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Light up your holidays

Ah, the glow of the holidays. Whether lit by candlelight or coloured strings of electric bulbs, 'tis the season to shine brightly.

But these festive decorations can do a number on your budget, not to mention your hydro bill, if you aren't careful. Fortunately, consumers have several lighting choices available to them today, many of which are much kinder to your utility bill than the old stand bys.

Lighting the way
If you're using the same old incandescent bulbs you've had for years, you're almost definitely spending more money than you have to. A standard 25-bulb string consumes the most electricity, between 125 and 200 watts, while the five-watt and 10-watt varieties do a better job but are still pricey.

Miniature bulbs consume less than half a watt per bulb. However, because of their small size, consumers typically use twice as many of them, with strings containing 50 to 100 bulbs each, so most people using them don't end up reducing their energy needs at all.

The most cost-effective choice for holiday decorating is a string of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). LEDs are semiconductors constructed from solid-state chips. These chips convert electricity into single wavelengths of light. Because they need no filament or glass bulb, they produce very little heat, making them safer and more energy-efficient, using less than 95 percent of the electricity conventional bulbs use.

An added bonus: If one LED is damaged or fades out, the remaining bulbs aren't affected. Instead of suddenly burning out, LED lights gradually fade to darkness.

An array of LED options now available
Originally only available in a bluish-tinge, LEDs now come in red, green, blue and yellow. And while they cost more to purchase than traditional lights, the price is becoming more affordable, especially when you consider how little hydro they use and that they'll last for 20 or 30 years. At one major hardware chain in Toronto, prices were $5.99 for a string of 100 incandescent lights while a 25-bulb string of LEDs cost $10.99.

Toronto Hydro provides a clear example of how much money you stand to save by switching from incandescent to LED lighting this winter. The estimate is based on decorating 100 feet of windows or eaves on a home.

The three options it compares are four strings of regular incandescent lights

To compare the costs of the three types of holiday lighting options, Toronto Hydro provides an estimate based on decorating 100 feet of building outline, be it windows or eaves. The three options compared are regular incandescents (four strings of 25 bulbs each for a total of 700 watts), incandescent mini-lights (four strings of 100 bulbs each for a total of 200 watts) and LEDs (four strings of 70 bulbs each for a total of 13 watts).

Assuming the lights are on four hours a day over a period of six weeks, and using Toronto Hydro's current rate of .0847 cents per kWh, the cost would be $9.96 for the seven-watt incandescents versus $2.85 for the mini-lights. And the LED strawberry lights? It's almost too little to mention at a mere 19 cents for the entire six-week period.

Don't forget that this is a conservative outdoor display -- most of us rely on additional lights indoors to brighten Christmas trees and evergreen garlands. So, you stand to save a lot of money by starting to switch to LED lights. To help you make the switch, many electricity providers and major retail chain stores are offering coupons for purchasing LED lights and light exchanges if you bring in your old incandescent bulbs.

More ways to save
Here are some other good energy-saving tips when it comes to holiday lighting.

More ways to save:

Kitchen tips
Energy efficiency extends beyond decorations during the holidays. The kitchen is one room in the house where a few small changes can result in savings.

For starters, try cooking your turkey on the outdoor barbecue this year; great cooks swear by this method. Or, better yet, try deviating from the traditional and serve something that requires much less cooking time such as roast lamb or chicken curry. With more room in your oven, you can double up with pies sharing space with the main course.

After the meal is cooked, don't let your oven keep all that lovely heat to itself. Open the door and turn down the thermostat. And don't forget that we humans generate heat too. Once all your guests arrive, you can lower the furnace temperature as good spirits warm your holiday season.

Diana McLaren is a writer in Toronto.

-- Posted: Dec. 6, 2006
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