Christmas is just a few weeks away and unfortunately, there are so many artificial trees on the market that it's impossible to find any sort of reviewer consensus on what the best artificial Christmas tree may be. However, there's plenty of information out there to make buying an artificial tree easier, and we've compiled several tips on what to look for.
What kind of artificial Christmas tree do you want?
You can find traditional artificial Christmas trees -- you know, ones that actually resemble the real thing -- or you can go for a less-traditional style. Traditional trees are available either unadorned or pre-lit (typically, though not always, with energy-saving LED lights). Traditional-style trees can also be found with adornment like flocking or holly berries. Modern-style trees, on the other hand, come in colors like white, red or silver aluminum (Martha Stewart's a fan). You can even find trees that play music, trees that glow with fiber-optic light strands, and upside-down artifical trees if you're feeling especially wacky.
Consider size and shape
Although artificial Christmas trees come in a variety of dimensions, there are two basic styles: full and slim (or pencil). Full trees, as the name suggests, have a wide diameter at the base and gradually taper to a point. Pencil-style (slim) trees are much narrower at bottom and gradually taper upward. Some trees are packed with dense bristles, giving them a solid cone shape like a Scotch pine, while others are more sparse like a balsam fir. On Better Homes and Gardens' website, you'll find an excellent video that illustrates the differences in tree shape and offers other useful tips.
How much will it cost?
Artificial Christmas tree prices are all over the map. You can spend less than $10 for an 18-inch tabletop tree that scarcely resembles a real pine, or you can plunk down $16,000 for a lifelike, pre-lit, 30-foot indoor/outdoor monster. Good Housekeeping recommends three 7.5-foot trees that range in cost from $300 to $850, but you can find similar trees for about $150 to $200 at major retailers. The best thing to do, experts say, is to visit a store where you can inspect different tree models for yourself and decide which is best for your budget and needs.
Something else to consider: How long do you plan on keeping the tree? That $500 tree may seem expensive at first, but it will more than pay for itself over the course of 10 years.
Measure twice, buy once
A quality artificial tree maker should list both the tree's height (including the base) and its diameter at the widest part, and you'll need to know both of these dimensions before you buy. Experts say you should measure the space where you plan to put your purchase, both ceiling height and floor space. If you plan on crowning your tree with a ribbon, star or other kind of topper, be sure to measure its height as well and add it to the tree height when calculating space requirements.
What kind of needles?
Artificial Christmas trees are typically made from plastic, either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene (PE). PVC trees are more common, and they're cheaper as well. The needles tend to be softer than PE because they're made from shredded plastic, which produces narrow, flat needles; these may require extra shaping and fluffing when assembling them. Trees made with PE plastic tend to look more realistic, experts say, because the needles and branches are made from molded plastic. Their needles are stiffer than those made of PVC. Either way, experts say you should look for a tree that's both resistant to fading and fire-resistant.
Online retailer ChristmasTreeForMe.com has an excellent primer on buying an artificial Christmas tree, which includes a brief discussion of the difference between PVC and PE, complete with illustrations on what to look for.