​​​​​​​DIY: How to control and reduce holiday lighting power costs


National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” a 1989 comedy classic, featured a main character named Clark Griswold (actor Chevy Chase) whose fixation was on making his house the best decorated in the neighborhood. Through trials and tribulations that included rat nests of light strings, extension cords snaking everywhere, falling off the roof, non-working switches and wiring confusion, the moment finally arrived when he beheld 25,000 bulbs come blindingly to life and cause a citywide power shortage.

This was a movie plot, of course, played for maximum humor. The impact of electrified Christmas decorations on power bills is real enough but sometimes disguised by greater demand associated with heating during winter months.

Since the late 19th Century, electric Christmas lights have added to holiday celebrations around the world. Today, the proliferation of indoor-and-outdoor lighting is massive. Many homes boast strings of lights and powered decorations that twinkle and glitter, play music or are animated. Behind the scenes, electric meters record additional kilowatt-hours of consumption.

Middle Tennessee Electric (MTEMC), your trusted energy advisor, wants to recommend ways to keep the jolly in your holiday with energy efficient lighting and switch control. Here are several ways to reduce the cost of those colorful Yule decorations during the holiday season and every day:

LEDs—Light-emitting diode bulbs for holiday illumination have been around for more than two decades and proven their worth through reduced power consumption and extended life. If you’re still hanging traditional incandescent holiday bulbs outdoors or on the Christmas tree, why not change for energy efficiency’s sake? The savings alone justify a switch. LEDs use much less energy: approximately .0496 cents per hour for 100 bulbs compared to an estimated 8 cents per hour for the same number of larger incandescent lights.

TIMERS—Control of holiday lighting with timers is a great way to reduce electricity use. Timers can be set on cycles, usually from four to 12 hours, depending on the type. An eight-hour cycle set to turn on lighting at 4 p.m. will automatically turn off at midnight. You don’t have to remember to unplug the lights when you go to bed. Timers are also a good idea for regular interior lighting.

ADVANCED POWER STRIPS —Want a little extra cash for Christmas gifts? Consider investing in advanced power strips (APS), often called “smart” power strips. These detect energy use from devices that are turned off but still drawing power in standby mode. Called “vampire load,” this is a common trait of modern electronics. Vampire loads can add up to $200 a year to the household power bill. Replace your standard power strips with APS models to significantly reduce the amount of electricity used by devices in the “off” mode.

As always, MTEMC urges safety during the holiday season, whether or not you decorate. Check strings of lighting for frayed wires, cracked insulation and evidence of other types of damage. Don’t overload electric sockets or use extension cords not rated for the type of load placed of them. GFI outlets are highly recommended.

All lighting and powered decorations should be approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and bear a label attesting to this fact. Remember, indoor lights should have a green holographic UL label. Combination indoor/outdoor lights should bear the red label.

Be careful with ladders and use extreme caution when outdoor-decorating activities occur in proximity to power lines. Electrocution can occur when contact is made with energized conductors. Thousands of victims are treated annually for injuries related to falls while decorating for Christmas. Be aware that Christmas trees and holiday decorations cause hundreds of home fires nationwide each year.

When satisfying the Clark Griswold inside each of us this holiday season, be aware of energy efficiency and safety to make this Christmas truly merry. Our energy advisors at MTEMC are always happy to help with advice and information about efficiency and programs to help lower electric use and improve home comfort. Check out our website or download the free myMTEMC mobile app to learn more about energy efficiency.

Want more information on holiday lighting and energy efficiency? Check out these helpful links to help you complete this project!

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