The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, Dec. 5, 2013
This year, lighting America for the holidays will consume more than 6 trillion watt-hours of electricity, or, using U.S. Department of Energy figures, roughly enough to power every home in New Hampshire for one month. To produce the extra electricity, utilities will have to burn huge quantities of natural gas and in some cases coal. The annual luxury of lights offsets some of the efforts being made to combat climate change, so this year give the planet a present and swap at least some of those strings of tiny incandescent lights for LED lights, which use up to 90 percent less energy and last decades, not just a season or two.
Every year, Americans buy an estimated 100 million strands of decorative holiday lights, usually for prices too low to justify making the maddening effort to resuscitate a 100-light strand that has one dead bulb somewhere along its length. Some big box stores and other lighting vendors collect the dead strands for recycling but generally only during a short window. Home Depot's website, for example, says that last year the chain recycled more than 272,000 strands or the equivalent of 7.2 million plastic water bottles. Some state and municipal recycling programs also accept the lights.
White incandescent Christmas lights emit 95 percent of the energy they consume as heat rather than light. Colored lights create even more heat and less light. Knowing that the greenhouse gases emitted to power the lights are helping to melt the snow under Santa's sleigh -- not to mention the ice under polar bears--- takes a bit of the warm holiday glow off the annual festival of lights that occurs in almost every neighborhood. Switching to LED lights saves energy and money. According to the online retailer ChristmasLightsEtc, a heavy user with a light-outlined home would spend $115.26 per holiday season to run incandescent mini-lights but just $15.32 for LEDs.
Earlier this week, yet another august panel released yet another dire warning about climate change. At current emission levels a rapid increase in the extinction rate of plant and animal species could occur, the world's coral reefs could disappear, and summer sea ice in the Arctic become a thing of the past, a panel of the National Research Council warned. Swapping out holiday lights won't prevent any of that from happening, but it would, according to one estimate, prevent 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gases from being emitted each year. Make this the season to make the switch, if only by a few strands at a time.
And now, continuing this message of holiday cheer, we implore households to do all they can to end New Hampshire's status as the state that sees the biggest percent increase in insurance claims from home fires during the holidays of any in the nation. Most of those fires are caused by unattended candles, according to statistics compiled by the insurer Allstate. Coming in a close second: fires from failed attempts to deep fry a turkey, a procedure that should be carried out outdoors and away from structures. The average claim for a candle fire, the insurer said, was $50,000; for a turkey conflagration, $29,000. That's a lot of Christmas cheer up in smoke. And speaking of smoke, according to the New Hampshire Fire Prevention Society and plain common sense, no household should be without at least one, and preferably several, working smoke detectors.
Swap the lights and smoke detector batteries, and have a more energy-efficient and disaster-free holiday.