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Underwater Lights

CH project manager should refer to local codes. Some codes do not require underwater lights; however, most will state that when they are provided, they should be designed so that 0.5 watts will be provided per square foot of pool surface area.  Some states have minimum wattage requirements, e.g. Georgia requires 1.0 watts/sq. ft.

CH design standard is to provide a minimum of 1 watt per square foot for traditional pools and 2 watts per square foot for platform diving pools.

If there are no underwater lights, there needs to be enough overhead lighting to see the bottom of the pool.

1’-6” is required from the water level to the top of the underwater light. Minimum pool depths for underwater lights should be 2’-6”.

When metal halide lights were used, they were recommended to be mounted as shallow as possible (i.e. 1’-6” below the surface of the pool) no matter what the water depth because of the way that the bulbs refract light. In deeper pools, prior to metal halide light’s emergence in the market, CH designed with incandescent lights mounted deeper in the pool.  Pentair says that the Intellibrite LED lights should be mounted deeper for pools like diving wells but should be no deeper than 8’-0”.

  • The NCAA 2009 rulebook states the following regarding the use of underwater lights:
    • Article 2: There shall be no protrusions, light fixtures, underwater windows, or inlets in the end walls for a depth of at least 3.5 feet [1.07m] below the level of the perimeter overflow rim.
    •  Article 5: Underwater lights may be installed at the sides and at the ends.  End lights should be located under lane-line anchors at a depth of 3.5 feet with a switch for each light.

For all competitive collegiate pools, these NCAA rules should be discussed with the owner. If shallow water is included in the project a decision should be made to not include underwater lights where the NCAA requirements cannot be met or adjust the course layouts such that racecourses for NCAA sanctioned meets do not conflict with the underwater light rulings.

For small to modest sized swimming and leisure pools, the lights should be 300 or 500 watts.

For small pools and spas, the lights should be 100 or 150 watts.

  • LED Lights
    • Pentair’s IntelliBrite 5g white LED underwater light is available in three models for standard pool size underwater lights, as well as a smaller size for use in spas. The LED pool underwater lights are offered in models that operate at 45 watts, 55 watts, or 70 watts.  Pentair claims an incandescent equivalency of 300, 400, and 500 watts respectively.  The spa LED underwater light operates at 26 watts with an incandescent equivalency of 108 watts (per Pentair).  The Pentair LED underwater lights are available in both 12V and 120V models.
    • Some codes do not recognize or accept the manufacturer’s stated wattage equivalency for LED underwater lights when compared to traditional incandescent. In this situation, the use of LED underwater lights would require numerous fixtures to be included in the design to achieve the code required minimum watts/SF.  C-H project managers should confirm the requirements of local codes when designing for use of LED underwater lights.
    • The LED lights provide a much “bluer” color to the pool water, versus the yellow/green provided by incandescent lights.
    • Alternatively, available as a color-changing light for special circumstances.
    • The Intellibrite has an estimated 30,000 hours life (15 times more than the Ameriquartz) at 120V or 12V.
    • With only 2,000 hours of life with Ameriquartz, payback (with LED) is less than 2,000 hours. (2000 hours = 83 days of continuous use.)
    • LED saves $100/2000 hours of use.
    • Pentair website has a “savings calculator” online. They are marketing the light to replace existing incandescent lights.
    • It’s compatible with Pentair and Amerilite niches.

Underwater lights are recommended on indoor competitive pools, or when there is a lot of glass in the natatorium, to minimize glare. However, in a lot of cases, the underwater lights will not be used, and they create “hot spots” for television cameras.

Underwater lights should always go on the side of the competitive course so that swimmers are never swimming into the light.

While not ideal, the West Coast studio sometimes places lights at the ends of the racing lanes. Since most recreation pools are not used for competition use this is acceptable. In the event of placing lights at the end of racing lanes, the project manager should confirm that the pool is not normally used for competition.

Underwater lights are usually provided in the form of wet niche fixtures located in the pool walls. Hydrel and Pentair are manufacturers that can provide suitable products.

The electrical engineer should call for their connection and control. Usually, the pool contractor will install the wet niches in the pool shell, and the electrical contractor will connect and install the actual fixtures.  The electrical engineer needs only to show their general location in plan view with the conduits and junction boxes.

It is important that the PVC conduit (brass should not be used) from the niche to the junction boxes be specified for a sealed, watertight installation. Since the conduit is mostly below the water level of the pool, leaks due to unglued joints and couplings can be a costly problem to correct.

Light fixtures must be specified with cord lengths to extend to the junction boxes and still have enough cord to bring the fixtures up to and re-lamp on the deck. Standard cord lengths may not be adequate.

All lights should be GFI protected per the NEC.

All underwater lights where a bulkhead will be traveling by will need to either be recessed or a notch in the bulkhead will need to be provided.

The Pentair Amerquartz series light has been discontinued. The comparable Pentair Amerlite or Hydrel underwater light should be specified in its place or LED underwater lighting should be considered.

  • Certain local jurisdictions do not allow 120V underwater lights to be used in commercial pools. This includes the State of Oklahoma, the City of Houston, the City of Austin, and the City of Miami/Dade County.  12V underwater lights must be specified and coordinated for projects that fall under these permitting jurisdictions.  12V underwater lights require coordination of transformer locations within a limited distance of the light fixtures.  When using multiple Pentair IntelliBrite 12 VAC lights on a 300 Watt transformer, it is recommended that no more than three (3) IntelliBrite pool lights and one (1) IntelliBrite spa light be used on a single transformer, and the transformer must be located within 100 feet of cabling run to the underwater lights.  For longer cable lengths, coordinate with manufacturer.
    • Transformer(s) shall be Intermatic PX Series low voltage landscape and swimming pool/spa light transformer:
      • Model PX100 and PX100S: 100 W Transformers - input 120 VAC, output 12 VAC or 13 VAC
      • Model PX300 and PX300S: 300 W Transformers - input 120 VAC, output 12 VAC, 13 VAC, or 14 VAC
        • These Safety Transformers are specifically designed to supply 12 volts to pool/spa lights, submersible fixtures, and outdoor garden lights. The built-in circuit protection will disconnect power to the transformer in case of defect or overload. These transformers are suitable for direct connection to underwater Pool and Spa lights.
    • The State of Oklahoma has adopted a revision to the NEC 2014 language. The State has modified the code language to read as follows:
      • 748:20-9-8. NEC® 2014 Chapter 6 Special Equipment
      • Chapter 6 is adopted with the following modification: Section 680.23 (A)(4) Voltage Limitations. This section has been modified to prohibit the use of underwater luminaries if they operate above the low voltage contact limit as defined in Section 680.2. This section has been modified to read: 680.23 (A)(4) Voltage Limitations. No luminaries shall operate above the low voltage contact limit as defined in Section 680.2.
    • The City of Houston Electrical Code has been revised to state the following:
      • SECTION 512 – SWIMMING POOLS
      • 512.1 Swimming pools. Equipment or lighting over 50 volts shall not be installed in newly constructed swimming pools
    • The City of Austin has adopted an ordinance modifying the 2008 NEC as follows:
      • 680.23(A)(4) Underwater Luminaires (Lighting Fixtures) Voltage Limitation. All underwater lighting systems in pools, spas, hot tubs, fountains, and similar installations shall be listed low voltage lighting systems of 16 volt or less.
    • The State of Florida Building Commission code section 454 requires that all underwater lights be low voltage:
      • 454.1.4.2.3 Underwater Lighting. Underwater lighting shall utilize transformers and low-voltage circuits with each underwater light being grounded. The maximum voltage for each light shall be 15 volts and the maximum incandescent lamp size shall be 300 watts.

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