June 1, 2010
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.
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.
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.
Controllers typically operate all of the light heads, modules and individual LEDs in a spa lighting package. These devices allow users to display a single colour, transition through multiple colours or select a particular colour or light show.
Spa lighting packages rely on either a standalone control unit, separate from the spa itself, or on-board controls. Standalone controllers are designed to run more complex LED lighting packages that integrate many illuminating features throughout the spa. Most are designed to work with existing power supplies. However, particularly robust lighting packages might exceed the existing power supply’s capacity; in these cases, a separate power source is needed for operation. Like cables and connection points, most standalone controllers have evolved into a more water-resistant design to ensure reliable operation.
On-board controls are designed for use in spas with a very limited lighting package, which often comprises one or two light heads providing general underwater illumination. A light head with on-board control can provide the same type of colour display as a standalone controller, but it cannot control as many LEDs.
To enhance the consumer’s illumination experience, manufacturers are also offering other means of spa lighting control. This includes spas designed with multiple lighting zones, which allow users to select spa areas and sets of features to illuminate. Also, many lighting packages offer multiple brightness settings, giving the consumer complete control over how subtle or pronounced interior and exterior lighting is with every use.
In addition to lighting combinations, manufacturers have also begun developing unique lighting ‘experiences’ for their customers. Many lighting systems can provide a variety of standard colours and light shows, which consumers can select via a top-side lighting control. More commonly, custom colours and light shows are being developed to help distinguish one spa manufacturer from another, or to differentiate product lines. This can even extend to the use of a signature colour throughout the spa to visually link the lighting to a specific brand.
As spa illumination moves forward, the success of lighting above the waterline will likely encourage more lighting below the waterline, as well as lighting accents to the exterior cabinet and related accessories. In addition, more emphasis is being put on developing lighting that integrates more seamlessly and subtly into the spa environment, allowing bathers to enjoy the lighting effect without being aware of the actual components.
Gone are the days of using a single halogen bulb with a flimsy coloured lens cover to make spa lighting exciting. The future of spa illumination is undoubtedly bright.
Stephanie Jeffers is the marketing manager for J&J Electronics, Inc. of Irvine, Calif., a manufacturer of LED lighting products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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