photo of a pool lit by LED lights

Consumers today are constantly evaluating their decisions, especially if those decisions affect their long-term operating costs. That’s why LED lighting has become a popular option in and around homes: Not only do LED bulbs last longer, but compared to regular incandescent bulbs, their operational costs are much lower. Pool professionals need to take advantage of this trend by offering LED light conversion to their clients — it’s one of the fastest, easiest ways to reduce energy consumption while improving visibility around the pool.

What Are LEDs?

To be able to clearly explain the benefits of LED lighting to pool owners, it’s important to understand the basics. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are small semiconductors that convert electrical energy directly into light. LED pool lights combine these digital light sources with the intelligence of a microprocessor, controlling all aspects of illumination. The result is a crisp, bright, yet dense saturation of light that is available with special effect capabilities such as color.

This improvement in light quality comes with a lower overall cost to the pool owner; LED lights feature a much longer and cheaper operational life than traditional incandescent pool light bulbs.

Typical incandescent bulbs last only about 2,000 to 4,000 hours, whereas an LED light will last more than 30,000 hours. LEDs also create light without reaching the high heat extremes created by traditional lights bulbs. With less heat, they require less energy to operate because less energy is wasted. LED circuits approach 80 percent efficiency, which means that 80 percent of the electrical energy is converted into light energy while the remaining 20 percent is lost as heat energy. Comparatively, incandescent bulbs operate at 20 percent efficiency, meaning 80 percent of the energy is lost as heat.

Today’s new white LED lights use only 45-70 watts and are available in 300-, 400- and 500-watt incandescent light equivalents. This new LED technology can use up to 86 percent less energy than comparable incandescent lights. And because each light lasts much longer, the bulbs are changed much less frequently — another source of cost savings. So not only do facilities reduce their energy consumption, but they also increase their savings by reducing their routine maintenance time changing bulbs. Plus, LED lights actually illuminate better than traditional incandescent lights, making pool water clearer while also making for a more attractive aquatic landscape come nightfall.

Wattage Savings

It’s important to understand that a “watt” is the amount of power that a bulb uses to provide a certain amount of light output or lumens. Incandescent light bulbs used to illuminate swimming pools are traditionally 300-, 400- and 500-watt bulbs. A typical 30-by-70-foot commercial pool, for instance, might use up to six lights to illuminate the water for nighttime swimming.

This wattage figure indicates the amount of power required to operate the bulb, so a 300-watt bulb uses 300 watts of power. However, the new LED technology is such that typical bulbs only require 45 to 70 watts of power to operate, but provide the same luminescence of traditional 300 to 500 watt bulbs. When you are looking at six bulbs per pool using less than 1/3 the total wattage used with incandescent bulbs, your clients will find themselves cutting their energy bill drastically by simply changing all their traditional bulbs out for new LED lights.

To get an idea of the magnitude of potential savings, let’s compare a 45-watt LED to the average 300-watt equivalent incandescent bulb. Assume the bulb runs and average of eight hours a day and that the cost of electricity is $0.15/ kW hour.

300-watt incandescent bulb x 8 hours x 365 days = 876 kWh/ year at $0.15/kWh = $131.00 45-watt LED bulb x 8 hrs x 365 days = 116 kWh/ year at $0.15/ kWh = $17.00 Savings in energy costs per year: $114.00 per year (per bulb)

Some would argue that the savings is erased by the initial cost of the bulb:

Average cost of 300W incandescent bulb = $30.00 Average cost of 45W LED bulb = $220.00

But this initial cost difference is repaid in only 1.6 years (at $114.00/ year savings); the LED bulb can be expected to last at least 10 years at this level of usage.

And this is just a cost comparison for one bulb. For a large pool using six or more bulbs, the savings multiply. In addition, there is the hidden cost of changing out traditional incandescent bulbs several times per year. For an idea of that cost, let’s look at the man-hours associated with changing out incandescent bulbs that have 16 the life of an LED bulb.

Maintenance Savings

With a typical life of 2,000 to 3,000 hours, a facility running incandescent lights for about 12 hours a day might need to change bulbs every six to seven months. The problem is, as we all know, light bulbs never go out at the same time. So most commercial pools find they regularly have 1 or 2 bulbs going out, creating darkened areas that are unsafe and unsightly.

However, an LED light has an estimated life of 30,000 hours or longer — or up to 10 times longer than a traditional pool light! This helps eliminate the regular outages common to incandescent bulbs, the resulting dangerous and unattractive dark areas of the pool, and the maintenance required for replacement. (To safely replace the bulb without having to drain the pool, it usually takes two people around two hours to change each swimming pool light.)

With LED pool lights, service pros replace bulbs less often and have an easier time replacing the bulbs when they do need to changed. Traditional incandescent bulbs run much hotter than LED bulbs, and the heat from these traditional bulbs often causes the light fixture’s gasket to expand and contract. This makes it hard to remove and replace the gasket during bulb changing. In most traditional incandescent light bulb changes, you have to figure in labor for both the bulb replacement as well as the gasket replacement.

chart showing California energy efficient products and rebatesWith LED lights, gasket replacement is rare. That’s because LED lights run cooler so their gaskets are no longer compromised, making them easier to remove and replace when changing out bulbs.

To smooth the changeover to LEDs, there are new products on the market designed specifically to change incandescent lights to LED, eliminating the need to replace the existing fixture.

Savings from Rebates

In addition to energy bill savings each month, utility companies are offering rebates for making the switch to LEDs (see chart). On a broader level, many cities and states are offering sizeable rebates to incentivize homeowners to reduce their energy consumption — in the lighting of their homes, their pools and their backyard.

Many homeowners and pool operators are unaware of these incentives and the advantages of LEDs in general, so pool professionals must take the time to explain the reduced energy consumption afforded by using LED lights versus incandescent, the rebates offered, and the quick return on investment which will offset initial LED light installation. As a pool professional, it is important to take the time to list figures in your quote, including not only the savings from reduced energy usage, but also the savings from reduced labor costs and bonus rebates from utility companies. Together, these savings make changing to LED lights a no-brainer.

Improved Visibility and Overall Aesthetics

LED pool lights produce a high color temperature compared to incandescent pool lights. The “bluer” LED light penetrates the water better, providing a greater brightness reading. Also, the dark-adapted human eye sees the higher color temperature as brighter. A good example of this is high intensity discharge (HID) lights found on luxury and sports automobiles. These lights emit brighter light that has a higher color temperature (“cool blue”).

Most pool professionals and consumers agree that there is a significant difference between the brightness and clarity of an LED bulb versus an incandescent. Many comment that the LED bulb light seems to go much further in the water and is much clearer and brighter. It’s easy to sell a pool owner on making their pool look better at night, especially if their pool is central to their backyard landscaping. Plus there is the added safety factor — improved visibility for those for those that swim at night.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail editors@aquamagazine.com.