Cue the “how many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb?” jokes: yup, we’re going to talk about lights. Around D.C., almost every block has at least one or two houses, stores, or intersections that have been decorated with lights for the holiday season. Gorgeous? Absolutely. But those lights come with a price – the increased energy usage. When it comes to lighting your Christmas tree, your mantle, or your roof – or just the next time you have to replace the bulb in your overhead light – here’s a few thoughts.
First, while we’re on the topic of decorations – one way to drastically reduce the energy consumption of your holiday festivities is to go with LED lights. A string of LED lights consumes a whopping 75% – 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs due to increased efficiency and less waste heat than either traditional or CFL bulbs. The lifespan – which is defined as the time at which LED lights have 70% of their original brightness – is also more than 10x longer for LED lights. Bonus: remember how I said they give off less waste heat? The reduced heat drastically reduces the risk of fires (particularly Christmas tree fires, which are shockingly common this time of year….).
What if you’re a total Grinch, or a Scrooge, or you don’t decorate? Or maybe your bathroom light just died, even though you’re supposed to only be worrying about holiday lights? There’s been a lot of flap about Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL’s). They’re significantly more efficient than traditional bulbs, using 75% less energy and lasting up to 6x longer. CFL’s do contain trace amounts of mercury, which some folks view as a serious drawbacks. Proponents have been quick to point out, though, that the mercury saved from reduced coal burning (coal fired power plants are the #1 source of mercury pollution in the U.S.) is much higher than the amounts found in the bulbs themselves. If you’re particularly worried, go with EnergyStar certified bulbs, which have less than 5 milligrams of mercury and are sealed so that no mercury is emitted during use. The bulbs last about 10 years, but if you’ve already got some that have burned out and need to be disposed of, check with your local recycling or trash facilities – while the concentrations of mercury are too low in any one bulb to be a major concern, some municipalities do have preferred methods for disposal so that large volumes don’t build up in landfills or solid waste facilities.
For more fun with energy savings, check out National Geographic’s Light Bulb Energy Savings Tool online, which walks you through how much energy you could be saving in your home. It’s part of their Great Energy Challenge initiative, which you can read about here while you’re sipping your eggnog.