Straight Talk Articles

November, 2018

Dear Pat, My husband and I love decorating our home with holiday lights every year, but I feel guilty about the higher energy bill we get in January. How can we light up the holidays without wasting so much electricity? – Jessica


Dear Jessica,

It’s a shame that holiday lighting can lead to larger energy bills. The good news is, there are strategies that can save you money without dampening your holiday spirit.


The biggest saver is probably LED bulbs, which use 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. The amount of money you can save depends on a lot of factors, including your electric rate and how many hours your holiday lights are on.  We’ve seen a number of estimates of savings in energy costs.  One report said that replacing five strings of traditional incandescent outdoor lights with LED bulbs could lower your bill from about $14 to 22 cents.(1) Another report said that replacing incandescent lights on a typical indoor tree with LED bulbs could lower your monthly cost from $15 to $2.(2)


The reason incandescent bulbs are so inefficient is that at least 90% of their energy is converted into heat, not light.(3) LEDs, by contrast, convert virtually all their energy to light. This efficiency means up to 20 strings of LED lights can be chained together, whereas incandescent sets are typically limited to between three and five strings in a chain.(4) The efficiency of LED lights makes them safer because they generate so much less heat.


Aside from their energy efficiency, LED lights can last longer—around 200,000 hours or more, which is about 25 times longer than incandescent lights.(5) The bulb is more durable because it is made of an epoxy instead of glass.(6)


Not all LEDs are created equal.  An LED that is not designed properly can flicker, change color or draw power even when it’s turned off.  To avoid these problems, purchase ENERGY STAR LEDs.  To qualify for ENERGY STAR, LED products must use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and pass a number of tests.


The drawback of changing over to LED light sets is cost. Old fashioned incandescent bulbs can be purchased for 19 to 50 cents each, while a replacement LED will likely cost $1.00 or more. One estimate we ran across showed the estimated cost of buying and operating standard C-9 lights for ten seasons is $122 for incandescent bulbs and $18 for LEDs.(7) Plus, the LED lighting is more likely to last the full ten seasons, meaning less trips to the store!


There are other ways to cut energy expenses.  You can use solar light sets, which store energy during the day and release light during the night.  Timers are a good idea.  They can cut energy use, especially if you don’t always remember to turn the lights off before bed-time. A timer can turn the lights on at dusk and turn them off when you think you and all the neighbors will be asleep.


Some decorating ideas can make your display more dynamic and more interesting, which might help you get by with fewer strings of lights.  This could reduce energy costs and still brighten up your holidays:


  • Color-changing LED bulbs can cycle through the colors in sequence and can even be set to change colors in response to music.

  • A laser light projector sits on the ground or other surface and projects multi-colored patterns onto the wall of your house. Most have a timing program function and may come with remote control and other advanced features. An added benefit is they can be used at Halloween or any time of year. They come in a range of prices from $20 up to $150 or more.

  • You can get some of the same excitement of a laser light show using LED lights by installing a smart light system that creates pre-set or programmable light shows through a smart phone or other home smart device.

  • For maximum effect with the smallest amount of energy use, try distributing the lighting across a broader space rather than clumping it together. In the spaces between light, add reflective ornaments and decorations to increase the effect of the lights and add interest.


I hope these tips help raise your holiday spirits without giving you the budget blues in January!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on efficient holiday lighting, please visit the November 2018 more information page.





You may be able to simplify the decorations on your home and still have a dramatic effect. Photo Credit: Don Graham, Creative Commons.