Did you ask Santa for a decrease in your utility bills 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 energy costs. In this article, we'll highlight some additional ways to save energy and money this holiday season.
Energy-Saving Lights Mean Money Saved
You can still have Christmas lights on your tree without your utility bill hitting Santa as it goes through the roof by purchasing lights approved by the Energy Star program. 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 voluntarily used 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 15 times longer. Think about all the energy savings that will add up to in just one holiday season.
How Much You Can Save and How to Do It
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 strings of lights you use.
Suppose you use enough 25 LED light strings in your home to total 400 festive light bulbs. If you run your lights eight hours a 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 lightbox 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|
|Mini Lights||0.5 Watts||$7.20|
|Large C7 Light||6 Watts||$86.40|
Figure 1: Energy costs for 400 bulbs used eight hours/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 and the fact that they last longer.
Get new LED light strings to replace your old incandescent light strings and step up your creativity a notch. If you used to have colored incandescent lights, get white LED lights, which tend to look brighter so they require fewer strands. Or use LED lights in decorative shapes and keep them towards the ends of the branches instead of hiding them inside the tree and relying on your ornaments for decoration. Just changing your design may help you cut back on strands and save you even more.
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.
Don't settle for saving just on holiday lighting – consider replacing the everyday incandescent 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.
When you go to sleep, your dreams should be festive, but your house doesn't have to be. Turn off your lights when you're asleep or not home to cut down your electrical costs even more. You can use a timer on Energy Star and regular incandescent light strings to turn them on and off automatically. Keeping a closer eye on how long your lights stay on (and other things that use energy like your stove, hot water, etc.) can significantly reduce your energy bill.
Other Ways to Save on Utility Costs
Your lighting bill is not the only one that goes up in the winter. Save on utilities in these other ways as well.
Cut back on gas: Another way to save energy over the holidays is to cut down on driving whenever possible. For example, rather than going downtown to view holiday displays, stroll through your own neighborhood and enjoy your neighbors' handiwork. Or do your shopping online where you can compare prices and are guaranteed an item is in stock instead of driving to several different stores for gifts and holiday supplies.
Keep in the heat: Windows are where a lot of homes lose a significant amount of energy. Double-paned glass provides an extra layer of insulation, but for even better heat retention, buy thermal curtains. These lined window treatments will help you sleep by keeping things dark and conserve energy by not allowing the heat to escape from your home into the crisp night air.
Encourage kids to be mindful too: Winter break means the kids will be home more, making the holiday season a great time to remind kids to shut off TVs they aren't watching, not take 45-minute hot showers and to have an idea of what they might want out of the refrigerator instead of standing in front of it with the door open.
The Bottom Line
The annual upward slope in your utility bills during the holiday season can be made less severe with a few simple changes. Your family will enjoy the holiday season just like they always have, and you'll get the added gift of not having to pay for it in the new year.