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Savings, Beauty & Improved Visibility in the Pool

By Mike Fowler

Commercial aquatic facilities are continuously doing internal "audits" of their operational costs to find ways to save money for additional aquatic programming. Aquatic facilities are discovering that one of the fastest, easiest ways to reduce energy consumption is to replace old incandescent pool lighting with today's improved LED lighting.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) are small semiconductor devices 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 results are an amazing, crisp, bright yet dense saturation of light, and they are even available with special effect capabilities such as color.

LED pool lights have a much longer operational life than traditional incandescent bulbs. Typical incandescent bulbs last only about 5,000 hours, whereas an LED light will last 30,000-plus 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 and 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 that 80 percent of the energy is lost as heat. Even though incandescent light may seem cheaper initially, using LED pool lights increase use benefit while reducing energy costs.

Today's new white LED lights use only 45 to 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. 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 swimming pool water clearer and easier to see in and through and "brightening" aquatic facilities overall at night.

Wattage Savings

It's important to understand that "watts" is the amount of power that a bulb uses to provide a certain amount of light output or lumens. Traditional incandescent light bulbs used in swimming pools are traditionally 300-, 400- and 500-watt bulbs—which are required to illuminate large area of the pool water at night. A typical Olympic-sized pool might use 30 to 40 pool lights to illuminate the pool water for nighttime swimming. The amount of watts used to provide the illumination required draws an equivalent use of power to operate. So a 300-watt bulb uses 300 watts of power to operate. However, the new LED technology is such that typical bulbs use only 45 to 70 watts of power to operate, but provide the 'luminescence" of traditional 300-to-500-watt bulbs. When you are looking at 30 to 40 bulbs per pool using less than a third of the total wattage used with incandescent bulbs, facilities will find themselves cutting their energy bill drastically by simply changing all their traditional bulbs out for new LED lights.

Let's look at a simple comparison to attribute specific financial savings to LED bulbs. Let's compare a 40-watt LED to the average 300-watt equivalent incandescent bulb. Assume the bulb runs an average of 8 hours a day and that the cost of electricity is $0.15/ kW hour.

300W incandescent bulb x 8 hours x 365 days = 876 kWh/ year at $0.15/kWh = $131.00

40W 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 might argue that the savings is erased by the initial cost of the bulb. An average 300-watt incandescent bulb costs $30, compared to $220 for an average 40-watt LED bulb. But considering the electricity savings over time, the payback from energy savings for the LED bulb will occur in 1.6 years.

However, this is just comparing the cost for one bulb. When a facility uses 12 to 30 bulbs in its swimming pools, the savings multiply. But more importantly, there is a "hidden" cost to changing out traditional incandescent bulbs four to six times per year.

Maintenance Savings

In addition to reducing costs by saving energy, the new LED technology bulbs are designed to last far longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Traditional bulbs are designed to last anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 hours—so a facility running its lights for about 12 hours a day might need to change the bulbs out every six to seven months. The problem is, as we all know, that light bulbs never go out at the same time. So most commercial pools find they regularly have one or two bulbs "going out" on them—which makes the pool have "dark" spots that are unsafe and unsightly.

However, an LED light has an estimated life of 30,000 hours—up to 10 times longer than a traditional pool light! This helps eliminate the regular "outages" common to incandescent bulbs—no more worrying about dark spots. No more having your pool service professionals continually having to replace bulbs as a part of their routine maintenance. Not only will service pros replace bulbs less often, but they will also have an easier time replacing LED lights. Traditional incandescent bulbs run much "hotter" than LED bulbs. And the heat from these traditional bulbs often cause the light-fixture's gasket to expand and contract—making 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," said Bob Garrett at American Pool Supply in Nevada. Because LED lights run "cooler," gaskets are no longer compromised—making them easier to remove and replace when changing out bulbs. With LED lights, gasket replacement is rare.

Savings from Rebates

In addition to having a lower energy bill each month, facilities are also taking advantage of rebates offered by utility companies when they change from incandescent to LED lights. Many cities and states are offering sizeable rebates to incentivize facilities to reduce their energy consumption. If facilities take the time to document the reduced energy consumption that will result at their facility by using LED lights vs. incandescent, the rebates they offer provide a very quick return on investment to offset initial LED light installation. "We work closely with the City of Henderson, just outside Las Vegas, Nev., where hotels with large swimming pools and fountains are the norm and lighting is key to this tourist destination," Garrett said. "When we put together a proposal for a facility interested in saving money by upgrading to LED lighting, we include not only the savings from reduced energy usage, but also the savings from reduced labor of changing out bulbs plus the bonus of rebates from utility companies. Together these savings combined 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, giving higher brightness readings. 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").

"There is a huge difference between the brightness and clarity of an LED bulb versus and incandescent," Garrett said. "The LED bulb light seems to go much further in the water and is much clearer and brighter."

Mike Fowler is the commercial marketing and sales manager for Pentair Aquatic Systems in Sanford, N.C. He has been with Pentair since 1992, starting his career in the technical services department at Purex Pool Products. Fowler has held many managerial roles within the company, including marketing, accounting and products. For more information, visit www.pentair.com.