Over the past couple of years we've gradually replaced all of our incandescent lights with LEDs or light-emitting diodes. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) LEDs work by employing semiconductor technology to convert electricity directly into light. The result is that they are up to 90 percent more efficient than incandescent C-7 bulbs.
The first to go were the tree lights. While it took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that the lights didn't appear to twinkle quite as brilliantly, we soon discovered a major bonus that we hadn't counted on. LEDs stay remarkably cool to the touch, significantly reducing the fire hazard posed by incandescent lights.
This is particularly important if you have a real tree. At end of the first season we used LEDs, we noticed that the boughs were still very supple. As a further bonus, the tree dropped very few needles, which meant the daily ritual of vacuuming them up was no longer necessary.
This year we've taken advantage of the Ontario Power Authority's rebate coupons and replaced all of our exterior lights as well.
To find out exactly how much energy we'll save, I checked out the latest issue of Greentips, the monthly publication of the UCS. It states that LEDs use approximately 0.04 watt of electricity, compared with 0.45 watt for a mini incandescent light bulb or 7 watts for a C-7 incandescent bulb. According to the UCS, this year's holiday lights will potentially generate as much pollution as 250,000 cars - that translates into a tremendous expense and a needless waste.
Using the UCS's calculations, and using a price of 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (which is what we currently pay), it would cost about 15 1/2 cents to use 300 LED lights for five hours per day, for 45 days. By comparison, using incandescent mini lights or C-7 lights for the same period of time would cost about $1.60 and $25.00 respectively.
Based on energy savings alone, it's easy to see how quickly LEDs can pay for themselves. When you factor in that LEDs can last up to 100,000 hours (or about 20 years), that their small size makes them much less likely to break, and that you never have to climb up on the roof to replace a burned out bulb, the investment pays for itself many times over.
One more point to consider. Because they use such little energy, you can connect up to 25 strands of LEDs without overloading a circuit.
Regardless of what kind of festive lighting you choose, the UCS recommends that the strategic use of mirrors and tinsel can dramatically enhance lighting.
Another great way to maximize the efficiency of any lights is to use automatic timers. Several years ago my husband Brian installed X-10 modules to control all of our lighting. A computer program means that our lighting is set to correspond with our activities, room by room.
While it all sounds rather complicated, X-10 modules are relatively inexpensive units that are fairly simple to install. The modules use existing house wiring to manage electricity consumption with the aid of either a control device or a family computer. In our case an ancient Mac IIsi computer, which would have otherwise been destined for the dump, runs our house.
In addition to saving energy, using X-10s during the holidays has a number of advantages. As a deterrent to would-be thieves, the units are programmed to turn music and lights on and off at intervals even when we're not home. For Christmas junkies like me, X-10s also mean that you don't have to turn off the tree before retiring at night.
For more information about how to use X-10 modules to control your energy use, run your home and have fun, visit www.shed.com.
To subscribe to the Union of Concerned Scientists Greentips newsletter, visit www.ucsusa.org.
The Ontario Power Authority (OPA's mandate is help ensure the long-term reliability and sustainability of the electricity system for the benefit of Ontario’s consumers. To receive the OPA's email bulletins, visit www.powerauthority.on.ca.