While some people like to dream of a white Christmas, how about a “green” holiday? Here’s a stocking-full of green tips for your holiday festivities:
Use LED decorative lights outdoors and in. They’re better and brighter than when they were first introduced, and they save a jaw-dropping 90% of the energy used by traditional lights, according to Alberta’s Utilities Consumer Advocate. What’s more, says Dave Walton of Direct Energy, LED lightbulbs don’t run nearly as hot as traditional bulbs, so they’re safer.
Set your outdoor lights on a timer to come on at 7 p.m. and go off at midnight.
Real or fake tree? Recent Canadian research shows that unless you use a plastic tree for at least 20 years, you’re better off with a real one. If you absolutely can’t go real — allergies, condominium rules, etc. — buy the best-quality fake you can afford and commit to keeping it for a very long time. Even better than buying a real tree is decorating an indoor tree (like a ficus), suggests Simon Boyce of Sustainable Personal Finance. “Zero net new trees, real or artificial,” he says. “We use some water to keep it alive, of course, but the tree also helps process carbon dioxide in the home. After an initial investment not much higher than a harvested tree, you lose a yearly expense. It’s the best option, in my opinion.”
A green feast
Don’t preheat your oven for roasting a turkey. Preheating involves blasting the element at full strength until the desired temperature is reached — why waste all that heat on an empty oven? Ontario’s Hydro One notes that preheating is only necessary for baking, when more precision is required.
Turn off your electric oven a few minutes before the end of the cooking time, to let the residual heat finish the job. (Always check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure your dish is completely cooked.)
No peeking! Instead of opening the oven door, turn on the oven light and check through the window. Opening the oven door increases cooking time and wastes energy by lowering the oven temperature by as much as 14°C.
Cook several items in the oven at once. It may require a bit of math to align the oven settings and cooking times, but unless you are blessed with a double oven, you probably do this anyway. Just be sure to leave plenty of room for heat to circulate around each pan, or you could fool the thermostat into thinking the desired heat setting hasn’t been reached, and incinerate your dinner.
Switch on your oven’s self-cleaning cycle (if it has one) right after you take the last item out of the oven, to take advantage of the residual heat. Because they’re made with additional insulation, self-cleaners use less energy for normal cooking than regular ovens — but don’t use the self-clean feature more than once a month, or you’ll cancel out the energy savings.
Don’t forget the rest of your appliances. Save energy by using your microwave to steam veggies or reheat gravy, or your toaster oven to bake or broil small items. A slow cooker can also be pressed into service — using less energy and freeing up a spot on the stove for another dish.
Keep that fridge door shut! Our mothers were right: “Letting out the cold” costs money. But if you have several items to take out or put in, the California Energy Commission notes that it’s actually more efficient to leave the door open a bit longer than to keep opening and closing it.
Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and use air-dry or other energy-saving cycles. If your special-occasion china and crystal can’t go in the dishwasher, fill the sinks when you wash them by hand, rather than letting the water run.
Install low-flow showerheads. If you have overnight guests for the holidays, Walton says these energy-saving devices will also stretch your morning hot water supply.
Install a programmable thermostat — and program it! “More and more people have them,” says Walton, “but they’re not using them.” With a houseful of guests and a non-stop kitchen, you can lower your furnace setting by a couple of degrees in the day and a bit more at night, and still keep everyone comfortable.
Consider choosing gifts of caring from organizations such as UNICEF, World Vision or World Wildlife Fund. No throw-away wrapping, no wasting gas hunting for a parking space at the mall and no chance of giving the wrong size or colour.
Give an energy-efficient gift such as an LED desk lamp, a hand-cranked radio or flashlight, or an LED booklight.
Don’t use throw-away giftwrap or expensive paper gift bags. Make the wrapping part of the gift: Swaddle a gift for an adult in a tea towel or a scarf, and a child’s gift in a kid-themed pillowcase. Little gifts can go in the toe of a festive sock (tuck the other sock in, too!). Drape a large gift such as a bike or drum set in a bright tablecloth rather than hectares of paper.