Let There Be Light!

SDA Holiday Image 2012Tip of the Month – December 2013 

By Cynthia Ruzzi

Believe it or not, it’s already that time of year.  If you’ve taken your lead from the many retailers around town, you set up your holiday lights at Halloween, changed colors subtlety to match the Thanksgiving season and now you’re ready for the big finale.

While I’d rather save energy and the hours of untangling and hanging thousands of blubs outside my home to spend with friends, I don’t want to be known as the ‘Environmental Scrooge’.  So instead, may I suggest you trade-in your outdated incandescent holiday lights and ‘deck the halls’ with LED holiday lights?

Switching to LED lights used to mean a large initial investment, but checking the holiday aisles of the local home supply stores, I was thrilled to find that there’s a bigger selection than ever and the price is near parity with old energy-hog technology.  Of course the real savings comes from reducing your holiday energy costs.  As this year’s holiday advertisements rolled in, I noticed many stores offering trade-in and discounts on LED holiday lights.  Do a little legwork, comparison shop wisely and you’ll save yourself some green for your pocket. Also, don’t forget to look for sales after the holiday – it’s a great way to gain additional savings for your holiday wonderland.

Our friend Bob O., retired Director of Finance and Facilities, The Athenian School, graciously shared the following quick dollar savings calculation with us to demonstrate what can be realized by switching from incandescent bulbs to LED lights.

Say you put up 5 strands of 25 C9 6.6 watt holiday lights.  That’s 825 watts.  Let’s say you turn them on for 5 hours each day for 30 days.  At a total of 150 hours, that’s 124kWh. Now look at your last PG&E bill.  Do you see an average cost of 15 cents per kWh?  Let’s use that tier price for our calculations.  That would make the cost of the power for the traditional lights $18.50.  The 125 C9 .08 watt LED lights will cost you about $25 to purchase at OSH, Target or Home Depot and will cost $.26 cents for the comparable season.  A true carbon footprint calculation would include that the new lights have been manufactured and shipped using fossil fuels.  The price of the LED lights is a good indicator of the CO2 generated, so we can assume that half of it is for energy used in some form.  Bottom line is that the carbon footprint of the new lights may be covered in just one season of use by energy reduction at PG&E. That means the payback of your new lights is less than 2 seasons.

If saving green for your pocket or ‘doing good’ for the planet isn’t your thing, then consider that LED lights are more durable and safer to run than incandescent lights.  LED bulbs generate less heat improving the life span of your holiday twinkle.  You can expect LED light strings to last up to 100,000 hours – using our assumption above at 150 hours a season – your LED lights will outlast Santa! The limited heat output of LED bulbs that contribute to their lifespan also provide safer illumination.  Definitely worth considering as you trim your family Christmas tree this year.

Of course, there are advantages of LED lighting over traditional bulbs and CFLs beyond the holiday season.  While incandescent 100-watt bulbs have been phased out throughout the US, the cost savings of replacing these inefficient blubs in your home with LED or CFL is over 75% energy savings.  And the cost of LED bulbs have come down tremendously since last year.  You can now purchase a CREE or HALO LED replacement bulb for $7 and even replacement bulbs and trim for recessed cans for just $35.  PG&E has a simple efficiency chart online that shows the watts for different bulbs at various lumens (brightness) which can be found athttp://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/light/products/index.shtml.

In an honest disclosure, I am not a big fan of CFL bulbs.  Each of these bulbs contains a small amount of mercury which means used bulbs must be treated as hazardous waste.  That means it is against the law to put these bulbs in your waste or recycling bins. Instead, please bring them to your local Ace Hardware or Home Depot that as a courtesy to their customers, will properly dispose of your residential CFL bulbs. Also, PG&E has a fact sheet, Recycling CFLs: What You Need to Knowhttp://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/factsheet_recyclingcfls.pdf including important information about proper clean-up procedures for broken CFL lights.  Please keep your family safe and follow these valuable instructions.

Sustainable Danville Area hopes the joy of connecting with your family, friends and neighbors over simple meals and activities will light your holiday season and all the days of the New Year.  Please follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville.com or visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com.

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