The potential environmental impact of holiday lighting is likely to dim even Clark W. Griswold's enthusiasm for looping numerous strings of multicolored lights across his roof.
According to a Department of Energy report, holiday lighting consumes more than six terawatt-hours a year. This is equal to the electricity consumed by a half-million homes in one month. Moving to LEDs for holiday lighting would cut this by 90 percent and reduce some of the side effects of wasted electricity.
In the Northwest, we're lucky. We use hydroelectricity so our environmental impact is less that in regions where fossil fuels generate the majority of electricity and add to smoke, carbon dioxide and acid rain problems. But by turning to LED holiday lights we could do better.
"Based on our rates, customers will pay about $10.75 for 10 strings of 100 incandescent lights operated for 10 hours a day for 35 days this holiday season," said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor for Clark Public Utilities.
Compare that to the $1.05 it takes to run an equivalent number of LED lights. "LEDs are not only more durable, each one uses one-tenth of the energy of an incandescent light," Dunham said.
While LED lights are somewhat more expensive, they fit nicely into creating a safer holiday environment for your family.
"With 20,000 hour life, they're good for many holidays to come and because they are cool to the touch, they're far less likely to start fires," Dunham said. This year they're also available in many more shapes and colors from festive icicles to sophisticated spheres.
What to do with your old incandescent holiday lights? Recycle them. An online search shows several places that will recycle your old lights. Before you buy, ask the retailer if they recycle. Some retailers have trade-in programs and will take your incandescent holiday lights when you purchase an equivalent amount of LED lights. Always look for an Energy Star label on the LEDs, as well as the Underwriters Laboratory label indicating they meet UL safety requirements.
No matter what type of lights you use, here are some important safety suggestions Clark Griswold didn't follow, but you should:
• Carefully read the labels so you're purchasing the right strings for indoor use or outdoor use.
• Before hanging lights, check each string for frayed wires, damaged sockets or cracked insulation. Also check extension cords for cracks or frayed insulation. If there are any defects, replace the entire string or extension cord.
• Don't overload your circuits. (Circuits in older homes conduct a maximum of 1800 watts each, while newer homes handle 2400 watts each.) Determine how many watts you're burning by multiplying the number of bulbs by the number of watts per bulb. (If you're unsure, use 10 watts per incandescent bulb to be safe.)
• When calculating the total wattage, don't forget the appliances and normal lighting already running on the circuit.
• Indoors and outdoors, use ground-fault circuit interrupters on each circuit. They will shut off your lights if there's an electrical short in the wiring.
• Never staple electrical cords to your house. Outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof and stapling can damage the insulation.
• Keep outside electrical connections off the ground and make sure cords are clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent a risk of shock.
Following these precautions will save your family from a Griswold-worthy holiday lighting disaster.
Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.