The bright news this holiday season is that Californians
can turn on their holiday lights whenever they wish
without worrying about an electricity shortage.
That wasn't the case two years ago, when local utilities
and State officials urged everyone to use electricity
sparingly, and to wait until after 7 p.m. to turn
on their lighting displays.
Bright, twinkling lights - both inside and outside
the house - are one of the joys and traditions of
the season, but in California they consume nearly
1,000 megawatts of electricity. Fortunately, since
the energy crisis that began in the winter of 2000,
4,251 megawatts of electricity have come on line from
new power plants licensed by the California Energy
Commission - enough electricity to power approximately
4.2 million average-sized California homes. In addition,
California has signed long-term power contracts that
assure an adequate supply of electricity.
But while there is plenty of power to go around this
season, those festive little lights can still turn
a once jubilant reveler into a bitter Ebenezer Scrooge
when the old electricity bill rolls in. To avoid a
"Bah humbug!" attitude come January, take an energy
efficient look at the bulbs you're stringing on your
trees and on 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.
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.
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. Now available in green, yellow, red,
white and blue. 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
- 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
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
Year around, 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 - by 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
At the store, compact fluorescent bulbs still have
a higher price tag than incandescent bulbs, but the
price has been dropping steadily as more and more
people install them in their homes. The new style
bulbs can quickly make up for their increased initial
investment through energy savings, especially if they
are used in porch lights or in other fixtures that
are frequently left on. And compact fluorescents last
approximately 10,000 hours-ten to twenty times longer
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 much 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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