The Ultimate Guide To Pool Lighting [How-To]

If you’re looking at fitting swimming pool lights in your above-ground pool or in-ground pool, you’re in the right place. We’ll give you the information you need to get started, and help you figure out what’s best for you and your pool.

We’ll explain the difference between halogen, incandescent and LED pool lighting, as well as niche lighting, and surface-mounted lighting. Also, we’ll cover pool lighting installation and how to change a light bulb.

In other words, you’ve landed in the right place!

Read on to find out more about:

Ready for that light bulb moment? Let’s get into it.

Different Types Of Pool Lighting

Over time there’s been a few options for pool lighting types, however these days most new lights are LED.

Here’s an overview of the three types of pool lights: incandescent, halogen and LED.

Incandescent pool lights

Let’s start with the oldest and most widespread form of pool lighting: incandescent.

In its prime, it was the only option around! But now, incandescent light bulbs are considered to be old school, having wire filaments that heat and glow.

They’ve been losing popularity with the rise of alternatives, and with good reason. Incandescents need changing a lot (sometimes up to three times a year: an average incandescent bulb lasts for 800-1200 hours), and you need a lot of them to light a pool.

You can imagine this turns out to be way more time consuming than your deepest of deep cleans!

They are also not the most romantic, as they emit a clinical kind of light that sometimes looks a bit green in the dark. Ever walked by an old hotel swimming pool at night?

Incandescent was in need of an upgrade, and along came halogen.

Halogen pool lights

Halogen was a game changer! The improvement was immediately noticeable.

The energy consumption is far cheaper and cleaner than incandescent lights, as they use up to 20% less energy. They also last a lot longer (approximately 2500 hours), so they need changing less frequently.

In terms of the technical side of what a halogen light bulb actually is or does, let’s just say that they are pretty similar to incandescent. This time, the filament has its own capsule that fills with halogen gas which then redeposits back onto the filament so it can be reused. 

The main disadvantage of halogen is the cost of the bulb itself. After the initial expense, the energy is cheap, but you’ll have to invest up front in order to see the returns.

They also have the same clinical green look at night, just like incandescent.

LED pool lights

Next up came LED, which quickly became a favourite, and not only for pools. LED offers even more energy-efficiency than halogen: a 6-watt LED is similar to a 100-watt halogen!

“The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”” Here is the link of 2014’s Nobel Prize in Physics

LED lasts longer than both incandescent and halogen, and because it doesn’t use a filament, the Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) have also solved the problem of your pool having an off-colour green look at night. Not to mention, with LED you can get colourful options too. If you’re going to light your pool, why not also do it in purple, orange and blue as well as red, yellow and white?

If you’re new to the pool lighting game, we recommend exploring the LED route.

Where Should I Put My Pool Lights?

The way you design your pool lighting can transform the appearance of your whole pool area in the darkness, as well as create a specific ambience for swimmers.

Some lights come in a single colour (normally blue or white) while others are colour-changing with different light effects – perfect for a Pool-side Disco party!

Recommended placement tips:

  • Place lights every 2-3 metres, 25-40 centimetres beneath the water’s surface.
  • Place lights at regular spaces along the long side of the pool.
  • Mount the lights on the side of the pool closest to the house.

Placing the lights on the pool wall closest to the house means that when the lights are on at night, you won’t see the lights themselves shining back at you when you are looking out from the house at night, you will just get the glow effect in the water.

For a pool up to 8m long we would recommend 2 lights – if you’ve got a bigger pool, you may need more lights! Talk to your pool professional or talk to us at Dolphin Pacific.

There are two main types of lights when it comes to choosing your lights: niche and surface mounted. Let’s shed a bit more light on these two options.

Niche pool lights

You can dig out special cubby holes in your pool walls (typically called niches) which enable your lights to sit almost flush against the pool wall interior.

Note: This is obviously easier to do at the start of a pool’s life.

The lights sit back into the niches and some of the light cable is coiled up behind the light in the niche so that if you need to change the light, you can lift the lamp assembly above water level to change it – so you don’t need to drain half the pool to change a lamp!

Surface-mounted lights

These are mounted on the surface of your pool walls, which is most common for pool owners who only think about lighting their pool later, or sometimes on fibreglass pools.

The cable comes through the wall of the pool and some extra cable is coiled up behind the light which is then clipped onto a mounting bracket on the side of the pool. Like the niche lights, the extra cable behind the lamp allows the light to be lifted above water level to be changed.

Pool Lights Installation: When Is It Possible?

There are two options: when your pool is being built, or at some point during its life.

At the very beginning: when your pool is being built

Generally, this is the best time. You can scope out which lights you want and where, and then install them right in the beginning.

For niche lights, it is easiest to install the lights at this time. That’s when the niches are built into the pool wall and tied into the steelwork on concrete pools. It’s a job that’s best left for your pool professional!

Surface mounted lights don’t need a niche, but the cable will need to enter through the pool wall. Sometimes, they can be added after the pool has been built if required. However, you will need to run the light cables under the pool surround and through the wall of the pool. For this reason, we recommend talking to your pool professional.

Most lights are “plug & play” with the lights running on low voltage back to a transformer or light driver. The transformer or light driver (depending on what type of lights you’ve chosen) then plugs into a normal power point.

Your pool builder may need to call an electrician who’s qualified and experienced in installing pool lights, or you can always talk to us at Dolphin Pacific

We’re happy to give you some free advice.

Adding lights to your existing pool

This case requires a little more effort. However, it’s doable in most cases

First of all, the pool will need to be emptied, and you’ll have to install a cable in the pool that runs to where you want the light transformer or driver.

Hopefully your swimming pool was designed and built in such a way that adding lights later is not a problem. In this case, it’s possible to run the cable, and all you need to do is the draining and installation.

In this case, you definitely need to consult a professional to see just how much work is required to put in your pool lights.

Should I Install Pool Lights Myself?

Right, let’s see how much of this you can do yourself and what you need the professionals for.

What you can do

If you’re really keen to get involved, of course you can get started yourself. After all, pool lights come in boxes and in those boxes are handy instruction manuals.

Generally, pool owners are capable of:

  • Installing suction mounted lights.
  • Mounting a light in a pool niche (but not the whole niche installation).

What you need an electrician to do

For niche lights, a qualified and professional electrician needs to ground the pool light. They also have to bond the pool light, in a way that complies with local NZ regulations. 

The pool light conduit needs to be dealt with by an electrician or your pool professional too, to make sure your pool lights can operate safely and don’t leak!

Note: We strongly recommend talking to an electrician or your pool professional before getting started with anything to do with your pool lights.

Changing Your Pool Light Bulbs

Each brand of light will come with its own unique instructions and method for changing lamps. If you’re not sure what type of light you have in the pool, have a chat with your pool professional or give us a call.

Here are twelve easy steps to follow, as a general guideline for changing a pool lamp:

  1. Unscrew your pool light from the niche or mounting plate with a screwdriver, and pull it out from the niche, or remove the surface-mounted pool light from the pool.
  2. Place the entire pool light on a towel on the deck (the soft surface ensures it won’t get damaged in the process).
  3. Dry off the whole light and unscrew the light fixture or lamp assembly.
  4. Pry the lens and gasket off the face assembly ring (if necessary), and then the light fixture.
  5. Replace your old gasket with a new gasket if required. Clean the surface of the lens before you put the new one on.
  6. Remove the old lamp with the towel, carefully. Remove any residue.
  7. Insert the new lamp.
  8. Place the new gasket and lens on top of the light housing.
  9. Reassemble by screwing back together. Be careful not to overtighten the screws.
  10. Get back in the pool (with the power still off!) and make sure the cord and then light is back in the niche. For surface mounted lights, reattach them to the wall.
  11. Replace the screw/s to secure the pool light to the niche/wall.
  12. Turn the power back on and make sure it works!
Pool lighting on the surface

It’s important to maintain your pool lights by checking them regularly and wiping any residue away from the light fixture. At the same time, make sure there are no cracks in the casing.

Our Top Tips For Pool Lighting In NZ

  1. Check your building permission and other regulations before touching a single thing!
  2. Always position the lights facing away from your home (and your neighbour’s!) to reduce glare.
  3. Light your pool deck as well as your pool, for safety and ambience.
  4. Install your lights with enough cable accessible to ease the servicing process.

Lastly, let’s check out some recommended products.

What Are The Best Pool Lights?

Good question. Your lighting needs go hand in hand with your design.

We stock and recommend these three brands that should be applicable to all pools. As always, if you want to talk to someone about your options, we’re here for you.

EvenGlow (Colourful Lights)

Spa Electrics

Check out our full range of pool lights here.

We understand that installing your pool lights can feel like a real challenge. If you need any help on your mission, get in touch with us and we’ll be there to support you through it!


Are LED pool lights worth it?

LED lights are by far the most popular pool light, currently. They are more energy efficient and last longer than halogen and incandescent lights, and can also support multiple colours. If you’re just setting up your pool, we recommend that LED is the way to go.

What kind of lights should I get for my pool?

First of all, you should choose between niche lighting and surface-mounted lighting for your pool.

The lights should fit your pool lighting plan – how many, what height, etc. We recommend LED lights, but you can choose many different colours and styles within this category.

Can you change a lightbulb without draining the pool?

Absolutely. For niche lights, and surface mount lights, you should be able to easily remove the light (see our instructions above), take it out of the water and change the bulb on your pool deck.

About the author
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill

Hey! I'm Adrian, founder and pool expert here at Dolphin Pacific. I love spending time with family, fishing, and have been known to brew my own beer.

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