Build a stunning Christmas light display without draining your cash flow
LEDs are five times the price, but then your electricity bill goes down by 90 percent and you’re helping the environment by using less power.— Neil Fairley
Scott Porter recalls a homeowner’s surprise after his crew had finished installing outdoor holiday lighting for a client early one winter. “We had put up C9s, the bigger bulbs, on this one house,” said Porter, director of Lights Express. “The lights were a foot (35 cm) apart. The strands ran across the gutters, up the eaves, all the way down the sides, around the garage. The house looked really good.” He and the homeowner were using a voltmeter to test the amount of electricity the decorations were drawing when the homeowner came outside. “The guy said, ‘The Christmas tree inside my house is pulling more watts than all the lights on the outside of my house,’” Porter recalled. The difference? The Christmas tree lights were old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, while the lights outside were the newer LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, which, though substantially more expensive than traditional bulbs, use far less electricity. If you want a Christmas display that will put the neighbours to shame and encourage drivers to slow down and gawk, but you don’t want to trip every circuit breaker in your house, a number of installers recommend switching to LEDs. You’ll save money on electricity, have a safer display and give Mother Earth an ecologically sound holiday gift.
LEDs: The benefits
Asked about their tricks for saving energy on outdoor displays, several installers mention LEDs as the first and most important step for lowering electricity costs.
Neil Fancher, owner of Christmas Light Installer, says his crews install LEDs on 80 percent of the homes they decorate. Fancher points to impressive statistics on electricity consumption: Each traditional bulb uses roughly 5 watts of electricity, while a comparable LED bulb uses about half a watt, he says.
The energy savings quickly make up for the higher initial cost. “LEDs are five times the price, but then your electricity bill goes down by 90 percent and you’re helping the environment by using less power,” said Neil Fairley of Pros, an event lighting installer.
A home using 15 100-bulb strands of incandescent lights for five hours a day would use 54 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. By contrast, the same display featuring LEDs would use just 9 kilowatt hours monthly.
The monthly cost for incandescents would be roughly £3 compared with 50 pence for LEDs.
That savings doesn’t come cheap, given the higher cost of LEDs, but Fancher says most incandescents last 1,000 hours, while the majority of LEDs burn for 50,000 hours. “The flip side is that for five times the price, you get 50 times the life and use less electricity at the same time,” he said.
Another benefit of LEDs is safety. Incandescent bulbs get hot when in use, while LEDs don’t, so there’s much less danger of a fire, especially on a live tree, Fancher says. Additionally, notes Fairley, LEDs are plastic and far less breakable than more fragile glass incandescents.
Although the use of LEDs is the primary tactic installers suggest for reducing energy consumption for outdoor Christmas lighting, it isn’t the only trick they mention.
Fancher notes, for example, that wrapping deciduous trees with either type of lights doesn’t require as many bulbs as it does for trees that keep their leaves in the winter. “You’re seeing the light from the front and the back,” he said, so you can use half as many lights for a similar effect.
If you’re wrapping the trunk of the tree, he suggests that you try making each course 6 inches (15 cm) apart instead of the more common 4 inches (10 cm).
Another idea is to use a timer on the lights so they turn off after prime viewing hours and you won’t risk accidentally leaving them on all night.
Asked about relying on solar technology to directly power outdoor lights — gathering energy during the day and using it at night — the installers say the technology isn’t there yet to make it a reliable, cost-effective power source.
Fancher says you can buy a solar power unit from a solar energy company or possibly through an outdoor lighting contractor that would provide enough power for a small home’s decorations, but it would be expensive. He estimates that such a unit would cost £400.
Weather could be another issue if you've got solar-powered lights. The British winter doesn't exactly lend itself to solar energy.
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