During the period from Black Friday until New Year’s, ambient light intensity in America increases by up to 50 percent. Why? Holiday lights! Yes, Americans really do love their Christmas light decorations that much.

In fact, you can even see the difference from space. Call it the Clark Griswold Syndrome. And all that Christmas goodness adds up to a lot of energy used and some serious spikes in electric bills.

But as an apartment-dweller, you’re probably not going to have gigantic displays that light up the night sky. You’ll probably be limited to a cute string of lights or two around the living room, a set in the window and a strand around your small apartment tree. Your electrical footprint will be much smaller.

So, in your small apartment, is it worth switching out your old inefficient Christmas lights for energy resourceful LEDs? Will you save money on your electric bill by changing to LED Christmas tree lights and LED string lights? The bottom line is, yes. But that’s not the entire story.

Defining your bulbs

There are two primary types of commonly used Christmas light bulbs, regardless of light source. First there are “C9” lights. Those are the big, old-fashioned bulbs that look like nightlight or electric candle bulbs. These are mostly used outdoors, hanging from awnings and rooftops. So, unless you’re lucky enough to have outside access or permission from your landlord to hang roof lights, you’re probably not using these very often.

Then, there are the much more common mini lights. These are the ones most people use indoors and around the tree. Regardless of the light source, these burn much cooler and even come in the best Christmas light style ever, icicle lights!

Calculating your usage

Every person has their own patterns for Christmas light usage. Some of us start hanging lights the day after Thanksgiving and don’t take them down until well into the new year. And there are those that only start lighting up their apartment a couple weeks before Christmas and undo their decorating that night.

How many nights you light up your pad isn’t the only calculation. You must account for the time per day you’re running your lights. Some folks might flip on the lights the moment they walk in from work and keep them on all night, upwards of 12 to 15 hours. Others only switch their lights on for three or four hours in the evening before heading off to bed. So, where do you fall?

A typical Christmas apartment dweller

Considering the number of variables, there’s a lot of factors in figuring out energy costs. So, let’s take a typical apartment Christmas light user we’ll call Shannon. Shannon lives in a standard two-bedroom duplex apartment. Shannon loves Christmas and she’s pretty festive, so these are all the incandescent lights she has hanging around her place:

  • A string of 25 C9 lights across her front windows
  • A string of 100 icicle lights around her bedroom window
  • A string of 100 white mini-lights around her apartment-sized Christmas tree
  • A string of 100 red-and-green mini-lights over her entertainment center

Now that’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! As we said, Shannon is a joyful sort, so she’s a pretty heavy user. She puts up her lights on Black Friday and takes them down the first weekend after New Year’s Day, about 45 days. Each day she flips the switch when she wanders in from work at 6 p.m. and since she wants her neighbors to join in the merriment, leaves them on all night, turning them off when she wakes up at 6 a.m. to get ready for work.

So what are the energy savings?

In our example, Shannon’s incandescent lights are on for a total of about 540 hours during the season. And Shannon, being an average American, pays about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (KwH), the national average.

It’s pretty logical that LED bulbs use less energy than old incandescent bulbs. We’ve all been taught this over the last decade or so, and it’s true. So, how much would Shannon save if she switched?

Based on some energy averages calculated by the Washington Post, over the course of the Christmas season with all incandescent bulbs, Shannon would spend about $26 to light up her holiday. That’s a pretty good chunk of an electric bill, considering the average apartment dweller spends about $60 a month on electricity.

But Shannon is progressive and likes to save money, so she decided to replace all her incandescent lights with LED lights. Shannon’s December electric bill has, of course, dropped, but by how much? The exact lighting setup with LED bulbs now costs a mere $1.45 in energy, a 94 percent reduction. Good for Shannon!

But wait, there are more costs

Sure, a heavy user saving about $25 a year is great, but if you’re about half as festive as Shannon, you’re only saving about twelve bucks. Still about the cost of dinner, but does that relatively small number mean you should dive into the LED section of the hardware store?

While the cost of everyday LED lights for lamps and spotlights have fallen significantly in recent years – upwards of a third of the cost – the same can’t be said for LED holiday lights. New LED Christmas tree lights and string lights cost a bit-to-significantly more than their incandescent counterparts. The reason? Because they’re such a specialized item and purchased during a very small time during the year, companies wont drop the price.

Those plump C9 LED bulbs aren’t all that bad, averaging about 10 bucks more than the old incandescent style. But if you’ve gone looking for mini LED lights, you know the difference greatly spikes. A recent look at prices at Home Depot shows a box of 100 incandescent mini lights running about $25. But the same box of LED mini lights is upwards of $90.

So, are you really saving money?

The bottom line is, if you have perfectly good, non-broken incandescent lights, you’re going to wind up spending more money upfront just to replace them than you’d save by using LEDs. Yes, they’ll wind up paying for themselves in energy savings, but that will take several years. If you’re happy with what you have, there’s no reason to spend money if you don’t have to.

But if you want more lights than you have or need to replace broken strings, LEDs might be a good investment up front for cost savings in years to come. As well, most LED light strings claim they’ll last upwards of 25,000 hours. While real world factors say that’s probably not quite true, your LED strings are going to last much longer than your old school bulbs.

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