GIMME SHELTER- Just bulbs: Dreaming of a green Christmas

Jim Harshaw
Albemarle Window Cleaning & Holiday Lighting Service, 906-9228.

Q: Okay, so it might be a little early to be thinking about Christmas, but this year we want to figure out a way to have a 'green' Christmas. Specifically, how can we help reduce all the energy burned by all those Christmas lights?

A: With the green movement so strong and the topic of energy savings on everyone's minds heading into winter, cutting energy usage is a hot topic. While Christmas lights don't typically use a lot of power individually, the many, many lights we string up across the country during the holiday season do.

Last year, the Idaho Power Company encouraged businesses in Boise to switch from  incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diode (LED) lights by offering them 5 cents to 30 cents for every bulb replaced with an LED. In the past, the company found that Christmas lights added about 80 to 100 megawatts of demand for electricity, with the most usage between 5 and 7pm. However, LED lights are five to eight times more efficient than incandescent lights, using 0.08 watts per bulb compared to 0.48 watts for incandescents. Multiply that by all the millions of lights across the country, and it makes you want to do your part. In addition, unlike incandescents, LEDs don't heat up and create fire hazards. 

An average roof-line might take 300 7 watt bulbs. With LED's you'd save approximately $115 a year over regular incandescents (if you had the lights on for 300 hours).  The same home would save about $50 in energy costs if they were using 75 twenty-five foot strands of LED mini-lights vs incandescents to light bushes and trees.  Since the life expectancy of professional grade lights is three years, that's an energy savings of $600 by simply using LED's. 

Of course, LED lights are more expensive, about $3 to $4 more for a strand of lights, but the combination of energy savings and reliability can save you money in the long run, and help save the planet in the long haul.

If you want to get even more creative, you might consider buying a carbon offset for the energy your lights use. How does carbon offsetting work?  Basically, you pay an organization that invests in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation based on the carbon footprint you leave. For example, is a good one.  They have a calculator the helps a person calculate their carbon footprint. For incandescents you can purchase the carbon offset for less than $10 or for LED's you can purchase your carbon offset for less than $1!