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How do the holidays impact your electric bill?

ESCANABA — Festive decorations hang throughout the city this time of year, bringing a holiday glow to residences. One can wonder how many Christmas lights burn before an increase in wattage is reflected in an electric bill. According to city officials, that depends.

City of Escanaba Electrical Superintendent Mike Furmanski said in November and December, 381,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) were used, 12 percent more than usual in residential areas.

“Actually, more electric is used in July, due to residents using their air conditioners,” said Furmanski.

The increase in electric useage this time of year could also be due to the early winter-like temperatures. City of Escanaba Treasurer Kim Gustafson said she saw a rise in electric bills in October.

“We do see higher bills at this time of the year. However, because we live in such a cold climate, and saw some unseasonably colder weather in December, it is difficult to tell if it is due to Christmas lights or heaters,” said Gustafson.

City of Escanaba Electrical Engineer Jerry Pirkola said house lights are on longer this time of year.

“… also it’s getting darker earlier, so lights come on earlier,” Pirkola said. “When it comes to Christmas lights, a lot of people are going to LEDs, getting away from incandescent. They cost 75 percent more than LEDs.”

The current residential cost of electricity in Escanaba is $.0963/kWh, according to Pirkola. By knowing the number of bulbs and watts per bulb on a string of lights, you will know how much your Christmas display increased your electrical bill — ‘watts per bulb’ X ‘number of bulbs’ = total watts used to light a string of lights. The choice of bulb can affect the cost. Different bulbs have different wattage values. Incandescent bulbs are 80 to 90 percent more in wattage than LEDs (light emitting diodes).

After determining the wattage of a display, calculate the approximate electric usage cost. Multiply wattage by 0.001 to get kWh. Multiply the kWh by the number of hours the lights will be on (kWh/day). Multiply the amount by the number of days to calculate the kWh per season (kWh/season). Take the calculated amount of kWh for the season and multiply it by the cost of power usage located on the electric bill, $.0963 in Escanaba.

A typical light wattage user could see an increase of $10 over Christmas using either 635 incandescent watts, or 96 LED watts. A typical heavy user of incandescent bulbs could have an increase over $100, compared to the cost of burning the same amount of LED bulbs. An enthusiastic holiday decorator may have an electric bill $300 more than usual using incandescent bulbs, compared to approximately $40 when decorating with LED bulbs.

“We have had several residents who have either stopped in or called to ask about their high electric bills,” said Gustafson. “When asked about anything different, they stated they have been using electric heaters, which can cause bills to be higher. Also, most Christmas lights are LED now, so they use less electricity than the older types of lights.”

Before decorating with incandescent or LED strings of lights, verify your home’s wiring can handle it. Decorating 265 feet of rooftop with LED lights, plugged together end to end, may need only one outlet, compared to six outlets when stringing incandescent lights up. A difference of 1,887 watts. When wattage exceeds the amp capacity of the circuit breakers in the fuse box they will trip. Most household circuits are 15 or 20 amps.

Incandescent bulbs cost more in electricity and last a shorter amount of hours, but some people like the way they look and still use them because they usually cost less than LED lights upfront.

“Save energy by using a timer to control the time lights go on and off so they’re not on all the time,” Pirkola said.

According to Pirkola there are two types of electric meters in Escanaba, the older analog one, which is more difficult to read, and the newer digital one that cycles through and shows kWh. Eventually all meters will be changed to digital.

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