Greenprint: Wild (and Efficient) Lights

As the holidays draw near, Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo is now in full glow – more than 5 million LED lights are illuminating buildings, trees and more than 200 animal sculptures in an impressive display over 29 nights.

While this event lights up the night sky, efficient energy use is still paramount at the Detroit Zoo. All of the lights used to decorate the Wild Lights path are light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which consume 80 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last for up to 100,000 hours, versus just 3,000 hours for incandescents. This is a solid economic investment that reduces the amount of energy used, saves money (prices for LEDs have come down in the last couple of years), and their durability leads to a decreased number of holiday lights that end up in landfills.

For those who are considering making the switch, Home Depot and Lowes both offer recycling programs for old holiday lights. In addition, we’re offering an opportunity for Wild Lights attendees to bring in their old lights for recycling in the events pavilion at the Detroit Zoo.

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Over the last three years, the Detroit Zoological Society has invested more than $3 million into energy efficiency projects, which results in utility costs savings of nearly $275,000 annually. Most recently, DTE Energy provided the Zoo with an energy-use assessment in order to further explore additional energy-reduction measures.

While Wild Lights uses energy, the LED lighting means it is 80 to 90 percent less wattage than it would with incandescent lighting. This is important because during these shorter, darker days, holiday lights make everything magical and well, brighter!

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

String Holiday Lights Like a Pro

Looking to hang your lights like an expert this holiday season? Take a cue from the man who strings millions every year at the Detroit Zoo. Steven Greening, technical supervisor for the Detroit Zoological Society, leads the team that sets up more than five million LED lights in preparation for Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo. Buildings, trees and more than 200 animal sculptures become illuminated as a spectacular holiday treat for hundreds of thousands of guests during 29 nights in November and December.

While lighting up the Zoo is far more intensive than decorating the average home – Steven’s team began their work in August – the tips he shares can apply to anybody, no matter the scale.

  • Stretch out light strands before hanging them. This allows the wires to naturally unwind and unkink, and ensures that the lights stay in place all season.
  • Mix white lights and colorful lights. Eye-catching white lights can be used to emphasize certain features in a landscape. Steven suggests buying the same color lights from the same source, as LED bulb colors can vary greatly between manufacturers.
  • Keep tension on light strands when wrapping tree trunks and limbs. When the temperature changes, loosely-wrapped wires can fall and look messy. Keep the spacing even and maintain it over the whole tree.
  • Reach new heights. Attach a BBQ fork to the end of an extendable painter’s pole to help reach tree canopies without using a ladder.
  • Maximize the space. If your existing landscaping includes lights aimed at bushes or trees, try using colored bulbs or lenses that match the holiday lights used. It will make the trees or bushes look fuller without using as many lights.
  • Most importantly, always follow safe practices on ladders and roofs. Don’t use staples to attach lights, don’t overload circuits and keep all electrical connections dry. Be sure lights are plugged in to a grounded outlet.

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on November 18-20 and 25-27; and December 1-4, 8-11, 15-23, and 26-31. Tickets are $10 in advance or $13 at the gate and will be available online for Members starting on October 1 and for the general public starting on October 15 at http://detroitzoo.org/events/zoo-events/wild-lights.

Carousel rides and photos with Santa Claus will be available for purchase, and a 10-minute adaptation of the animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be featured at the Wild Adventure Zone 4-D Theater. This film will only be played during Wild Lights and tickets are $5 per person, ages 2 and up. In addition, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition will be on display in the Ford Education Center.

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