Sacramento - Bright, twinkling lights - both inside and outside the house - are one of the joys and traditions of the season. But those festive little lights can also 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 tree 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 of those big C7 or C9 lights use 5 to 7 watts per bulb, some of the older strings use up to 10 watts per bulb! Multiple that by several hundred light bulbs, and you can see how your utility bill can escalate this time of year.
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 more money initially, you will see energy savings immediately.
Would you like to try something new and different? More stores this season are stocking LED holiday bulbs, or you can buy them on the Internet. Available in strings of white lights, or multi-color strings of green, yellow, red, orange and blue, they are shatterproof, shock resistant, cool to the touch and save up to 80 percent of your energy costs. They also last a long time before they burn out - an estimated 20 years of holiday use!
To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electricity 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.
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 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. 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.
This holiday season, keep energy efficiency in mind. It will help your family be both festive and frugal.