Friday, May 20, 2011

LED lighting: Is it a cost effective, environmentally sound alternative?

Working with commercial customers over the years has given me the opportunity to take on projects that I would most likely not have had if I focused on residential alone. Recently, I have had the opportunity to complete a LED lighting upgrade that had enlightened me on the subject and my findings have been significant.

First, some background: This project took place at Goosefeathers Café in Savannah. The café has used rope lighting for years to accent and make their restaurant stand out, because it was off a very busy square downtown and close to other prominent and famous eateries. The lights are on 24 hours a day, seven says a week.

I brought up the idea of using LED lighting originally not because it would save electricity, but because the standard incandescent lights we were using were failing far too frequently. Rope lights (both LED and incandescent) run in sections of 18 to 42 inches and when there is a failure the entire section goes out. The incandescent usually start to loose sections in an 8 to 12 month period. Additionally, the café owner was purchasing the lights from one of the large box-type home improvement stores. This placed restrictions on lengths, and the lights were not repairable…once a section went out, the whole string had to be replaced!

Now that I have some real information and data to work with, I can say that LED lighting is definitely worth the investment! Real life experience and for comparative purposes, I am going to argue that the lights will last 1/3 of the lifecycle that the manufacturer suggests before this first sections start to fail.

Initial installation:
  • Installation costs of the incandescent lights are $1.87 per linear foot including all materials. Goosefeathers uses 300 linear foot for a total installation cost of $561.00
  • Savannah Renovations charged $3.26 per linear foot including all materials to install LED lighting. Total cost: $978.00

Operating costs…I used the power bill calculator at the Georgia Public Service Commission’s website ( ) to calculate the operating expenses of the lighting. Although these are not the exact rates and calculations used for a business of this type, the method of calculation is similar:

  • The incandescent lights we were using operated at 3watts per linear foot per hour. Again, at 300LF this totals 900 watts per hour used to operate the lights. Since the average month has 730 hours, the average power costs would be:
    • $93.24 per month during the summer
    • $83.83 per month during the winter
  • The new LED lighting purchased operates at .64watts per linear foot per hour; this totals 192 watts per hour to operate. Once more, using 730 hours per month (average), the power costs for LED rope light are:
    • $29.10 per month during the summer
    • $28.25 per month during the winter

Maintenance expenses: As previously stated, my real life experience tells me that (at least concerning incandescent) the lights will generally last 1/3 of what the manufacturer suggests before the first failures begin to occur. Since I do not have the actual experience with LED lighting, I will assume this lighting will react similarly. To get a good idea of average annual expense, I have chosen to use a 10-year period to assess maintenance costs. With this information and these assumptions, I feel the following hypothesis is accurate:

  • Most incandescent lighting manufacturers state a bulb life of 20 to 33k hours. My real life experience with the lights at the café show that in reality the period is more like six to ten thousand hours before the first sections start to fail. With the particular lights used here there are no repair options, so since the sections start to fail, the whole rope must be replaced. Rope sections average two to 48 foot in length. The average length used here is 18 linear foot. Repair generally costs a little more than initial install because the service is particular to a small section and the labor charges are higher.
  • The repair/replacement of sections is usually $2.25 per linear foot for the incandescent lighting including all materials.
  • Based on the realized historical lifespan, the entire lighting system will be replaced 8.85 times in a ten-year period.

  • The LED lights we purchased for the project at Goosefeathers Café state a 100k lifespan. If the LED lights follow the same lifespan as I have seen with incandescent lights, they should last approximately 35k hours.
  • Here is where the big difference in maintenance comes in: the LED lights purchased are repairable! This means, when a section goes out that section can be cut and replaced. There is no need to replace all the lights!
  • I estimate repair costs to be $3.50 per linear foot including all materials.
  • Based on my hypothesis, the entire lighting system will be replaced 2.5 times over a ten-year period.

Total of expenses over a ten-year period including initial installation, power usage, and maintenance costs:

INCANDECENT: $16,495.20 and 78,840kwh USED

LED: $7,039.00 and 16,819kwh USED


The results of my small study have surprised me. Incandescent lighting does have a significantly lower initial installation cost, but beyond that there is no comparison. LED lighting operates at such a low energy level and lasts so much longer there is little argument left. In this one case, the owners will save $9,456.20 in the next ten years compared to the previous ten! Not to mention the environmental impact…62,021kwh have been saved over this same period! That is 62,021,000 watt hours of electricity!!!

LED lighting is definitely cost effective and environmentally sound! Call or email Savannah Renovations today (912-675-5569) for a free estimate and consultation to see how we can help you save money and do your part to help protect the environment!