Energy-saving options for Christmas lights

Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 5:24 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — This season, energy-saving holiday lights are by far the best-selling lights at various Columbia retailers.

As the nation becomes more environmentally conscious, the latest trend to go green is holiday lighting. Besides simply putting the lights on a timer, viable options for eco-friendly consumers are solar-powered and light-emitting diode, or LED, lights.

"LEDs are a very hot item," said Jim Polacek, store manager at Home Depot. "People are really buying into saving energy. That's the way it's going."

Managers at both the Columbia Lowe's and Target stores also said LEDs are selling better than traditional incandescent holiday lighting.

"In general, I believe they are up over last year," said Jason Walker, a sales floor manager at Target. "The majority of lights we carry are LED."

According to the government's Energy Star Web site, LEDs are small, energy-efficient light sources, using 75 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light.

If an LED light strand is Energy Star qualified, it means it can last up to 10 times longer, is cool to the touch and is more durable than incandescent lights.

Stores are actively encouraging customers to switch. From Nov. 5 through 15, Home Depot held its second light trade-in. Customers were offered a coupon for money off LED lighting if they brought in their broken or used incandescent holiday lights. Jennifer King, a spokeswoman for the Home Depot chain, said the project was a success.

The trade-in, according to King, was part of a Home Depot initiative to expand its eco-options program. The store offers more than 30 LED lighting options. King could not give any concrete numbers but said the LED lights have been gaining in popularity.

"We're always looking at the next technology, especially environmentally friendly ones," she said.

Solar-powered holiday lights are not as common as LED, but they are a possibility for those who want to completely eliminate energy costs. Planet Green offers an online video showing how these solar light strands work.

They can mostly be found for purchase online. Target offers solar lights strands made by Philips on its Web site.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's blog on energy saving, the cost of running 300 incandescent light bulbs for 12 hours per day over 40 days will cost on average $6.03, while 280 LED lights cost 56 cents for the same period.

Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and chairman of Missourians for Safe Energy, recommended switching to LED. However, he ultimately advised homeowners to avoid excessive lighting. 

"A tasteful amount of lighting but in moderation is much healthier for the environment and for our pocketbooks," Haim said. He also suggested putting the lights on a timer or turning them off before going to sleep. Haim said leaving the lights on all night and day is "obviously wasteful."

Haim urged people who want to be eco-conscious to focus on the big picture beyond what holiday lighting they choose. For example, he mentioned the free energy audit program provided by the city of Columbia. Any Columbia Water & Light electricity customer is eligible for a free audit on their home to learn ways to conserve energy.

"I would suggest people start there and look how they can plug leaks in their pocketbook essentially," he said.

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