Green Building News

Green Building News December 2002

December 10, 2002

Make Holiday Lights Both Festive and Frugal

Long strings of festive lights have become firmly entrenched in the American holiday tradition. But when the electric bill comes due a jubilant reveler can become a bitter Ebenezer Scrooge. To avoid a "Bah humbug!" attitude come January, the California Energy Commission suggests that you take an energy-efficient look at the bulbs you're stringing on your trees and on the eaves of your home.

Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? While most C7 or C9 lights use 5 to 7 watts per bulb, some of the older strings use up to 10 watts per bulb!

Consider buying new miniature lights, which use about 70 percent less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs. If you prefer the brilliance of the larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, which use about 30 percent less energy than 7- to 10-watt bulbs. Although the new bulbs will cost money initially, you will see energy savings immediately.

To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill unnecessarily, use an automatic timer, both indoors and out. You'll remove the burden of turning the lights on and off, and avoid leaving them on all night or during the daylight hours. Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.

Would you like to be the first in your neighborhood to try something new and different? Ask your lighting supplier for LED holiday bulbs, or look for them on the Internet. Now available in green, yellow, red, white and blue. They're shatterproof, shock resistant, safe to touch and won't burn your children's hands! They also present no fire hazard, save up to 85 percent of your energy costs, and are long lasting.

To determine how many watts you're using, multiply the number of holiday bulbs by the number of watts per bulb. (If you're not sure of the wattage, use 10 watts per bulb just to be safe!) When you're calculating the total, don't forget to include appliances, normal lighting, and other electrical equipment already running on the same circuit.

If you're in the mood for a holiday that's old-fashioned and more energy efficient, consider decorating this year's tree with edible ornaments, like gingerbread men, candy canes, and strings of popcorn and cranberries. But stay away from burning candles on or around your tree. Although they may provide a soft, flickering light, they're a definite fire hazard, and aromatic candles have been known to cause indoor air quality problems.

Don't forget safety in your holiday decorating. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure all lights you purchase contain the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, which means they meet UL safety requirements.
  • While you're reading labels, be sure you're buying the right set for indoor use, outdoor use, or both.
  • Before decorating, check all light sets for frayed wires, damaged sockets, or cracked insulation. If you find any defects, replace the entire set.
  • All outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof. Keep electrical connections off the ground, and make sure wiring is kept clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent any risk of shock. It's also a good idea to use a ground fault circuit interrupter on each circuit. If current leaks through frayed or damaged wires, the interrupter will shut off the lights.
  • Don't overload your electrical circuits. Circuits in older homes carry a maximum of 1800 watts each. Most newer homes can handle 2400 watts each.
  • Remember that hot bulbs can ignite dry tree branches. To avoid disaster, keep trees well watered and keep extension cords and light strings away from the water. For safety's sake, light your tree only when you are at home and awake to enjoy it. As an extra precaution, keep a fire extinguisher handy, and be sure your home's smoke detectors have new batteries and that they're working properly.

So, no matter whether you're in competition to have the best and brightest lighting display, or you're simply looking for practical gifts to give this holiday season, keep energy efficiency in mind. It's a gift you can enjoy all year long!

Fire Performance of Plastic Lumber Decking Tested

Tests conducted by the University of California Forest Product Laboratory (UCFPL) show how different types of plastic lumber decking perform under urban-wildland interface fire conditions. The issue is critical in California where wildfires threaten thousands of homes each year. Many homes now sport decks made from plastic lumber or plastic-wood composites. California's Fire Marshall is preparing fire performance requirements for plastic building components to be included in the state building code.

The tests included 15 commercial deckboard materials (wood, wood-plastic, and all-plastic) chosen to represent the range of more than 20 products available on the market. Selection of products was based on material composition and cross-section form. The test protocols were designed to best distinguish ways that deckboard materials may degrade in urban-wildland interface fire exposure. 

Two tests were performed. The first simulated a fire burning along the ground, underneath the structure. The second simulated a burning brand dropping from above. Both cross-section form and material affect burning characteristics. Generally, solid products performed better than those with hollow or channeled profiles. However, the gaps between boards eventually caused most solid products to sustain the flame.

Three products showed "no degradation effects" after 40 minutes: redwood, a fiberglass reinforced composite and one solid wood-plastic composite.


Achieve Energy Performance Goals for New Building Design

The next "Achieve Energy Performance Goals for New Building Design" Internet presentation will be held on Wednesday, December18, 2:00-2:45 PM, EST. This presentation describes how to use ENERGY STAR's software tool Target Finder, and how it complements energy simulation modeling and the LEED rating system. Target Finder takes rudimentary building and occupant data and yields the annual energy use value required if the building is to perform in the top 25 percent of U.S. building stock. The talk will also present strategies that will enhance performance and illustrates how building owners and designers can readily evaluate and achieve energy-based design targets. Decision-makers will learn how to set realistic goals for energy use and compare simulated results to their target. It will show designers how to compare energy simulation results to top performing buildings using Target Finder. The Target Finder and integrated design assistance has been developed for office buildings and other medium to large scale buildings such as schools, hospitals and hotels.

There is no cost for participation. You simply view the presentation on your office computer and converse with the presenter using a toll-free telephone line. Visit the EPA Web site to register.

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