By Vic Walker
Light is experienced in many forms—from the natural light of the sun and stars to manmade electric lights that are used every day. While the theory of light itself can be a rather complicated subject, this article will discuss some of the emerging lighting technologies related to the pool, hot tub, and outdoor industries.
While lighting has always been an important part of most commercial outdoor designs, recent advancements have allowed homeowners to create backyards that mimic some of the same features found in high-end outdoor designs. Many of these advancements have focused on new light technologies that provide more efficient and eco-friendly lighting options.
These include improvements in general, accent, and pathway lighting, in addition to lighting used in pools and hot tubs. As consumers look for more cost-effective, eco-friendly products for their backyards, outdoor lighting is receiving a makeover with the recent developments in light-emitting diode (LED) technology. In fact, these lights have become so popular in consumer products, they can be found on everything from automobiles to children’s footwear.
Types of outdoor lighting
By comparing some of the more popular types of lighting (i.e. incandescent, halogen, and compact fluorescent lighting [CFL]), the importance of LED lights, and the impact they have on pool, hot tub, and landscape designs, can be better understood.
Incandescent is the oldest form of lighting. These bulbs are manufactured in a wide range of sizes, light output, and voltage ratings—from 1.5 to 300 volts. They do not require any external regulating equipment, have low manufacturing costs, and work equally well on either alternating current or direct current. As a result, these lights, which use a filament, are widely used in both household and commercial lighting products.
In the outdoor setting, these lights can be used as accent and/or pathway lighting, as well as functional lighting for patios and entertaining areas. For example, a typical outdoor ceiling fan or wall light often uses incandescent bulbs.
Another type of light that is popular in outdoor design is halogen. They are available in both high and low voltages as well as a wide variety of configurations. Many outdoor security lights use high-wattage halogen bulbs that are often tied to motion sensing systems that automatically turn on when someone approaches the light. Low-volt (e.g. 12-volt) halogen lights are often used in flower beds and walkways for accent lighting and are available in a wide variety of styles, including down/up lighting and spotlights. Most are familiar with these lights (sometimes called Malibu style lights) as they come in easy, do-it-yourself (D-I-Y) kits that are available at most home improvement stores.
One of the latest lighting technologies to become increasingly popular is fluorescent lighting. These lights last longer than incandescent lights and are more energy-efficient. Fluorescent lighting is commonly found in retail shopping stores and office settings. The latest generation of this technology are called CFLs. These bulbs have a twisted, coil-like appearance and are available for exterior use (e.g. decks/balconies and pathway/accent lighting for walkways or flowerbeds).
Although they are far more efficient than incandescent/halogen bulbs, CFLs have some drawbacks as they contain small amounts of mercury (Hg)—a hazardous material that has made disposing of old CFL bulbs an issue. Further, this also presents a problem should a bulb break, making clean-up a tedious process. Despite this, CFLs are still a great lighting option that consumers can use to create efficient outdoor living spaces.
LED lights are one of the fastest growing lighting technologies and even though they have seemingly popped up on the market in the last few years, they have actually been around for quite some time. Rather than emitting light from a vacuum (incandescent/halogen bulbs) or a gas (CFL bulbs), LEDs emit light from a piece of solid matter. In the case of traditional LEDs, this matter is a semiconductor. Stated very simply, an LED produces light when electrons move around within its semiconductor structure. The semiconductor is made of a positively and negatively charged component. The positive layer has ‘holes’ (openings for electrons), while the negative layer has free electrons floating around. When an electric charge strikes the semiconductor, it activates the flow of electrons from the negative to the positive layer. Those excited electrons emit light as they flow into the positively charged holes.
Today, there has been an influx of new designs aimed at replacing older lighting technologies. As such, LED lights are rapidly becoming popular in all areas including, automobiles, architecture, industrial, and all facets of consumer electronics. Further, the long-lasting nature of LED lights makes them a perfect fit for pool, hot tub, and landscape installations.