Suggested date of release:
Anytime after November 28, 1999
Claudia Chandler (916) 654-4989
Media and Public Communications Office
1,190 Words
(Ninth in a series of 10 feature articles for 1999)

Be festive and frugal with holiday lights this year

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 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:

(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

(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 $ .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.

(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:

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.

And here's an unusual gift idea: since lighting is essential all year long, why not brighten someone's holiday by giving them a compact fluorescent light bulb?

Year round, lighting can account for as much as 25 percent of a home's electrical use. You can increase the everyday lighting efficiency of someone's house without sacrificing its lighting quality simply helping them replace their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. Compact fluorescents come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wattages. They provide a soft, warm light, and use up to 75 percent less energy.

When you purchase your first compact fluorescent bulb, you may experience price shock, but don't let that scare you away. It's true that they're more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they will last approximately 10,000 hours--ten to twenty times longer than incandescents!

Maybe this holiday season is the time to replace an old halogen torchiere lamp with a brighter, safer, and more energy efficient compact fluorescent torchiere. Once considered the lighting of the future, some halogens use up to 20 percent less energy than incandescent lights and last anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 hours. Despite that, they are far less efficient than compact fluorescents and, because halogens burn hotter than other lights, they may present a fire hazard. If you're using halogens, keep them at least six inches away from flammable materials.

So, no matter whether you're in competition to have the best and brightest lighting display, or you're simply looking for practical gifts to give this holiday season, keep energy efficiency in mind. It's a gift you can enjoy all year long!

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Editor's Note: This and other timely consumer features on energy can be downloaded from the Energy Commission's Web Site at  www.energy.ca.gov/releases/1999_releases/features.

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