Converting Your Home to LED Lighting: Is it Really Worth It?

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, and as you probably already know these high-efficiency lights can be found literally everywhere these days, from the old LED wristwatches (Pulsar anyone?) to modern stop lights to televisions to Christmas lights.

Where you don’t see them as often are as light fixtures in homes and businesses. That’s been slowly changing and we’ve been getting an increasing number of questions from people who are thinking about adding LEDs as lighting sources to their homes.

So we thought we’d learn a little more about this type of light and its use in homes and find out if it’s really worth it to convert your home to LED bulbs.

LED fixtures available for home use

Now that they’ve been on the market for awhile the diversity of LED fixtures continues to grow. We’ve found them in a variety of home applications, including:

  • Bulbs and globes for use in lamps and fixtures
  • LED Flood lights for outdoors
  • Spotlights for indoors and outdoors
  • Track lights for accent lighting
  • Candle bulbs for chandeliers and candelabras
  • Strip lights for under shelves and cabinets

You can also get many of these products in different colors now, ranging from stark white to soft yellows, greens, blues, and reds.

I really like the thought of using LEDs for hard-to-reach bulbs and outdoor lighting. No more hoisting yourself up a giant ladder just to reach a light under the eve that burned out because you forgot to turn it off the night before. Also, LEDs don’t emit ultraviolet light, so they don’t attract bugs.

LED fixtures do cost more – a lot more

There’s not doubt LED fixtures cost more than other types. We trekked over to the Globe Lighting store in Vancouver, WA to make some comparisons of common lighting fixtures. (Thanks for the help, Vicki.) Here’s what we found:

LEDs Compared to Incandescent and Compact Fluorescent
Type Cost Wattage Longevity in Hours
Light bulb (60W equivalent)
Incandescent $.95 60W 600-1k hours
Compact Fluorescent $4.95 13W 3k-5k hours
LED $59.95 6W 30k-50k hours
PAR Lamp (Parabolic Aluminized Reflector – For Recessed Lighting – 50W equivalent)
Incandescent: $8.50 50W 600-1k hours
Compact Fluorescent: $12.95 15W 3k-5k hours
LED $79.95 11W 30k-50k
Candles for Candelabras (25W equivalent)
Incandescent: $1.30 25W 600-1k hours
Compact Fluorescent: $3.95 5W 3k-5k hours
LED $18.95 1.7W 30k-50k hours
Averages
Incandescent: $3.58 45W 600-1k hours
Compact Fluorescent: $7.28 11W 3k-5k hours
LED $52.95 6.2W 30k-50k hours

For light bulbs, where we found the greatest disparity in price, LEDs right now can be as much as 60X more expensive that incandescent, yet last nearly 50X longer (we’re using the greatest numbers). LEDs are 12X the price of compact fluorescents, and last 10X longer. Yet for PAR lamps and candelabra candles the price gaps shrink considerably, making them a better value based on price vs. longevity.

LEDs do save energy, a lot of it, and could be a good long-term “investment” for your home

(Warning: Math Content*)

There’s no doubt that LEDs use less energy than incandescent, halogen or even fluorescent bulbs while emitting about the same amount of light. In fact, LEDs can use a watt or less to up to 11 watts for the brightest ones. If we assume that your home has 100 light bulbs, including outdoors and those in candelabras, and the average cost of LEDs is $52 each, you would pay $5,200 to retrofit.

Now, if you refit ALL your applicable incandescent bulbs with LEDs you could presumably save up to 86% of your lighting costs (although this does not account for energy losses to the fixtures). Lighting typically accounts for only 15% of your total electrical bill, with heating and cooling using the greatest amount of energy. That means if you pay $100 per month in electricity, you would save $12.90 per month – (.15 x $100) x.86 = $12.90. So you’re paying $5,200 for an energy savings of $154.80 per year.

There’s even more savings. This does not include the replacement of your other bulbs, which would be burning out regularly, let’s say once a year (although this is just a guess to keep the math simple). So if at most the average replacement cost of incandescent bulbs is about $3.50 each your would save an additional $350 per year, for a total savings of $504 per year, or a 10% return on cost of the LEDs per year. After 10 years you would get roughly $5,004 back.

Let’s compare that to compact fluorescents. If you replaced all your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs you would pay about $728 – $7.28 x 100 = $728. Since we’re assuming you would change your incandescents once a year and compact fluorescents last 5X longer then we would double that to get the 10-year cost of $1,456. During that time you would save about (.15 x 100)x.75 = $11.25 per month, or $135 per year. After 10 years you would save roughly $3,414 in energy and replacement costs over incandescent bulbs.


Average Savings on 100 Bulbs
LED and Compact Fluorescent Versus Incandescent
Type Initial Cost 1-year savings
less replacement
costs
5-year savings
less replacement
costs
10-year savings
less replacement
costs
20-year savings
less replacement
costs
Incandescent** $358 -$358 -$1,790 -$3,580 -$7,160
Compact Fluorescent*** $728 $493 $1,707 $3,414 $6,828
LED $5,200 $504 $2,520 $5,040 $10,080

**Incandescent bulbs would need to be changed every year, on average.
***Compact fluorescent bulbs would need to be changed every 5 years, on average.


Fluorescents seem like a better deal, except manufacturers claim LEDs can last 10X longer than even those thrifty bulbs, given them a potential lifespan of 50 years, based on our assumptions*. Does that mean you could get $25,000 back on your $5,200 investment versus a return of $24,250 on a cost of $7,280 over 50 years for compact fluorescents? I don’t know, but suffice it to say that you probably won’t be buying LEDs just because of the monthly savings. If you’re not all about dollars and value, then LEDs still make a lot of sense because of the energy savings.

(*We are making some key assumptions in this math, especially in regards to bulb longevity, and we will be happy to amend these numbers if someone has compelling evidence that they need to be changed.)

Should I buy LEDs for my home?

The answer to this depends on your goals. If you want to save energy at any cost, then LEDs are a great way to go green. If you are planning to stay in your home for 10 years, then there’s a good chance you will recoup the money you put into your LEDs. But if you are on a strict budget, then LEDs might just be too expensive for you to convert all your lights. You could try experimenting with outdoor and garage lights, which often can be difficult to change and expensive if they’re left on for long periods of time (ooops). Remember our example from above: If your home has 100 light bulbs, it would cost $5,200 to cast that house in the “green” glow of LEDs.

Pros

  • Energy-efficient - An LED bulb that puts out the same amount of light as a 60 Watt incandescent only uses about 6 Watts.
  • Long-lived - LEDs can last for 30,000-50,000 hours. Presumably that means you could leave an LED on continuously for nearly 6 years.
  • Durable - LEDs are resistant to shock, extreme changes in temperature (although high heat can shorten their lives), and repeated cycling (turning off and on).
  • Safe - LEDs bulbs operate at lower temperatures than other bulbs. You can’t even touch a halogen bulb when it’s off for fear of the oils on your fingers heating to a point that it shatters the bulb.
  • UV free - LEDs don’t emit ultraviolet light, which can damage artwork and which attracts bugs
  • Interference free - LEDs don’t have ballasts like fluorescents, so they don’t interfere with radio signals
  • Multi-colored - LEDs can be manufactured in many different colors and don’t require filters – they literally make monochromatic light.

Cons to LEDs

  • Expensive - No matter how you look at it this is the single most important deterrent to LEDs becoming more prevalent.
  • Heat-sensitive - The lifespan of LEDs can be greatly reduced by excessive heat.
  • Glare - LEDs can cast very bright glare off surfaces such as granite without a diffuser.
  • Look - They’re getting much better that the blue-hued versions we are used to seeing, but can be a little overwhelming.

Links:

Where to get them:

Globe Lighting (My local favorite)

There’s also plenty of LED products available through online retailers. We’ve never purchased anything from these guys, but here’s a quick list:

Manufacturers:

List of LED manufacturers

History:

Facts and History of LEDs from Wikipedia

40 Comment(s)

  1. Right now, from a strictly “return on investment” point of view, LED lights are not that compelling for home use because most people don’t have their lights on for more than a few hours per day on average. For the normal homeowner it will take several years to pay back the original investment. That being said, most people don’t buy things for their home on the basis of “payback”, they buy them for their comfort, convenience, enjoyments, and environmental benefits regardless of “payback period”. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people have been purchasing our Lumicrest LED lighting for their homes, perhaps because they don’t like the excessive heat put out by halogen and incandescent lamps, and don’t like the light quality and the mercury content of CFL lights… and the fact that those CFLs often don’t last as long as they are reputed to.

    David | Jul 26, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi David – I absolutely agree that people right now who are buying LEDs often are not looking for ROI, but for the right look. They are a popular choice in high-end homes. Still, it was an interesting exercise to do the math. Thanks for the comment!

    admin | Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

  3. Here’s another thing to bear in mind with LED lights (and CFL’s). If they are not designed to be dimmable, don’t use them on circuits with dimmers! You might think it is ok if you don’t actually dim, the lights, but its not. The dimmer changes the AC power waveform to some degree all the time, which can overheat electronic drivers that are not designed for it. This shortens the product life, and in the case of some CFL’s, can even be dangerous.

    led lights | Sep 18, 2010 | Reply

  4. I was not aware that it was UV that attracted insects. That is a good enough reason for me to change.
    I am in the country and get “power surges” that burn out my long last lights and cfl lights. I believe the LED’s are more bullet proof.

    LED BULBS | Jan 17, 2011 | Reply

  5. I am now a firm believer in LED Lightbulbs and am in the process of changing my system up.
    I went searching for info on this topic and stumbled upon your absolutely wonderful site.

    I cannot thank you enough for all the great content!

    Pink Light Bulbs | Mar 5, 2011 | Reply

  6. But we should not stop the comparisons only at electricity bills. We should take another important consideration, the color temperature, which can form a big part of the choice to go with one or the other. The incandescent lighting sources emit yellowish light, while the old-style compact fluorescent lights product a greenish light because of the mercury vapor. Different from both of them, the LEDs are closer than either. They have the ability to product light waves at specific frequency ranges, so that the colors are more vivid of all light forms.

    Bestlightingbuy staff | Dec 25, 2011 | Reply

  7. A very comprehensive article. Thanks for presenting the pros and cons and other information on the practicality of having LED lights at home.

    pete mal @ led downlights | Apr 23, 2012 | Reply

  8. I would consider LED bulbs if I had any idea how much light they actually produce. We use mostly 100 and 150 watt bulbs. Is there a chart somewhere that tells how LED output compares with incandescant in light output?
    David Hill

    David Hill | Jan 10, 2013 | Reply

  9. I am trying to put LED spots in my soffit- mounted security spotlights. My spots are motion detecting. Can I used LED spots in my existing fixtures? I am getting conflicting opinions that the LED spot bulbs can be used in any fixture versus you have to have an LED fixture for the motion detection device to work with an LED bulb. What do I need? I want 1000 lumens per bulb with 2 bulbs in each fixture.

    Linn | Jan 23, 2013 | Reply

  10. When figuring costs for converting to LED (if you just have to do more math), you might also figure the cost of the heat produced by incandescent lighting, which adds to the cooling load of the house/building, constituting a double whammy. Not so easy to calculate, but a potentially big factor during the overheated period of the year – July 4th in International Falls, and all of the time in Miami. Have at it!

    KazooGuy | Feb 13, 2013 | Reply

  11. It is very interesting.The new kid on the block is LED, standing for Light Emitting Diodes. Exterior fixtures utilizing this technology incorporate multiple tiny LED bulbs into a single fixture.

    led gold coast | Feb 15, 2013 | Reply

  12. @David Hill: the 100w equivalent would be a 12w LED light bulbs, which should be available in your local hardware store. i haven’t noticed any 150w equivalent yet

    LED home lighting | May 2, 2013 | Reply

  13. Well, we must know the comparison between LED and other lighting. In addition to being in this industry for many years I observed that people have started moving to use of LED lights other than CFLs and halogen. LED lights are energy efficient and help to save up to 90% of electric use. People might be afraid of using LED lights because its high costs, but now cheap LED lights are also available in the marketing with low maintenance.

    Corvi Led | Aug 26, 2013 | Reply

  14. The LED light is becoming more popular due to their long life and low cost. They use very low power also. As the demand for LED lighting is increasing newer varieties are created which give more light in less power.

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