How Much Are My Christmas Lights Going To Cost Me?

By Vernon Trollinger, December 19, 2012, Energy Efficiency, Events & Fun

In days of yore, Christmas lights came in strings of 25 bulbs, each as big as a child’s fist. When they didn’t light up, ol’ Dad would spend a solid hour with a box of spares finding the bad one. That set lasted years.

And then your parents got their first artifical tree. The heat from the bulbs melted the plastic needles.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Strings of 100 incandescent minilights are cheaper than a gallon of milk. All too often, they last only a year or two and have so many burnt out or broken bulbs that it seems smart to replace it with another cheap set.

But is it? Now’s the time to ask yourself, “How much are myChristmas lights going to cost me?”

It’s well known that incandescent lights use far more electricity than light-emitting diode (LED) lights. There are two significant differences between incandescents and LED Christmas lights. First of all, incandescents give off more energy as heat than they do light. This is because electricity heats up tungsten wire in the bulb until it gives off light. LEDs use solid state chips that use electroluminescence which converts almost 90% of the electricity into light and very little to heat. Since there’s little heat, they are coated in clear epoxy instead of glass. Low heat and no glass means they can last for years.

Energy.gov cites these LED facts:

*LEDs are much cooler than incandescent lights, reducing the risk of combustion or burnt fingers.
*LEDs are made with epoxy lenses, not glass, and are much more resistant to breakage.
*LEDs are more durable. The same LED string could still be in use 40 holiday seasons from now.
*LEDs use less electricity. Up to 25 strings of LED Christmas lights can be connected end-to-end without overloading a wall socket.

The other significant difference between LEDs and incandescents is price. Incandscents cost less partly because the technology to produce them has been around for over 100 years and has very low production costs. Though LEDs have been around in electronics stores since the 1980s, LED Christmas lights ( for example ) are still only a few years old and (like all LEDs) have higher production costs.

So, which costs less? Let’s look at the lighting options side by side.

Lifespan*1500 hours (avg.) or 3 years estimated 25,000 hours or 10+ years

Cost over 10 years: (initial cost & replacement) + operation $25.14 + $14.20 = 39.34$23.00 + $1.70 = $24.70

Incandescent LED
Purchase price per string $8.38 $23.00
Number of lights, length, & wattage 100 bulbs, 34 feet @ 40 Watts 70 bulbs, 24 feet @ 4.8 Watts
Cost to use:
10 hrs/day, for 30 days;
assumes $0.119/kWh*
12 kWh = $1.42 1.44 kWh = $0.17

 

* applying Energy.gov’s estimated lifespan and $/kWh figures.
Note: because of their lower wattage, as many as 40 LED strings can connected end-to-end.
Incandescent strings should be limited to 3 total.

Obviously, the initial cost for the LED Christmas lights is their major drawback. However, so is the energy consumption cost of the incandescents as well as their replacement costs after only a year or two. Most strings of incandescents are made to last no more than 90 days or about 1500 to 2000 hours because they are designed to be disposable—which also adds the unseen costs of disposal, resource waste, and environmental damage.

While LED Christmas lights will save money on your electric bill, they are part of an evolving technology that has tried-out different materials and strategies over the years. Some sets sold a few years ago may have bulbs that are already dimming. Others may use different metals in their LED contacts that cause rust to form and reduce the LED bulbs’ brightness. And still others are bright as ever.

The choice about how much your xmas lights are going to cost is yours. Do you want to save a little money now on a cheap, short-lived set that will add to the cost of this Christmas and the one in two years? Or do you want something that will save you money and add to the warmth and wonder of your family holiday tradition?

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