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November 30th, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: LED Astray?

Will my incandescent Christmas lights destroy the planet?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
Like a good Portlander, I’ve replaced my old, power-sucking incandescent bulbs with modern CFLs. My Christmas lights, however, are still incandescent. Do I care? How hard am I raping the planet, really, by using traditional lights? 

—Electrogrinch


As a professional weirdo, I miss out on a lot of mainstream culture. Still, I get the impression that you normal folks—the ones who wear underwear and don’t buy used soap—have been getting pressured lately to trash your fairy lights in favor of the new, energy-efficient LED sets, thereby saving money, sparing the rainforests and curing puppy cancer forever.

Is it really true, though? At the risk of sounding un-American: Let’s do the math.

A 50-bulb strand of Christmas lights draws about 25 watts. A similar number of LED lights draws only about 3.5 watts. Of course, LEDs currently cost about twice as much as incandescent lights. But surely the energy savings makes up for that, right?

Not so fast, Rudolph. Let’s say you’re running 10 50-light strands—not a Peacock Lane-size display, maybe, but nobody’s going to call you Scrooge, either. At four hours a night for 20 nights, fairy lights will cost a grand total of…$1.

Granted, the LED version of the same show will cost you only 16 cents. But since you paid around $15 more for your LEDs, it’s going to take you about 18 years to recoup your investment, and by that time all your kids will be in prison and you probably won’t feel like putting up any lights at all.

Of course, there’s more to environmentalism than saving money, and every little bit helps. Try phasing in LEDs slowly as your fairy lights fail. Of course, if you really want to save those kilowatts, demand that your favorite merchants stop putting up their Christmas lights in October. 

 
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