COLCHESTER - The bulbous human forms on Mark Lacroix's front lawn gently bob and wobble under the weight of falling snow, like barroom drunks nodding off over glasses of beer. The inebriated effect seems apropos for the inflatable Homer Simpson, but less so for Frosty the Snowman or Santa Claus, who lies nearly flat on his back. But as Lacroix's daughter brushes the snow off the air-filled lawn decorations, the roaring fans inside the figures perk them right back up.
During the holidays, Lacroix and his neighbor across the street have a friendly rivalry going, illuminating this stretch of Richfield Lane in Colchester like a ride at Disneyworld. "It's not really a full-out competition like you see on TV," Lacroix admits. "But we try to liven it up for the neighborhood."
One would assume the Lacroixs are also livening things up for the folks at Green Mountain Power, animating six large, inflatable lawn decorations as well as strings of flashing holiday lights and loudspeakers that chime Christmas music in the background for several hours each night.
In fact, Vermont's second largest electricity provider reports that, when it comes to winter energy consumption, holiday lights and decorations barely even register on their meters. "We don't want to be Grinches and say, 'Don't use Christmas lights,'" notes Dotty Schnure at Green Mountain Power. "We just say that if you're going to use energy, use it efficiently."
Likewise, Chris Burns at the Burlington Electric Department says that when they look at the "hourly load shape" of residential energy consumption, lawn ornaments - even the large, fan-driven inflatables that have become ubiquitous in the last few years - don't spike the grid like, say, 750-watt air conditioners do on hot summer afternoons.
"Yeah, we see the [inflatable] Santas out there on the Chevy Chase-style homes," Burns says. "They do cause complaints for folks who didn't realize how much it can add to their bill. But the variability is tremendous . . . and they're not the killers you'd think they'd be."
To offer some perspective, consider a typical 6-foot inflatable Santa, which draws about 60 watts of power. Assuming its fan is kept running 24 hours per day, it consumes 1440 watt/hours, or 1.44 kilowatt-hours per day. At 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, keeping Santa standing upright costs that homeowner about 18 cents per day.
This time of year, the more significant energy drivers are furnace fans, boiler motors, electrical space heaters and lights, Burns explains.