There was a time, long, long ago, when pool lighting served only two real purposes: (a) to help you find your otherwise pitch black pool at night, and (b) to help you avoid accidentally finding your otherwise pitch black pool at night – and thereby avoid accidentally falling into it. However, the days when lighting the pool was merely a means to facilitate a purposeful (or prevent an inadvertent) midnight plunge have gone the way of the dinosaur. The world, and the pool, have evolved since then.
Of course, if you’re putting in a new pool, you know all this already. You know it because your pool designers and builders will have told you at length how important it is to take time and careful consideration of the type of lighting, and the correct placement of that lighting, so as to achieve the optimisation of glow, the minimisation of shadow, and the maximisation of mood with respect to the shape and internal color of your pool, as well as of any features that it may contain.
If, however, you already have a pool and are merely looking to upgrade its lighting, you may be less aware of just how much, and how rapidly, pool lighting has evolved over the past few years. Thoughtful and technologically advanced pool illumination and lighting does far more than simply alert you when and where not to tread water; it completely changes the look, the feel, the ambiance of your pool, its surroundings, and your entire property.
Upgrading the existing lighting of your pool and retrofitting it with new lighting technology is neither as daunting nor as expensive as you might fear. In fact, transforming your old and starkly-lit pool is not only relatively simple, its energy efficiency will actually save you money over time.
What Types of Lights are Available?
Basically, there are 3 types of pool light.
LED (light-emitting diode).
These are the traditional pool lights, and if you have a particularly ancient pool, it’s possible that this is what you have. However, these bulbs are no longer available since they fail to meet current Australian lighting standard.
|Cheap purchase price||Energy inefficient|
|Enables you to find/not fall into your pool at night||Short life span|
|Flat, harsh lighting|
|Technological equivalent of VHS vs DVD|
|No longer available|
Halogen lights are, or rather were, the next generation of pool light technology. Today the technology has been around for decades and most un-upgraded pools will have halogen lights. Halogen is between 10% and 20% more energy efficient than incandescent lighting, longer lasting, and emits a more intense light. The downside, however, is that halogen lights burn at a higher temperature. The result is that it is necessary to replace the globe and the O-ring seal every year or so for an annual replacement cost of between $15 – $100.
|10-20% more energy efficient than incandescent||More expensive purchase price (4 x incandescent)|
|Longer lasting than incandescent||Intense glare rather than “warm” glow|
|Emit a brighter, cleaner light||Annual replacement costs|
LED lights are the latest in lighting technology, and represent something of a revolution. The light they create is rich, vibrant, and travels further through the water, thereby illuminating far more of your pool, and illuminating it more effectively.
The main visual difference between LED and halogen lighting is that LEDs emit a light that is more of a warm glow as opposed to the torchlight beam type of light emitted by halogen. This glow effect is particularly noticeable in swimming pools with light coloured interiors. Darker finishes diminish the amount of light available to reflected.
In addition, LEDs come in a variety of colors – colors that can be change by either the flick of a switch, the press of a remote, or at regular intervals via an automatically pre-programmed control – to bathe your pool in ever-changing and fading hues and shades of color. Some brands even come with their own smartphone app.
Plus, and this is a big plus, the LED lights are 3 to 5 times more energy efficient than halogen, produce around 90% less heat, and have a life span of around 50,000 hours compared to around 1,000 hours for an incandescent light and around 5,000 hours for a halogen. To put that in real terms, if you run your LED pool lights for 4 hours a day, 7 days a week, that’s a lifespan of 34 years! Indeed, the latest super bright LEDs boast a life span of up to 70,000 hours.
|3-5 times more energy efficient than halogen||More expensive purchase price|
|10 times the lifespan of halogen lights||Repairs are not an option. Entire light must be replaced|
|Richer, more vibrant light|
|Many and changing colors|
How Much Do LED Lights Cost vs Halogen Lights?
Per Fixture $150-$300
Per Fixture $200-$700
Upgrading Existing Lighting – What’s Involved?
Upgrading the underwater lighting in your pool is pretty straightforward. Normally you should expect to be able to use the existing wiring already in place – thereby removing the need either to drain your pool or to dig trenches to run in new wiring. The only minor caveat to this might be if the original installer had failed to install the light with enough length of cable behind it in order to allow for easy splicing later.
There are two types of pool light:
Flush lights – these are housed in, and lie flush with, the swimming pool wall so that only the face-plate of the light is exposed. Generally, flush lights tend to cast a narrower spread of light than Surface lights.
Surface lights – these protrude from the pool wall and are mounted on a bracket. Different brands protrude more than others. Although they may, perhaps, look less neat than a Flush light, Surface lights generally cast a broader spread of light.
For upgrading Flush lights, the simplest retrofit approach is to switch from a halogen to a LED light version of the same brand. The reason for this is that each brand has a different shaped and sized housing. Alternatively, another simple solution is to replace your existing Flush lights with LED Surface lights.
For upgrading Surface lights there are a number of LED retrofit conversion mounting brackets available, often with universal compatibility across multiple brands, and with multi-voltage compatibility across the range of 12-32V transformers used for swimming pool illumination in Australia.
Regulatory Installation Requirements
Although DIY guides are available online, it is important to be aware that you will need to engage the services of a licensed electrician to install your lighting. Under the Electrical Safety Regulation of 2002 it is illegal in all states for unlicensed individuals to perform electrical work on water equipment – and that includes fitting a new light to a swimming pool. For full details see ESR 2002 Pt.5 s68, and, in Queensland, ESR 2013 Pt.6 s72.
Furthermore, the installer needs to ensure that the work complies with Australian safety standards – specifically AS/NZ 3000:2007 that specifies required voltages, IP ratings, power supply connection methods, etc.
Finally, the pool lights themselves need to be certified as being in accordance with Australian Standards.
Depending on the scale of the upgrade, the costs are naturally going to vary. And, of course, not all licensed electricians charge the same. For a simple retrofit upgrade such as discussed above, the cost is likely to run to around $200 or less. If you’re looking for a more elaborate upgrade, the installation costs might run to north of $700. So bear this in mind, and be prepared to shop around.
How Many Pool Lights Are Needed?
The number of lights needed properly to illuminate your pool is obviously going to depend on the size of your swimming pool. As a rule of thumb, the generally recommended requirement is to aim for 5.4 watts per square metre (0.5 watts per square foot).
So, if you’ve got an 8.5 x 4.4 metre swimming pool you are going to require a rounded 200 watts of lighting – in other words, (8.5 x 4.4) x 5.4. In practical terms, that translates into the need for 2 x 100 watt halogen lights. Having said that, a lot depends on the shape of the pool and, as mentioned above, the interior colour of the pool surface. For rectangular pools with a light interior, often only a single LED light will suffice. Non-rectangular pools and/or darker interior pools need a little more help.
The chances are, of course, that your existing pool has the correct number of lights already fitted for its size. If so, then when upgrading to LED, all you need to remember is that LEDs are 3-5 times more energy efficient than halogens. That means that a 20 watt LED light emits the same amount of light as a 100W halogen bulb.
Adding Additional Lights
However, it may be that your current swimming pool is underserved in terms of square metreage by the number of already installed lights. Alternatively, your pool may have curves that the existing lights are failing to reach and illuminate. In either of these two events, you may need to consider actually adding additional lights to your pool.
Traditionally, this unavoidably involves biting the budgetary bullet. It also traditionally involves having to drain the pool, drill through the pool wall, and watching your yard get torn up in order to dig a trench for laying new cable.
Before you go down this route, however, an alternative may be to investigate the less invasive possibility of installing an LED Eyeball light. Rather than drilling through the pool wall, these install directly into the eyeball water return jet. Basically, the way they work is that the existing eyeball water return jet is replaced and retrofitted with a composite water return jet that includes an array of LED lights. Rather than having to dig a trench, the light cable utilizes the existing water return pipe as its conduit.
The LED Eyeball lights only produce between 1 and 3 watts per fixture, so it’s fair to say that they are not necessarily going to be a cure-all lighting solution. However, for illuminating corners or steps that may currently be in shadow, they are an option definitely worth considering. And they are available in a range of colors.
Finally, if either for physical or budgetary reasons you’re unable to add additional underwater lighting, there’s always the option of floodlighting your yard and pool area. Admittedly, it’s nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing but, even if it’s less easy on the eye, it’ll be a lot easier on your wallet.
Placement and Positioning of Pool Lights
In a perfect world, it’s always a good idea to ensure that the lighting in your pool is positioned in such a way so as to fully illuminate the swimming pool while, at the same time, not casting a glare into the house. Generally, for rectangular pools, the principal source of light is situated at the deep end. It’s a good idea, therefore, not to have the deep end facing your house.
However, in terms of the placement and positioning of the lighting, if all you are looking to do is upgrade your existing lighting without draining and drilling to create new lights, you are going to be restricted by the lights you currently have in place. If you’re stuck with a pool that stubbornly insists on facing the wrong way, an alternative may be to install a lower wattage light at the end that is causing the intrusive glare.
Lighting Pool Features and Pool Surrounds
If your pool includes a spa, the ambiance and feel of this separate space can be greatly enhanced by differentially coloured lighting from the rest of the pool. If the spa already has lighting and you are merely looking to upgrade it, the retrofit is simple (see above). But bear in mind that you won’t need a whole lot of wattage to illuminate it. If it isn’t already fitted with lights, consider retrofitting an LED Eyeball Light.
Water features such as fountains, waterfalls, curtain waterfalls, deck jets, or wall features are all magically enhanced by lighting at night. Submerged lighting within the pool naturally enhances the rippling effect of the moving water. In addition, thoughtful positioning of above ground spotlights, down lights, and up lights – whether positioned in trees, on walls, or in the ground or deck adjacent to the water feature – can greatly emphasise the dramatic effect at night.
Equally, if you’re upgrading the lighting of your pool, don’t overlook upgrading your pool surround. Simple up lights positioned under trees, shrubs, or at the base of walls or within rockeries create highly effective mood lighting and evocative light and shadow visual effects. Equally, down lighting can be used to subtle effect to illuminate seating areas or pool surround features such as gazebos or pergolas.
Evolution is defined as improvements to the gene pool and to life, made visible and illuminated by changes over time. The evolution of pool lighting, on the other hand, is defined as improvements to the pool and to your life, made visible by changes to the way the pool, and its surroundings, are illuminated over time. And pool lighting has most definitely evolved.
Photo Credits: Teaser Photo Attribution: By Bill Jacobus ; Blog Photo Attribution: By Bill Jacobus ; Blog Photo Attribution: By Pete ; Blog Photo Attribution: By Scott Akerman ; Blog Photo Attribution: By stephen jones ; Blog Photo Attribution: By Chris Potter ; Blog Photo Attribution: By vagueonthehow ; Blog Photo Attribution: By Caviness Landscape Design, Inc.