The Cost Difference Between Neon and Fluorescent Lights

neon sign image by Karin Lau from Fotolia.com

It's easy to underestimate the cost of custom signage because there's such a huge range of prices. If you’re looking for a lit storefront sign — which you probably should, considering you want customers to spot your store after dark — you’re likely weighing two options: fluorescent signs and neon signs. Both have their pros and cons. While custom neon signs are generally more expensive, fluorescent signs require more maintenance and use more energy.

Custom Neon Signs vs. Fluorescent Signs

The cost of a neon sign varies based on its size. You can get a 13x32-inch neon sign for as little as $220 with an additional $7 per letter. Generally, a custom neon sign costs between $200 and $1,200 per square foot. That might be affordable for a small piece in your store window, but a larger sign for your storefront is going to cost a pretty penny.

Fluorescent signs are generally a lot cheaper though admittedly not as Instagram-worthy. Nonetheless, they do the trick. They can cost as little as $30 per square foot and around $10 for the bulbs.

Maintenance Costs

It’s a good thing fluorescent lights are pretty cheap. They only have a lifespan of about 15,000 hours. If you run your shop’s sign for 12 hours every day, you’ll only get about three-and-a-half years of use. This isn’t including any bulbs that might break. They’re notoriously fragile during the winter months.

Neon lights last a lot longer, providing you don’t accidentally break the glass. They’re very difficult to repair and it’s not usually cost effective. You can, however, replace a single unit on a broken sign. It should be noted that even though the neon element is nontoxic, these signs are sometimes made with mercury, and many shops won’t repair them.

You’ll typically have to change a neon sign’s transformer after five to seven years, though it’s an easy fix. Transformers cost around $100 and can last 10 to 15 years if you’re lucky.

Fluorescent vs. Neon Light Energy Consumption

Lit signage can use a whole lot of power, which can ultimately cost your business some cash. Custom neon signs might be more costly to make, but they’ll generally save you money with energy costs. How much? Let’s look at the numbers.

A neon light’s energy consumption is typically 400 watts, which is slightly less than a fluorescent light’s consumption of 610 watts. That means if you continuously run a sign for the 12 hours you’re in business, a fluorescent model will use 7,320 watts and a neon model will use 4,800 watts. Those figures don’t seem like much until you consider the yearly figure — about 2,672 kilowatts for a fluorescent sign and 1,752 kilowatts for a neon sign.

It costs around $.12 in energy for every kilowatt hour, so you’ll spend around:

  • $320 per year to run a fluorescent sign.
  • $210 per year to run a neon sign.

Overall, neon signs use less power, but the other costs make them far from the cheapest option.

LED Custom Neon Signs are Cheapest Overall

If you want the look of a neon sign for a fraction of the cost, you might want to opt for an LED neon sign. These faux neon signs don’t use the neon element and use a fraction of a traditional neon light’s energy consumption. You’re helping the environment and you’re helping your business save cash.

LED neon signs use about 150 watts per hour, which is less than half the power draw of a traditional glass neon fixture. It’s also more than twice the savings. A custom neon sign can run you more than $210 a year in energy costs, while an LED will only cost about $80 per year to run.

Overall, LED signs are cheaper to buy than traditional neon signs that use the neon element. They might cost a bit more upfront than fluorescent lights, but they last five times as long. Ultimately, it’s the perfect blend of fashion, function and value.

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About the Author

Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.

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