RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Wondering whether your budget can handle the cost of festooning your home with holiday lights? You’re not the only one looking for a lighter electric bill: According to the Wall Street Journal, utility company executives have been caught off guard by a drop in electricity consumption. While the ongoing economic downturn seems a likely factor, some experts speculate that the trend may reflect a permanent change in consumer behavior.
THE DETAILS: Electricity sales usually increase by 1 to 2% every year, but from August to September 2008, home-energy use dropped 3 to 9% for several major utility companies, execs told the WSJ in late November.
WHAT IT MEANS: Trimming your household budget doesn’t mean your yuletide can’t be bright, says electrician David Halliday, who monitors an estimated 500,000 Christmas lights at Longwood Gardens. And remember, using less electricity translates to fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as well as more greenbacks in your bank account.
Here are some tips for a festive and affordable holiday display:
• Let there be LED light. Longwood Gardens now uses LED lights for about 60% of its displays, says Halliday. LEDs not only have double or triple the life of traditional incandescent bulbs, they can drop your power load by up to 80%. Although their light isn’t as bright, they’re plenty pretty and don’t get nearly as hot. “They can be more expensive, but they save a lot on energy and last a lot longer; they pay off in the end,” Halliday says.
• Avoid inflatables. Running a fan all day and night to keep your inflatable reindeer carousel from turning into a rumpled mess takes a lot of energy. One 7-foot air-powered Santa can cost $60 a month in electricity costs. If you can’t cut the cord, Halliday suggests you connect your inflatables to a heavy-duty appliance timer so they’ll only run for a few hours a day.
• Run the numbers. Get yourself a plug-in electric meter like the Kill A Watt and run some tests on your holiday accoutrements. Once you know what it will cost you to run them, you can decide which electric doodads to use and for how long to leave them turned on.
• Grab green boughs. Not all decorations need to be plugged in. White pine, Scots pine, Austrian pine, fir, and juniper are good choices for bringing seasonal greenery into the house, says Pam Ruch, researcher at Organic Gardening magazine. Steer clear of hemlock and spruce, though, she warns. They drop their needles quickly, and hemlocks are sometimes infested with wooly adelgid, an insect pest. “That wouldn’t be a good thing to bring inside!” Ruch says.