Did you ask Santa for a jolly decrease in your electricity bill this year? If not, don't despair - you can still have a festive holiday season with lights, decorations and great gifts - without dramatically increasing your electricity bill. In this article we'll highlight some additional ways to save energy and money this holiday season. Read on to find out how.

Energy-Saving Lights
You can still have strings of Christmas lights around your tree without your utility bill hitting Santa as it goes through the roof by purchase string lights approved by the Energy Star program. These use energy-sipping LED lights. LEDs are found in all kinds of places these days - just check out the "on" button on your computer monitor.

Energy Star is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy designed to help consumers decipher which products are the most energy efficient. These products can range from appliances to light bulbs to entire buildings. Energy Star products have labels that are voluntarily put on to identify an item as meeting Energy Star standards.

According to the Energy Star website, decorative Christmas lights with the Energy Star label, and more specifically LED lights, use up to 90% less electricity than their traditional incandescent bulb counterparts, and they can last up to 10 times longer as well. Think about all the energy savings that will add up.

Illuminating Dollars Saved
OK, so LEDs use 90% less energy, but does this actually translate into a significant reduction in your energy bill? The answer will depend on how many lights you string up.

Suppose that you use enough 25 LED light strings in your home to total 400 festive light bulbs. If you run your lights for eight hours per day for 45 days, and your electric company charges 10 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh), your electricity costs for your holiday decor will be $1.44 for the 45 days, as each 25-light LED string uses 2.5 watts of electricity.

Standard incandescent bulbs use around 0.5 watts for mini bulbs and about 6 watts for standard C7 bulbs according to the Western Area Power Administration. Mini-lights would end up costing you around $7.20. However, if you use the larger C7 lights, your cost for the same usage would be $86.40. To evaluate your personal usage, drag out your Christmas light box from last year and count the light strings and bulbs you used last year. To be even more accurate, you might want to take a look at your most recent electricity bill to see what you are being charged for each kilowatt hour of electricity that you use.

Potential Energy Savings With LEDs
Bulb Energy Used Total Cost
LED 0.1Watts $1.44
Mini Lights 0.5 Watts $7.20
Large C7 Light 6 Watts $86.40
Figure 1: Energy costs for 400 bulbs used eight hour/day for 45 days at $0.10/KWh

Clearly, even just choosing smaller bulbs will create significant savings. Although LEDs tend to cost a little more, you will recoup this cost through energy savings. They also tend to last a little longer than incandescent bulbs, making them a better value overall.

If you get new LED light strings to replace your old incandescent light strings, step up your creativity a notch. If you used to have clear lights, get LED strings with blue, red or purple lights - or go with a white snowflake design. If your previous light strings had cone-shaped bulbs, get LED light strings with globe or star shapes. You can also glamorize your decorating with LED garlands. Just changing your design may help you cut back on strands - and save you even more.

Use Less, Save More
When you go to sleep, your dreams might be festive, but your house needn't sport the same glow. Turn off your lights when you're not around to enjoy them to cut down your electrical costs even more. You can use a timer on both Energy Star and regular incandescent light strings to turn off lights automatically while you're sleeping or working. Keeping a closer eye on how long your lights stay on for (and other things too like your stove, water, etc.) can significantly slash your home energy bill.

You'll want your house to be bright and homey both inside and out for the holidays, so you might also want to consider replacing light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). According to the Energy Star website, replacing just five light bulbs in your home would save enough energy to power more than 6,500 LED lights during the winter holiday season.

Be Your Own Energy Star
Lighting costs money in electricity, low-voltage or otherwise. If your decorating needs more pizazz, look to reusable, non-electric ornaments and decorations for both inside and outside your home. You can also brighten up your space with fresh flowers and seasonal plants like poinsettias.

If you're shopping for decorations with an environmental conscience, be sure to choose carefully and buy items that you can reuse for years to come. This will also save you money!

Take Time to Enjoy Your Own Neighborhood
Another way to save energy over the holidays is to cut down on driving whenever possible, so make your cheeks glow instead of putting your gas bill in the red. For example, rather than going downtown to view holiday displays, stroll through your own neighborhood and enjoy your neighbors' handiwork. You'll get the added financial bonus of not being tempted by store window displays.

Buy Yourself Blackout Curtains
Windows are where a lot of homes lose a significant amount of heat. Double-paned glass provides an extra layer of insulation, but for even better heat retention, buy blackout curtains, also known as thermal curtains. These will help you sleep by keeping things dark and conserve energy by blocking heat from escaping into the crisp night air.

The Bottom Line
The annual upward slope in your electric bill during the holiday season can be reversed by making a few simple changes. Your house will still shine like it always has - you'll just get the added gift of not having to pay for it in the New Year.

Have a happy and budget-conscious holiday season!

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