Have an Efficient Holiday

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Although holidays are a time for family, friends and celebrations, the hustle and bustle mean lots of power gets used. So don’t let a higher-than-normal January electric bill be the last gift of the season. With a few simple tricks you can still celebrate — and save money at the same time.

The brightest house on the block

Start with energy-efficient lighting, namely lightemitting diodes (LEDs). While a string of traditional incandescent mini-lights uses 36 watts of power, LEDs only consume 5 watts and last up to 10 times longer. LEDs are typically made of plastic and will not break,..and many are brighter than traditional mini-lights.

However, a string of LEDs can cost two to three times more than traditional string lights, and many homeowners have reported mixed results with performance. Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, LEDs use computer chips to create light. Depending on the quality of the manufacturing process, the brightness and life may not be what’s expected.

A good rule of thumb: Cheaper is not always better. When looking for LEDs, view the lights plugged in at the store, or make sure you can return them if they do not meet your expectations.

All holiday lights, whether LED or incandescent, should be placed on a timer. Simple timers cost $20 and can be set to turn on at sunset and off after a set number of hours. It’s usually best to leave lights on from sunset until bedtime.

Giving energy efficiency

Many electronic gifts are “energy vampires,” sucking electricity 24 hours a day, even when switched off. Cell phone chargers, computers, video game consoles and any device that comes with a large, square plug are likely energy vampires.

When possible, unplug electronics that are not being used, or plug them into a smart power strip. A smart power strip controls the flow of electricity to specific devices plugged into it. For example, it may cut the flow of electricity to unused devices such as DVD players, video game consoles and stereo systems while allowing Tvs and satellite or cable boxes to remain operational. To keep your home entertainment center running lean, look for ENERGY STARrated televisions, and ask satellite or cable providers for energy-efficient boxes.

Prevent post-holiday electric bill shock by thinking creatively and shopping carefully this year. The money you save can be used for the most dreaded January bills of all: credit cards.

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Hook up to an energy-efficient manufactured home

Not all manufactured homes are created equal. To find the most energy-efficient home, look for one that is ENERGY STAR-qualified. Here’s a tip from your local electic cooperative: An ENERGY STAR-qualified manufactured home may not look any different from other homes, but it will save you energy — and money.

Every ENERGY STAR manufactured home comes with several important features: effective insulation in the floors and walls to help maintain comfortable indoor temperatures and keep the interior quieter; tight construction and sealed ducts, which reduce leaks, drafts and outdoor noise; high-performance windows to keep heat out during summer and in during winter; and efficient and properly sized heating and cooling equipment.

Because it costs less to heat and cool an ENERGY STAR manufactured home, you’ll experience lower utility bills than the owner of a standard model. And thanks to its energy-efficient features, you’ll be better protected against heat, cold, drafts and outside noise.

For other tips on how to save energy — and money — visit www.energysavers.gov or call the efficiency experts at your electric co-op.

Invest in safety with tamper-resistant outlets

Hairpins, the building blocks for many fancy “dos,” are perfect for holding back unruly tresses. But these slender, metal objects are also easy for children to manipulate. As a result, hairpins are the dominant household item improperly stuck into electrical outlets.

Each year, approximately 2,400 children — an average of seven a day — receive emergency room treatment for injuries caused by inserting conductive material into electrical outlets, according to a 10-year report released by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). More than 70 percent of these incidents occur at home, with adult supervision typically present.

Hairpins are involved 32 percent of the time, followed by keys, 17 percent, and fingers, 12 percent. Other common culprits include pins, screws, nails, twist ties and paper clips.

The end result? Children receive a burn about 95 percent of the time, according to CPSC. Though ranging in severity, a significant number of serious and fatal burns occur, and even minor injuries can leave emotional trauma. Pediatric burns can be particularly serious because a child’s skin is thin and offers little resistance to electric flow or heat.

The danger of electrical outlets isn’t new; parents often use plastic outlet caps to cover outlets when “childproofing” a home. Unfortunately, the Electrical Safety Foundation Inc. (ESFI) claims that plastic caps are not the safest option since they can easily be removed by a young child. Instead, ESFI suggests installing tamper-resistant outlets.

Although normal-looking, these types of outlets include a shutter mechanism to protect against harm from inserting foreign objects. The spring-loaded system only allows electricity to flow when you apply equal pressure to both sides of the outlet, as happens when you plug in an electrical device. When outlets aren’t used, both shutters are closed.

For co-op consumers with brandnew homes, tamper-resistant outlets may already have been installed; the 2008 National Electrical Code requires them. However, these outlets are cheap — costing as little as $2 at some retailers — and can easily be incorporated into older homes.

Invite safety home for the holidays

It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of holiday entertaining — cookies to bake, decorations to hang, calls to make, presents to wrap. But don’t overlook safety during the rush of the holidays. The winter holiday season marks peak time for home fires and preventable injuries.

The good news is that it’s not difficult to make your home ready to safely host all of your favorite holiday activities.

First, take time out from your party preparations to test your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, which should be installed on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area. Smoke alarms should also be located inside each bedroom. Be sure to share your family fire escape plan with any overnight guests.

Arrange your holiday decorations to avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many lights, cords or appliances. Inspect all decorations, cords and outlets for damage before use. Keep electrical cords out of doorways and high-traffic areas where they pose a tripping hazard. Do not damage cords by pinching them or attaching them with staples or nails.

Keep young visitors safe by preparing your home before they arrive. If your home is not already “childproof,” install tamper-resistant receptacles or use safety covers on all unused electrical outlets. Store breakables, candles, matches and other potentially dangerous items in inaccessible or locked areas. Don’t forget to put away small items like buttons, coins and jewelry, which are choking hazards. Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairways to keep babies and toddlers safe.

Safety doesn’t stop when the party starts. Keep decorations, gifts and other combustibles at least 3 feet from heat sources or open flames. Never leave the kitchen when something is cooking. Make sure children are supervised at all times in the kitchen and anywhere space heaters, candles or fireplaces are being used. Turn off and unplug all decorations before leaving home or turning in for the night.

Remember that a safe and happy holiday remains the best gift you can give friends and family.

Avoid a holiday decorating disaster

Few traditions are as unique to the holidays as festooning our homes and yards with twinkling lights and festive decorations. While these displays add to the magic of the season, they also increase our risks for holiday fires and injuries. So follow these steps to ensure that your traditions result in a safe, bright and happy time for your family.

Carefully inspect each electrical decoration and extension cord before use, and discard any damaged items. Cracked sockets, bare or frayed wires and loose connections may cause a serious shock or fire. Avoid overloading outlets, which can overheat and also cause fires.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends never connecting more than three strands of incandescent lights together. Do not pinch cords in windows or doors or under heavy furniture.

When decorating outside, make sure outdoor outlets are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters. Check that all items and extension cords are marked for outdoor use. And exercise extreme caution when decorating near overhead power lines. Use a wooden or fiberglass ladder instead of metal. Keep yourself and all of your equipment at least 10 feet from power lines.

Take special care with Christmas trees. If purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. Heated rooms dry out live trees — even fresh ones — rapidly. Place the tree at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces and space heaters. Be sure to keep the stand filled with water. For artificial trees, look for “fire resistant” on the label.

Decorate your tree, live or artificial, with noncombustible or flame-resistant materials. Never use burning candles on or near your tree.

Whether your house is the most festive on the block or you prefer a more low-key style, make safety an important part of your holiday preparations.

Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International

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About Author

James Dulley

James Dulley writes weekly newspaper columns and monthly magazine articles for more than 400 publications. All of the columns are included on his web site at dulley.com. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University.

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