The True Price of Using LED Lights

LED light bulbs have recently become much cheaper and more reliable, but what is the real price of ownership?  How long do you have to use them before you "break even" compared to traditional lights?  Below, I do the math so you don't have to!

Some caveats:  I am using 60 watts (eqv) as the base measurement, and prices from Walmart.  At the time of this writing, a reliable LED bulb can be bought for $8, a compact florescent for $3.85, and a standard incandescent for about $1.50.

I am using a rate for electricity costs of 11 cents per kilowatt hour.  Your mileage may vary!

Replacement price:  Factored into these values is the assumption that you will have to pay for bulb replacements as well!  An incandescent bulb only lasts for 1,000 hours.  A CFL bulb for about 10,000.  And the LED bulb in question for 30,000 hours.

At 8 - 10 hours of use per day, 10,000 hours represents around 3 years of real-world use.

Let the data begin!

Hrs of use 60W Incandescent 13W CFL 11W LED
1 $1.51 $3.85 $8.00
100 $2.16 $3.99 $8.12
1,000 $9.60 $5.28 $9.21
2,000 $19.20 $10,56 $18.42
3,000 $28.80 $15.84 $27.63
4,000 $38.40 $21.12 $36.84
5,000 $48.00 $26.40 $46.05

So far, you will notice that the clear winner is the 13W compact florescent bulb (it's the "curly-Q" kind.  Notice, too, the false economy of using the cheaper incandescent bulbs.  Their low price is quickly outpaced by their electricity consumption and frequent replacements.

But, where things start to get interesting is once we start measuring hours by the 10-thousand.  This is because CFL's are only rated for 10,000 hours, and now we must replace them every 10,000 hours!

Hrs of use 60W Incandescent 13W CFL 11W LED
10,000 $96.00 $56.65 $55.26
20,000 $192.00 $121.30 $110.52
30,000 $288 $169.95 $173.78*
40,000 $384 $226.60 $229.04
50,000 $480 $283.25 $284.30

* The jump in price for LED at 30,000 is because we must buy another $8.00 bulb, as it is only rated for 30,000 hours.


After 10,000 hours, the cost of electricity & bulb cost is very close for the CFL and LED bulb, differing by only a few dollars.  Personally, I would stick with the LED bulb.  The extra couple dollars in price (every 30,000 hours, or 9 years) is offset by saving me time not having to change any bulbs!

Also, LED bulbs run cooler, contain no mercury, and generally don't shatter because they are encased in plastic instead of glass (usually).

Also, something to keep in mind:  These prices are based on the time of this writing (2014).  LED prices will continue to drop and drop, and their wattage may lower as well, to become even more competitive.