Are LED lights worth it? The cost of LED light bulbs vs. the benefits

By Jeremy Cook

LED lighting is now as common as incandescent, and for good reason. These bulbs are vastly more efficient, helping to quickly assume market share from the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that first sought to replace incandescent bulbs.

Fully analyzing the question of LED light cost versus the benefits of LED light bulbs requires a bit of unpacking, but in terms of the energy usage in dollars/lumen, LED bulbs are the clear winner. They can also do much more than simply light up a room at a set brightness and temperature in their “smart” iterations, making these bulbs even more attractive.

Is the cost of LED light bulbs worth the energy savings?

Short answer: the cost of LED light bulbs is absolutely worth it when compared to incandescent bulb. LEDs are roughly six times as efficient as incandescent bulbs in terms of light output per watt (W) input. If you have incandescent light bulbs that are on for any length of time in your house, you should consider replacing them immediately.

For example: an 65W incandescent bulb can be replaced by an equivalent LED bulb that uses just 11W, or 17% of the original bulb’s power, at a cost of roughly $3. If you run this bulb for 5 hours a day, you’re saving 54W (65W – 11W) over 5 hours. This comes out to 270 watt-hours, which can be expressed as .270 kilowatt-hours (kWh). When multiplied by US electricity prices in the range of $.10/kWh, this means that one bulb is saving you 2.7 cents a day.

2.7 cents doesn’t seem like a lot, but multiply that out by 365 days/year, and these savings come out to $9.86 in a single year, well over 3x the cost of a $3 LED bulb. If you replace 10 of these lights, you’re saving about $98.60/year, which can be realized over many years, as their lifespan is theoretically 10 times that of incandescent bulbs.

In just five years, LEDs could save close to $500 in energy costs. At an LED lighting cost of $30 for 10 bulbs, the upfront expenditure is actually quite a bargain.

Compared to CFLs, LED energy savings is less dramatic, on the order of 5W per bulb. Replacing CFLs with LEDs (used 5 hours a day) will save somewhere on the order of 10kWh/year, which works out to be around a dollar in direct energy costs.

Other benefits of basic and smart LEDs

Beyond direct energy savings, there are many other benefits of LED light bulbs. Basic LEDs turn on instantly and produce much less heat than their incandescent or CFL equivalents. Less heat means further power savings in warm climates since you’re not having to pay to extract this excess energy out of a living space via air conditioning.

Instant-on functionality of LED lights can also result in less hesitation to turn a light off, per the potential shortened lifespan issues and warm up times seen with CFL bulbs.

Additionally, given their long lifetimes, one shouldn’t have to change LEDs nearly as often as other bulbs. While inconvenient on a personal level, for an industrial or commercial concern, where maintenance people are paid by the hour, it also represents a real cost savings.

Finally, LED lighting can be imbued with a certain amount of intelligence. On the simpler end, smart bulbs can come equipped with motion sensors built-in to activate when someone is present, or even daylight sensors to turn the bulbs on only when it’s dark outside. Taking things further, many bulbs have wireless capabilities built-in and can feature tunable brightness and color, which allows them to be integrated into a home automation setup for virtually limitless possibilities.

Are the benefits of LED lights worth it?

Whether from a pure economics standpoint, or because of the potential extra features, basic and smart LED bulbs present a wide range of benefits. Such enhancements should make LED bulbs a worthwhile investment for nearly anyone, keeping money in your pocket.

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