Deck the halls … green!

It doesn’t matter whether your holiday preparations consist of a single Charlie Brown tree or a fairytale forest - decorating for Christmas is a great opportunity to go green.

Look beyond tinsel, glass and plastic to find plenty of eco-friendly ideas. Made-in-NB wreaths are an excellent place to start. They are a bargain, look wonderful and smell great. Later on, the fir tips can be composted and the metal can be recycled.

If the smell of fir doesn’t do it for you, consider wreaths made of pine branches, pine cones, dried vines or even dried grains. Take a walk in your garden or the woods for more ideas. Evergreen cones can be used as tree ornaments too, au natural or dabbed with a bit of paint. Create an eco-friendly centrepiece around a bowl of mixed nuts or polished apples.

Christmas lights are a big part of holiday decorating, and many homes have fancy colourful displays. But are your lights energy misers or energy hogs? LED (light emitting diode) lights have taken the decorating world by storm over the past few years, and for good reason: they are true energy Scrooges. I have a little meter to measure power consumption, and out of curiosity I plugged my new string of 70 LED minilights into it. The result? All those LEDs use just 3 watts of electricity – amazing! That means the entire string of lights consumes less than 5 cents worth of power over an entire holiday season (IE on for 5 hours a day for 30 days).

That got me wondering, so I tested the rest of my Christmas lights. An old set of 75 minilights came in at 22 watts on the meter – more than seven times the power usage of my new LEDs for about the same amount of light.

Then I dug out my very oldest outdoor lights – the kind with bulbs that are about 5 cm high – and made two discoveries. The first was that a squirrel had eaten clean through one of the wires before I’d put the set away. A quick repair job later, I made the second discovery: that old set of 25 lights consumes 170 watts of power, or nearly 60 times what my new LED set uses. Which, of course, led to my third discovery: squirrels are a lot smarter than I thought. Far from damaging my property, this little critter was just doing his part so I would… see the light!

While the savings from one set of lights might not seem like much, those savings multiply with every set – and not many of us have just one.

So is it better to throw old lights out and get new LEDs? Well, that depends on whether you use them indoors or out, and whether your heating system is electric. It sounds puzzling, but here’s the link.

Most of the extra power used by non-LED lights is given off as waste heat. However, the waste heat from indoor Christmas lights helps warm your house. If your heating system is electric, the net difference is zero: you’ll use more power for lighting but less for heating.

So if you have electric heat, you can use old non-LED lights indoors until they wear out or burn out. For outdoors, LEDs are always the best choice since any heat given off outside is truly wasted.

And look for new solar powered LED light sets. They draw all of their energy from the sun, so they add not a penny to your power bill.

This year, deck the halls in green: choose eco-friendly decorations and energy efficient Christmas lights.

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Carl Duivenvoorden is one of two Atlantic Canadians trained by Al Gore to deliver live presentations of “An Inconvenient Truth”. He lives in Upper Kingsclear, and can be reached via his website, www.changeyourcorner.com.

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