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Decking the halls, cutting some carbon

holiday lightsOver the holidays many people flock to their community's light display. These acres of lights arranged in dazzling designs, some of them animated, are a popular source of entertainment for after kids have been tired out by other more active pursuits. If you're like me, you enjoy the displays while secretly thinking about the carbon footprint left by each of the tiny lights.

Strings of traditional incandescent bulbs use a lot of energy even in the smaller quantities with which they are employed in the average household. Light emitting diodes, or LED lights, use 90% less energy than regular decorative lights, which burn most of their energy in heat. The folks at Carbonrally.com have expressed the savings in terms of carbon: it means a 3/4 pound reduction in CO2 emissions for every HOUR you use a string of LEDs instead of traditional lights. They promise that if you take their Carbonrally pledge and switch to LED holiday lights this year, you'll reduce your CO2 emissions by 251 lbs and save $16.20 in electricity this season, while the investment in these highly durable lights will be covered after two years.

So what if we all decide to switch to greener decorative lights? Well, first of all, the old ones don't need to end up in a landfill. The lighting vendor HolidayLEDs.com has a decorative light recycling program. If we all do send in our old lights and invest in cooler, safer, more long-lasting LEDs, will these lights used just a few weeks a year actually make a dent in our country's carbon impact?

Yes, says EnergySavers.gov--the Department of Energy: "estimates that if every household switched to using LED holiday lights, the country would save approximately $410 million in electricity costs. If both residential households and the commercial sector switched to LED holiday lights today, the savings would be equivalent to the output of almost one large (1000 MW) electric power plant or the annual electricity consumption of almost 500,000 households."

Wow. That's a hefty energy impact. Either head on over to the EnergyStar site to find decorative LED lights that are both safe and energy-efficient. While you're at it, get a timer for those lights so that they don't burn more hours than they need to. And if you really want to be green (or red, or white, or…), choose solar-powered holiday lights that charge by a battery cell during the day that soaks up the sun for nighttime use.

Or you can take the approach that Mother Jones News remembers from the winter of 1973, the darkest hour of that decade's energy crisis. Rather than a lavish light display, children decorated with homemade garlands. However you choose to bring holiday cheer to your home, be safe: don't overload your outlets and be careful with your candles.

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