Mark Frauenfelder at 5:03 pm Mon, Dec 10, 2012
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Rob Cockerham went around his neighborhood and estimated how much his neighbors were paying in electricity charges for their Christmas lights. For the house above: 2,135 watts = 26¢ per hour.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His latest book is Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of DIY
The anxiety of unplugging and why we should disconnect to connect
Suspicionless searches at US border: the next battleground for press freedom
I wish my house looked like that.
Not too shabby. Buck and a quarter a night strikes me as an okay surcharge for my five-hour-nightly Xmas light schedule, moral questions of unnecessary power usage aside. And my display is modest compared to that one. (Not to say “less tacky.” I refuse to go down the Giant Inflatable Santa road, but my trailer-park tastes and upbringing forbid me from calling someone else’s Xmas display tacky. In my circles, tacky’s kinda the gold standard.)
My neighbor put out really, really dark blue lights. More Dracula’s Castle than Santa’s Village. I approve heartily.
Also, Kenny Irwin! Four acres and five million lights.
Good God. The man has exhausted everything Christmasy and has now gone way out where the buses don’t run. ”30% tiger, 30% reindeer, 40% robot. All in one, it’s 100% complete.” ”Embryonic aliens right here to greet the people as they come in…”
That’s one jolly madman. And an awfully indulgent dad, come to think of it.
You have to visit it to really get it. The life-sized flying reindeer have working headlights for faces. And Terminator Santa is playing sepulchral music on an organ that makes fog.
Oh, look. Here’s the satellite image of their yard from Google Maps. You can see a giant, pink robot on the lower right corner and some more at the top right. To give a sense of scale, that’s four acres.
And more photos of the sculptures: http://www.dollybeast.com/2011/01/19/palm-springs-desert-getaway/
That. Is. Amazing.
Apparently some asshole stole ~1,000,000 of his lights this summer. He’s trying to switch over to lower energy lights as he replaces. He ran a successful Kickstarter to get some help, but he really needs about $50K per year to run the thing.
When I tell my wife that the reason I refuse to decorate the outside of the house because of the cost, she gets pissed. Now I have at least a BIT of proof. Then again, I’m atheist, she was raised Shiite Catholic, and the only holiday I care about is Halloween. So until I figure out how to raise the dead on my lawn for entertainment purposes as opposed to religious ones, the Church people stay ahead.
Eh…plenty of “winter” themed decor out there. The lights aren’t specifically religious…give it a go.
Unless you just can’t be arsed, that is.
I refuse to decorate the outside of the house because I hate all the neighbors. If I liked them, I’d give them something pretty. If I hated them more, I’d decorate so much they couldn’t sleep at night. Darkness means the juuuuusst right amount of hatred.
Something like the Griswold’s house. That’s always been my dream.
No what you do is have each light strand on an inconsistant strobe.
I really should. But I forgot to mention the part about how lazy I am.
Up during july: even better.
Last time I decorated, I left the strings of lights up for 10 years. They stopped working and I didn’t even unplug them until I took them down. They’d still be up there if I hadn’t painted.
Well, research it a bit and you’d realize a lot of Christmas decorations don’t have much to do with Christianity at all, many have Pagan and pre-Christian Scandinavian roots.
Actually a lot of Christian holiday traditions have totally non-christian roots, Oestre and Easter being another example.
The whole easter/ishtar thing bugs me because (except for german) every other language calls it passover/passen.
The events of Easter took place* during Passover (the Last Supper was a Seder), but they are two different holidays.
*or not. But at least are said to have taken place.
I don’t get it–does this mean we shouldn’t put tacky light displays on our lawns, or we should use LED tacky light displays? Or that I should try and not be such a Grinch? :]
(personally I’m voting for an 800 watt LED array, that would look amazing)
Put natural gas flare stacks on your roof. That’ll really pump out the holiday cheer.
Cheap electricity, brought to you by atomic power!
Remember, 50% of the electricity in the U.S. is produced by burning coal. And 70% is produced by burning non-renewable stuff. Which, eventually, we get to breathe. I don’t know if this adds to your costs, but I count it in. I also add the lives and ecosystems destroyed by mining and mountain top removal.
try to have fun at that Christmas party…not you, your friends.
Bonus question: what about the energy cost of making the lights and shipping them from China? You need to divide that by the total lifetime hours of use – which I’m guessing is not very long given that they often get thrown out after a few bulbs have failed.
Not at all! You’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that I’m still using my grandma’s big-ass Made-In-The-USA C9 incandescent sets from the early 70s! They sure built ‘em to last back then, and the kids get a kick out of watching the wheel in our electricity meter spin like there’s no tomorrow when we switch ‘em on. I swear I can see the neighborhood streetlights dim, like somebody’s riding Old Sparky to their just reward!
Nah, I’m just joshin’. Since I switched to LED lights, my total Xmas light power draw has gone from an estimated 1,250 watts (that’s ~10 strings of 25 C7 lights per string, with an estimated lifespan of 1,000 hours per bulb) down to 24 watts (same number of lights, but LED instead of incandescent). And the bulb lifespan is now 200,000 hours, which works out to nearly 23 years if they were kept on 24/7.
So, unless I’m missing some important calculation, turning on my Xmas lights uses about half the power of my regular porchlight, which I turn off for the season anyway. Sounds like a net gain to me.
I love carbon calculations. If you eat some activated charcoal, you’ll save even MORE.
Probably help with the halitosis to boot.
My parents still have those classic C9′s in a box in the basement. Now I see why Christmas tree fires were a serious danger when I was a kid.
For some reason, complaining about electrical usage while surfing a site like boing boing seems somehow kettle/black.
eh…considering a google Search makes about as much of a carbon impact as a few people breathing, and browsing this site’s likely to be a tiny percent-of-a-percent of that due to not having nearly as many servers…
My boss’s house uses about 6500 Watts, as he informed me today.
One year as we were driving to his house for the annual office holiday party, we passed a utility truck checking out a big electrical junction box a couple blocks from his house that had been hit by a car. When we got to the boss’s house, it was dark and the inflatable penguins were flaccid. Serves him right.
I think your boss is exaggerating. Even the most over-the top decorations I measured didn’t crack 2,500 watts.
It was 7 years ago, but here’s a display that peaked at 12.5 kilowatts.
I’m told the majority of the bulbs in the video were C7s and C9s.
Il’l have to ask again. He is is an electrical engineer, so I trust his ability to measure this.
For reference, the LED strings (25 C-7 size bulbs) I have on my house use 0.18 watts per string. Meaning you can put up a ton of them before it really makes much difference.
I also put up a bunch of blowmold decorations, which I have endeavored to convert to CFL as much as possible. I use more power than I’d ideally prefer, but it’s still FAR less than incandescents. When LEDs come down a bit more, I’ll be switching over to those.
I don’t wanna split hairs, ’cause your overall point is correct, but are you really using 0.18 watts per string, or per bulb? I don’t have my own light packaging handy, but this site here shows a string of 25 C7 LED bulbs, and on the Specifications tab they show 2.4 watts for the string, and 0.096 watts per bulb.
Then again, you might have super-efficient LEDs, for all I know. But as I said, your overall point is valid: Xmas lights aren’t nearly as power-suckingly awful as they were a generation ago. Used to be the box said you could join up to three strands together. You’ll note that the linked set of 25 LED lights shows a limit of one hundred eleven linked strands on one circuit. That’s 2,775 individual lights on one outlet, drawing 266 watts. That’s power consumption in the neighborhood of two old CRT TV sets, and would light my lovely house eleven times over.
You’re actually correct; I was conflating current with wattage AND completely bolloxing the numbers.
My LED C-7s (I like the commercial-grade ones with wider bulb spacing) use 0.03 amps per string of 25, which works out to…uh…3.6W @ 120V.
By contrast – from what I can find, a string of 100 M5 LEDs (i.e. the miniature Christmas lights) draws about 9.6W, or 0.08A.
Make ‘em illegal at the same time they ban street lights.
I wanna see stars, not pissing contests.
Then move to the country. Plenty of places left that don’t have street lights. Personally I appreciate having that street light on when I’m trying to use a crosswalk at night.
In my hood you thank God Almighty for the street lights.
I bought a strand of 125 commercial grade (5 LED per bulb) ‘ceramic’ C9′s this year. The payback period is great, 3.5 years. The downside is I spent my $200 lights budget on one strand. But finally there’s something out there that isn’t total crap. After a few years I should have a decent display again.
In addition, you can easily find solar powered LED strings. A 3″ square solar cell powers them all night, with a net power and carbon cost of… zero (nit picking about cost of production and shipping aside), and as a bonus don’t need any mains wiring to put them up a tree or on the roof, far more reliable than incandescent and no mains safety issues or transformer losses either. I have four of them annoying the neighbour’s cat, cost $30 a pop and one has been gracing my balcony continuously for a year, so no longevity issues either.
Really – mains powered incandescents are dinosaur tech.
Here’s a fun one – from ABC’s “20/20,” a profile of an Oklahoma woman who goes all-out for xmas, contrasted with my friend Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist.com, who keeps it a bit more mellow.
When I lived in Austin, the houses on 37th Street were festooned with lights (hopefully they still are). I recall reading that one family painted the individual bulbs and would start doing so in July. I also remember walking around one house, they had even covered each bulb with an empty prescription bottle – when I got to the electrical meter, the disc was spinning about like a 45 rpm record and there was tip money stuffed underneath.
They would even string the lights across the street, from one house to another, using the utility cables. One night we went to visit and the entire street was dark. Turned out that the city (which owns the electric utility) complained about the Christmas lights on their utility lines, and took them down. So the entire street turned off all their Christmas lights in protest. The backlash was so strong that not only did the city relent, they sent a crew back out to put the lights back the way they had been.
Yay solidarity! But I think a member of that family was overmedicated.
If you have someone in the family who’s had a transplant you could easily see something like that being do-able.
Wow, that’s some cheap power. Here in New Zealand, during winter, I pay US$0.22/kwh.
As suburban and aesthetically disgusting and shoving-your-christian-holiday-in-my face those are, below the bottom line I find these specks of light in the darkest month quite tolerable.
Considering how many ‘Christmas’ traditions are actually stolen from pagan religions, I wouldn’t really call Christmas lights (or basically any other Christmas decoration that isn’t a Nativity scene) ‘shoving religion in your face’.
FWIW, nativity scenes have their roots in the cult devotions of Dionysus and Mithras. A diorama of the birth of the god is the kind of thing you would’ve found in any decently appointed pagan household shrine c. 200 AD.
“Christmas” lights, to me, are great at protecting against Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s too bad we don’t put them up in January, because that month is even crummier than December when it comes to darkness/cold/general gloominess. It’s well worth the $0.25/hr as far as I’m concerned, although I suspect my ~10 strings of LEDs (4 years use out of them and counting) use significantly less than that.
I’ve thought about buying more lights during the post xmass firesale and making a Closet Of Infinite Happy Warmth. Probably will never get around to it.
I have a tasteful string of LED lights under my soffit and a string hung around the living room that I use all year. I call them my “festive lights”.
I also made a foot tall LED street number and mounted it in my garage window. I always hate trying to find a house number at night. Also, emergency vehicles and delivery trucks appreciate the easily visible landmark.
The solstice is December 21, so technically, January is less gloomy because the quantity of daylight is growing again.
Assuming that the only criterion you use for measuring gloominess is the total number of daylight hours, then yes, that’s true. But January is colder, has no holidays, has more snow, and just all around sucks in general. :P
Maybe it’s my trailer park upbringing showing again (I had many neighbors whose lights stayed up unlit all the livelong year), but I keep my lights up as late into January as I can. Two or three weeks. I too appreciate the extra dollop of cheer during an otherwise cheerless month. Pasadena has had pretty sunny Januaries lately, but the angle of the sunlight is low and harsh, and the days are short, so it bums me out. I don’t think I could put up with January in an area with actual bad weather.
I used to live close to this house in Sydney, NS: http://www.fotothing.com/photos/246/246e80367ea5fa0e64eacdc6a84d3a17_64a.jpg
And this is in a place where the median household income is $41,000 and power costs 13 cents/kWh.
This reminds me of being a child getting a ride home and saying “Yeah my house is on the right, the one with no lights” because every other house on the block had ‘em. They were pretty, but we were Jewish. I think the blue lights are very pretty and when I have a house of my own I might put those up as just festive lights.
I had to ask my mom about the blue lights when I was a kid. There weren’t a great many Jewish homes in our trailer park (if any at all), so while we drove around the surrounding neighborhoods looking at lights, I wondered aloud why you’d occasionally see a house with all blue lights, but none with all red or all green or whatever. For an embarrassingly long time (up until 4th grade or so), my only concept of Jewishness was “those are the people with the all-blue Christmas lights.”
Two years ago my display (about 30,000 lights) used almost 98 amps when fully on (10,789 watts) because it was all incandescent. It was also animated and only ran for about 4 hours a night. So the net cost increase to me wasn’t substantial.
This year my display is a smidge bigger, but a lot has been converted to LED and my power usage measures in around 30 – 35 amps in total. So I’ve cut the power consumption by 2/3 migrating to LEDs. I expect by 2014 to be fully LED and I should be able to run 45,000+ lights off a single 15 amp circuit.
Would you happen to have a link to a video? I’d like to see that.
I’m not the most eco-minded person in the world, but to me it’s not about how much it costs to do it. Good for you if you can put on the world’s best neighborhood light show. Really, pat yourself on the back. Whatever makes you feel superior.
I absolutely hate the blatant waste of energy. Mr. Jones uses a few bucks a night, sure, but when there are millions of you doing it the cut goes much deeper than your pocket.
Here’s what makes me feel superior: when I walk outside looking at the lights with my kids, my 24-watt light display is on, but my 150-watt plasma TV is off. Sit and stew at the wasteful glow of Christmas cheer emanating from suburbia all you want, Grinchy McScrooge. Just do it in the dark.
That is a good balance. Keep the greater draw of resources ( the idiot box) off in lieu of an alternate visual stimulus.
Talk to the kiddo’s about parallel vs. series electrical circuits and how one bulb can go out while the other stay on.
Sounds like a good trade-off to me :)
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