are planted in its place in the Spring.

3. Real trees make your home smell really, really good. There’s nothing better than walking into your home and smelling the fresh scent of balsam fir! If you’re entertaining guests at your house for the holidays, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

4. There are more than 4,000 Christmas Tree recycling programs around the U.S. Real trees can be easily recycled, unlike artificial trees.

5. Going out to find your own tree is fun and helps to reduce and relieve holiday stress. Each tree is unique in its own way, and discovering your “perfect tree” is a great way to make memories with friends and family.

Disadvantages
1. The biggest disadvantage to buying a real tree is, again, the cost. Most trees run $20-$70, and many top $200 or more. To make matters worse, this is an yearly expense since you need to buy a new tree every year.

2. Real trees are high maintenance. They must be watered continuously, and will drop needles on the floor.

Final Word

When it comes to the “real” versus “fake” debate, I’m a huge fan of real trees. I think the environmental advantages to buying real trees and the support for U.S. farmers far outweigh the yearly cost of the tree. I definitely don’t want to bring a fake tree full of harmful chemicals (and the increased risk of a blazing fire) into my home. Plus, real trees look amazing with the homemade Christmas decorations and ornaments I like to make as well as the unique and frugal Christmas gift ideas to fill up the space underneath the tree itself!

What about you? Are you committed to buying real trees, or do you like your artificial tree too much to make the change?

(photo credit: steve p2008)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.thefinancialite.com The Financialite

    This is the first year that I have purchased a fake tree and although my reason (2 cats and 2 dogs – we just couldn’t handle the upkeep of a real tree with that many paws on it!) for getting it was legit, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I agree with your comments on the real tree about it making the room smell fantastic – a candle just doesn’t make it smell like the real thing! The cost doesn’t really bother me because it’s a seasonal purchase that is an event. Getting together with family, picking a great tree, process of getting it home and ready to decorate = great family day! Good article and interesting topic. Thank you :)

    • Heather Levin

      I did a candle one year (long ago) when I did a fake tree. You’re right…it wasn’t the same! Thanks so much for reading!

  • http://wisefinish.com Wise Finish

    Is there a cost savings with a fake tree if you are filling your home and it’s occupants with lead?

    Check local tree farms and call around to find a deal. We purchased a live tree at a u-cut farm for $15 this year.

    • Heather Levin

      Wise Finish, I agree with you entirely. It’s not worth it to bring dangerous chemicals into your home. But we do it all the time with latex paint, pressed wood furniture, etc. Some people only care about the costs they can see, not the ones they can’t.

      • Eric

        “DANGEROUS” chemicals are in your plumbing PVC pipes AND your paint. How about hmmmmm…. NORMAL chemicals?!

  • lorrie s.

    I have always had a real tree, its been a family tradition since my kids were little. My oldest son’s wife always had artificial trees…finally he talked her into a real tree last year…Artificial tree’s don’t have the same wonderul memories as packing up the kids and looking for the “Perfect Tree” every year

  • http://frugalbohemian.blogspot.com Olivia

    Last year we paid $45 for a discounted tree. For some reason they were high all over our area. This summer I scoped out fake trees at yard sales. I found a terrific prelit number at a moving sale for $15, but needed to talk to my better half as he is a die hard live tree person. He said it was OK with conditions. If we could find a cheaper live one, then we’d use it instead. When I called the couple back to confirm the fellow said one string of lights we’ren’t working so we could have it for free. Well we didn’t find a live one at a good price. So we used the “fake one”. The alternative was to have nothing. And though I appreciate everyone’s sentiment on these things, I think we made the right decision.

  • http://www.investitwisely.com Invest It Wisely

    I’m not sure about the chemical thing since isn’t most piping in a home (a newish home at least) predominately PVC, and doesn’t the paint, materials etc… also contain a bunch of chemicals? It seems that there’s really no avoiding it unless you have a home which wasn’t built of these materials.

    This year we went with an artificial tree and we usually keep one around for up to 20 years or so, but you’ve given me something to think about! Maybe we’ll try out a real tree sometime…

    • rrhoop5469

      It’s always interesting to see someone comment that hasn’t even bothered to research anything and probably thinks our government doesn’t lie to us, the FDA has our best interest in mind, etc. They are killing us, slowly but surely.

      PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, commonly referred to as vinyl, is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems.

      PVC is useless without the addition of a plethora of toxic additives, which can make the PVC product itself harmful to consumers. These chemicals can evaporate or leach out of PVC, posing risks to children and consumers. New car smell? New shower curtain smell? That’s the smell of poisonous chemicals off-gassing from the PVC. One of the most common toxic additives is DEHP, a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxicant readily found in numerous PVC products. Children can be exposed to phthalates by chewing on vinyl toys. While it is still legal for US retailers to sell PVC children’s and baby toys containing dangerous phthalates, the European Parliament voted in July, 2005 to permanently ban the use of certaintoxic phthalates in toys. One EPA study found that vinyl shower curtains can cause elevated levels of dangerous air toxins, which can persist for more than a month.

  • Vanina

    Yes I am also thinking that real christmas trees are the best option, especially for environment and jobs.

  • Eric

    Artificial! The “disadvantages” were all worst case scenario.

  • Eric

    Artificial! The “disadvantages” were all worst case scenario.

  • Eloise Bates

    Look, I’m a single, senior citizen. You want to go out, haul a tree home for me, set it up, crawl under it every other day to water it,take it down and haul it to the recycle center for me,then sure, I’ll buy a real tree.

  • donnadee

    You totally forgot about allergies to real trees, which is why I have an artificial one.

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