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For immediate release: December 4, 2002
Media Contact: Rob Schlichting - 916-654-4989

Energy Commission suggestions make
holiday lights both festive and frugal

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 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.

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 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 less energy.

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 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 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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