Let there be light

Wednesday, 05 March, 2014

Let there be light

In addition to being practical, by allowing pool owners to safely swim in their pool once the sun has gone down, lighting also enhances the design of a pool and can transform a watery shadow into an impressive water feature.

There are varied opinions on the most important lighting consideration when building a new pool or spa. Gary Clark, general manager of AquaQuip, believes that the most careful consideration should be given to the correct positioning of underwater lights.

“Correct positioning of underwater lights is the key to achieving the most even illumination. On too many occasions I have seen the most awe-inspiring backyard pool, with the lights installed in the wrong location, resulting in an uneven distribution of light and ugly shadowing. If you get the positioning right, then the pool will ‘pop’ at night.”

Amanda Nicol, marketing and sales coordinator from Spa Electrics, says that the quality of the product itself is the single most important element when considering pool lighting. “There are so many products today that are of substandard quality and have a very limited life span. We make sure only the highest quality components are used in the manufacture of our products.”

When considering lighting options for spas, Adrian Lacy from Australian Spa Parts believes reliability and quality is key. “Flexible designs allow for more installation options. Portable spas traditionally used 12 W incandescent lamps and clip-on coloured lenses. Pretty much all spas are now supplied with LED multicolour lighting. Some are brand specific, others are designed for generic applications regardless of the brand of the spa control system.”

Types of lights

Spa lighting varies from a standard underwater lamp/fitting to more elaborate string lighting systems illuminating a multitude of spa fittings such as jets, waterfalls, control valves, air injectors and bullet lights.

Types of lights available for pools and concrete spas are surface-mounted and flush-mounted, and both of these are available in halogen and LED (light-emitting diode) versions.

Surface-mounted are usually large diameter lights (around 220-250 mm) that are mounted on top of the pool surface and protrude into the pool. These are simpler to install than flush-mounted lights as they only require a conduit provision to be installed through the pool wall during construction. Their larger size is making them increasingly unpopular in new pools as consumers are now looking for compact and unobtrusive lights. They are extremely popular in the retrofit market, where older-style halogen lights are simply cut off and replaced with new surface-mounted LED lights.

Flush-mounted lights fit into a housing or ‘niche’ that is built into the pool wall; therefore, the front face of the pool light is flush with the pool interior. These are very popular for new pools. They can be retrofitted; however, this requires core-drilling.

In regard to commercial sites, Nicol would always recommend using a niche or flush-mounted light. “As they mount within the pool wall they don’t protrude into the pool area, so they are safer for swimmers and can’t be used as a step, which reduces the risk of damage to the light. They also produce a wider spread of light, which is a must for night-time safety, especially in a public area.”

Number and positioning of lights

To determine the number of pool lights required, some offer a simple calculation; however, Clark isn’t convinced.

“We would like to think that there should be a simple calculation for the total lumen output per square metre of surface area, but in reality it is unworkable. Many pools these days have a variety of benches, swimouts, water features and asymmetrical designs, throwing the calculation into disarray. Additionally, a dark-coloured pool interior will not reflect the light as well as a lighter colour. So for a darker interior, more lights are required.”

When positioning pool lights, they should be positioned to provide maximum illumination without shadowing, enhance the colour of the interior pool surface and be accessible for possible future servicing. Additionally, wherever possible, position the pool lights facing away from the house (or main viewing area). That way, the pool owner will see the illuminated pool without seeing the source or glare of the light. This is a current trend in pool construction from budget-friendly to high-end designer pools.

According to Nicol, “In pools under 5 m in width and under 12 m in length, lights should always be positioned at opposing ends to illuminate the length of the pool. This provides the most consistent illumination of the pool and reduces the total number of lights required. In larger pools or where illuminating the length is not possible, all lights should be positioned on the wall closest to the residence.”

When positioning lights in a spa, it is preferable for lights to be placed in positions that illuminate the spa relatively evenly - away from seating positions and away from foot-wells. If only one light is being fitted, a badly positioned installation will generally result in half the spa remaining in darkness. The intensity of bullet lighting above water level should be controlled to prevent spa user ‘blindness’.

“Position lights to maximise even coverage for appearance. Consider options apart from mainstream lighting. For example, use clear air injectors and illuminate them with string lighting rather than standard side-wall lighting for a point of difference,” says Lacy.

Installation and maintenance

Pool builders rarely have problems these days when installing underwater lights. Advancements made by leading manufacturers in recent times really make the installation very ‘builder-friendly’. According to Clark, “When compared to lights being manufactured in China and even the USA and Europe, the unique features of most Australian-made LED pool lights make us the world leader in quality and innovation.”

While a low number of problems are also experienced with spa lights, it is advised not to overtighten light fittings as this will cause stress fractures - just beyond hand tight is generally sufficient.

Nicol said for any pool light, the quality of the light and its internal components will always govern how long the light will last. “While it is not often considered, pool lights have to survive in an extremely tough environment and unfortunately, many pool lights are just not up for the job, so choosing quality will always guarantee piece of mind.

“Additionally, to ensure lights have the maximum life span possible, it is important that owners do the following things. Firstly, maintenance is the key for keeping all pool equipment healthy. This includes having properly balanced water all year round as this prevents corrosion occurring from unstable chemicals levels.

“Second to this, but just as important, is turning on your lights for 15 minutes per week all year round. Doing this helps to eliminate the build-up of moisture inside the light cavity that occurs when the light is not in use,” says Nicol.

Retrofitting lights

If your client’s pool needs its lighting revisited, retrofitting is possible. The most popular retrofitting option is to upgrade older halogen lights to LED. The process is simple and can be carried out by most pool professionals, usually without lowering the pool water level. Variable voltage technology in LED design allows the existing transformer to remain in place.

Spa lights can very easily be retrofitted to an existing portable spa. A standard sharp hole saw of appropriate size is all that’s required to enhance an otherwise ageing spa. The type of lighting options will partially depend on the control system used and the access under the spa.

“Most premium lighting manufacturers produce lights specifically suited for retrofit installations and are quick and easy for any pool owner or technician to install,” said Nicol.

“The most important thing is to ensure there is enough cable stored behind the light during installation to allow for the lights to be removed from the pool without the need to lower the water level. While lights do not often need servicing, it can be very frustrating for pool owners when they need to remove the lights and find they need to lower the water to access them,” she advised.

Halogen vs LEDs

Halogen globes have traditionally been the most commonly used kind of pool lighting; however, they are slowly losing favour as consumers turn to more energy-efficient LEDs. Because of their brightness and easy maintenance, halogens have enjoyed the majority of the market for many years. The main advantage halogen holds over LED is that when it has reached the end of its life, you can simply change the globe, whereas an LED light needs to be replaced with a completely new module. The average halogen light can be expected to last 2000-5000 hours, considerably less than an LED. Pool owners can maximise this life span with regular usage, as lack of use can damage the globes. Additionally, some pool owners choose halogens as they are initially cheaper to buy; however, halogen bulbs consume far more power than LED lights.

Over the past 10 years, LEDs have revolutionised the lighting industry, with their low energy usage and long-lasting quality. Although LED lights are usually more expensive than halogen, they have a number of advantages that are fast making them the most popular option on the market. LED lights operate on 15% of the energy of a halogen light. They also emit light in a specific direction and don’t create the amount of heat a halogen light creates. According to the team at Waterco, LED lights also have a very long life span - over 70,000 hours, which is equivalent to more than 30 years of illumination (based on six hours’ usage per day).

The availability of high-quality, brighter LED lights is much more widespread and the price has come down to make them more affordable and a viable option when compared to halogen.

“I simply no longer recommend halogen lights for underwater applications. Only 4-5% of our light sales are halogen,” says Clark.

“Halogen lights are an old and inefficient technology. They are expensive to run and require constant maintenance and globe changes. With retrofit models available for most old installations, there is no reason why people can’t upgrade to a more efficient LED model,” says Nicol.

Lacy is also convinced that LED is the best choice. “For spa lighting there is no advantage of standard incandescent lighting over LED. LED is more cost-effective, brighter and longer lasting, as well as offering the convenience of colour choice. LED lighting in spas will last years - more than 10 years would be reasonable to expect from a quality brand.”

Latest technology

The latest advances in pool lights relate to the control of lighting systems; in particular, the connection of LED lights to a simple user interface for multicoloured lighting. Colour combinations are easily programmed via automation systems to create a specific mood or to entertain guests.

“Like most technology, pool lights are forever evolving - LED technology is advancing by the day, which is allowing pool light manufacturers to achieve far brighter outputs at even greater levels of energy efficiency. The main benefit to all these advancements is that now pool lights are becoming even smaller and consumers can expect to see even greater light output, reductions in power costs and even longer life out of their LED lights,” said Nicol.

Top tips

  • Use quality brands.
  • Use systems or components that differ from your competition to make your installation option stand out.
  • If a client’s pool still has halogen lights, encourage them to switch them on for an hour each week, even during the winter months, as a lack of use can damage the globes.
  • Dark-coloured pools need more lights than light-coloured pools.
  • Use systems that can be expanded/modified in the future.
  • When positioning lights into a new pool, consider accessibility for future servicing.
  • Ensure there is a sufficient amount of lighting for night-time safety.

Image: Out From The Blue pool with Spa Electrics Quantum WB Series LEDs.

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