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Analysis Light Bulbs

How much are those decorative smart lights adding to your power bill?

Spoiler: Not nearly as much as you might think.

Nanoleaf

Smart lights are coming for your walls.

First came the color-changing smart light strips from names like Philips Hue meant to light things up under your cabinets or behind your TV. Then came Nanoleaf and its smash-hit triangular light panels that change colors on demand, sync with your music and respond to voice commands via Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant. Now Lifx is in the mix, with square-shaped, multicolor Tiles meant to go head-to-head with Nanoleaf. Demand for those was high enough for Lifx to sell out its initial run.

All of which raises a question: What's the energy cost of lighting up the walls in your smart home?

Turns out: Not as much as you might think. Let's take a look.

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Philips Hue's stick-up lightstrips can put smart color changes beneath your cabinets or behind your TV.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus

At 6 foot 6 inches long and expandable up to 33 feet, Philips Hue's current-gen Lightstrips are a popular pick for folks looking to add some light to places they couldn't before.

The base setup draws 20 watts at full brightness (about 1,600 lumens at peak white-light settings). For the sake of argument, let's assume that you run the lights at 100 percent brightness, and that you use them each and every day of the year. Let's also assume an average energy rate of $0.11 per kWh (I'll be using this figure throughout this post). All told, you'll be adding the following to your energy bill:

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $2.40 per year, $0.20 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $6.40 per year, $0.53 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $19.20 per year, $1.60 per month

Read more about the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus.

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The Lifx Z light strips aren't quite as bright as Hue's, but they use slightly less energy, and they're capable of putting out multiple colors on the same strip.

Ry Crist/CNET

Lifx Z Multicolor Light Strip

Lifx Z is another light strip option you might consider throwing up under a countertop somewhere. With a peak light output of 1,400 lumens, they aren't quite as bright as the Hue strips, but they also use a little less energy (17 watts when dialed up to 100 percent). Another benefit -- the Lifx strips can put out multiple colors at once from the same strip.

Here's the energy rundown using the same parameters as before:

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $2.04 per year, $0.17 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $5.44 per year, $0.45 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $16.32 per year, $1.36 per month

Read CNET's review of the Lifx Z Multicolor Light Strip.

homepod-sylvania-smart-plus-homekit-light-strip

Sylvania's Bluetooth Flex Strip is one of the most affordable options that works with Apple HomeKit, and with Siri.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Sylvania Smart Plus Bluetooth Flex Strip

It isn't as fully featured as the Hue or Lifx strips, and it's much less bright at white light settings, but Sylvania's Bluetooth Flex Strip is a decent budget-priced pick that works with Apple HomeKit, which means that Siri can change the colors.

The base configuration consists of three 2-foot strips for a total of 6 feet of color-changing light, and it consumes just 7.5 watts at peak brightness. Here's what that'll add to your energy bill.

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $0.90 per year, $0.08 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $2.40 per year, $0.20 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $7.20 per year, $0.60 per month

Read CNET's review of the Sylvania Smart Plus Bluetooth Flex Strip.

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Nanoleaf's color-changing wall panels are as geeky as they are eye-catching.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Nanoleaf LED Light Panels

A startup based out of Toronto, Nanoleaf got its start by making funky-looking LED light bulbs, but its breakout product wouldn't come until it started offering up triangular LED wall panels that change colors on demand. Originally called Nanoleaf Aurora and now known just as Nanoleaf Light Panels, the product comes in a nine-piece starter kit that can be expanded to include up to 30 panels.

At full brightness, each panel consumes 2 watts of energy, as does the base unit that acts as their power supply. That means that a nine-piece starter kit will consume about 20 watts at full brightness. Here's what that means in dollars and cents:

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $2.40 per year, $0.20 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $6.40 per year, $0.53 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $19.20 per year, $1.60 per month

Folks who go all-in and expand their setup to include the maximum of 30 panels will be eating up about 62 watts at full brightness. Here's what they can expect to pay:

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $7.44 per year, $0.62 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $19.84 per year, $1.65 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $59.52 per year, $4.96 per month

Read CNET's review of the Nanoleaf LED Light Panels.

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Unlike Nanoleaf's panels, each Lifx Tile is divided into 64 zones that can each put out a different color.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Lifx Tile

The Lifx answer to Nanoleaf's popular panels came in tile form -- specifically, Lifx Tiles, which sell in a nonexpandable five-tile starter kit capable of putting out multiple colors on each tile.

Together, the five tiles consume 34 watts at full brightness, and will cost the following in terms of energy consumption:

  • 3 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $4.08 per year, $0.34 per month
  • 8 hours of full brightness usage per day, every day: $10.88 per year, $0.91 per month
  • 24/7 usage at full brightness: $32.64 per year, $2.72 per month

Read more about Lifx Tile.

Actual energy rates will vary from region to region, so these numbers are all just rough estimates of what you can expect to see on your bill. Still, they're perhaps lower than you expected -- for comparison, if you ran just one traditional 60-watt incandescent light bulb 24/7 for 12 months (assuming it somehow wouldn't burn out), your yearly power bill would go up by almost $60.

And remember, all of these figures assume that you're always running the lights at full brightness, and that you're never turning them off when you're away from home. Dialing things down or turning the things off once in a while will obviously bring your costs down.