LED bulbs: Are They Worth It?

A few days back we looked at CFL bulbs and showed how replacing incandescents in your home was a no-brainer for saving a good amount on your electric bill.

Are LED bulbs the next step? They’re highly touted, but how do they compare?

Well, in terms of cutting your energy bill, the simple answer is no: not yet. The first generation that are still floating around offer no additional benefits in terms of reducing energy usage beyond CFLs. The 60 W incandescent equivalent for CFLs and LEDs both use 13 W in this first generation. However, I think over time we may begin to see more advanced versions that do offer some more savings.

You can now find the Cree at many stores, and this generation does offer additional energy savings, bringing the usage down to 9-9.5 W. In relative terms to the 13 W bulbs, this is a pretty big leap (a drop of 27-31%) – but not substantial like the jump down from 60 W to 13 W was for incandescents to either CFL or LED.

The larger problem is the up front cost. The Cree can be found for $12.97 for one or $9.47/each when bought in a 6-pack at Home Depot. Let’s look again at the incandescent and CFL costs and throw in LED:

Incandescent Bulbs

60 watts / bulb * 35 bulbs * 93.9 hours = 197.19 kWh / month

197.19 kWh * $0.1172 / kWh = $23.11 / month

Upfront cost: $0.50 / bulb for incandescent, 1000 hour lifetime

CFL Bulbs

13 watts / bulb * 35 bulbs * 93.9 hours = 42.7245 kWh / month

42.7245 kWh * $0.1172 / kWh = $5.01 / month

Upfront cost: $1.37 / bulb for CFL, 8000 hour lifetime = $0.17 per 1000 hours


LED Bulbs

9 watts / bulb * 35 bulbs * 93.9 hours = 29.5785 kWh / month

29.5785 kWh * $0.1172 / kWh = $3.47 / month

Upfront cost: $9.47 / bulb, 25000 hour lifetime = $0.38 per 1000 hours


Looking back at our earlier calculations, we saw that in bulk you can get CFLs for $1.37/bulb. So the prices for the new generation of more efficient and cheaper LED bulbs is still 6.9 times higher than equivalent CFLs. When you consider the extended lifetime – jumping from 7 years to 22, the price becomes more competitive (in fact beating incandescents), but I’d rather invest my savings and buy a new bulb in 7 years. On a monthly electric bill basis, the difference between CFLs and LEDs is $1.54 / month. At that rate it’d take 5.26 months per bulb to break even. Remember we’re estimating a household of 35 bulbs, so in total that’s 184+ months or ~15.3 years to break even if you switched the whole house (which you’d need to to get the monthly savings).


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