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How to choose swimming pool lights

A new set of lights can be a very rewarding and fun upgrade for your pool. With so many options available, however, it's easy to get confused. Let's shed some light on the subject!


Step 1) Choose a Light Type

The three common light types on the market are incandescent, halogen, and LED. Which type of light you choose comes down to your budget, how important long-term operating efficiency is to you, and whether or not you want the modern bells and whistles that come with LEDs.

Incandescent Pool Lights

Incandescents are the oldest technology of the bunch. They operate by passing current over a filament and heating it until it glows. This is the same basic concept of how an electric space heater works, and gives us a really strong hint as to their operating efficiency: it’s horrible! Incandescents are by far the least efficient pool light, with only 10% of consumed electricity being converted to usable light. The remaining 90% gets converted directly to heat…which is not entirely helpful to our cause of lighting the pool.

In addition to their inefficiency, incandescents have a relatively short lifespan. Expect about 1,000 hours of usage before an incandescent bulb gives up the ghost and needs replacement.

All those negatives aside, incandescents offer the lowest upfront cost. And what’s more, many people like the natural, warm tone they are known for. If you plan to use your lights only for an occasional night swim (they will not be left on for extended periods), incandescents may be a viable option.

Incandescent Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Some prefer the natural light tone of incandescents

Incandescent Cons

  • Expensive to operate, with 90% of consumed electricity wasted as heat
  • Short lived at about 1,000 hours
  • Color-changing is not an option

Halogen Pool Lights

Halogen pool lights are essentially incandescents with a small amount of halogen gas inside the bulb. In a nutshell, this halogen allows the filament to operate at a higher temperature, increases efficiency, and extends the lifespan of the bulb.

Halogens last over twice as long as incandescents, clocking in at about 2,500 hours of usage before failure. As for efficiency, a halogen converts about 20% of consumed electricity into light (with 80% being wasted as heat).

Halogen Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Slightly more efficient than incandescents, with 20% of consumed electricity converted to light
  • Slightly longer lasting than incandescents at about 2,500 hours

Halogen Cons

  • Far less efficient than LED lights
  • Color-changing is not an option

LED Pool Lights

LED’s may be the new kid on the block, but they are fast becoming the industry standard. An LED operates by passing a small amount of electricity to a “light emitting diode”. Not only is this diode extremely efficient and bright, but it’s also very flexible; by passing current through varying materials, an LED is capable of outputting an unlimited spectrum of colors.

When combined with a special control system, an LED system can be fully controlled via an easy-to-use interface. Turn your pool lights on and off, change colors, even cycle through pre-programmed light shows to add some extra “wow factor” to your pool – all from a handheld remote control.

The initial investment for LED pool lighting is somewhat higher than incandescent and halogen. The good news, however, is that they are so efficient that you’ll get your money back (and then some!) over the life of your light. LED’s are capable of converting an amazing 80% of consumed electricity into light. And when you consider that they need far less wattage to product the same brightness, you’ll see how the savings can add up!

As for lifespan, it’s LED’s for the win again. An average LED light is rated for about 50,000 hours of use before needing replacement. Compared to incandescents and halogens (1,000 and 2,500 hours, respectively), it gets easier and easier to justify the upfront cost.

LED Pros

  • Super efficient, with 80% of consumed electricity converted to usable light
  • Can last up to 50,000 hours before needing replacement
  • Can output a wide range of colors to change the mood of your pool
  • Energy rebates may be available in your area

LED Cons

  • Higher upfront cost
  • Neighbors will be jealous of your color-changing pool

Step 2) Choose Voltage

Pool lights are available in both 12V and 120V. Many areas require 12V lights for new pool installations due to the inherent safety benefits. To work with the 120V coming out of your household, a 12V lighting system requires a transformer to drop current from 120V to 12V.

Considering the safety benefits and the equivalent brightness, there is little reason not to choose 12V if you are performing a new lighting installation.

Step 3) Choose Wattage

A watt is simply the power required for a light to produce a certain brightness (usually referred to as lumens). The lower a lights wattage, the lower it’s energy consumption…and obviously the lower your electric bill!

Incandescents range from 100W all the way up to 500W. For comparable LED wattage, please refer to the following table:

Incandescent Light LED Equivalent
300 Watts 40 Watts
400 Watts 48 Watts
500 Watts 55 Watts

Incandescent Vs. LED Energy Costs

Your average electricity rate per kilowatt hour (kWh)
Days per year lights are used
Hours per day lights are used
What wattage incandescent light are you replacing?
Total number of incandescent lights installed in your pool
Incandescent Energy Cost:
LED Energy Cost:
Energy Savings Per Year: $340

Conclusion

If you plan to use your pool lights on a regular basis, LEDs are absolutely the way to go. For occasional usage only, give halogens a look! Just don’t be fooled by the lower initial investment of halogen lights; LED lights are far-and-away the cheapest option when you factor energy consumption and time between replacement.

And whichever you choose, look for a good 12V system for the additional safety. Happy swimming!

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