LED lighting popular choice among pool builders

When AQUA reported on LED pool lights in November 2007, there was genuine excitement about the role they would play in the future of the industry. They were expected to gain momentum in the next decade, especially solid white LEDs.

Nearly two years later, the time has come for LEDs. While they are still the "new" player in the lighting category, they are a leader, giving customers a longer-lasting and more-energy-efficient - not to mention pocketbook-friendly - light. Color-changing LEDs have hit the market full force, but the introduction of an all-white LED appeals to those who want to light the pool in a classic way.

Whatever their lighting taste, customers have improved options to choose from, and builders and retailers have a top-notch product to offer them.

LED lighting is definitely playing a more diverse role in the way things are today, says Joe DiOrio, product manager for lighting, white goods and safety, Hayward Pool Products, Elizabeth, N.J. Especially due to its green appeal.

A Solid Investment

"One of the biggest reasons we would primarily use LED lighting is on green pools because [the lights] are so eco friendly," says Jeff Boucher, vice president, Drakeley Pools, Bethlehem, Conn. "There's nothing in the light itself that's harmful. There's no mercury, there are no gas-filled bulbs - nothing to harm the environment."

But as with most things green, the upfront cost is more than with a traditional light. However, if customers are looking for a long-term investment with a positive rate of return, LEDs are the way to go. LEDs average a 90 percent savings in energy, a selling point that plays a vital role in the consumer crossover, especially in areas where energy rates remain high and appliance efficiency standards are tight.

"I think [some states] see it more than the rest of the country," says Boucher. "I know California, Florida and Connecticut are states that have actually adopted appliance efficiency standards for pools and spas, specifically.

"There are a few other states - Michigan, Nevada, Texas, Washington and New Jersey - that have passed similar legislation specifically for the pool and spa industry on energy laws and energy efficiency."

The difference in energy consumption between LEDs and incandescents is enormous.

According to Mike Hooper, product manager for the LED pool light division at J&J Electronics, Irvine, Calif., most LED manufacturers offer products that consume 35 to 50 watts of energy, as compared to the 300 to 500 watts for a typical incandescent bulb.

Hooper says that even if a customer runs an LED a few hours each night, every night, it will still only cost a few dollars a year.

"If you were to look at it on an annual basis, it will actually end up multiplying to a potentially significant amount of money," says Hooper. "There's no doubt that there's a benefit in terms of energy consumption going to LED lights."

Reduced energy consumption isn't the only reason why LEDs are becoming a more popular choice. LEDs also have a longer lamp life than the average incandescent.

Hooper touts J&J's products as having a lamp life that is 20-times longer than incandescents. "And you're typically going to see that number from all the manufacturers out there. You would literally have to replace your incandescent light 20 times to equal the lamp life of just one of our LED lights," he says.

Boucher agrees, noting that the typical LED light averages 60,000 to 80,000 hours. The extended lamp life also results in fewer service and maintenance visits for the customer, additional savings that may not be initially realized.

Freshening Up

Once a customer decides to go with LEDs, it's time to figure how to incorporate them in a way that best suits their interest. New builds and renovations are both great opportunities for a homeowner to take advantage of an LED's star power.

"The LEDs themselves are changing so much," says DiOrio "We can be much more creative with them. The thermal characteristics are only getting better, allowing them to be brighter.

"On a new build, you have people putting in automatic controls, and then when you tie in the pool controllers you tie in the lights. It gives you a greater degree of flexibility in how your environment actually performs and looks."

While including LEDs on a new build is a more obvious decision - everything is new, why not go with the best? - replacing the incandescent during a renovation is gaining momentum.

"When a homeowner is doing a renovation, they are generally looking to update the look of their pool and modernize it. Colored lighting - and LED lighting specifically - is a great way to help achieve that look," says Hooper. "If a pool owner wants to do a renovation on their pool, they're going to expect the finished product to look new, modern and really revitalize their interest in the whole backyard experience."

For the customer looking to give the backyard a little pick-me-up, Hooper recommends a color-changing LED light.

"When you have a pool that you can light with any color you want - blue, green, purple, whatever - it will become the center of attention at nighttime pool parties," says Hooper.

In fact, Hayward's improved Colorlogic 4.0 features more than 101 adjustable fixed colors, so homeowners can create almost any color combination, according to DiOrio. With a nearly endless rainbow of colors to choose from, a "new" look for the pool can be achieved almost every day, especially for the homeowner seeking to add some flair to the backyard.

For those who like to keep things simple, an option that wasn't available a few years ago has come to light, giving homeowners the choice of an all-white LED.

Bright White

"Lighting, in general, is very sensory for people," says Hooper, "and people really respond to quality lighting. It really changes how you perceive the whole backyard experience."

The all-white LEDs on the market produce a much whiter and brighter light, creating a look in the pool that is comparable to daylight, says Hooper.

While Hooper notes that the all-white LED was designed more for the commercial industry, he says a submarket has arisen where residential owners want the classic white instead of colors, mainly to showcase their specialty pool finishes.

"In the higher-end market, you are spending more time choosing color palettes on finishes and tile, whether the entire surface of the pool is glass tile or stone, or a custom-blended finish," says Boucher. "You are choosing that color palette because that's what works best with the environment around the pool. So to put a light in it to change the color of the pool to pink, purple or green wouldn't be beneficial."

The all-white light gives those types of clients a simple solution to their lighting needs while still gaining all of the advantages of LEDs.

"It's going to optimize the way the pool is supposed to look," adds Hooper.

From a lighting designer's perspective, says Boucher, if they are designing a project and need a specific light, they know the type of product they are getting.

"You know what it's going to be. It's an instant on. Things don't change after they warm up. It's an instant on, and it's a white light."

Making Progress

Although the popularity of LEDs is growing, retailers and builders alike need to educate clients about their options. Most manufacturers are more than willing to supply retail stores with a display that showcases the staying power of an LED, a benefit for the hands-on customer who needs to see things for himself. But that's not the only way to relay information.

"We do everything to promote LEDs," says Cindy Clark, owner of The Pool Store in La Quinta, Calif. "Besides our display on the counter, we have a very large mailing list."

Clark sent a direct-mail piece to her customer base recently and g0t a huge response.

"[Customers] called right away. They wanted know about it. They thought it was a very expensive product until they called, and they go, 'Oh, this is great!' And then of course we told them all the other good points about it."

Between the low power consumption, long lamp life and the overall look of an LED, people are taking notice.

"The LED has more bells and whistles, and people like that," says Boucher. "People like gadgets and they like to control things other than turning a switch on and off for lights. It's nice having an option for something that up to this point, there was no option, it was either you have lights or you don't have lights, and now they are able to provide something for all the different markets."

Lights Out

U.S. DOE planning LED takeover

Few people are aware of the strong movement in the United States to lower its reliance on energy wasting inefficient light sources, says Mike Hooper, product manager for the LED pool light division at J&J Electrics, Irvine, Calif.

"The Department of Energy is very strongly favoring LED technology as kind of the wave of the future in terms of replacing what is currently being used out there with the new LED lights," he says. "There is a strong indication that incandescent lighting, in general, will begin to be phased out here in the next few years."

The DOE has created a long-term plan to "advance the development and market introduction of energy-efficient white-light sources for general illumination," according to its Web site. Numerous research projects are currently underway supporting solid-state lighting research and development.

"There's no doubt there is an LED revolution going on," says Hooper. "What has happened with LEDs is basically that they have evolved to the point where they are commercially viable for just about any replacement lighting that's out there, and because of this, they have gained most of the support from the community in that they use a lot less energy and last longer."

Large manufactures like Phillips and GE have also made a huge push into the LED market, notes Hooper.

"LED lighting isn't going to go away. It has been chosen as the product that is going to be pushed in the future that is going to lower our reliance on lighting technologies that are inefficient and wasting tons of energy every single day."

For more information regarding DOE solid-state lighting programs, visit www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/index.html.

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