How Much Is That Incandescent Costing You?

Many small businesses have already switched to energy-efficient lighting but there are still plenty of holdouts.  Some business owners don’t like the look of twisty compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), or they find LEDs and CFLs light too glaringly bright. Higher upfront costs of new lighting technologies scare away others.  However, it’s worth taking a new look at energy-efficient lighting, if you haven’t already.

The prices of many energy-efficient bulbs, including CFLs and LEDs, have fallen substantially – and are expected to continue falling. Payback times of many lighting upgrades is now under two or three years.  Not to mention that inefficient lights emit much of their energy as heat rather than actual light. So they can drive up air-conditioning costs in the summer months.

Here’s a look at the potential cost savings of making the switch:

Say you have one 60-watt incandescent light bulb that stays on for 60 hours per week and thus uses 3,600 watts per week. That’s 187,200 watts per year, or 1,872 kilowatts. If you pay 10-cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, that bulb costs you roughly $19 per year. Multiply that across 10 incandescent bulbs, and you’re looking at an annual lighting electricity cost of about $190.

Replacing those 10 bulbs with 14-watt CFLs might cost $20. But you would pay only about $44 in electricity each year – a $136 annual electricity savings. (The standard price of LEDs is still quite a bit higher – perhaps $20 per bulb – but that is expected to drop substantially in coming years.)

The technology of efficient lighting is also evolving quickly. Some businesses have refrained from moving to efficient lighting because they use dimmer switches, which haven’t generally worked with CFLs. But with the advent of LEDs and better dimmable CFLs, it’s more of an option these days. Read more about choosing light bulbs and the options in Consumer Report’s Light Bulb Buying Guide.

It’s also worth checking with your utility company about incentives. Many utilities now provide incentives to commercial customers that install efficient lights, sometimes covering up to 70% project costs. That  may generate payback times of under six months. You can find out if your utility offers incentives at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Have you installed energy-efficient lights at your business? How much of a cost savings have you seen?

Incandescent Bulb Photo via Shutterstock


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

8 Reactions
  1. I’m one of those people who just don’t like the light quality from energy efficient bulbs. Are they making any headway on improving the general “feel” of these bulbs? Perhaps making their light a little softer?

  2. Hi Robert,

    Yes, CFLs now come in much lower color temperatures (i.e. warmer light). But I’d suggest going to a retailer with a larger selection of bulbs, such as a hardware store or home-improvement store. There are also independent distributors of energy-efficient LEDs and such that have more options than what you might find elsewhere.


  3. My wife and I work from home and have our office lights on all day long. We weren’t very happy with the thought of wasting electricity on these lights so last year we mad an investment in some Philips LED light bulbs. They were very pricey at the time, but considering they are supposed to last something like 10-20 years, they will pay for themselves. And the light color is similar to incandescent (which is one of the reasons why they were so pricey.

  4. I love this article. I was not aware of all the different options with fluorescent cfl bulbs until several months ago. I stumbled on a company that helped me outfit my whole house with cfl’s. The website is and they helped with color options and wattages. The first month I noticed my energy bill drop significantly because in many fixtures I went from 100 watts to 23 per bulb. CFL bulbs seem to have come along way, I would think they’re here to stay.

  5. Kelly – Great article. You are correct, energy efficient bulbs have come a long way. They still aren’t perfect, but replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs almost always makes sense.

    That being said, they are not perfect and often leave people feeling a bit disappointed. One area that disappoints is bulb life. I’m an energy consultant who specializes in helping customers reduce their energy consumption (and energy bills), so I see a lot of lighting applications. I’ve found that CFLs never last as long as their manufacturers advertise.

    Another area is their warmth and color. At the end of the day, an incandescent bulb is just warmer and more comfortable. In some applications it makes sense to leave an incandescent bulb or two in place.

  6. Thanks for the reminder!

    I’ve been switching our bulbs out for about a year now. Some savings are starting to appear on our bill. That’s a good thing!

    I’ll continue to do this; I really believe in lowering our costs, and not harming the environment.

    The Franchise King®

  7. Since we went to all-LED for our business, we’ve seen out total utility bill go down by $15/month. Just by changing the lights – we spent about $400 on the change-over, and saving $180 per year. So in two years, the savings will pay for the investment. After that, I hope the 20 year lifetime is true, because in 18 years we can save $3240. Just on making the decision to go with new technology.