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LED vs Fiber Optic: Which Inground Pool Light is Better?

LED vs Fiber Optic: Which Inground Pool Light is Better?

Options and Accessories

When purchasing an inground swimming pool, there are some accessories such as heaters, security covers, and automatic vacuums that can be added or changed over time. 

You do not have that flexibility with an inground pool light. It's a one-shot deal. Let's look at the two most popular products on the market today to find which inground pool light could work better for you. 

First we need to identify the similarities and differences of each inground pool light. 

LED pool lights and fiber optic pool lights both have the same objective:  to illuminate the pool and provide a variety of colors to enhance the atmosphere. But that's about all the two inground pool lights have in common as they use two entirely different methods to illuminate the pool water. 

LED pool lights are designed so the actual light bulb is submersed in the water and contained in a niche, or housing, which is installed in the pool shell. The light bulb is sealed so no water or electricity can get in or out and the cord travels from the bulb to a switch where the light is operated. 

Fiber optic pool lights are designed so the bulb is located in a dry box located on top of the pool patio. The light from the bulb travels through fiber optic cable from the box to a special fitting installed in the pool wall where the cable ends. 

The light is emitted from the end of the cable and illuminates the pool. 

With a basic understanding of how each inground pool light works, let's compare LED pool lights and fiber optic pool lights. 

We'll look at 5 different categories to see the advantages and disadvantages of each type of inground pool light:

  1. Level of difficulty changing the light bulb
  2. Initial and lifetime cost
  3. Brightness
  4. Size and location of lighting components
  5. Safety


# 1: Level of difficulty changing the light bulb

LED pool lights

Many people have the misconception that you need to lower the water level to change the bulb of an inground pool light. Not true! The sealed housing that contains the bulb is removed from the light niche in the pool wall and then brought above water level where the bulb is changed.  The entire process is simple and takes 15–30 minutes.


Fiber optic pool lights

Because the bulb of fiber optic pool lights is located in a dry box on patio level, the bulb is very easy to access and can be changed in less than 5 minutes.

Advantage: Fiber optic pool lights


#2: Initial and lifetime cost

LED pool lights

Initial cost is typically $400–$900. The only component of the system that will need periodic replacement will be the bulb which ranges anywhere from $200–$400 depending on the unit.  Bulbs will typically last 7-15 years in led pool lights.


Fiber optic pool lights

The initial cost is typically $900–1500 on new construction.  Because this system is above water level a fan is needed to cool the bulb. An electric motor is also used to rotate the color wheel that causes the light to change colors. These components do fail over time and will need to be replaced.  The bulbs of fiber optic pool lights will typically last 3–7 years at a replacement cost of $200–$300.

Advantage: LED pool lights


#3: Brightness

LED pool lights

A full size led pool light will illuminate a large residential pool very well.  Smaller led pool lights like the PAL 2000, which we use, will require 2 lights on a pool 15x34 or bigger to illuminate the entire pool. Lights are usually installed at opposite ends of the inground pool to illuminate the pool as evenly as possible.    


Fiber optic pool lights

They work well in principle, but based on my experience they simply don't illuminate the pool well; even when there are two fiber optic cables.  When two cables are used, they both come from the same illuminator to eliminate the need for a second expensive illuminator box.  Placing lights on opposite ends of the pool means purchasing two entire light kits, which doubles the cost. We found that one PAL 2000 light (which is a small light) illuminated a 16x38 pool better than two fiber optic pool lights placed on the same end of the pool.   

Advantage: LED pool lights


# 4: Size and location of lighting components

LED pool lights

The components are a standard light switch and transformer (if low voltage) located at the pool equipment or more convenient location, and the light which is installed at the pool.  The transformer is mounted on a post or wall along with the switch and can be as close at 10' from the pool or as far as 50–100 feet from the pool.  Many lights come with limited cord length.  The PAL 2000, for example, comes with 69' of cord.


Fiber optic pool lights

The dry box, or illuminator, is about 1'x1' in size and must be located within 10'-12' of the pool unless custom length fiber optic cable is purchased at approx $40/ft. This does present a design challenge if the light is wanted on an end of the pool with a significant amount of patio.   

Advantage: LED pool lights


#5: Safety

LED pool lights

Despite what some people may think, modern submerged pool lights are safe. Tens of thousands are installed every year without incident. Many led pool lights are low voltage. Instead of having a 110 volt fixture, a transformer converts to 12 volts which is about the same as a car charger.


Fiber optic pool lights

Have literally no electricity in the water. All of the mechanicals are located in the illuminator box at patio level.   

Advantage: Push

(If there were any legitimate concern for safety, first of all we would not sell the product, and second, it would never make it to market.)



Which inground pool light is better? 

After having installed literally hundreds of both types of inground pool lights we have come to the conclusion that even though fiber optic pool lights have their advantages, LED pool lights are the way to go. 

They are more cost effective initially and long term, there is no cumbersome illuminator box to deal with, and they illuminate the water more effectively. 

Before switching to LED pool lights, we would periodically receive complaints from our customers that the fiber optic pool lights did not light the water as well as was hoped. Since switching to LED pool lights several years ago, we have had nothing but positive feedback.  


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At River Pools, we manufacture world-class fiberglass pools for customers across North America. If you'd like to get an inground pool for your home, feel free to browse our learning center, try our pool cost calculator, or request custom pricing using the button below!




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Editor's note: This blog article was updated on October 17, 2020.