LED vs Incandescent: What’s the Smartest Choice?

‘Tis the season once again to string those holiday lights. Unfortunately, it seems that each year in storage leads to dead strings that force us to run out to the hardware store to purchase new lights. And to make it worse, there are no shortage of options, especially as LED lights become more and more prominent.

Many of us have purchased the traditional incandescent lights over the years. One thing is clear, they tend to be much cheaper than LEDs, typically ranging from a cost difference of four to eight dollars. A few years back, this article compared the pros and cons of both light types using a FLIR thermal camera to help show you. Here are the results from the test:

Lower Energy Consumption— Comparing a 50-count strand of LEDs (left) and incandescent (right) for a side-by-side comparison, LEDs consume two watts and incandescent consume 242 watts—that’s a massive difference! Over 35 days at about four hours per day (assuming most switch on the lights after Thanksgiving, and put them away after New Years), the cost to power LED lights averages to three cents a day versus over three dollars a day for incandescent.

Reduction in Heat Output—In the same comparison photo, the heat output of LEDs is about 80 degrees versus a whopping 200 or more degrees with incandescent lighting. Furthermore, 90% of the energy required for light emission comes from heat energy, thus resulting in those higher energy bills. Also, each year there are countless stories of holiday light-related household fires, and using cooler running lights just sounds smarter. 

Thinking you can avoid this drama with mini incandescent holiday lights? Sorry, same rules apply! The article also compared 100-count miniature lighting strands using the same process (see photo below) with similar results. Albeit to a smaller degree based on their size, LEDs consume 5 watts of energy while the incandescent lights use 38 watts. Temperature is similarly shocking, with the miniature incandescent lights still reaching upwards of 100 degrees, and the LEDs remaining consistent at around 80. Even with the miniatures, you’re looking at a daily difference of seven cents for LEDs versus 53 cents for incandescent.

It’s clear that switching to LED lights will reduce your energy bills. For all you Christmas-light-hangers who will be pulling your lights out to hang this week, if you have to replace them, LEDs will save you some money, even though you’ll have to pay more for them upfront. Now if they can only make lights that survive in longer storage.

Hey, FLIR ONE owners – take a picture of your best Christmas tree and holiday home decorations and tag us with #FLIR. Learn more about which thermal camera is right for you here.

Special thanks to Bret Curry for the research and photos. 

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