From the twinkling Christmas tree in the living room to the string of lights framing the windowsill, our homes are merry and bright during the holidays at the expense of our electricity bills. But is there an energy efficient way to light up our homes?
Each year, Christmas lights consume 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to a U.S. Department of Energy report. That’s enough energy to power 14 million refrigerators! Homeowners are also paying extra during the chilly winter months to heat up their homes.
If you’re planning your annual holiday lights display and want to avoid blowing your budget on electricity, here are our top tips for energy efficient Christmas decorating.
Get into the Giving Spirit: Donate Old Incandescent Lighting
You may have tangled strings of old-school incandescent lights in your attic; they’re the bright, multi-colored bulbs that many of us used during our younger days. They’re hot to touch when they’re all lit up, so homeowners need to unplug them before going to bed or leaving home to avoid fire risk.
These archaic bulbs are slowly being phased out because they waste more energy than any other kind of lighting on the market today; only 10 percent of the power used to light up incandescent bulbs goes into producing light!
Incandescent Christmas lights are even banned in some countries, including Canada, Mexico and Japan. (The U.S. was poised to introduce a 2020 ban, but the law was withdrawn.)
If you still have these traditional lights lying around and you’re ready for an upgrade, most home hardware stores will safely recycle old Christmas lights for you.
Invest in Festive LED Christmas Lights
You won’t need a lot of persuading to invest in new LED lights.
LED lights–or light emitting diodes–can increase your home’s energy efficiency by about 85 percent. They come in all shapes and sizes, including string lights, globe lights, net lights to cover trees and bushes and color-changing lights for a bit of fun. They basically get the job done just as well as incandescent lights but at a fraction of the cost!
They are more expensive, but they last for about 50,000 hours compared to traditional lights, which have enough juice to run for about 1,000 hours. That’s at least 40 more Christmas seasons, so between the slash in energy usage and their durability, they’re worth the upfront cost.
While incandescent bulbs are made with glass and are prone to crack and shatter, LED lights are made with epoxy lenses that are much more resistant to breakage.
You can even connect 24 strings of LED lights end-to-end to a single wall socket. This can’t be done with incandescent lighting without overloading the socket. LED lights also stay cool, so you don’t have to worry about fire hazards if you keep them plugged in all night.
So how much can homeowners save by using LED lights?
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the cost of buying and running Christmas lights over 10 holiday seasons is about $17.99 for energy-efficient LED lights compared to $122.19 for conventional incandescent lighting.
The cost of lighting a six-foot Christmas tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days would run about $0.27 for LED lights compared to $10 for incandescent lights. That’s a gigantic difference!
Check for federal, state and local rebates for swapping out your incandescent lighting. You could pay for up to half of the cost of your Christmas lights by using rebate programs and coupons.
Dress up your Own North Pole with Strategic Lighting
Whether you’re the house on the block that goes all out on a Christmas lights extravaganza (we’re talking Santa and the reindeer on your front lawn!), or you’re looking for a lighter decorative touch, strategizing your Christmas lighting will keep your electric bill from soaring as far north as Santa’s workshop.
Flip through magazines and Pinterest boards to get an idea of which styles grab your attention. LED Christmas lights come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes–with or without special effects. Are you visualizing LED icicles or little flashing bulbs lining your stairway banister? What about flashing LED snowflakes in the windows?
Comb through consumer reviews, too – your Christmas lights will ideally last for decades, so you’ll want to choose ones that you’re happy with.
Have a look at pre-lit LED artificial trees and pre-lit fiber-optic trees, too; these are already decorated with small lights and consume very little energy.
It’s worth paying attention to length when you’re buying light strings, too. Instead of buying more lights, strategically use extension cords to lengthen and link strands in less visible areas.
We all know hanging Christmas lights outside the house isn’t easy either. If you don’t want to bother with the ladder and the legwork, consider LED spotlights that project an array of Christmas scenes onto the exterior of your house. In just minutes, you can decorate your entire front yard with flashing stars and snowflakes or animated reindeer dashing along your roof.
Get Creative with your Winter Wonderland Decorating
If you have a tight budget or want to save on lighting altogether, shift your focus away from Christmas lights. There are electricity-free ways to get your home into the Christmas spirit, so put that craft room to good use!
Reflective ornaments and sparkly tinsel are stunning on a Christmas tree, and you can also hang some garland and silver bells on your railing. Don’t forget the stockings by the fireplace–as you get closer to Christmas Day, your mantle should pile up with festive cards, too!
If you want to add a touch of brightness, light some candles in safe spaces around the home.
Enlist everyone in your family. Make a bushy wreath with a big red bow for your front door and task your kids with drawing snowmen, Santa and the reindeer to display in your windowsill.
The Christmas season comes chock-full with traditions–your family could decide to make popcorn and cranberry garlands together each year, or make your own ornaments with family photos, ribbon, some paint and other materials.
If you have a knack for sewing, crocheting or knitting, you can put together beautiful handmade ornaments that could turn into family heirlooms as they’re passed down generations. Some households forgo a shiny LED star at the top of the tree for a decades-old handmade angel.
You may not even need Christmas lights once these electricity-free decorations are hung!
Take Control of your Lights with Timers
Holiday season or not, smart light timers can help you save on your electricity bill because you can time when the lights turn on and off. You can pre-set your Christmas display to light up each evening at 7 p.m., right after the sun sinks beyond the horizon. Once it’s scheduled, you don’t have to remind yourself to check on the lights for the rest of December.
If your lights connect to your smart home tech, you can even check on the lighting and turn them off and on from a smartphone app or via your voice assistant.
Don’t leave your outdoor lights up all year round, either. The cords and the bulbs will deteriorate faster and may become a hazard. And Homeowner’s Associations will promptly send you a different kind of greeting card if your outdoor decorations linger too long in the New Year; mark a date in January on your calendar to take down the tree, the lights and all the garland.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.