News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

LED Holiday Lights Save Energy

A turbine at Altamont Pass in Northern California | Photo: John Flichbaugh/Flickr/Creative Commons License

So you've taken ReWire's colleague Char Miller's advice and reduced your carbon footprint by bringing a cut holiday tree into your home. Now take the next step. If you're going to put strings of lights on your tree, and elsewhere in your house, the new generation of LED decorative lights is a much more energy efficient way of adding holiday sparkle to your surroundings. And they're safer to boot.

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Though they've made a retro comeback in the last few years, those large incandescent Xmas tree lights consume about 5 watts per inch-long bulb. That means that each string of 25 old-school bulbs consumes 125 watts, and how many people have one string of bulbs? The California Energy Commission (CEC) points out that a typical household with ten such strings can spend more than $25 to keep those holidays lights glowing for six hours a day during the holiday season.

Smaller mini-bulbs are more efficient per bulb, but they offset that efficiency somewhat by adding four times as many bulbs per string: half a watt per bulb, 50 watts per string, and a bit more than $10 to keep ten strings glowing during the darkest month of the year.

LED decorative lights use about a tenth the energy that mini-bulbs do: a twentieth of a watt per bulb, and about a dollar's worth of electricity to festoon your house in light for a month.

And, as the CEC points out, the benefits extend a lot further than that $9 a month:

LEDs have other benefits besides using electricity sparingly. Because they don't contain filaments or glass, the solid-state bulbs are safer, more durable and shock-resistant. A Consumer Reports study reported the same sets of LED lights burned for over 4,000 hours, without a single failure. That means for more than 22 holiday seasons homeowners should be able to avoid that frustrating search for the one burnt out light bulb that's keeping an entire string of lights from working.

They can even save your life. About 500 fires per year start in Chrstmas trees, some of those due to overheating light strings. As LEDs run cool, they're unlikely to kindle a fire in those dried-out needles. (But keep that tree well-watered anyway.)

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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