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Does electricity savings really pay for fancy-schmancy light bulbs?

Last modified: 2/14/2016 9:59:03 PM
What’s the payback period for switching bulbs – that is, how long will it take for the electricity savings to cover higher cost?

There are too many variables to say exactly, but in general the payback in switching from an old-fashioned incandescent to an equivalent halogen, CFL or LED bulb is half a year to two years.

Variable factors include your energy cost, which varies depending on your utility and the time of year (rates are higher in winter), as well as how much a light is used. If you install an expensive bulb in the far corner of the basement, where the light is turned on only when you change the cat’s litter box, you may never recoup your investment.

Bulb costs are all over the place, as well, due to occasional efficiency rebates. You can get 12-watt LED bulbs for as little as $3 these days.

This doesn’t include money savings from buying fewer bulbs, because newer bulbs last longer. Incandescent bulbs last about two years in normal use while equivalent halogens last about twice as long. CFL bulbs last a decade or so, and LEDs should last at least 20 years.

Note, however, that residential LED bulbs haven’t been around long enough to know if this figure holds up in the real world. Cheaply made CFLs that flooded the market in the mid 2000s often failed after just a few years, much to the irritation of people who paid $5 or more for them at the time.

DAVID BROOKS


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