House & Home

The Ultimate Guide to Saving Energy During Christmas

According to University of University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel, Americans spend about $65 billion a year on Christmastime gifts. Add to that the increased cost of wintertime home heating, and you'll see that December is a month of major spending. Your credit card bills might be big this

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According to University of University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel, Americans spend about $65 billion a year on Christmastime gifts. Add to that the increased cost of wintertime home heating, and you'll see that December is a month of major spending. Your credit card bills might be big this January, but you don't need to have the additional shock of a huge utility bills. You won't have that sticker shock if you follow these tips:
1. Unplug holiday light displays during the day: Contrary to the rumor, turning lights on an off does not use more electricity than leaving them burning. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is more energy-efficient to turn any kind of light bulb off than to leave it on. Regardless of whether you are using incandescent, fluorescent, or LED light bulbs, it takes more energy to keep lights burning than to turn them on and off. Since your holiday light display will have little visual impact during daylight hours, it pays to turn it off during the day. The cost of turning it back on at night is far less than the cost of leaving it on all day.
2. Set holiday light displays on automatic timers: The morning rush can be fierce. With lunches to make, buses and trains to catch, and errands to run before work, it's hard to remember to turn off the Christmas lights. Setting the light display on an automatic timer solves that problem. I often use mechanical timers for my lights. They are inexpensive and easy to use. Just plug the string of lights into the timer, plug the timer into the outlet, and set the time that you want the lights to go on, and go off.
3. Reduce the size of outdoor lighting displays: Arguably, setting up an elaborate light display, bigger and more sparkly than last year, is probably fun. For many folks, outdoing the previous year's light displays is a good-natured neighborhood rivalry that they look forward to. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but more lights = more electricity used. That fact is obvious. This is really a question of evaluating one's financial priorities. If the tradition of a huge light display is so important to you that you've figured the cost of electricity to run it into your holiday budget, cool for you. If not, you can save fossil fuel and some money by reducing the size of your holiday light display. Are you running one of those inflatable Santas with a blower that runs on electricity full time? Maybe omit that feature of the display and stick to lights only. If you are running 25 strings of lights, can you reduce the number to 10? With a bit of creativity and design acumen, your light display can be merry and bright, and can cost you less in electricity.
4. Use LED lights for holiday light displays instead of incandescent lights: There are so many reasons to switch to LED lights, and they are not all related to saving electricity. Do we even have to talk about this anymore? Just switch to LED X-mas lights, and call it a night.
5. Plan shopping trips to reduce gasoline use: All those last minute purchases can drive a person nuts! Advanced planning can help you to save money on gasoline, and it can make the days leading up to Christmas more peaceful and easy for you.
6. Haul less weight in the trunk of your car: So you went shopping, but you don't want to lug all of that loot inside the house. The perfect solution is to leave all that junk in the trunk, right? Wrong. Extra weight in the trunk of the car means that your car is pulling more weight around, and pulling more weight around means that your car is burning more gasoline. Busted! Burn some calories by carrying those big-arse presents into the house, even if you're planning to put them back in the trunk to drive them to the lucky recipients' houses. Earn your eggnog, my friend. Earn it.
7. Use an automatic garage door closer: According to electrical expert Martin Halliday of Green Building Advisor, it's not the R-value of the garage door that matters for energy efficiency, but rather how airtight the door is. Why does it even matter? Newer houses tend to have better-insulated side walls than older houses. If you live in an older house, it is likely that you are losing heat through the side wall that is attached to your house's garage. If the garage door is not well sealed – or if it is open – all of the heat that the structure of the garage could possibly retain escapes. It pays to keep the garage door closed. Yet, we all know that it's easy to forget to close the garage door during the hubbub of the holidays. An automatic garage door opener can help you to keep the garage door closed while you pay attention to more pressing matters.
8. Install a motion-sensor light in your kitchen pantry: At holiday parties, it's all about the food. When you're cooking up a storm, and fetching ingredients for multiple courses from the pantry, it's easy to forget to turn off the light in the pantry. A motion-sensor light will solve that problem. Lifehacker published some dynamite directions for making your own pantry light motion sensor.
9. Run your dishwasher more efficiently: A report on the efficiency of dishwashers versus hand washing on says, "It's also worth noting that not all dishwasher owners use their machines in the most efficient manner possible. To really green up your automatic dishwashing, you should always use the air-drying function, avoid the profligate "rinse hold" setting, wash only full loads, and install the machine far away from your refrigerator. (The dishwasher's heat will force your fridge to work harder and thus negate your supposed energy savings.)"
10. Cook as efficiently as possible: If you are cooking on an electric oven, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that you can reduce your use of electricity by doing some of your cooking in a crock pot, which supposedly uses less electricity than an electric oven. You can also reduce your fuel consumption by baking as much food as possible together. If you are cooking in advance, cook dishes in the same oven that require the same temperature for baking. For example, instead of heating the oven up to 400 degrees four times to cook four separate dishes, try to cook all of them in the same round.
11. Opt for a fiber optic tree: Fiber optic Christmas trees are synthetic, pre-lit trees that can be stored and used year after year. Instead of cutting down a living tree, using it for a short time, then discarding it, a fiber optic tree is virtually waste-free. Since the tree is lit by LED lights embedded in its limbs, there is no need to purchase or plug in additional lights for it.
12. Wear slippers: There is nothing like cozy holiday slippers to keep your feet warm. Heat rises, and cold air settles by the floor. Your whole body will feel warmer if your feet are warm. You'll be able to turn your heat down a few degrees by wearing a hat (to retain the body heat that you lose through your head) and slippers (to protect your feet from the cold air near the floor).
Chaya Kurtz writes for She likes pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and asking New York City plumbers if they have ever found snakes in toilets.