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Dear Jim: I told my children we would use fewer holiday lights to save energy, but they threw a fit. Are there any efficient large lights I can get and do you have any tips for decorating efficiently? - Becky B.
A: It definitely is fun for families to decorate their homes during the holiday season, both indoors and outdoors, but it can increase your electric bill much more than most people realize. Including the cost of the bulbs, the five-year cost (typical life of many bulbs) for using standard colored bulbs during the holidays can be as high as $150.
Obviously, the best alternative to consuming all this energy and creating additional global warming gases is using nonelectric decorations or many fewer lights. As you have found though with your own family, the holidays are a special time for children and they will resist this option. It would help to have a talk with your children and explain to them about the long-term benefits of energy conservation during the holidays and year-round. You might be surprised how receptive they will be.
When you compare standard holiday colored lights at the store, you will see designations such as C9, C7 and mini-bulbs. C9 bulbs are the largest ones and each bulb can use up to 10 watts of electricity. C7 bulbs are slightly smaller and typically use about five watts per bulb. The mini-bulbs use just a fraction of a watt, but they are not nearly as bright as C9 or C7 bulbs.
The newest technology in energy efficient lighting is a LED (light emitting diode). This is a solid-state device which does not create light by heating an element inside the bulb. Most of the electricity they use ends up as light instead of heat as with standard incandescent bulbs. The red numerals on a digital alarm clock use efficient LED technology.
To create energy efficient larger colored holiday bulbs, several LED's are mounted inside of one bulb. This bulb has a standard base to screw into your existing holiday fixtures. A colored C7 bulb with three LED's inside of it will be as bright as a standard C7 bulb, but it is use only 0.15 watts of electricity.
These colored C7 LED bulbs have the same shape as regular holiday lights, so you cannot distinguish them from standard colored bulbs. In addition to the electricity savings, the colored shell is made of durable plastic instead of glass. Also, with LED technology, they do not get very hot so they are safer around children and on a dry tree.
The only drawback to these colored LED bulbs is their initial higher cost. You can purchase individual bulbs and screw them into an existing string or purchase ready-to-use string and bulb sets. With a life of more than 60,000 hours, you will likely never have to replace them in your lifetime. Considering this long life and the electricity savings, they should pay back their higher initial cost.
Another efficient option is using standard or LED mini-bulbs wherever possible. Both use much less electricity than standard colored lights and are relatively inexpensive to buy. As with the larger LED bulbs, the LED mini-lights last literally forever and do not get very hot.
If you already have your larger C7 and C9 bulbs and don't want to purchase new LED ones right now, consider installing fiber-optic converters on the bulbs so you need to use fewer bulbs. These converters snap over the bulbs and have many protruding fiber-optic fibers extending out from the bulbs. These fibers carry the light to the ends and create a large bright cluster around each bulb.
The best energy efficiency tip is to use fewer bulbs and light them for a shorter time period each night. Perhaps you can negotiate with your children for a two- or three-hour time period for the lights to be on each night. Plug them into a timer so you don't forget to turn them off. Check the maximum wattage rating of the timer so you do not exceed it. This is particularly good for outdoor lights. In my neighborhood, some homeowners still leave they outdoor lighted decorations on all night long.
Use as many reflective ornaments as possible to multiply the effect of fewer lights. Decorating around mirrors is an effective method to accomplish this. Small and large mirrored globe ornaments hanging near lights on a tree are particularly effective. If you make ornaments yourself, use reflective metallic threads which are available at most craft shops.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 471 - list of sources for efficient LED, rope and other holiday lighting products and reflective decorations including, instructions for making several reflective ornament (CD wreath, simulated stained glass, reflective sunburst) designs yourself and efficient holiday decorating tips.
Dear Jim: I am normally gone from my house at work for about 10 hours and no hot water is used. Does it make sense to set the electric water heater temperature lower when I am gone during the day? - Sandy J.
A: It probably would result in a reasonable savings if you did lower the water heater thermostat or set it lower during the day. Installing a timer on it is the most convenient method to control the temperature.
If it is a fairly new water heater, it will be well insulated and the water will stay warm enough to wash dishes or your hands. You can set the temperature back up at night before you shower or for morning showers.