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Digging into LED Light Bulb Savings

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Here in New England, it's become clear that winter is coming (Does Game of Thrones have a trademark on that? I don't want to get sued?). With that in mind, it seems natural to look towards saving some money on energy to offset some of the costs of heat. I've been doing the typical looking for drafts, when I noticed that one of the lights in my kitchen was out. No big deal, just run to the nearby Home Depot and get a replacement...

Somewhere between the time that I replaced most of our home's lightbulbs with CFLs (~2006 or so?) and today, shopping for a light bulb has gotten a lot more confusing. Now there are the old school incandescents, CFLs with evil mercury inside, and LEDs which cost tons and tons of money. Fortunately, there's a lot of information on the boxes to help guide the decision-making process.

I was looking for a 65-watt BR30 flood light, which I was surprised to find is quite common. The incandescents were around $4 for 2 bulbs (I think), but I could buy a pack of 9 for around $10. I grabbed that box and figured that I'd have replacements for years. On the way. The lighting facts on the box here said it would cost $7.83 per bulb per year for their 600 lumen output (it's important to focus on lumens as watts don't help you as you move through the technologies).

On the way to the check out, I walked by a big display for Cree brand LED bulbs. Each bulb was $20... what a rip off, right? The information box said that it would only cost $1.14 per bulb per year. It might take three years, but I'd start saving money... every year. The advertising for LED light bulbs is quick to point out that they can last for 20 years, so one bulb over those 20 years should end up saving you $150 (or more) in energy and replacement costs.

Spending $20 to save $150? That's the kind of forward-thinking that I wanted the Lazy Man brand to stand for. Sure, it will take a number of years for these savings, but you don't have to work for it.

Still, I wanted to see if I could do better. If Cree made these light bulbs, perhaps other companies did as well. Back to the lighting section. I found that several companies did indeed make BR30 LED bulbs... and this Philips one was subsidized by my local energy company for $12. That particular bulb wasn't 9.5w and 650 lumens like the Cree, but it was 13w and 730 lumens. That would raise the price per year to $1.57. The $0.43 cents saved per year for 20 years comes out to around $8... which was the price difference between the two bulbs. It's essentially a wash, close enough that it isn't my time to pinch the last penny. I figure might as well get the savings up front with the cheaper bulb.

I only bought that one LED light bulb for now. I wanted to try it out, write an article, and see if other money-saving readers are doing the same. In trying the new Philips bulb, I found that I liked it better than the other bulbs. It was definitely brighter (maybe the previous owners had the 600 lumen Sylvanias that I was going to buy). So now, I'm thinking about replacing all 6 of the bulbs. With each bulb saving around $6.25 in electricity per year (more if the price of electricity goes up) that will be around $30 in pocket each year. Clearly, I'm not going to be retiring in the Hamptons any time soon with those savings, but it's enough to cover the government taxes on my Ooma Telo Free Landline. And quite frankly writing this article is more difficult and time-consuming than changing the light bulbs.

I was at Home Depot once again yesterday and they've lowered the price on the Cree's to be competitive with the Philips'. They are still a dollar more, but they'll save that 43 cents a year. They aren't as bright (730 vs. 650 lumens), but still brighter than I what I currently have (650 vs. 600 lumens), and my research online says that people can't really tell the difference. Perhaps more importantly, I like supporting the smaller company. Fortunately, I've got one random BR30 in another room for the Philips one, so the Cree's will all match. I haven't figured out what to do with the old incadescents. Yard sale or just junk them? Any thoughts?

I'd change more light bulbs around my house to LED, but most of them are very energy efficient CFLs as it is. This is one of those one-time money optimizations.

Finally, if you want to prematurely reinvest those savings, there's some cool technology from Philips that has LEDs that change colors and can be controlled by your smartphone. They pitch some cool effects like waking up naturally as a light dims to full brightness to mimic the sun. Also, I can see some pretty good accent lighting uses with these. The problem is that they are expensive. Give it a look: Philips Hue Starter Pack

Posted on November 18, 2013.

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18 Responses to “Digging into LED Light Bulb Savings”

  1. AS says:

    Do you have a dimmer on the switch? You may need to double-check bulbs and dimmer types.

    I had an electrician at my house recently and he told me that if I wanted to switch my regular incandescent BR30 floods to LEDs — or maybe CFLs, I don’t remember what he said — I needed to make sure the bulbs were dimmable AND the dimmer was the right type that works with dimmable LEDs/CFLs.

    I haven’t followed through — so still running incandescents — but thought I would pass along the cautionary comment.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    The BR30s that I have are not on a dimmer, but the Philips LEDs that I bought are dimmable. I have dimmable lights in my dining room and I found a really good deal on a package of bulbs that included a couple of these Philips A19 LED for $10 and they work in there.

    I’d say buy them and give them a try. First check with your store’s return policy in case they don’t work. It’s a lot easier than trying to research the multitude of types. For the most part it is the CFLs that have dimming problems, not the LEDs, but I think even some of the CFLs are dimmable now.

  3. phr3dly says:

    Costco occasionally has some great deals on LEDs. A year ago they were selling BR30s (I think? — the kind that goes into recessed housing) for $10 each.

    I’ve been down the CFL path, and have a box full of slightly used CFLs to prove it. I hated them. Everything about them.

    But the LEDs are comparatively wonderful. I spent probably $300 at Costco, and have replaced all of our commonly used bulbs with LEDs. They provide great light, they have only a very small delay to power on, and they are at full power immediately.

    I’m approaching the cost savings from a different angle. We have extended power outages a couple time per year, that require us to use our generator. With LEDs we can use all the lights in the house and have only a negligible impact on our generator usage. That lets me buy a lower capacity generator, and saves gas.

    In other words, there are times when energy costs *a lot more* than $.10/KWh. In those times, the LEDs pay for themselves a lot faster.

  4. Lazy Man says:

    Hmm, locally we have a BJ’s that’s closer to us and a Sam’s Club that I was going to be a member of soon. I miss Costco, but it’s a little too far from my home compared to the others. I should give BJ’s and Sam’s a look though.

    I didn’t think about the lights from the angle of how much it saves during the power outages, but I’m thinking that electricity will get more expensive with inflation, especially over a span of 20 years. So the LEDs will pay even faster in the future.

  5. Steve says:

    It’s interesting that you started the discussion with a juxtaposition of the cost of lighting vs. the cost of heat. Because that’s where all the electricity goes that didn’t get turned into light – it turns into heat instead. In a cold climate, that’s essentially a wash. (Though there’s some delta if you’re using a cheaper energy source for heating, e.g. natural gas.) On the flip side, though, if you are in a hot climate and are running AC, a more efficient bulb can have a double whammy effect, saving both the cost of running the bulb and the cost of transporting the excess heat outdoors via said AC.

  6. HEy Lazy, I enjoyed the post. When I go out to get a bulb I always look for cost saving light bulbs. I just am really interested to see if they really last 20 years. One of my CFLS died this year, but I cant remember when I bought it. I’ll check back in 20 or so years to see if you will have a follow up post to this one.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    Steve,

    I thought there might be some conservation of energy thing with the heat vs. light. I am in a cold climate, but we have gas heating so there is that delta for us. In the summers, New England can get pretty hot for a long time and we do run A/C, so there’s that too. Of course, there aren’t as many hours of lighting in the summer due to the long days. So maybe this really does come down to pinching pennies all around.

    EL @ Moneywatch101,

    We’ll see if I’m still in the same place in 20 years as well. I’m not likely to bring the light bulbs with me.

  8. Kevin says:

    The Crees are all labeled flood lights. Do use them inside, or do you really go through that many for outside use?

  9. Lazy Man says:

    I haven’t bought the Crees yet, but I intend to use them inside like the other BR30s I have in my recessed lighting.

  10. PennyPincher says:

    I’ve started buying LED bulbs, but when I move I WILL take them with me, so I’ll replace them with whatever is cheapest to buy at that time… Heheh

  11. While going for the cheaper up front option may be better for your bottom line, I’d recommend consumers opting for the slightly more expensive option. You’ll get a slightly better long term benefit PLUS it’s better for the environment.

  12. […] Man @ Lazy Man and Money writes Digging Into LED Lightbulb Savings – Here in New England, it’s become clear that winter is coming. With that in mind, it […]

  13. Donald says:

    I have light bulbs in my house which I use only occasionally and have lasted for over 15 years. With the disappearance of incandescents I will eventually be obliged to replace them with much more expensive bulbs. I will not be able to recoup their initial cost during my lifetime. It is only a couple of light fixtures in the basement and not a huge deal, but still I mildly resent not having the choice.

  14. Lazy Man says:

    Well you can buy some spare incadescents now and by the time those need replacing, LEDs should be nearly as cheap.

  15. S. B. says:

    Good point in the comments about heating and cooling effects. I think I’ll wait until summer to try a couple of these out.

  16. Lazy Man says:

    I was thinking more about the heating and cooling. I think much of it is overblown. For example, the heat of a lightbulb in my ceiling might be directed at the ceiling. That’s just wasted energy all around, even in winter. I think there’s a reason that people use heating sources designed to be heating sources. That reason is efficiency.

    I think there’s money to be saved to be had here… it’s not likely to be transferred to increased heating costs.

  17. […] the secret, sneaky tip… I had a lot of LED light bulbs in the house – I wrote about it recently: Digging into LED Light Bulb Savings. I also had some Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). I found that in the areas that I didn't […]

  18. Sally says:

    Choosing Energy Saving Light bulb is never easy but LEDs are quite good and quality wise, they put enough light to a lot for a lot of needs.

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