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LED Christmas Lights: Merry, Bright, and 17X Cheaper to Power

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The day after Thanksgiving around our house this year, as usual, involved cleaning up from the festivities of the day before, harvesting a tree, and stringing the lights. The scrumptious desserts at our celebration on Thursday may have added to my weight (I promise to exercise more, really), and the tree may have involved a little slice of temporary deforestation (though I know the Christmas tree farms plant more).

But thanks to LED technologies, the part about the holiday lights involves a whole lot less electricity — and carbon — than it used to.

Holiday bushes, with the lustre of LEDs (credit: J. Rogers)

Holiday bushes, with the lustre of LEDs, at least once night arrives (credit: J. Rogers)

On, Comet! On, Cupid!

When white LED holiday lights came onto the market a few years ago, they were a wee bit dim and odd-colored. I still have some that are more pale-bluish-moonlight-through-a-light-fog than robust, “lustre of mid-day” bright.

But since then LED technology has come on strong, costs have dropped, and the optics — and economics — have become really hard to resist.

Let’s say you have the lights on from dusk till bedtime (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s). And let’s say you’ve chosen the approach of my brother-in-law, who has liberally (and stylishly) festooned their bushes with good-looking warm-white C5-type LEDs. For each set of lights, he’s drawing less than 4.5 watts for what would have taken more than 70 watts with incandescent strings.

Here’s how it scales up with his type of festooning:

Sample electricity costs - LED vs. incandescents

Sample electricity costs – LED vs. incandescents

Plus, factor in the fact that LEDs can last 10 times as long.

LEDs still cost a little more initially, but the energy and replacement savings can really pay off. And you can certainly take advantage of special deals and trade-in offers. My brother-in-law brightly picked up his during after-Christmas sales last year.

On, Donner and Blitzen!

And there are plenty more reasons to embrace LEDs:

  • More strands in a row – Much lower currents mean you can string from here to eternity without having to run a separate extension cord or find another plug. (Packages say 25 or 45 chains in a row; I saw one trumpeting the option of 143 — seriously. Take that, incandescents!)
  • More durabilty – The epoxy lenses in place of glass are a real plus, particularly if your little ones like to “help” with the decorating, and bulbs on deck are in danger of getting crunched underfoot.
  • More safety – Greater efficiency means a whole lot less heat, “reducing the risk of combustion or burnt fingers,” as the U.S. Department of Energy puts it.

All these advantages add up to LEDs likely being a better deal than “low-cost” incandescents  or even “free” lights lying around from holidays past.

And, given the interconnectedness of all things, cutting your holiday electricity use and the associated carbon emissions can help move us toward avoiding the worst impacts of climate change — including damage to Christmas tree farms themselves.

Dash away, dash away, dash away all!

The post-Thanksgiving phase may still involve dealing with the consequences of our fondness for pumpkin and blueberry (and pecan and…) pies, and the debates over what kinds of Christmas trees are best.

No matter how you celebrate, though, with LEDs you can bask in the knowledge that you’re saving money on electricity this holiday season. So if the aftermath of Black Friday finds you in the holiday-lighting aisle, reach for LEDs, not incandescents. Show the neighbors how bright you are, and be merry.

P.S. If your LED success leads you to want to cut your carbon even more, check out the handy, compelling (really), and award-winning (2013 Green Book Festival —best science book of the year) Cooler Smarter; it also makes a swell holiday gift!

 

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming Tags: , , ,

About the author: John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies. He co-manages the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) at UCS that looks at water demands of energy production in the context of climate change. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Princeton University. See John's full bio.

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