Nature- and neighbour-friendly Christmas lights

Nature- and neighbour-friendly Christmas lights

Shopping mall with Christmas lights
Photo by Annette Krop-Benesch

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting darker and shorter. The moods are getting heavier. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel – Christmas. And like every year it’s promising to get even brighter and more colourful than last year.

To make this clear, I do like Christmas lights. We used to have Christmas lights for many years on the balcony, but they weren’t switched on too often, because we had to do it by hand and only did that when we wanted to see them. One reason was that every artificial light has an impact in the environment. We need to consider that when we press the light switch.

Why is there a problem with Christmas lights? The most obvious is the energy consumption. Sure, today we use LEDs and they need considerably less energy than incadescent lights. However, the energy that is saved in every single LED is often used to just have more LEDs. So in the end we haven’t saved much, if any energy at all.

Many people see a solution in solar-powered lights, but are they really environmentally friendly? To produce solar panels we need a lot of energy and end up with heaps of toxic waste. The same is true when we want to discard the old panels. This is okay for good quality solar panels which are used for many years, but the usually Christmas or garden light doesn’t live long enough to make up for the ecological costs of its production. So in the end, using a cable and a power socket might actually be the better way.

Photo: Hans via Pixabay

There is another reason why we should be careful with Christmas lights. Light has lots of influence on our day-night-rhythm, our mind setting, and our sleep. This can well be positiv, especially in winter, when many people get depressed by the short days. So this is probably the original reason for Christmas lights and its predecessors: to bring light and happiness into a dark time of year.

But no matter if it’s winter or summer, there comes a time every day when we need darkness to find rest. Bright Christmas lights can it make harder for us to settle down for the night, many people can’t sleep well with lights shining into their bedrooms.

Christmas lights also influence animals. This is especially the case with insects that are drawn to the lights. It has also been shown that there are more slugs in your garden, if you use lights at night. If you life in a colder region, there will not be many insects and slugs around in December, however, birds and many small mammals are also disturbed by artificial light. They might not get enough sleep or avoid illuminated areas.

As in humans, light influences the biological clock of all lifeforms. When we extend the short winter days with Christmas lights, the bodys of many animals don’t switch to winter mode. They don’t get enough fat for winter, their metabolism increases, and burns up the little fat they have. For small animals, this is a matter of life and death. Trees next to a street light might not shed their leaves or grow new ones in winter. During frost, these new buds will freeze and the tree is weakened.

On the big scale, Christmas lights are a small part of light pollution, but can cause damage on small scale if we overdo it. The most ecologically friendly action would be to skip them completely, but then we would also loose some of the magic of this season. If you want to reduce the impact of your Christmas lights on nature and the people around you, here are some tipps for environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and healthy Christmas lights:

Different colour temperatures: cold white in the front, warm white in the back. (Foto: blickpixel via Pixabay)

Use warm-white lights: Cold-white LEDs are the most efficient LEDs at present, but warm-white or amber LEDs need onl slightly more energy by now. The maximum colour temperature should be 3000 K, which is known as warm-white. If you want to create the appearance of real candles, use Amber-LEDs with not more than 2200 K. This light looks amazing and has almost no influence on the biological clock of neighbours, or garden wildlife.

Play with contrast instead of using a floodlight: Do you know that moment in Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase switches on his Christmas light installation and the fuse blows? You love your extensive Christmas decoration with those amazing light effects, but your neighbours might be less happy and you create quite some light pollution. The secret of an impressive light installation is not sheer quantity, but quality. Instead of floodlighting your house, create contrasts between light and dark by putting spots on the right places.

Foto: Annette Krop-Benesch

Hold back on action: Flashing light in many colour, lots of movement, lots of action. This is definitely an eyecatcher, but for how long? Let’s be honest, Christmas time is always stressful, so why add more action to a time when most of us want to find peace and rest. Static lights aren’t less impressive, and you can still switch between lights from time to time.

Beware of beamers: This is the new trend: projecting moving Christmas motives on your house. For many neighbours, this is a nightmare before Christmas. Beamers make house fronts very bright and are not restricted to the house they point at. This increases light pollution and can be a real strain on neighbours when it shines into their houses. Also consider that the light will shine into your own windows. Under no circumstances should the beamer bring light onto the street, this can cause glare for drivers. There is also the question whether the beam can harm the eye. Of course, these beamers are not as dangerous as a laser pointer, but getting the bright light comes into a wide, dark-adapted eye still doesn’t sound like a good idea. Be especially careful with pets and children – the latter one love to look into bright lights.

Switch off at night: Nobody will admire your Christmas decoration after midmight. Enjoy your light during the evening and switch off after 10 pm. This way you save energy and ease the strain for animals and plants in your garden. Your neighbour’s sleep will also profit from a darker night.

Photo; suju via Pixabay

Never shine a light upwards or to your neighbours: All light should stay on your property. If you use flood lights, make sure that they point downwards. Light above the horizon adds to light pollution. In no case should you illuminate your neighbours windows. In some areas this is actually illegal, but it should be common sense not to unnerve others with unwanted light.

Talk to your neighbour: Just check what your neigbours like and what disturbs them. Maybe you can find a compromise that suits you both, or you find common ideas about Christmas lights. Christmas is about love and sharing, so make sure your neigbours enjoy your lights, not get annoyed by them.

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