Decorative Holiday Lighting

There's nothing like a cheerful string of lights to foster the holiday spirit. Bright, twinkling lights - both inside and outside the house - are one of the joys and traditions of the holiday season. Yet those same little lights can turn a once-jubilant reveler into a bitter Ebenezer Scrooge when the old electricity bill rolls in.

This season, to avoid a "Bah humbug!" attitude, take an energy efficient look at the bulbs you're stringing on your trees and the eaves of your home.

Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? While most C7 or C9 lights use 5 to 7 watts per bulb, some of the older strings use up to 10 watts per bulb!

Consider buying new miniature lights, which use about 70 percent less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs. If you prefer the brilliance of the larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, which use about 30 percent less energy than 7- to 10-watt bulbs. Although the new bulbs will cost money initially, you will see energy savings immediately.

If you've ever wondered how much it's costing you to operate your indoor and outdoor decorative lights, here are some average costs, based on $0.115 per kilowatt hour:

Outside (one string of lights burning an
average of 150 hours per month):
Type of Bulb Bulbs/String Watts/Bulb Watts/String Dollars/Month
C7 25 5.0 125 $2.16
C9 25 7.0 175 $3.02
Miniature 100 .4 40 $0.69
Icicle Lights * --- --- --- ---

* Icicle lights--the current rage--use about the same amount of energy as a string of miniature lights. However, a string of icicle lights covers only six to 20 feet, while mini-lights will cover between 25 to 46 feet.

Inside (one string of lights burning an
average of 300 hours per month):
Type of Bulb Bulbs/String Watts/Bulb Watts/String Dollars/Month
C7 25 5.0 125 $4.31
C9 25 7.0 175 $6.04
Miniature 100 .4 40 $1.38

(Remember that these costs are based on one string only, burning an average length of time. Your home's energy bill will be determined by how many strings you use and how long they're on each day.)

To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill unnecessarily, use an automatic timer, both indoors and out. You'll remove the burden of turning the lights on and off, and avoid leaving them on all night or during the daylight hours. Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.

If you've already decided to think energy efficiently this year, you might be using fewer light strings than ever before. You can, however, double the sparkle and brightness of your lights simply by putting a reflector behind each bulb. If that sounds too tedious, you can get a similar affect by weaving tinsel-type garland through your light strings.

Would you like to be the first in your neighborhood to try something new and different? Ask your lighting supplier for LED holiday bulbs, or look for them on the Internet. Red, green, and yellow are the only colors presently available, but they're shatterproof, shock resistant, safe to touch and won't burn your children's hands! They also present no fire hazard, save up to 85 percent of your energy costs, and are long lasting.

Don't forget that safety should play an important role in your holiday decorating. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure all lights you purchase contain the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, which means they meet UL safety requirements.
  • While you're reading labels, be sure you're buying the right set--for indoor use, outdoor use, or both.
  • Before decorating, check all light sets for frayed wires, damaged sockets, or cracked insulation. If you find any defects, replace the entire set.
  • All outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof. Keep electrical connections off the ground, and make sure wiring is kept clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent any risk of shock. It's also a good idea to use a ground fault circuit interrupter on each circuit. If current leaks through frayed or damaged wires, the interrupter will shut off the lights.
  • Don't overload your electrical circuits. Circuits in older homes carry a maximum of 1800 watts each. Most newer homes can handle 2400 watts each.

    To determine how many watts you're using, multiply the number of holiday bulbs by the number of watts per bulb. (If you're not sure of the wattage, use 10 watts per bulb just to be safe!) When you're calculating the total, don't forget to include appliances, normal lighting, and other electrical equipment already running on the same circuit.

  • Remember that hot bulbs can ignite dry tree branches. To avoid disaster, keep trees well watered and keep extension cords and light strings away from the water. For safety's sake, light your tree only when you are at home and awake to enjoy it. As an extra precaution, keep a fire extinguisher handy, and be sure your home's smoke detectors have new batteries and that they're working properly.

If you're in the mood for a holiday that's old-fashioned and more energy efficient, consider decorating this year's tree with edible ornaments, like gingerbread men, candy canes, and strings of popcorn and cranberries. But stay away from burning candles on or around your tree. Although they may provide a soft, flickering light, they're a definite fire hazard, and aromatic candles have been known to cause indoor air quality problems.

However you decorate this holiday season, keep energy efficiency in mind.