Energy Adviser: Trade in traditional holiday lights for LEDs

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With the holidays on the horizon, Vancouver area homeowners are grabbing ladders, climbing to their rooftops and putting up outdoor holiday lights.

Fortunately, there are lighting choices that look good and can save on energy costs as well.

Strings of light-emitting diode holiday lights use 90 percent less electricity than traditional holiday lights and can last up to 50,000 hours outside, even on cold rainy nights. They keep giving for much longer than the typical holiday gift.

Standard incandescent bulbs typically last about 2,000 hours. And because LEDs operate at lower temperatures, they reduce fire risk indoors and out.

Light-emitting diode lights are unlike typical bulbs because there’s no filament, which incandescent bulbs have, and none of the gas found in fluorescent bulbs. LEDs move electrons through a semiconductor, which produces light. The technology has been used since the 1970s in electronics. We’ve all seen those tiny green-glowing lights on DVD players, computers and cell phones. LEDs also are common in flashlights.

Now many communities, including Vancouver, are using them in traffic signals and public displays to reduce energy consumption.

Lowering power bills

Energy Star-qualified LED holiday lights consuming a tenth of the electricity of conventional bulbs. How does that translate to dollar savings?

Based on Clark Public Utilities’ electricity rates, you will pay about $1.05 to run 10 strings of 100-LED lights for 10 hours per day for 35 days this holiday season. That compares with $10.75 for 10 strings of non-LED lights operated for the same amount of time. That’s quite a savings.

Although the initial investment in LED holiday lighting can be more expensive than standard incandescent string lighting, LED lights will pay for themselves in a few seasons in terms of durability and lower power costs. A household that illuminates an average-size tree with LED lights will save approximately $12 per year in electricity compared to one using incandescent mini lights. The savings jumps to more than $70 per year for those using larger C9 model lights.

Because LEDs don’t contain a fragile filament and because they can be encased in hard plastic instead of glass, they are more durable.

Prices vary with quality

LED holiday lights are available in stores and online in a range of styles. The wide range of prices, from $19.99 to more than $80 for a longer string of higher quality lights, suggests that buyers should carefully examine package information for Energy Star labeling and light intensity.

The Energy Star label guarantees that the lights are independently tested to meet electrical requirements, that they have passed a 1,000-hour continuous test and carry a three-year warranty. Those labeled “for outdoor use” are subjected to testing in outdoor conditions.

An Environmental Protection Agency report estimated that the U.S. uses about 2.22 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year to illuminate miniature holiday lights. That’s enough electricity to run 200 homes for a year.

Based on these figures, the EPA report concluded that a 20 percent market shift to LED Christmas lights would reduce annual electricity consumption in the U.S. by 400,000 kilowatt hours.

Event note

When attending the annual community tree lighting at Vancouver’s Esther Short Park, starting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 25, be sure to check out the LED holiday lights on city lampposts and the parks’ smaller trees.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.