Brighten up and lighten up this season

Question: We’ve got a lot of Christmas lights we’ve been using for years, but I keep seeing ads about new LED and other energy-efficient bulbs that use much less energy and cost a lot less to operate. Do you think it’s worth buying the new bulbs or won’t they make much of an actual difference?

Answer: It’s really hard for me to think about holiday lighting decorations without being reminded of Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon “Christmas Vacation” movie from a few years ago, when he decorated his home with about 25,000 Christmas lights and dimmed the power throughout much of his town while his electric meter spun wildly.

While that movie may have been somewhat of an exaggeration, anytime you plug a product into your home’s electricity, you're going to be spending money. Whether you have holiday decorations that bring out crowds of cheering tourists to watch them or just have a few simple twinkling lights, you're going to increase your energy use somewhat.

Research at the Florida Solar Energy Center several years ago on holiday lighting energy use in 185 homes found an average energy use increase during holiday decorating time of around 400 watts early in the evening, continuing through the evening until it averages around 200 watts in the middle of the next day. These results suggest that many people leave their holiday lights on not only during the night but also well into the next day.

Actual holiday lighting use for the homes in this study was an increase of about 4.4 kWh every day the lights are used, resulting in an average of $13 to $15 for a month of holiday lighting. Like they say in the car commercials, your mileage may vary, so if you have an extensive holiday lighting display, that number can easily increase substantially.

To answer your question, I think you definitely need to consider buying newer energy-efficient bulbs especially if you have a good-size lighting display and keep it on much of the night. Today’s LED lights use only around 0.08 watts per multicolor bulbs — about a sixth of what incandescent mini-lights use and considerably less than the 6 watts a comparable incandescent light would use. The LEDs also last up to 50,000 hours when used outdoors, and they remain cool to the touch, bringing an additional safety feature to their use. They're also much sturdier than older bulbs.

I also suggest you consider using simple timers to turn off your lights in the daytime to help lower energy costs. Sure, these savings aren’t huge, but like I say all the time, it’s all these little savings in your home that quickly add up to big dollars.