Extreme Makeover: Holiday Light Edition

Blaine Kyllo

It was out with the old, in with the new for five B.C. households.

In the spirit of the holidays, and inspired by certain reality TV shows, BC Hydro sprung makeovers on the houses in late November and early December, replacing displays of incandescent lights with sparkly new LEDs.

Oscar Ceron is the Residential lighting program manager for Power Smart Marketing. On the phone from his office, he explains that the idea to do the makeovers came out of a brainstorming session. "We asked ourselves what we were really trying to get people to do," he says, "which is to switch out their old, incandescent lights." The makeovers were, says Oscar, a fun way to promote that idea.

The benefits of LED holiday lights

The energy savings that come from using ENERGY STARĀ® LED lights in holiday displays are both short and long term, says Oscar. Seasonal LEDs can provide up to 90 per cent energy savings, and will last up to 10 times longer than the old-school incandescent lights.

They are safer, too, because they are made with plastics, not glass, and they give off virtually no heat. So you won't have to worry about burning your fingers when changing bulbs. Not that you'll ever have any.

But Oscar says that many homes are adding LED light strands to their existing incandescent lights. It's important, he explains, to get rid of the less efficient incandescents altogether. They should be retired, he suggest, and recycled at a location approved by the B.C. Recycling Council. That's what happened to the lights recovered during the makeover campaign.

The homes that received makeovers were spread throughout the province, with two in Fort St. John, one in Nanaimo, and two in the Lower Mainland: Jenny Miles' home in Surrey, and Kim Osborne's house in North Vancouver.

Oscar says the objective was to find homes that had the kind of modest light display that is typical of average B.C. houses.

Thanks for the memories

The lights that were taken down from Jenny Miles' home were family heirlooms, of a sort. She remembers the multicoloured string that had been lining the roof of her two-storey home from when she was a little girl, and the house belonged to her grandmother.

"Those lights have been here for as long as I can remember," she tells me on the phone.

She and her family, husband Sean Cassidy and five kids ranging in age from two to 10, moved into the house in November after purchasing it from her grandmother. The old strings of lights were included.

They were replaced with red LEDs. Jenny says that it looks so good, she and Sean decided to light up the yard, too. So they purchased some multicoloured LED strings for the yard.

The kids, she says, loved the whole experience. Especially because they get to turn the new lights on every night.

Made to last

Kim Osborne's son Luca knew, heading out one Friday morning, that when he came home the light display would be different. "It was pretty exciting for him to come home from school that day," she says.

Kim, Luca, and Kim's partner, Mimi LeMay, moved into their Canyon Heights home a year ago. Near the foot of Grouse Mountain, there are very tall trees growing in their yard. In mid-November, Kim had wrapped red and green incandescent lights down the trunk of one of the trees and over the peak of the front door of the home. The lights came from Kim's sister, who had just upgraded to LEDs.

The new light display, with ENERGY STAR LEDs, includes strings of multicoloured lights lining the rooftop of the house and carport, and strands of white lights wrapping around two of the trees in the front yard.

Kim says it looks amazing. And because the crew that put up the lights showed her what they did, she's confident she can get it up again next year.

Stay tuned for Season Two?

Feedback on Extreme Makeover: Holiday Light Edition has been completely positive, admits Power Smart's Oscar, and the initiative has spiked enthusiasm and attention. As to whether it will be renewed for a second season in 2011, Oscar says that his team will revisit the idea next fall. "We like the concept," he explains, suggesting that it could be refined, or Power Smart might do something completely different. "The main goal is to raise awareness as to the benefits of ENERGY STAR holiday LEDs and help people save energy and money."

In the meantime, make sure you join Team Power Smart so you can take advantage of any special savings that might be made available to members. And when you're getting rid of your old incandescent light strands, make sure you check with the B.C. Recycling Council to find out where you can dispose of them responsibly.

Blaine Kyllo is a North Vancouver-based freelance writer and regular contributor to