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How To Design Swimming Pool Lighting

Great lighting can make or break a space. Each outdoor area of your home will benefit from a well thought out lighting design. Lighting a swimming pool is not exception. Before you dive into illuminating your backyard water feature, keeping a few key rules in mind can help you obtain a beautiful finished product.

A great pool lighting design will take into account several key aspects. Great composition, efficiency, functionality, safety, and versatility are all markers of great pool lighting. This can sound like a difficult feat to accomplish. However, today’s lighting market offers options that make creating a beautiful, and well lit swimming pool easier than ever.

Choose LED

Before you make any choices about the actual lighting design of your pool, you need to choose what types of bulb you will use. There are two main players in the pool lighting world: incandescent and LED. While both offer functionality, LED is generally agreed to be the best option.

From enhanced performance to versatility, LED offers a bright, customizable appeal that is sure to last homeowners years. Incandescent bulbs are slowly being phased out. Chances are, installing incandescents will slowly become an obsolete practice as time goes on.

After you choose the type of lighting you will use in your space, it’s time to consider layout.

Plan the Lighting Early

When planning your lighting, it’s important not to wait. Many may think that they can build their pool first, and then think about how to illuminate it. While this may be possible, it is far from optimal. Planning your lighting in conjunction with your pool layout will allow you to get the best fit for your space. It will also make installing lighting less disruptive.

When you know exactly how you plan to integrate lighting design into your swimming pool, you can build your water feature around those ideas. From step lighting, to form, different lights work best in different spaces.

This isn’t to say that it is impossible to install lighting after a pool has been built. It is simply more challenging. Solutions exist, but they are more disruptive. Unless you are planning on upgrading an existing pool, considering lighting early in the design will make the entire process easier.

Position Pool Lighting Carefully

The key to great pool lighting is getting the positioning right. Both in the water and around the pool deck, placement is key for a functional and beautiful design. However, different conditions should be considered between areas of your swimming pool.

When considering in-pool lighting, placing bulbs at mid-height is often preferred. This is the case for both practical and aesthetic reasons. When you place a bulb at mid-height, you are ensuring it is nearly at the surface of the water. This makes any maintenance or replacement of the bulb much easier. Of course, using LED lighting reduces the probability of these issues.

Still, placing pool lights at mid-height in the pool will give you the best effect. This placement allows for the contours of your pool to be illuminated. It’s also a great way to highlight the changing depth of your swimming pool.

Pool Lighting Quantity

Different sizes of pools require a different number of in-pool lights. For very small pools, very few lights may do the job beautifully. A great LED bulb can provide exceptional illumination without purchasing or integrating a lot of lights. A good rule of thumb is to place lighting every 8ft along the length of the pool. Additionally, each end of the pool should have a light 4ft away to ensure safety.

Logically, the more lights you have the brighter your pool will be. It can be easy to get carried away, but too many lights can be just as bad as too few. Overlighting your pool will ruin the ambience. Safety and functionality is great, but having a pool viewable from space? Doesn’t exactly scream sophisticated.

Consider Color

One of the most important aspects of a beautiful lighting design is color. This is especially when opting for upgraded lighting options such as LED bulbs. This is because you are now able to customize the color and tone of your lighting. Even small adjustments here can make a huge difference to the overall look and vibe of your space.

Lighting that is too harsh and too bright can create a clinical, cutting look to your space. Think of walking into an airport bathroom, or hospital. The bright, cool lighting thrown by bulbs in these spaces provides great visibility, but is less than flattering.

pool lighting outside a family house

For more welcoming lighting, opt for more neutral or warmer tones. If you love the look of cooler lighting, try incorporating less of them, or choose bulbs with lower lumen ratings.


Nowadays, choosing the color of your lighting is about more than just tone. Modern lighting solutions have made it possible to incorporate a rainbow of options into your space. WHile this look isn’t for everyone, playing with color can bring your backyard pool to a new level.

Even if you aren’t interested in creating a different color in your space every night of the week, color changing bulbs can be worth looking into. Not only can they provide a rainbow of hues, but they function as classic warm, neutral, or cool colored lights as well.

When it comes to getting the most for your money, versatility is key. These bulbs may be more expensive. But investing in color changing bulbs could be worth it for homeowners craving fully customizable spaces.

Material Matters

It can be easy to think that the lights themselves are the only factors that matter when creating a lighting design. When it comes to lighting swimming pools, this is untrue. Lighting is affected by multiple aspects, including the materials surrounding it.

If your pool is constructed with a very dark interior material, you can expect it to absorb more light. This means you may have to opt for brighter, or a larger quantity of lights. Comparatively, light colored surfaces will reflect more light. This can be envisioned easily by imagining how paint color affects an interior room. The darker the paint, the darker the room will feel, even when ample sunlight is provided to the space.

All materials absorb some light, including water. As a rule of thumb, the smoother the surfaces in your pool are, the more light will reflect and penetrate the space. For those considering tiles pool interiors, thinking about how lighting will play off of this material is important to achieve adequate illumination.

Highlight Your Pool’s Best Features

As mentioned, planning your lighting with the initial design of your space will help to create a seamless end product. This is because you can easily plan to highlight the best features of your pool from the start.

For example, if you are planning to integrate laminar jets, a waterfall, or a spa, special lighting to highlight these features is key. Laminar jets come to life with color changing bulbs. A waterfall installation shimmers with well placed spotlights. Navigating a spa is far easier when lighting is included to improve visibility in that area.

If you want to create an individualized plan, focus on drawing attention to the areas of your space that make it stand out. It’s likely that you didn’t pay extra money in order to enjoy the unique elements of your pool only during the day. Great lighting can seamlessly transition a swimming pool from day to night allowing unlimited hours of use.

Safety is Key

While added style is great, the most important thing a lighting plan should do for you is provide safety and navigability. While all outdoor lighting provides additional security, pool lighting is perhaps the most important. Tripping in the dark is never a fun experience. However, tripping and falling into a pool adds significant danger.

This is why it’s important to never neglect your pool deck when designing a lighting scheme. Most contractors will provide several options. This includes both above deck, and recessed lighting. While both provide great visibility, recessed lighting creates less of an obstacle when walking around your outdoor space.

Don’t DIY Your Pool Lighting

While it’s true that many elements of design can be done yourself, lighting layout is likely not one of them. Choosing the incorrect bulbs, or failing to coordinate the installation properly can be a costly mistake. Working with a reputable professional will help you ensure you are not wasting your money.

After lighting is installed, you may be able to replace bulbs or do simple repairs and cleaning yourself.

Every Pool Is Different

As with every element of design, no two spaces are the same. This is true for pools as well. From variance in shapes, materials, and surroundings, no two swimming pools are truly this same. This means what worked in one space might not necessarily be right for another. Though you may love the lighting design of a friend’s pool, a copy may not be the best choice for your pool.

Working with a great pool contractor or designer will help you make the best choices for your backyard. From color, to volume, to brightness, it can be hard to know exactly what will best suit your space. However, with a little research and planning, lighting can elevate your pool and create a space that is usable and safe both day and night.

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