Up in lights

Wednesday, 12 September, 2012

Up in lights

From large 240-volt installations to the latest in LED technology, pool lighting options have changed significantly over the past 30 years. We shed new light on the best way to illuminate your clients' pools.

It wasn't that long ago that the only decision homeowners had to make regarding pool lighting was how bright they wanted their lights to be and how many they needed. Today, thanks to legislative changes calling for a safer product, and consumer demand for more innovative designs, the effect pool lighting can have on an outdoor project is huge, whether your clients are looking to extend their swimming hours or turn their pool into a glowing oasis after dark.

Many homeowners don't have the luxury of using their pool during the day due to work demands. Installing underwater pool lights allows them to swim safely and enjoy their pool in the evenings.

"The swimming pool is considered a feature in a garden," says Jules Harwood of Spa Electrics. "Without lights, the pool feature becomes a black hole at night. Displaying a pool in the evening is easy by simply installing underwater pool lights."

Gary Clark of Aqua-Quip says a modern pool simply cannot be enjoyed at night without being illuminated. "Whether a homeowner is swimming for exercise, splashing with the kids or entertaining near the pool, effective and carefully positioned underwater lights are a must to improve the overall backyard experience," he says. "Pool builders are also becoming more 'switched on' by explaining the benefits of illumination to their customers rather than just installing one light at the end of the pool and hoping for the best."

For David MacCallum of Pentair Aquatic Systems, the most important thing to remember is not to under-illuminate a pool. The minimum requirement to target is 0.5 watt per square foot. Placement of the lighting is especially important for pools with curved walls or coves. "A single fixture may be sufficient for a small round or rectangular pool, while a large pool with many curves will need multiple light sources to provide even coverage," David advises.

Lighting options

Underwater lights are available in two styles: surface-mounted and flush-mounted. Both styles are easily integrated into concrete and fibreglass pools, though vinyl pools are limited to the surface-mounted option only.

A surface-mounted light is installed on the side of the pool wall. Which brand of light a homeowner chooses will determine how far the light will protrude from the pool wall.

Similarly, a flush-mounted light is installed inside the pool wall and exposes only the face-plate of the light, giving a more "flush" look to the design.

Jenni Raine of Waterlinx Australasia says it ultimately comes down to personal preference when addressing this initial decision, though each installation has its advantages.

Extra Dos and Dont's

  • All underwater lights require a waterproof rating of IPX8 and new installations must not exceed 12V A/C or 30V D/C.

  • The light must be water-cooled at all times. It must never be turned on unless it is completely submerged in water, otherwise damage will occur.

  • Cable size and cable length have an effect on voltage. Extending or reducing supplied cable lengths can alter the performance of the light. If you are unsure, contact the light manufacturer.

  • Always ensure lights are positioned, installed and accessible, leaving enough cable length behind the light for easy servicing. The depth of the light should be between 30cm and 40cm from the top of the coping; any deeper will make the light difficult to service.

  • Encourage the homeowner to use their pool light for at least 15 minutes each week. This will aid in removing any excess moisture within the light cavity and increase the longevity of the globe.

  • Positioning and number of lights is important. Safety for swimmers at night should be taken into consideration when positioning lights.

"Low-angled surface-mounted lights are less susceptible to hindering pool cleaners or being used as a step," she says. "Surface-mounted lights also often cast more light over a broader area in the pool and can generally be retrofitted as replacements for older surface- or flush-mounted lights using a system of brackets."

In contrast, flush-mounted lights can be installed in concrete pools only at the time of construction, says Jenni. "Generally, some type of receptacle or 'bucket' is fitted into a niche or cavity in the wall of the pool and the light unit is flush-mounted into the bucket. These types of lights are less visible and look neater; however, the spread of actual light emitted may be a lower intensity or narrower beam in some cases."

Be prepared to discuss which style of light is suitable for your client's pool in relation to their particular pool design.

Halogen vs LED

Once the exterior of the light has been chosen, the client needs to decide whether the pool light internals should be a halogen globe or an LED. Light output from either varies according to the brand.

LED lights are gaining popularity due to their energy-efficiency, long life and potential for efficient, cost-effective lighting. The globes do not require changing and will generally last for many years. LEDs draw very little power; however, when the life of the LED is finished a whole new light must be purchased, so check how many hours of burn time can be expected.

Jules Harwood is a fan of LED technology. "They [LEDs] can be brighter than halogen and have a further spread of light, possibly reducing the number of lights required to light the pool," Jules says. "Some models will also offer multi-colour programming so you can change the colour of the pool water at the flick of a switch. Halogen lights will require globe changing and the globe's life is significantly shorter than a LED's," Jules says.

High-quality LED lights often have a life expectancy of more than 20,000 hours, with some up to 75,000 hours. Even ultrabright LED pool lights consume less than five per cent of the energy used by conventional halogen lights.

Many halogen lights are still available but are less popular because of their higher energy consumption and the need to change globes due to their shorter lifespan. Aqua-Quip also sees LED as the better option, stating that halogen lights are extremely inefficient, producing around 90 per cent heat and less than 10 per cent visible light. Along with other companies, Aqua-Quip is now offering LED conversions to replace halogen lights. Halogen lights get very hot and cause stress on the light fitting, which leads to frequent repairs and globe replacements. LED lights give customers much brighter and more colourful lighting options for their swimming pools and backyard environments.

How often the globe will need to be changed will depend on the brand of light and the recommended burn time of the globe. The advantage with halogen globes is that only the globe will need to be changed, not the entire light, but the disadvantage is that a 100-watt halogen light will draw 75 per cent more power than an LED. And while halogen lights are cheaper to buy, they can cost a lot more over their lifespan than first bargained for.

High-intensity LED

The latest development in pool lighting technologies are high-intensity LEDs. These lights have special circuitry that drive the LEDs to a much higher light output than that of halogen lights. As with all LEDs, these lights consume a fraction of the power required to run halogen lights and last significantly longer. LED lights are usually available in fixed colours of white, blue and green, as well as multi-colour options. Multi-colour LEDs have differing feature modes that allow the user to choose programs such as colour scroll, flash and colour hold.

Aqua-Quip's LED multi-colour lights offer a unique Colour Selection Palette enabling the customer to watch the pool lights gently scroll and change colour and then to select one of those colours as a default or favourite colour.

Pool + Spa chats to Aqua-Quip's Gary Clark

What are the new regulations readers should know about?

For the installation of a pool lighting system, the installer needs to adhere to AS/NZS 3000:2007, as amended. This standard specifies nominal voltages and the IP rating required for the light, as well as defining the correct method to connect pool light or lights to an approved power supply.

What are some trends you're seeing in lighting?

For new pools, it is great to see that pool builders are taking the time to carefully consider the correct placement of lights so as to achieve an even glow and to minimise shadowing.

Water features within pools are very popular, but their effect is limited without lighting, and pool builders are paying particular attention to illumination. The interplay of light and rippling water at night is both calming and mesmerising.

For existing pools, the trend is clear: everyone is replacing their existing halogen lights with super-bright and energy-efficient LED models. Aqua- Quip's QC Series Retro-Fit lights operate from an existing transformer (whether 12V, 24V or 32V), and feature a quick-connect plug kit and universal mounting bracket for simple installation.

Tell us about a recent example of a commercial project you've worked on.

Aqua-Quip was contracted by Swimplex Aquatics (swimplex.com.au) to supply high-intensity LED underwater lights for the Virgin Active Health Club on Pitt Street Mall, Sydney. The Wellness Spa used Aqua-Quip's Evo2 Flush- Mounted LED lights, and the operator can easily change the colour of the LED lights to suit the time of day or the particular mood of the spa occupants.

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