Surge of joy: On Mountain View Street, happiness is a high power bill

Rudolph and Santa stand outside the holiday wonderland on Mountain View Street, where children’s smiles make up for the nearly $2,000 expected power bill. Photo: Christian Hommel Rudolph and Santa stand outside the holiday wonderland on Mountain View Street, where children’s smiles make up for the nearly $2,000 expected power bill. Photo: Christian Hommel

Got holiday lights? It’s that time of year, and, according to Dominion Virginia Power, simply lighting a Christmas tree can tack as much as $10 onto a power bill for the holiday season. Jeff Norford’s holiday season power bill jumps a bit more than that.

Indeed, perhaps no one in Charlottesville knows the ecstasy of the holiday lighting season—or the agony of the resulting power bill—as well as Norford, whose house on Mountain View Street near the southern end of Monticello Road is the site of the city’s most extravagant holiday light display. The seasonal power cost of all that holiday cheer: a whopping $1,800.

Fortunately for Norford—and to a lesser extent, the rest of us—there is a solution that won’t turn us into Grinches who darken our homes and demand that our children’s laughter cease: Swap old fashioned strings of incandescent lights for strings of LED lights, which use 98 percent less electricity.

“The cost to light a tree with LEDs is 13 to 17 cents per season,” said Dominion spokesperson Karl Neddenien, noting that LED lights, which run about $5 per 100 bulbs at most stores, may pay for themselves in a single season.

Norford said he’s in the process of replacing his old incandescent lights with new LED strings, and hopes to bring his sky-high holiday power bill down, or at least keep it steady as his display continues to grow. But with an estimated 40,000 bulbs making up the massive display, Norford said replacement of the lights is slow going.

“I’m about halfway through,” he said, citing the cost of that many new LED bulbs as prohibitive and noting that LED light replacement won’t reduce the power used by the 110 Christmas-themed blow-up figures and the giant illuminated plastic candles and other outdoor decorations that are part of the display.

Norford started his seasonal light show more than a decade ago to bring holiday cheer to his godson who is now in his 20s. Somewhere along the way, the holiday spirit took over. Each year, starting in September, Norford spends hundreds of dollars adding to and repairing the display, making his lights brighter and the array of blow-up characters more extensive.

Holiday visitors are invited to park their cars and enter the manger area he builds in his front yard on foot. Every evening from 5:30-10pm, Santa greets visitors and hands out candy canes at the front gate. Norford himself frequently dresses as Rudolph to greet passersby who come from near and far.

Norford said that while he turns some of his lights off during the day to conserve energy, the blow-up characters stay inflated round the clock from Thanksgiving until the Sunday after Christmas because visitors are regular even during the day.

Holiday cheer, it seems, trumps eco-frugality on Mountain View.

“I’m a big kid at heart,” Norford said.

Dominion’s other winter conservation tips:

•Keep thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when you’re home during the day, and set to 58 degrees at night.

•Increase the temperature on the thermostat gradually if you have a heat pump so you don’t activate emergency heat and incur additional costs.

•Seal air leaks, fireplaces, and duct work, and weather strip doors and windows.

•Lower water heater to 120-125 degrees.

•Change furnace filters every month.

•Wrap water heater in insulated blanket and insulate the first three to six feet of pipe near the water heater.

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