As a pool owner, you have numerous options when it comes to illuminating the surface of your pool, whether it's an above-ground or an inground pool. While these dynamic effects are beautiful and luxurious, they can be overwhelming... but don't worry! Today, I will cover the basics of pool lighting, including types of lighting, bulbs, and programming.

Before we begin, it's best to have a pool expert or licensed electrician handle the lighting work (this may be required in some jurisdictions), although an informed homeowner can also do it. A license may also be required by the homeowner's association or co-owners.

 

Understanding the Different Types of Pool Lighting

When it comes to pool lighting designed to be placed in the water, it can be categorized into two main types: wired and battery-powered.

Read more: LED Swimming Pool Lights: The Definitive Guide

 

Battery-Powered Pool Lights (Surface Mounted)

Affordable waterproof LED lights with suction cups (known as surface-mounted pool lights) are commonly powered by batteries and can be found on Amazon, usually with remote controls. These lights don't pose the risk that wired pool lights with low voltage do, and they can be installed by yourself. Bear in mind that they may not be the best option for long-term use, but they work well for above-ground pools.

Wired, Built-In Pool Lights

For traditional inground pools where the lighting is installed at the point of construction, it will typically be built-in and wired. If you want brighter lights that truly illuminate your entire pool, it's best to have a professional wire your pool with built-in lights during construction.

Most inground pool lights fall into this category, where a niche, an opening in the pool (usually on the side), needs to be cut to insert the wiring and lighting cable.

Read more: 12 Pool Lighting Ideas to Brighten Up Your Outdoor Space

What is a Pool Light Niche?

A niche is basically a container (made of plastic or stainless steel) that houses the pool light fixture before it is installed into the side of the pool. The niche also includes a pocket for the wiring.

The light fixture simply fits into the niche, and its wiring runs through a conduit through the niche and the pool wall, then underground to the power source and controls.

If your pool wasn't built with a niche for wiring, the easiest option is to use battery-powered lights that can be suctioned or fastened to the side of the pool. However, these lights may not be as bright as wired lights.

Different Types of Pool Light Bulbs

In general, there are three common types of pool light bulbs: incandescent, LED, and fiber optic bulbs. They are available for both inground and above-ground pools.

Incandescent Pool Lights: Traditional

Incandescent bulbs, whether standard filament or halogen, produce only white light. They have a lifespan of about 2,000 service hours and can usually be easily replaced. However, if they are used for only a few hours per day, they may need to be replaced every few years. This type is typically found in older pools and is the cheapest option.

Read more: How To Put Pool Lights On A Timer?

LED Pool Lights: A Popular Upgrade

LED lights are more desirable due to their long lifespan, approximately 50,000 hours, and energy efficiency. A 45-watt LED will produce as much light as a 300-watt incandescent bulb. But their best feature is their variety of colors and the light displays they can produce—up to five color options and seven light-changing programs.

Fiber Optic Pool Lighting: Expensive and for Advanced Cases

Fiber optic systems are the most expensive and complicated to install; they are generally used in high-end pools to achieve shimmering effects, custom shapes, and other effects. The technology for these types of lights requires more maintenance and often involves small light fibers for intricate designs on the pool bottom. There are also fiber optic cable-style lights that can create a very cool effect. Many pool owners choose to switch from fiber optic to traditional LEDs to reduce maintenance.

The Process of Installing Pool Lights

Except for fiber optic pools, inground pools are built with what is called a niche that will house your pool light bulbs. As illustrated in the above video, the fixture fits into the niche, and its wire runs through a conduit through the pool wall, then underground to the power source and controls.

If your pool wasn't built with a niche, the easiest option is to use battery-powered lights that can be suctioned or fastened to the side of the pool. Even with battery-powered LED pool lights, they won't be as bright as wired LED lights.

How to Replace a Pool Light Bulb

Replacing the bulb on an inground pool is quite simple if you are handy. As a precautionary measure, it's wise to turn off the switch. Start by removing the single screw that typically holds the fixture in place. You should find enough wire within the niche to pull the fixture over the edge of the pool. You can then open the fixture and replace the bulb, replace the seal, reassemble the fixture, and place the wire and fixture back into the niche.

However, replacing the entire pool light fixture is a different story and should probably be done by a professional. The entire wire that is integral to the fixture needs to be removed up to a junction box near the pool. The new fixture and wire also need to be installed and connected to the junction box. If you can't find a suitable LED bulb that fits your existing fixture, you may want to consider replacing the fixture. Your local pool installer will likely be able to recommend a good package.

Does the Pool Need to be Drained to Install Lighting?

In most cases, the way inground pool lights are installed does not require you to drain the pool. These lights are designed to be easily removed and replaced when needed.

Choosing a Bulb for Your Inground Pool

If you just want to replace a bulb, your simplest choice is to replace a burnt-out bulb with the same model; for many people, that means an incandescent bulb. However, if you want exciting lighting with colors and light displays, LED lights are the way to go.

3 Tips for Choosing a Replacement Bulb for Your Inground Pool:

  1. Install a replacement LED bulb in your existing fixture. I found some replacement LEDs on Amazon for $50 - $100, depending on the type and whether they have remote controls.

  2. Know the manufacturer of your niche to determine if a specific LED bulb will fit. Hayward, Sta-Rite, Pentair, or Jandy are all common options.

  3. Another option is to replace the entire fixture with your choice of LED light/fixture combination. Hayward, Pentair, and Jandy offer a variety of different models for this.

Above-Ground Pool Lighting Types

If you have an above-ground pool and are looking for a few lighting options, you can choose from various types of corded, battery-powered, or solar-powered lighting components.

For above-ground lighting, these are generally very low voltage or battery-powered lights. Here are a few examples:

  • Over-the-Rim immersion type lights that clamp to the side and immerse in your pool.
  • Pool return lights that attach to the pool return to provide lighting.
  • Illuminated water sprayers. These are specifically made for above-ground pools equipped with a Carbin system.

Your local pool supplier may also recommend safe, waterproof LED strip lights that can be installed around the perimeter of your above-ground pool, if permitted locally, although these are not self-contained components.

Avoid Cheap Pool Lighting

Some relatively cheap retrofit models are from Chinese manufacturers without electrical certifications (CSA or UL) that you always want. They screw into the wall of your pool underwater with exposed wire running over the side of the pool; this is definitely not code-compliant—or safe. It is not okay to have wires coming out of the pool and spanning across your pool deck.

Read more: How To Hang String Lights Around Pool?

The Importance of GFCI Protection for Pool Lighting

Keep in mind that many inground pool lights are 120 volts and MUST HAVE GFCI protection. Some jurisdictions require 12-volt lights; they are probably not hazardous, but they still need GFCI protection (and are usually required).

GFCI devices protect you from shock or electrical current by immediately cutting off the power when they detect a short circuit—which could be you. You should install GFCI protection if you don't have it already—and regularly test it.

How to Control Pool Lights: Control Panels, Timers, and Programming

Depending on the lighting system you have installed, most pool lights can be controlled with a simple on/off switch (which can be remote-controlled), a timer that turns the lights on and off, or through a more sophisticated automation system.

Automation systems allow remote control of lighting and other pool features and are most useful for pools with more than basic pool equipment. They cost between $1,500 and $3,500 depending on the amount of equipment they control.

Can a Smart Device Control My Pool Lighting?

Yes, a few pool automation systems like the Pentair Screenlogic2 Controller available on Amazon can allow you to control your pool and patio lighting using your Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, or Alexa device.

Regarding programming your pool lights, many lighting systems come with pre-programmed color sequences, and then that program runs when you turn it on. Others have pre-set light sequences. Different lights offer different combinations of colors and may offer different programs.

So there you have it. There are so many options for lighting your pool, whether it's an inground pool or an above-ground one, so hopefully, this guide has been helpful.

The most important thing to remember is that if you don't already have a pool wired for lighting, make sure a certified professional installs it correctly.

According to the National Electrical Code - Article 680-20a1, a pool light fixture over 15 volts must have GFCI protection. This is a concept they should be aware of.

Apart from replacing a bulb, a waterproof, battery-powered clip-on light, or a floating pool light, it is best to seek professional help when it comes to installation.

Looking for interesting design ideas for the bottom of your pool for your next project, including tiles or decorations? Check out my blog post on this topic for more information.

FAQs

Q: Can I install pool lighting myself?

A: While it is possible to install pool lighting yourself, it is best to have a pool expert or licensed electrician handle the lighting work to ensure it is done correctly and safely.

Q: Do I need to drain my pool to install lighting?

A: In most cases, installing pool lighting does not require you to drain the pool. Pool lights are designed to be easily removed and replaced when needed.

Q: How long do LED pool lights last?

A: LED pool lights have a long lifespan, typically around 50,000 hours. This makes them a popular choice due to their durability and energy efficiency.

Q: Can I control my pool lighting with a smart device?

A: Yes, there are pool automation systems available that allow you to control your pool lighting using smart devices such as Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, or Alexa.

Q: What type of bulb should I choose for my above-ground pool?

A: For above-ground pools, you can choose from various types of lighting, including low voltage, battery-powered, or solar-powered options. It is best to consult with a local pool supplier for recommendations based on your specific pool setup.

Q: Do I need GFCI protection for my pool lighting?

A: Yes, GFCI protection is essential for pool lighting. GFCI devices protect against the risk of electrical shock and should be installed for safety purposes.

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