Carbon Neutral Christmas Lights

by Matthew James Taylor on 6 December 2007

Carbon Neutral Christmas Lights

In the lead up to Christmas, people everywhere start decorating their houses with thousands of colourful lights. Some of the creations are truly amazing and each year they get more elaborate as people attempt to outdo past efforts. It's great to celebrate the festive season, but what effect does this have on the environment?

This year we decided to do something completely different. Instead of wasting electricity we devised a way to power our Christmas lights with people power! To do this we attached a handle to our front fence which, when wound, generates electricity through a dynamo. Not only is this environmentally friendly but it's interactive and lots of fun. Everyone in our street seems to like it - every evening we get a steady stream of visitors winding it up and watching the lights glow.

How to make your own Carbon Neutral Christmas Lights

Most of the parts used to make our Christmas lights were recycled. Have a look around your house and you may have everything you need to make some too.

Painting the Happy Xmas sign

Painting the Happy Xmas sign

First we dismantled an old set of shelves for our Happy Xmas signs. We cleaned them up then added the lettering with some old red paint.

Making the Carbon Neutral light box

The Carbon Neutral light box

For the Carbon Neutral sign we found an old plastic pearly white lid that let the light shine through. I added masking tape to the inside surface, drew on the mirror-reversed letters and then cut off the excess tape around the edges. I then painted the lid with silver paint and when it was dry I peeled off the masking tape to reveal the transparent letters.

Connecting up the LED lights

Soldering the LED lights and attaching them to a wire frame

I made a rectangle wire frame to sit behind the Carbon Neutral sign and I attached eleven white LED lights to it. They were positioned so their light would shine through the letters. The lights were all soldered to a long cable that connects the sign to the dynamo at the front fence. The light box is attached to the 'Happy' and 'Xmas' signs with a couple of little bolts.

Constructing the winder box

Constructing the winder box

We used an upside-down kitchen bin to house the dynamo. I marked out the shape of the brick fence with pencil then drilled some large holes in the corners. I cut out the waste with a great little hand saw that looks a bit like a gun; it's perfect at sawing in difficult to reach places.

Attaching the dynamo

Attaching the Dynamo torch to the inside of the bin

Firstly this dynamo is actually a little torch that you can buy from most hardware stores here in Australia. There are no batteries required ever, you just wind it up for a minute or two and it lasts for about half an hour. It also has a power socket that allows you to power other things too like a mobile phone charger for example. This is where we attach the cable to power the Christmas lights.

You can see where I cut out a circular hole in the bin for the handle to fit through. The dynamo is attached to the inside with two simple metal brackets. The bin protects the dynamo from the rain and it also stops people from stealing it. The bin fits nicely over the brick fence and is secured by some rope at the bottom. It's nice and stable and hardly moves with even the most vigorous winding.

The finished Christmas lights

The finished Carbon Neutral Christmas lights, day and night

The completed lights are suspended from a beam that runs above our front patio. From the front the sign reads 'Happy Xmas' but when the handle is turned the words 'Carbon Neutral' appear. LED lights are very power efficient so the sign lights up brightly with very little winding.

While our Carbon Neutral Christmas lights may not be the most beautiful in our street they seem to be the most talked about.


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Matthew James Taylor