LED Christmas Lights: How Much Money Do They Save?

We decided to actually light up our house a little more this year, and were quickly faced with a decision: LED or old-school incandescent lights? Would the electricity savings of the LED lights make up for the added cost? Or is it purely an eco-friendly play? Then we realized that the true eco-friendly thing to do would be not to light up our house. Bah-humbug! Anyhow, some quick research led to the following energy savings comparison:

Factors

Amount of electricity used. Looking at the box of regular incandescent lights, they use 40.8 watts per 100 light strand (0.0408 kW). The 100-light strand of LEDs used 8 watts (0.008 kW). You should be able to find these on any box of lights, especially the traditional kind as they can draw too much current if you connect too many together.

Cost of electricity. Here is a link to the average cost of electricity by state. The nationwide average is 12 cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour), but can range from 9 cents in some states like West Virginia to 28 cents in Hawaii.

Time used. How many days x how many hours per day do you plan to run the lights. I figure 45 days from right before Thanksgiving until a little after New Years. From sunset to bedtime is about 6 hours. So that’s 45 days x 6 hours = 270 hours.

The Numbers

Conclusion

Using these numbers, it would be reasonable to say that each 100-light strand would save $1 in electricity per year. Costs will vary, but I saw a set of 100 of cheap incandescents for under $3 at the megastore, while the cheapest 100 LEDs cost closer to $12. The means it would take nearly a decade to break even on purely a electrical savings basis. Given my natural talent in creating tangles in these string lights, I don’t know if I can see them lasting that long. You definitely aren’t going to save the world by buying LED holiday lights.

If you already had a set of incandescents, I can’t imagine being able to justify throwing them out for a new set of LEDs, since even the LED lights are mostly made out of plastic and thus fossil fuels. Since we didn’t have any lights to start with, we just decided to buy a set of each (LED & old-school) to compare the “light quality”. The brightness of the two modern sets we bought were comparable, and look very similar from a distance.

Now, I’ve also seen the solar-powered LED light kits, but from the package they use less than 3 watts of energy, which means they are significantly dimmer. However, the lack of power plug does make it mighty convenient.

Comments

  1. My thoughts exactly on these new lightbulbs.

    It takes forever to see the savings because of the increased purchase price.

    I’ll hold off on this one for the moment…

  2. In situations like this, you cannot make it cut and dry by just looking at the money factor. It’s worth more than $10 to me a year to save a little bit of energy. The fact is, if everyone thought this way, green technology would not advance or come down in cost. So, thanks to people like me, your lights will become cheaper in the future. You’re welcome!

  3. I agree with the post.

    We have an Energy Star home, which was a very wise purchase. Our electricity/gas bills are dirt cheap. However, we have found it very hard to improve on our savings with any lights or appliances. I finally concluded that this was a good lesson for us – the builder did the energy efficiency as cheaply as possible, and trying out products like CFLs have left much to be desired. (Our old-fashioned water heater performs at about the same level as a tankless – but cost FAR less. Our non-CFL bulbs have lasted longer than tradiitonal CFLs and used about as much energy. Plus we can just throw them in the trash when they burn out – if they ever do. Most our bulbs are 10 years old. One or two burned out in 10 years. We replaced all the bulbs we use often with CFLs and haven’t saved any energy that I can tell).

    My experiences would lead me to just buy old fashioned lights. If I can’t see a savings in my electric bill, I can’t imagine how I am making a difference.

  4. Matt-

    You are reading My Money Blog. Special emphasis on the word “Money.”

    Thanks for buying things like this and I hope you feel better about being green (I know I buy green when I can and it makes more financial sense than this scenario), but I appreciate him keeping on his title purpose and weighing out things like this according to the almighty dollar.

  5. Just got to find cheaper LEDs. Last year I bought a 50 count strand from Lowes on a black Friday special for $4. Last week I bought some more at Lowes for $3.33 (I don’t know if they are still on special, but the selection was getting pretty slim last week). Home Depot is/was offering $3 credit for the trade in of your old incandecents when you buy LEDs. Some communities offer trade-ins as well.

  6. It should 0.408 kW for regular and not 0.0408.

  7. Bryan Rink says:

    For the ones you use indoors (on the tree, say), there’s no savings at all if you’re heating your home already. Any inefficiency in the incandescent bulbs will be converted to heat.

  8. @matt

    The problem however is that often the reason for the higher prices of these “green” items are due to the increased energy needs for production, resulting in higher costs. That energy cost may be much higher than the very minimal energy savings in this case, and cheap items like this are often produced in industrial areas of the world running on coal power plants. If you live in an area using hydro, wind, solar, or even nuclear power, purchasing these items may actually have a much stronger negative impact on the environment.

    The trick to really being green is focusing on the things that you have done your research on and know actually make an appreciable difference. Don’t believe the marketers or the lobbyists, most of them are lying through their teeth.

  9. @kD – Not unless you are using some crazy 408 W lights! (1000 W = 1 kW)

    @Matt – Well, I bought one of each, so I helped a little. :) Like dev says, there is lots of research that other simple tasks are much more helpful than just buying LEDs or CFLs. Most people could insulate their homes better and save a ton more money and energy.

    @Jason – Good tips, I would love to get down to $3 a set.

    @Bryan – Spoken like an engineer ;)

  10. Bryan said: “For the ones you use indoors (on the tree, say), there’s no savings at all if you’re heating your home already. Any inefficiency in the incandescent bulbs will be converted to heat.”

    Heating our homes with light bulbs is not very efficient. In most areas electric heat is one of the most expensive forms of heat which is why so few people have electric heat in their homes. Yes the heat from incandescent is not wasted but its 2x as expensive as heating your home with your natural gas furnace. So you aren’t recovering “any” inefficiency from the heat conversion, I’d say you’re getting back about 50% in most cases.

  11. It should be .008 kW for the LED lights.

  12. Jonathan, my bad. then for LED it must be 0.008 and not 0.08

  13. in the graphic i meant.

  14. @KD, James – You are correct! I missed it in the graphic, but the final numbers are correct. Fixed now.

  15. Don’t forget replacement cost… Incandesant string fail more frequenly than LED ones due to the bulb life and are much more resiliant to damage from storage/drops/etc from the filamant vs the diode.

  16. The LED calculation has a typo, it should be 0.008 kW, not 0.08 kW. The math is right though. :)

  17. Why didn’t you include the costs of transmission and distribution? Those are just over half of my bill each month, which would 1/2 the payback time in your calculation.

    Additionally, LEDs have a much longer life span than incandescent bulbs. Pack them nicely and you’ll have decades of use, keeping plastics out of the landfill and saving gasoline of trash pickups and replacement store-trips.

    I will refrain from getting into the economics of avoided costs of peak demand energy generation!

  18. Quiet_Desperation says:

    Or you could stop being math geeks and stop worrying about the numbers. :-)

    Decide what looks best. Period.

    I’m going LED this year because I love the icy look of the “cool white” LED strings. There’s just nothing like that on the incandescent side.

    They also have strands that change color. Not a strand with different color bulbs, but LED bulbs that truly change color.

    Another advantage is no more figuring out how to branch the wiring, You can stack dozens of LED strands end to end.

  19. The real reason to use LED lights (at least on a tree) is safety. No heat, less chance of starting a fire.

    For saving electric it’s not going to happen.

  20. You chose a fairly conservative number for your hours that they will be on. Many people leave their lights on overnight, which would result in covering costs in a matter of years rather than decades.

  21. In California our energy costs can be much higher.

    First 314 Kwh = $0.12/Kwh
    Next 94 Kwh = $0.135/Kwh
    Next 220 Kwh = $0.29/Kwh
    Next 300 Kwh = $0.40/Kwh

    I get into the $0.40/Kwh tier without AC … large home.

    People need to check their bill for tiered billing. It can easily change one’s payback calcs.

  22. Home depot has led strands for 2 dollars. I bought some today in Orlando.

  23. ElectricalEngineer says:

    Wow, some cheap power on this board. We avg close to $0.23 per kwh (gen+dist) in SE NY. I was able to purchase LED lights at HD for 1.98 a 50 light strand.

    Let’s put together some quick numbers for the non LED believers:

    I run a total of (40) 50 mini light strands for the interior/exterior of my home.

    Incandescent:
    Each 50 light mini strand pulls 25w per hour
    Lights are on 7 hours per night (5-11pm), 50 nights per season.

    40*25w*350h= 350kwh
    = $80.50 for a season

    I burn 4w per strand on the new LEDs (verified using a KillAWatt)

    40*4w*350h= 28kw
    = $12.88 for a season

    Total Energy Savings:
    $80.50(incandescent) – $12.88(LED) = $67.62 Saved

    In conclusion:

    LED Acquistion Cost: (40)*$1.98 = $79.20 +($6.63 tax) = $85.83

    Energy Savings Per Season: $67.62 @ $0.23 per kwh

    ROI on the lights is less than 2 years, next Black Friday stock up boys. Save the XMas gift for someone other than Con Ed.

  24. My thought on LED vs incandescent… wouldn’t the LED lights last much longer? I’ve purchased incandescent lights that last a year to a couple of years. Wouldn’t LED be more duarable and outlast the incandescent versions?

    I thought I read somewhere that if you purchase an LED light bulb, which is quite expensive right now, it should last over 30 years. Now sure how or even if, this applies to christmas LED lights.

  25. Thomas Smith says:

    I know that I am WAY behind on this, but when working out costs, are you working out replacements of bulbs? I have slowly been replacing my lights with LEDs less because of the money or being green, and mostly because of considerably lower maintenance because the LEDs last a LOT longer and are much less of a pain to deal with.

  26. Hmm .. me thinks some times you play with math too much you don’t see the reality.

    I have gas power so my electricity cost is pretty much constant except for between Thanksgiving and December when my lights are up.
    I got rid of my pre-lite incandescent tree because my power bill went up from $30-50 to $120-$150.

    I bought an LED for $60, ran it longer so my kids could enjoy and my power bill average $60-70.
    Do i get back my $$ immediately, no but it will last longer and and I save year over year. Doesn’t need a lot of math. Other co-workers tell me they’re power bill get to $300 in the winter because of lights.
    Since LEDs cost about 1/5 of incandescent even though costing twice as much why think about it? You can pay the power company every year or walmart (most of it) and a little to the power company.

  27. More than the cost of electricity is the cost of replacing bulbs (both time and expense). In downtown Knoxville the crews cut off the plugs, splice the wires, then throw the lights away each year because of the man hours of storage and bulb replacement. The LEDs will outlast many sets of half working lights.

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