Will LED Christmas Lights Save You Money?

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I stopped by my local hardware store a few weeks ago to pick up some Christmas lights to hang around my house this season. The first thing I noticed was that consumers now have a choice when it comes to Christmas lights between old fashioned incandescent bulbs and modern energy-efficient LED bulbs.

The next thing I noticed was that there is quite a difference in price between the two. A string of 100 regular Christmas lights was about $2, while a string of 100 LED Christmas lights that looked roughly equivalent was $11!

The True Cost of LED Christmas Lights

The subject of LED bulbs comes up fairly regularly on money expert Clark Howard’s show, so I know that the energy savings from LED bulbs make them a good deal in the long run even if they cost more upfront, but what about on Christmas lights? I only use Christmas lights a few weeks a year. So can the difference in energy consumption over such a short period of time make up for the higher upfront price?

The Test

To figure out how much each string of bulbs cost, I bought both a string of LED lights and a string of regular lights and plugged them each into my wattage meter for several days to see how much energy each used. Consumers are charged for electricity in a unit of measurement called the kilowatt hour (kWh).

I found that the LED bulbs used much less electricity, using about .0022 kWh per hour compared to .0408 kWh per hour for the regular Christmas lights. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average consumer in the United States is charged about $0.13 per kWh, which means the LED bulbs will cost $.0003/hour in electricity, while the regular bulbs will cost $.0053/hour.

Calculating the Cost

Let’s put those into terms we can all understand. Let’s imagine a household is a fairly light user of Christmas lights. By that I mean they put their lights up two weeks before Christmas, keep them up until one week after Christmas, and keep those lights on for four hours per day. That person would have their lights on a total of 84 hours during the Christmas season, and the cost of those lights is summarized in this chart:

Cost per string of lights for a light user for the first year:

kWh/ Hour Hours kWh used Cost per kWh Electricity cost Cost of lights Total cost
Regular bulbs 0.0408 84 3.4267 0.13 0.45 2.00 2.45
LED bulbs 0.0022 84 0.1867 0.13 0.02 11.00 11.02

So during the first year, our light user of Christmas lights will spend only $2.45 on regular bulbs compared to $11.02 in LED bulbs per string of lights used. But what about a heavier user?

Let’s imagine a second consumer who puts his or her lights up the day after Thanksgiving, leaves the lights on for six hours/day, and takes the lights down a week after Christmas. The number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas is different every year, but in 2014, that heavy user of Christmas lights would have the lights on a total of 210 hours per year. The first year costs for the heavy user is summarized in this chart:

Cost per string of lights for a heavy user for the first year:

kWh/ Hour Hours kWh used Cost per kWh Electricity cost Cost of lights Total cost
Regular bulbs 0.0408 210 8.5668 0.13 1.11 2.00 3.11
LED bulbs 0.0022 210 0.4667 0.13 0.06 11.00 11.06

So even somebody who keeps the Christmas lights on a long time will only spend $3.11 per strand during the first year for regular bulbs compared to $11.06 per strand for LEDs. But, that isn’t quite the end of the story.

The reason I was at the hardware store looking for Christmas lights in the first place is because incandescent bulbs don’t last all that long, and I needed to replace my Christmas lights I bought 3 years ago. While LED bulbs haven’t been around long enough for us to know exactly how long they will last, we can say for certain they last longer than regular bulbs.

The box of LED lights I looked at said they would last for 25,000 hours, which would be the equivalent of 119 Christmases for the heavy user from our example above. I don’t really believe that though. Christmas lights are put through some pretty hard conditions having to be outside during the winter, which is likely to make their life much shorter than 119 years. I have no idea how much shorter, but to make the math easy let’s say they will last for 9 years.

If we look at a 9 year period of time, I would have to buy 3 sets of regular bulbs compared to just the one strand of LED lights. Now let’s update our charts from above to see how much the light user and heavy user will spend on Christmas lights per strand over 9 years:

Cost per string of lights for a light user over 9 years:

kWh/ Hour Hours kWh used Cost per kWh Electricity cost Cost of lights Total cost
Regular bulbs 0.0408 756 30.8406 0.13 4.01 6.00 10.01
LED bulbs 0.0022 756 1.6800 0.13 0.22 11.00 11.22

Cost per string of lights for a heavy user over 9 years:

kWh/ Hour Hours kWh used Cost per kWh Electricity cost Cost of lights Total cost
Regular bulbs 0.0408 1890 77.1014 0.13 10.02 6.00 16.02
LED bulbs 0.0022 1890 4.2000 0.13 0.55 11.00 11.55

Final Thought

So while the LED Christmas lights cost more up front, over the long term they might cost you less than old fashioned incandescent bulbs. To save $4 over nine years I really wouldn’t worry about it too much. You are probably better off just buying whichever Christmas lights you think are the prettiest.

Happy holidays everyone!

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