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LED Christmas Lights and Other Energy Efficient Decorations

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How to reduce your energy consumption this holiday season while still enjoying a little bling.

By Nicole Price-Morin Posted Dec 6, 2016

Christmas Tree

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, with tangled strings of lights roaming everywhere. We looked at Dad while his face turned all red, while we opened the electric bill with dread.”

If you love the Christmas season and bright, cheery lights but experience the guilt of an economically and environmentally responsible person, you’re not alone. Christmas is a time of wonder, but it can also a time of tremendous waste. Fortunately, energy efficient lighting has evolved rapidly over the last decade, and now, more than ever, there are many options to choose from when lighting up your holiday season. But with so many choices available, how do you know which products to pick? And how do they compare to what you’ve used in years gone by?

Let’s Start With the Tree: LED vs. Incandescent String Lights

Ornament on tree
The Christmas tree is a great place to start when it comes to revamping the energy efficiency of your seasonal decorating. Christmas tree lights are on all day, every day, with most trees requiring at least two or three strings. You can use a device like the Kill a Watt Electricity Monitor to find out exactly how much energy your tree is using, but the typical incandescent string of 100 lights uses around 40 – 45 watts per hour. Unfortunately these lights also turn less than 10% of that power into light. The rest is lost as heat. If you’re like some people (myself included) who enjoy a ton of lights on a Christmas tree, your whole tree can be using 400 watts or more per hour. Just to compare, a newer, more energy-efficient refrigerator will draw around 180 watts per day, so that glow is really adding up.

The simplest way to reduce your tree’s energy consumption is to make sure you are using LED Christmas lights. I initially resisted the switchover to LED lights because they didn’t have the same bright twinkle that traditional lights have, and I’m not a fan of colorful lights. Thank goodness there are now warm white mini-LEDs that mimic the light of a traditional bulb while using 80%-90% less energy. They also last for 30,000 to 50,000 hours and cost almost the same as incandescent lights in many places.

It’s important to note that the mini lights are the ones that look like incandescent bulbs—not all LED light strings are created equally. LEDs are also cool to the touch, which will help prevent live trees from drying out as quickly, and are less of a fire hazard. By my calculations, my tree of 400 watts per hour is now using only 80 watts instead!

Another way to save energy is to keep your tree on a timer. At our house we previously asked a child to crawl under the tree and unplug it every time we left the house or went to bed, but we often forgot. This year we’re looking at a programmable timer to make sure our tree is only on when we are around to enjoy it.

Alternatives for Your House: Outdoor Lasers and LED Projections

christmaslights03
What is Christmas without beautiful holiday lights brightening up the neighborhood? I thought that the old style, large-bulb outdoor Christmas lights don’t exist anymore – but, wait, they do?! Not only are they surprisingly still available in stores, the house I live in came with these lights pre-installed and we have yet to take them down. How convenient to have these lights on the house ready to go—we can just plug them in, right? Unfortunately, each of those bulbs uses around 6 watts every hour, which means my 100-light string may be using 600 watts per hour! Our laziness is not only costing us money, it has big energy costs as well.

Besides LED Christmas lights and automatic timers, there are new alternatives to string lights that are even better for outdoor use. The first option is lasers. Not only are these very easy to install, because you simply stab them into the ground and point them at your house, but they only use approximately 0.005 watts per hour. You can also purchase laser lights with programmed patterns and a variety of twinkly designs, eliminating the need for other decorations. The one thing lasers can’t do, however, is make white light. Lasers always come in red, green, blue, and other bright colors, so keep this in mind when planning your holiday display.

While LEDs and some of the options listed here use far less energy than lights of years gone by, bedecking your house in a plethora of lights will translate into higher energy consumption.

If you really want a classic look, there are now LED projectors that will project a large image onto a wall, such as snowflakes, reindeer, and stars that move in a rotation. These devices do make white light and generally have four bulbs using around 6 watts per hour. However, since you are only using one of these rather than a whole string, they still cut back substantially on energy usage.

But, perhaps, like me, you have a secret desire to be that one house in the neighborhood that gets oohs and aahs for its extreme light display. Is it possible to do this and still be ‘green’?

While LEDs and some of the options listed here use far less energy than lights of years gone by, bedecking your house in a plethora of lights will translate into higher energy consumption. To minimize your impact and get the most bang for your buck, consider combining LED string lights with lasers and putting them on a programmable LED animator or Music Box Light Synchronization Controller. These devices will maximize the effect of fewer lights by turning them on and off in patterns synchronized to music. If you use this in conjunction with a timer so that your lights are only on for a few hours in the evening, your light show can not only be amazing, it will also use less energy.

Inflatables and Other Yard Décor

Let’s not forget those 3D items that sit in the yard, waving cheerily to passersby. How do they compare when considering energy usage? This category includes inflatables and the more traditional, wire frame structures covered in string lights. Suppose that you want to buy a five-foot tall, 3D abominable snowman (or Bumble the Yeti from the 1964 holiday classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) pre-strung with LED lights. This item has approximately one string of lights, which translates into around 9 watts per hour.

Let’s compare that to an inflatable Frosty the Snowman which has only a few LED lights but has a fan which runs continuously to keep it inflated. If you keep that running 8 hours a day, it’s estimated that it will take around 60 watts per hour to keep it going. If you are going to choose between an inflatable and a lit-up yard decoration, it seems better to avoid inflatables, but even inflatables are better than an old string of lights.

Adding it Up

Christmas wreath

My traditional house lights combined with my traditional tree lights previously added up to 1000 watts per hour, or 8000 watts for an eight hour day if I was strict about turning them off regularly. In contrast, if I choose a laser light show AND LED snowflake projection AND a glowing Yeti, I’ll be using only 96 watts per hour, or 768 watts per day—around half the energy used to run my dishwasher. What does this mean? By choosing carefully, I am using far less energy than previous years, and I can have more decorations at less cost to me and the planet.

To further reduce my impact, I can decorate indoors with low-tech pleasers like beeswax candles, evergreen boughs, and garlands, which smell great and use no energy. Instead of filling your house with battery-operated lights or animated gadgets, consider simple wreaths, along with ribbons and bells. You can even get really industrious and start growing your own Christmas tree, though you may have to wait a few years to add the lights.

Do you have brilliant energy-efficient Christmas decorating skills? Comment below or share a photo on social media and tag @eartheasy.

Author photo

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Nicole Price-Morin is an urban farmer and best-selling author of books on sustainable agriculture and food policy. Originally from Montana, she now lives with her husband, four kids and giant dog on the West Coast. Find out more at http://deliberatelife.ca or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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