Will switching to reef LED aquarium lights save money?

reef led aquarium light
reef LED aquarium light by SMercury98

I found myself asking the question: “Will switching to reef LED aquarium lights save money?” a lot lately–mostly because I’m overdue to change out my light bulbs.

So now that it is time to fork over the ~$110 to replace my lights (to purchase a new metal halide lamp and 2 power compact lamps), the questions I have been asking myself are:

  • Am I throwing money away by replacing my current bulbs?
  • Will switching to reef LED aquarium lights save money in the long run?
  • How long do I have to wait to save that money?

Will switching to reef LED aquarium lights save money?

In order to figure this out, I first had to calculate how much it costs to run my lights currently. As best I can figure, there are two dominant costs in running my lights today:

  • Cost to replace the bulbs annually
  • Cost of electricity to run the lights

The cost to replace the bulbs is fairly easy to figure out. A replacement metal halide bulb costs about $50 and power compact bulbs cost about $30 each, for an estimated total of $110 in my case. This number will vary for you based on the type of bulbs you need.

The cost of electricity to run the lights was a bit more complicated–first of all because you need a degree in forensic accounting to interpret my electric bill. Do yourself a favor and grab your utility bill to perform this calculation OR just trust that your electricity is similar to mine. What you DON’T want to do is just do a google search to find out how much you spend. When I did, what I found was the ‘cost to compare’ quote–which was only 1 of the various costs charged by my electric company.

For all these calculations, I created two easy-to-use spreadsheets that you can access/download for free. I posted them to Google docs. You can access them by clicking on either the text link or images below. Part of the beauty of saving to the cloud is that it’s really easy to let anyone and everyone have access to it. Just try to have good etiquette there and remember Google’s motto: don’t be evil :).

Reef LED calculator on Google Docs

reef LED aquarium light calculator
Download this tool for free

Cost of electricity calculator on Google Docs

cost of electricity calculator
Download this spreadsheet for free

Once I figured out how much I was paying per kilowatt hour ($0.15 per kwh at the time of this post), I could figure out how much I spend on electricity as follows:

hours per day lights are on x’s watts x’s cost per kwh x’s 0.365

which in my case meant:

14 x 305 x $0.15 x 0.365 =  $233.78

Combined, when you look at the cost for electricity and the cost to replace bulbs every year, I figured I’m spending about $343.78 each year to run my current lights–which is a lot more than I wanted to think.

To figure out the cost to run your new reef LED aquarium lights, you do the same math–but with the lower figure for the watts, based on what the new lights consume. It seems like 130 watts is a pretty common power rating for LED lights:

14 x 130 x $0.15 x 0.365 = $99.65

So the difference between those figures is the estimated amount of money I will save by running reef LED aquarium lights instead of my existing lights (assuming I would have changed my light bulbs every year as estimated).

$233.78 – $99.65 = $134.13

So if I were to switch my metal halide and power compact aquarium lights to reef LED today (instead of replacing and running my existing lights), I would save $134.13 each and every year.

But that isn’t just free money falling from the sky–because I already have a light fixture and ballast for my lights, I have to consider the cost of purchasing the new reef LED light fixture. I was surprised to see the wide range of costs out there on the market. First generation LED light fixtures can be purchased on Ebay or Amazon for $100-$150.
More advanced (and/or more recognized brand name) reef LED light fixtures are available for $300-$650.

So if I will save $134.13 each year, that pays for a $400 fixture in 3 years  ($400 divided by $141.80) or a $600 fixture in 4.5 years.

That seems like a decent payback period, considering that LEDs are claimed to last 50,000 years (which is roughly 10 years at 14 hours each day). To take the math one step further, if my reef LED lights do last 10 years, they will save me $818-$1018 over their useful life, over and above the cost of buying the reef LED aquarium light fixture. That seems like a compelling reason to switch.

From a financial perspective then, the decision comes down to whether or not there is risk in the lights burning out or otherwise breaking before the payback period.

Well, that’s the math. Hope walking through it helps you do your own assessment about whether or not switching to reef LED aquarium lights will save money for you. If you want to do your own calculations, you can use the spreadsheet I put together. I made it available on my Google Drive.

If you use the spreadsheet, please consider coming back to leave a comment here and post how your analysis came out, either for or against the purchase. I think others would benefit from understanding your perspective too.

Written by Albert B. Ulrich III.

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