February 25, 2021

Have you watched a Christmas lightshow like this and wondered – how in the world does this guy even afford his electric bill?

Maybe you’re considering making your own animated Christmas light show, and while the cost of the lights and controllers might seem okay, you’re worried about what it might do to your electric bill.

While it probably seems like a animated Christmas light show would send your electric bill through the roof, nothing could be further from the truth. Because animated lights are constantly blinking and turning on-and-off, the cost per month in electricity tends to be 10’s of dollars per month. This is often less than a comparable-sized “traditional” light display with strings of lights that are plugged into a timer and run a full intensity every evening.

Why is this? Let’s dive deeper into the “why” and see how to figure out exactly

Why Do Animated Light Displays Cost Less?

As I mentioned above, there can be a big difference between how much it costs to run an animated vs a static “traditional” light display.

This shows itself in 2 ways.

The first is as I mentioned above – while traditional lights and animated pixel Christmas lights use around the same amount of power when running at full, pixel Christmas lights are rarely running at full and white. More often than not they are in a color (Red, Green, Blue, or a combination of the 3), and/or flashing, blinking, or off. All of these lower the amount of power that each light uses.

The 2nd way is a little more abstract, but still very real.

When you make a Christmas light show with non-animated lights, you need more lights to get the same amount of impact as an animated light show.

In an animated light show, because each light can be multiple colors and together the lights can make patterns and animations, you simply need less to get the same level of impact as a traditional show.

And less lights is always going to equal less power, every day of the week!

Besides the lights, an animated light show also requires controllers and a computer to control the lights, but these use a very small amount of power and don’t contribute significantly to the electric bill.

How To Figure Out How Much an Animated Light Display Will Cost In Electricity

To figure out our total cost of our display, we need to do some simple math.

Total Wattage Per Light

First, we calculate the total wattage of our display. Modern Christmas light pixels are typically .6w, and many people run them at 50% for .3w of power draw.

Let’s say with have a small to mid-size display with 5000 pixels. At .3w per pixel, we have 1500w of pixels in total.

Now we have to make a guess at how often each pixel is a white (full power) during the display, vs. half power or less. This depends on how you sequence, or animate the lights, and could be more or less than my estimate.

In my display, I estimate that the average pixel is at an average of 30% or less of that .3w throughout the entire time of the show.

For my display, I think it’s WAY less, but let’s aim high for this calculation.

Now, instead of the display taking 1500w, we can multiply that by .3 (30%), and get 450w.

How Much Time?

Now it’s time to factor in time. Electricity is billed by the kWH, or Kilowatt-hour, which is 1000w for 1 hour.

If my display runs from 5-10pm each day for 45 days of the season (Black Friday to Jan 8, approximately), then we have in total 225 hours of show running throughout the season including testing, etc.

At 450w for 225 hours, that is 101.25 kWH (225 hours X .45). The average price of electricity in the US is 13.19 cents per kWH.

Total Cost on Your Electric Bill

So when we multiple that 101.25 kWH times the average price of .1319 dollars (13.19 cents), we get $13 dollars and change.

$13 dollars.

For real.

For a 45 day season.

So if you’re worried about your electric bill when running an animated Christmas light show, there’s no need to fear! In fact, month-to-month I see a much bigger impact on my home energy bill from the change in temperature than from my light show!

At the end of the day, when it comes to making an animated Christmas light display, the energy bill is not where you’re going to see a large expense! In fact, compared to a comparable traditional light display, you may even see your energy bill go down!

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