Festivities can have impact on post-holiday bills

Take steps now to take the shock out of your post-holiday electric bill.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, there’s likely been some decorating going on at your house in preparation for the season that usually brings a flood of family and friends into our homes. 

The holidays make this a festive time of year with gifts, fun decorations, family visits and lots of laughter. But they can also ring in extra energy use for heating, decorative lights and more. So, what steps can you take to make sure the holidays don’t leave a surprise ‘gift’ on your next electric bill?

One of the most popular ways to save energy without dimming the holiday cheer is switching to light emitting diode (LED) holiday lights. These long-lasting energy-efficiency lights have been used for years in vehicles to let you know when you’re low on gas or need an oil change. Over the past few years, prices have dropped low enough to make these bulbs cost-effective for decorative use.

On the plus side, LEDs last longer than traditional incandescent lights. They run cool and colors don’t fade over time. Best of all, they use about a tenth of the energy for the same amount of light.

The news isn’t all cheery. Decorative LEDs cost much more than strands of typical lights – up to $40 more to outfit a tree, according to Consumer Reports, an independent product tester. But over time, the higher investment pays off. When Consumer Reports compared LEDs and incandescent holiday lights in 2007, they found LEDs use between 1 and 3 kWh of energy, compared to between 12 to 105 kWh for traditional lights.  This translates into savings of up to $11 every year. Because LEDs are more durable, lasting more than 4,000 hours while incandescent bulbs burn out by the 2,000 hour mark, the initial investment pays dividends in the long haul.

Whether or not you fork out extra bucks to switch to LEDs, it’s a good idea to turn off your holiday lights before you go to bed. Consider installing timers to reduce the amount of time your holiday lights are on. Just 10 incandescent strands lit for 13 hours a day can easily add more than $50 to an electric bill. Limit light displays to no more than six hours nightly.

Lights are not the only holiday addition impacting your electric bill – family guests add to your costs, too. Because everyone wants to stay toasty during colder holiday months, heating usually accounts for the lion’s share of cold weather energy costs. Extra guests also translate into extra water to heat for showers.

Make sure you set your thermostat as low as comfort permits. Each degree above 68 adds 2 percent to 3 percent to the amount of energy needed to heat your home. Conversely, you’ll save by lowering your thermostat (and leaving it there).

You can expect extra guests to strain your electric water heater – folks often take longer showers in colder weather, increasing water-heating costs. Before guests arrive, consider installing a low-flow shower head to reduce the amount of water used and try to keep showers to six minutes or less.

Finally, in the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power electronic gifts and gadgets is used while the products are actually OFF. This phantom power use can be avoided by unplugging the items or using a power strip.

To learn more about ways to cut home energy use, visit TogetherWeSave.com

To monitor your daily energy use, visit MyUsage.com

Sources:  Consumer Reports, U.S. Department of Energy

Story contributed by John Bruce, a freelance writer based in South Carolina. He writes on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, VA. – based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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