Are All Energy Efficient LED Christmas Lights A Scam?

Christmas decorations are starting to hit the shelves once again.

Before you buy your Christmas lights, make sure you aren’t getting ripped off.

One of our favorite parts of the Christmas season is seeing the Christmas lights on the houses around our city.

In the last few years, there have been some new Christmas light bulb technologies, mainly LED lights, that claim they’ll save you a ton of money on your power bill.

The LED lights will definitely save you money on your power bill, but are they worth the increased cost of the lights?

Is it a scam in disguise?

Luckily I have some answers for you. Last year, my power company recently sent me an insert with my November power bill. 

The results were a bit surprising.

How To Calculate Christmas Light Energy Cost

If you care to know how the energy calculations are done, this part is for you, if not, skip this short section.

In order to get your electrical cost for Christmas lights, multiply the number of watts per bulb by how many bulbs you’re using to get the total power per hour.

Next, multiply that by the number of hours you have your lights on each night. After that, multiply that number by how many days you plan to have your Christmas lights up for.

That gives you your total power in watts to run these lights. Divide that by 1,000 to get how many kW it takes to power your lights, since your electric bill is likely in kWs.

One last step is to take how much a kWh costs (you get this by checking your energy rates on your electric bill) and multiply that by the number of kWs you used. My power company has an average kWh cost of 11.6 cents.

(Watts per bulb) x (# of bulbs) x (# of hours per night) x (days using lights) / (1,000) x (power cost per kWh) = Electrical cost of Christmas lights

Old Fashioned Lights Are Energy Hogs!

Remember the incandescent Christmas lights?

They’re those big colored bulbs that maybe had about 25 on a strand. They’re technically called C9 bulbs. My wife absolutely loves these lights, but there is no way we’ll ever get them because they’d add an outrageous amount to our electricity bill.

Each bulb on these old fashioned lights takes 7 watts to power for one hour. As you will shortly see, that is a ton more than the other Christmas lights. A typical strand of 25 of these bulbs will take 175 watts per hour.

Mini Lights Are Much More Efficient

The mini incandescent Christmas lights have been around for quite a while. They’ve made many variations over the years and our favorite are the white icicle lights. In fact, that is what we have on our house this year!

These lights typically come in strands of at least 100 and sometimes as much as 300 or 500. Each bulb on these strands of lights takes much less electricity to run, in fact, they generally take about 0.4 watts per bulb per hour.

This is a great energy savings compared to the C9 bulbs. A strand of 100 mini lights will only take 40 watts per hour.

LED Bulbs Are The Most Efficient

LED bulbs are the most efficient Christmas lights you can get right now.

There are two types of LED bulbs, the larger type that remind me of the old fashioned Christmas lights and the smaller ones like the mini bulbs that we currently have on our home.

LED bulbs use just a fraction of the electricity but they do look very different than the traditional bulbs.

The C9 LED lights take 0.08 watts per bulb per hour and a typical 25 light strand will use 2 watts per hour. The mini LED lights take 0.06 watts per bulb per hour and a typical 100 light strand of these bulbs will use 6 watts per hour.

Do LED Lights Save On Your Electric Bill?

To determine if LED lights are more efficient, I’ve made a few assumptions in a possible scenario. The scenario is that you will use 10 strands of whichever Christmas light you end up using. You’ll have them on for 5 hours a day and for 30 days.

Electricity rates vary by provider, but in our area it costs $0.116 per kWh.

Under this scenario, incandescent C9 lights would cost $30.45 in electricity, incandescent mini lights would cost $6.96 in electricity, LED c9 lights would cost $0.35 in electricity and LED mini lights would cost $1.04 in electricity. 

Does any of that shock you?

Using C9 LED lights instead of incandescent C9 lights would save $30.10 and using LED mini lights instead of incandescent mini lights would save you $5.92.

Are LED Lights Cheaper Overall?

Now that we know how much we save in electricity, we need to see how much more expensive it is to buy LED lights rather than incandescent lights.

According to Home Depot, 10 strands of 25 incandescent C9 lights would cost $79.80 and 10 strands of 25 LED C9 lights would cost $84.80.

Clearly, the better deal is the LED C9 lights if you’re choosing which lights to buy at the store. If you already own C9 incandescent lights, it would take a little less than 3 Christmas seasons for the energy savings to pay for the LED bulbs.

But what if you prefer mini lights? According to Home Depot, 10 strands of 100 incandescent mini lights would cost $25.00 and 10 strands of 100 LED mini lights would cost $199.80. That’s a much bigger difference!

While you would think the LED mini lights would be a better deal, it would take over 29 years for the energy savings to pay for the price difference between incandescent and LED mini Christmas lights.

The Verdict

Money wise, LED lights are the cheaper overall alternative if you want C9 lights. However, if you love the mini lights then the incandescent bulbs are cheaper by a long shot.

Of course, Christmas isn’t about money. It is about getting in the spirit. If you hate the look of a certain type of bulb and love the other one, it only costs a few bucks to have the look you want.

The decision is up to you, but if you don’t care, save some money and get the better deal.

Were you surprised at the results of which Christmas lights were cheaper? Do you have a preference for which are your favorite looking Christmas lights?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Great write up! I looked at the cost of Christmas lights this week as well but missed the high price of mini-LED lights. It makes sense for that style to be more expensive but that will change over the next year or two as the manufacturing costs get lower and lower. I used a watt meter to analyze some light displays and the found the biggest savings for most people could be accomplished with a good timer outlet. Enjoyable read!

  2. I’ve looked at the LED bulbs, but considering we don’t blanket our house in lights (just the tree and icicles along the front) and I’ve never noticed an uptick in our December electric bill, so figured I wouldn’t notice the energy savings for a swap to LED.

  3. Bryce @ Save and Conquer says:

    We don’t decorate much of the house, but we put light strings in the Christmas tree. We went to LED lights a couple years ago because they are bright, they are less prone to breaking, they are cool to the touch, they are more efficient, and we bought them in an after Christmas sale.

  4. What a great post! I would never have guessed it would actually save money. I always thought it was a scam (a good, eco-friendly one!).

  5. I am totally with your wife. I love the look of the old fashioned lights. However we don’t decorate the outside of our house for Christmas. Maybe next year.

  6. Great cost comparison, Lance…..the other thing to keep in mind is, are you willing to spend more in order to save electricity and the cost to the environment? I hate to say it, but I’d be buying as cheap of lights as I can. 🙂

  7. Mike Marullo says:

    The other problem that this article fails to mention is that despite significantly better reliability for the LED lights themselves, it is not advisable to buy LEDs with the expectation of improved reliability (‘lifespan’). The problem is with the workmanship (Made in China!). Unfortunately, the manufacturing quality of LED strands is — by our experience — no better than that for incandescents, virtually eliminating any potential added value by buying LEDS. You’ll just be throwing away those expensive LED light strands instead of the cheaper incandescent ones!

  8. Debbie Moore says:

    I just wish they could make these energy-efficient C9s LOOK like the old version. I like the fact that the plastic on the LED lights are less prone to breaking, but nothing beats the nostalgia of the old C9s. Sigh. 🙂

    • My wife loves them too, they’re just so expensive to run!

    • I am with you and will NEVER EVER buy single LED Christmas light as long as I live. I will pay any cost to preserve the incandescent Christmas glow of my
      childhood. Most of New York City is LED’s now, and all of it looks fake, cold, and hideously bright.

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