LED Lights Make Money Sense

by Jeff Feldman

A $10 LED light makes you a ‘profit’ in its first year; a full-feature bulb pays off in 3 years.

The dark days are now upon us. Sunset is 6:18pm. Less than 11 hours of daylight and fading fast. Time to turn the lights on! And with each flip of that switch, we suffer the many and varied consequences of burning fossil fuels. Here . . . now . . . in these dark days . . . is the time to rethink that most basic of electric appliances: the light bulb.

I know, I know. I hear you. Ho hum. Boring stuff. But there’s solid ground behind the old Earth Day saying, “Change a light bulb, change the world.” It’s a simple act with a far-reaching impact.

There are many good Earth-hugging reasons for switching to more efficient light bulbs and I know you’ve heard them all before. If you are moved by such reasoning, you have already switched; if not, you likely haven’t. But with LED’s now dropping below the $10 mark (see sidebar), we can start talking about a real return on investment. There’s nothing like a little pocketbook motivation!

Hang with me while I run you through a little math.

Somewhere in your home is a lamp you turn on at dusk and turn off at bedtime. Let’s say it’s on an average of four hours per day throughout the year. The lamp contains a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb:

60 watts x 4 hours x 365 days of the year = 88 kwH of energy consumed. At $.16 per KwH, that comes to an annual operating cost for that lamp of $14.08.

Switch out that 60-watt bulb for an LED needing only 12 watts to produce the same light and the equation becomes:

12 watts x 4 hours x 365 = 18 KwH consumed. At the same $.16 per kwH, the annual operating cost of the lamp now drops to $2.88, for a savings of $11.20 per year.

If you bought your LED for $10, you have already profited by $1.20 in the first year. And since that LED is designed to last for 25,000 hours, you’ll be pocketing this profit for seventeen years or so. The more bulbs you change, the more the money multiples.

But will a $10 LED really perform the way you want in terms of light quality, color, dimmability? I’ll admit that it may not. You often get what you pay for, and I never advocate going with the cheapest version of anything. The formula spelled out above, though, still provides a very reasonable 3-year return on your investment in an LED bulb that costs up to $30. These days you can easily find a dimmable, high-quality LED bulb for under $30 that performs just as well as the incandescent you’re replacing. And while LED technology continues to improve, the prices keep dropping.

LEDs are now commonly found on the shelves of your neighborhood big box stores. Some manufacturers include a “Lighting Facts” label on the product packaging that helps you sort out exactly what you’re buying and how the bulb will perform. In replacing a 60-watt incandescent, you are looking for an LED that produces at least 800 lumens of light, burns at a warm 3,000 or less Kelvin, and has a color rendering index (CRI) of at least 80. Buy just one bulb for starters and take it home for a test drive.

Online retailers offer a greater selection of LEDs than the big boxes, along with a lot more information and support to help you make the best choice for your lighting needs. Check out EarthLED.com and 1000bulbs.com, offering “bulb finder” wizards and trial periods on bulb purchases.

LEDs are indeed the light bulb of the future. And the future is now, whatever your reason for switching.

Jeff Feldman is a speaker, writer and consultant on green living and green building. You can reach Jeff at GreenPathConsulting@gmail.com.