By Stephanie Jeffers
Today’s portable spas integrate colour illumination in a multitude of features. In fact, over the last decade, manufacturers have increasingly used functional and decorative lighting to differentiate their portable spas from the competition.
Initially, halogen lamps were used to provide basic, functional lighting for spas. Later, the advent of fibre-optic lighting added decorative illumination to the mix. With its static and colour-changing capabilities, this technology added a new dimension to spa lighting, making more interior and exterior illumination possible. Not long after, light-emitting diode (LED) technology came onto the scene, with its higher brightness, better reliability and substantially greater number of colours and options.
The evolution of illumination
Now, spa lighting is even given a place at the research and development table. Engineering and marketing teams work together to create LED lighting packages that set spas apart in a competitive marketplace, while meeting a dynamic set of consumer expectations. The result—lighting solutions that meet a variety of price points and allow consumers to choose everything from basic underwater lighting to intricate light show options.
The wide array of lighted features now available with portable spas is considerable and growing with every model year. Functional, white underwater lighting has been available for many years, while more colourful general accent lighting has gained popularity in the last decade.
Recently, manufacturers have started including coloured decorative lighting to highlight spa features. Waterfalls, jets, air control bezels, assist rails, diverters, pillows, seating, cup holders, brand faceplates, filter lids, exterior cabinets—all of these features consistently integrate LED accent lighting. Back and edge lighting can provide a glow of coloured light around functional features, while point-of-light illumination is used to provide colourful accents on the interior shell. The use of up or down lighting provides illumination to the exterior cabinet. The possibilities are nearly endless.
How LEDs work
LED lighting packages tie together a relatively small number of components, typically comprising single LEDs and multi-LED light heads/modules. Spa areas that require a dispersed or more intense lighting effect, such as a footwell or exterior cabinet, are well suited for multi-LED light heads and modules, while single LEDs can be used individually or grouped together to create decorative accents. The compact footprint of single LEDs also allows for more placement versatility within the spa shell, allowing the lights to conform to any shape.
Over the years, as lighting has become more integrated into spas, LED system components have undergone significant engineering improvements to make them better suited for use in harsh spa environments. Lighting packages are typically installed under the spa skirt during production, which means components must be able to withstand moisture, heat, vibration and the foam insulation process. LEDs are typically rated to last for up to 100,000 hours, which makes them well suited to spa applications, where customers look for extended performance without the need for costly service or repair work.
Current LED system components rely heavily on overmoulding of connection points to provide protection where individual LEDs make a wire connection or surrounding cable-to-cable connections. High-temperature cable is also commonly used in spa applications. Further, locking cable connections make installation easier, increase reliability and can withstand vibrations from spa use and transport.
LED light heads are designed to fit either bayonet or bi-pin style bases housed in standard spa light assemblies. Multi-LED modules can be surface- or flush-mounted, depending on the spa design. Single LEDs can be mounted within a variety of faceted lenses, designed with low profiles for greater comfort when bathers rest against them.
To provide optimum versatility, spa LED lighting systems use modular components, which connect in a daisy chain fashion (i.e. one connected to the next using cables) to create a particular lighting package. Multi-directional connection point modules, or splitters, are also used to branch off from the main line. This non-linear daisy chaining provides the most design and installation flexibility. Varying cable lengths between components will ensure a custom fit connection, eliminating extra slack and better conforming to the available space.