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Energy-efficient decorating

There's a lot to love about the holiday season. There's the food, spending time with friends and family, trimming the tree, singing Christmas carols with Bing and watching old Jimmy Stewart movies. Then there are the lights. There's something magical about twinkling lights that transform a home from ordinary to extraordinary. That said, too much of a good thing comes at a cost.

"There's typically an increase in energy use during the Christmas season," says Anne Wilkins, program manager, Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada. It's not surprising considering all the cooking and baking and the decorations you plug in. What's more, it gets darker earlier, so lights get flicked on sooner.

All this can put a strain on both your wallet and the environment. "Anyone who's thinking about the future of the planet needs to think about efficiency and conservation," says Shawn-Patrick Stensil, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. "The quickest and cheapest positive impact we can have on the planet is to conserve."

The good news is, you can still have your home all aglow without spending a bundle.

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LED lights
Christmas light technology has come a long way since the 17th century, when lit candles were used to adorn the trees of European nobility. One of the earliest preassembled Christmas lights, sold by General Electric Co. in 1903, consisted of 24 lights at a cost of $12 -- equivalent to almost an entire week's wages!

Today, light emitting diode, or LED, decorative lights come in a range of shapes, sizes, colours and designs. While pricier than traditional incandescent light bulbs, they use up to 95 percent less energy, last at least 10 times longer, are more durable and produce very little heat, reducing the risk of fire.

In fact, according to BC Hydro, three strings of incandescent mini lights with 300 bulbs cost $1.47 per year while four strings of LED lights with 280 bulbs cost only 14 cents! If you compare this to two-inch incandescent C-7 bulbs, the savings are even greater -- 125 bulbs cost $6.13!

Lawn displays
Of course, while you're thinking energy efficiency, you might want to reconsider those big inflatable lawn displays. "Anything that uses big lights and big motors are big energy gobblers," says Wilkins.

If you must have that eight-foot snow globe or Santa, consider using less energy-reliant decorations elsewhere, such as fewer strings of lights on the tree. Or, opt for lawn displays that use LED technology such as deer, angels or snowmen.

For an even greener Christmas, choose LEDs that are Energy Star qualified (they use less energy, saving you money) and put all energy-reliant decorations on timers -- there's no need to keep the home lights burning all night long.

Rest assured that pinching pennies and saving energy won't turn you into a Scrooge.

"This doesn't necessarily detract at all from your celebration of Christmas or the season," says Stensil. "You can still have the light display on your yard, but if it's more efficient, you're imposing fewer demands on the environment and other people as well in terms of pollution."

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-- Posted: Dec. 12, 2007
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