20 - 2009

Weekend Winterizing Challenge: Change Your Christmas Lights

I know it’s not even Thanksgiving, but the ads are full of Christmas and Mlle. Cheap has begun asking WHEN we will decorate for the holidays, so it’s not to early to think about holiday lights.

Remember back at Halloween, when we talked about Google’s energy calculator and my savings of $570 annually and avoiding emissions of 8,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year? A huge chunk of those savings comes from having changed our lightbulbs to CFLs. When I added them up, I have changed at least 35 lightbulbs at our house. That includes a lot of plain ol’ compact fluorescent bulbs, but also a number of special varieties — flood lamps in our can lights in the basement, dimmable bulbs for the section attached to a dimmer, an exterior flood bulb for outside.

Two years ago, we made an un-cheap but energy-friendly investment in LED lights for our Christmas tree. We love how they look — we chose colored bulbs, and they are super-bright, almost neon intensity, but deeper, richer colors. They look beautiful and festive with our large (some might say way too large) collection of blown-glass ornaments.

Better yet? LED holiday lights use a fraction of the energy of conventional strings of holiday lights. The Sierra Club estimates they use just 10 percent of the energy regular lights require. Their estimate is that LEDs could save a family $50 on electricity bills over the holiday season. (Consumer Reports — see below — is less optimistic about savings, estimating $1 to $11 of savings for 300 hours of light from 50 feet of lights, depending on the bulb size.) At Costco this week, strings of 100 white mini LED bulbs cost about $15.

Consumer Reports did a rundown on the cost/value of LED versus conventional holiday lights in 2007.  They concluded that in terms of cost, it’s a toss-up, but LEDs are far more energy efficient.

Consumer Reports also says you should not use any holiday lights longer than three years. Although the article doesn’t explain why, my guess would be that lights risk electrical damage, which could be a fire hazard, after that point. If you do use light strings longer, do so at your own risk, and use good judgment: Examine the lights to be sure no wires are protruding through the plastic casing, and be sure the cords and plugs are connected beneath an intact plastic protective sleeve. However, the lights we retired last year were almost 10 years old and still in perfect condition, so if LED lights are more durable (as the Consumer Reports test showed), I’m optimistic about our investment. (As I wrote last year, we donated ours to a family that had no Christmas decorations and was starting from scratch.) We store our light strings wound into circles, then stacked gently between layers of tissue in an old 5-gallon plastic bucket for protection.

Now, we’ll have to think about outdoor LED lights … although this will be our fifth Christmas in this house, and we’ve yet to get around to hanging lights outside, so perhaps the cheapest and greenest option is to skip it!

Other eco-friendly decorations

We often find that late fall is a good time to trim some little-used bits from our large juniper bushes. We can turn the trimmings into outdoor holiday swags, for free — they look festive from afar, especially graced with a few unbreakable or no-sentimental-value ornaments, along with some reused ribbon.

Last year, the Colorado Governor’s Mansion was decorated with holiday decorations using recycled and reused materials. Some of them were really beautiful! You can see a few of them in this slide show. Start looking at your light bulbs, bottlecaps and paper trash in new ways — you can fold gift boxes from pretty paper or use aluminum cans to make tin-punch-style ornaments.  The brighter and more colorful your creations, the less lighting you need to plug in for a festive appearance.

And while we’re in the holiday spirit, if you’d like to cut down your gift-wrap waste this year, check out last year’s post about stitching up reusable gift bags.

How do you turn your holidays greener?

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