Christmas Lights - Scrooge or Savior

A.Siegel

Do you love those displays of Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza or …) lights?  Are you awed by those so impassioned that they string up 1000s of lights in awesome displays worthy of a city center? I once did, pausing on cold winter nights, white clouds issuing from my mouth, enjoying being in the glow of beautiful displays.  And, in a way, I was inspired that they would spend $1000s (or $10,000s) on displays and the electricity to power them so that others could enjoy the sight on those cold winter nights.  

But … no longer … not for awhile. Far too often nowadays, my winter evenings I can wear short sleeve shirts rather than bulky coats and gloves. And, energy is no longer a question simply of money. I’ve reached the point of feeling like a Scrooge; feeling outrage over the tons of C02 going into the atmosphere via neighbors’ 10,000 light displays rather than feeling ‘joyous’.

But, a compromise does exist; a path to cut sharply those CO2 emissions while still putting out those lights:  LED lights.  But, far too many are unwilling to spend the money up front to cut their electrical use, reduce their pollution, and — actually — save quite a lot of money.

Calculating the cost Hmmm — let us work the numbers and understand what is going on here.

  • 100 old-style incandescents at 5 watts each = 500 watts
  • 12 hours / day for 30 days = 360 hours
  • One month of lights on all night:  180 kilowatts
  • 180 kwh @ 8 cents kwh = $16.40

That is the traditional incandescent option, let us try this with LEDs. We can look to mini-bulbs, which use roughly a tenth of that, or .5 watts each.  Thus, that 360 hours of 100 lights would run $1.64. And, then, there are LEDs, which cut the power required by another 90 percent. 100 LEDs at .05 watts each  = 5 watts … (based on this LED lighting) So, going through the same calculation …

  • 1.8 kwh @ 8 cents kwh = $0.14 (actually, 14.4 cents)
  • At 8 cents per kilowatt hour (below the average domestic price in the United States), the incandescents cost $16.24 more per year to own/operate.  
  • Traditional incandescents cost: $3.99/string (before tax)
  • LEDs:  $26.99/string (price at an overpriced hardware store … easy to find online/elsewhere for under $15 and, with a little effort, under $10)

At $16.24 less per string per year, the LEDs would be paid off in less than 2 years and keep on saving (thus, if the LEDs were bought for $15, the electricity savings pays for the LED string in just one year). And, if one is going to be putting on lights, traditional incandescents would put out roughly 250-300 pounds of CO2 in that month versus the roughly two pounds from LEDs.   And, of course, all these calculations are just for one string of lights. The woman buying her 40 strings. That is $600 or more in additional electricity per year.  And, perhaps 10,000+ pounds of additional carbon dioxide. Just, of course, for that one McMansion. Driving around the community, 2,500-light displays are not unusual and there are a few that must have over 10,000 lights.  And, there are the public displays, including parks with miles of Christmas light displays.  Just how much electricity is being burned and how much carbon going into the air to support these displays? A holistic look at Christmas light options Considering energy issues holistically, there are three basic areas:

  • Power Source
  • Efficiency of use of that power
  • What we use the power for

Starting with the last, what we use the power for (the desired usage), the objective here is to have Christmas lights, no?  To have ‘beautiful displays’, no? Moving back to the second, efficiency, the traditional path is using incandescents, which are not long-lasting, can cause fires, and use a large amount of electricity — especially when compared to the now widely available LED option.  One can use a small fraction (a percent) of the power and achieve not just the same, but better (safer, easier to string, longer-lasting - you can even will them to your grandchildren) results. Finally, let’s turn to the power source. Roughly, 50% of US electricity comes from coal.  Do we really want West Virginia mountaintops being razed for Christmas light displays?  Is that desecration what the holiday is about? Rational people don’t call for people to live in the dark — but do call on people to use CFLs, as much as possible, as a path to reducing electrical demand.  This is a similar call for rationality … Celebrate holidays without desecrating the earth … How much pollution is a string of lights worth? We will be in a far better situation when people celebrate through taking a deep breath of fresh air rather than adding those tons of C02 with 24/7 light pollution. If you love Christmas lights, it is time to get rid of those incandescents and replace them with LEDs.  They are available on online and in an ever growing number of stores. By the way, there are even more benefits to LEDs as, due to the lower power requirements, the LEDs can have MUCH longer strings (easily 10x the bulbs in one string), are FAR less likely to cause fires, are nearly indestructible, and they last FAR longer (probably would be working 50 years from now). Thus, again, if you love Christmas light displays, buy yourself a gift and replace your incandescent strings with LEDs. Your pocketbook will thank you. Earth will thank you. As, for me, a true tipping point in the battle against Global Warming will be when I don’t feel like Scrooge and we start pulling the plugs on non-LED lights. Note: I don’t want to be advertising, but there are MANY options out there for LED Chrismas lights. Without endorsement, Environmental Lights ("280 LED Christmas light string products to choose from");  Christmas Lights Etc; 35 light sets typically below $10 per string; 1000 bulbs.COM; Inirgee, and, well, so on … They are easy to find, online and in stores, if you’re willing to look.

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  • Posted on Oct. 23, 2007. Listed in:

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