Above-Ground and Inground Pool Lighting 101 [Guide]

As a pool owner, you have so many options for lighting the surface of your pool, whether it is an above-ground pool or an in-ground.

While these dynamic effects are beautiful and luxurious, it’s can be overwhelming…but not to fear!

Today I’ll break down the basics, from lighting types, to bulbs, to programming.

Tip: Before getting started, it’s best for pool lighting work to be done by a pool expert or licensed electrician (this may be required in some jurisdictions), although a knowledgeable homeowner could do it. Permitting may also be required, and check with the HOA while you’re at it.

Let’s start with understanding the basics for the different pool lighting types you can go with, including installation, bulb replacement, and a few brands to consider.

Understanding the different types of pool lighting

When it comes to pool lighting designed to be placed in the water, these can be thought about in two different categories: wired and battery-powered.

Battery operated pool lights (surface mounted)

Cheap waterproof LED lights with suction cups (called surface mounted pool lights) usually come with remotes that can be found on Amazon but will require batteries.

These don’t pose the risk that wired pool lights do at such a low voltage, and are easy to install yourself. Keep in mind that for long term-use these won’t be your best option, but good for above-ground pools.

Wired, flush-mounted pool lights

For traditional inground pools where the lighting is installed at the point of installation, these will normally be flush mounted and wired.

If you want brighter lights that really light up your entire pool, it’s best to have a professional wire your pool with flush-mounted lights during construction.

Most inground pool lights fall into this category, where a hole in the pool must be cut out (typically on the sidewall) to insert the wiring and lighting harness, called a niche.

What is a pool light niche?

pool light niche

A niche is basically a bucket (made of plastic or stainless steel) that the pool light apparatus fits inside of before being flush-mounted to the side of the pool. The niche also contains a cutout for running the wiring.

The fixture simply fits in the niche, and its wire runs in a conduit through the niche and pool shell, then underground to the power source and controls.

If your pool was not built with writing for a niche, the easiest option is to use battery-powered lights that can be suctioned on the side of the pool or floated. However, these are not as bright as hard-wired lights.

Different types of pool light replacement bulbs

in general, there are three common types of pool light bulbs: incandescent, LED, and fiber-optic. They are available for both in-ground and above-ground pools.

Incandescent pool lights: traditional

incandescent pool light

Incandescent lights, either standard filament-type or halogen, produce only white light. These have a lifespan of about 2,000 service hours, and you can usually replace them easily. But if used for only a few hours every day, they have to be replaced every few years. However, this type is typical of older pools, and they are the least expensive.

LED pool lights: A common upgrade

LED pool loght bulb

LED lights are more desirable because of their long life, around 50,000 hours, and their energy efficiency.

A 45 watt LED will generate as much light as a 300-watt incandescent by comparison. But their best feature is their range of colors, and the light shows those colors can produce—up to five color options and seven light changing programs.

Fiber-optic pool lighting: Expensive and for advanced use cases

fiber optic pool light cable

Fiber-optic systems are the most expensive and complicated to install; In general, these are used in higher-end pools, to achieve twinkle effects, custom shapes, and other effects.

The technology for these types of lights requires more upkeep and many contain a ton of smaller light fibers for intricate bottom-of-pool designs. There are also fiber-optic cable-style lights that can create a pretty cool effect.

Many pool owners opt to convert pools with fiberoptic wiring to traditional LEDs to minimize upkeep.

The process for installing pool lights

Other than fiberoptic pools, in-ground pools are built with what’s called a niche that will house your pool light bulbs.

As illustrated in the video above, the fixture fits in the niche, and its wire runs in a conduit through the pool shell, then underground to the power source and controls.

If your pool was not built with a niche, the easiest option is to use battery-powered lights that can be slapped on the side of the pool or floated. Even with battery-powered LED pool lights, these will not be as bright as hard-wired LED lights.

How to change a pool light bulb

Replacing the light bulb on an in-ground pool yourself is fairly straightforward if you are handy. As a precaution, cutting the breaker is wise. Start by removing the single screw that usually holds the fixture in place.

You should find enough wire in the niche so you can pull the fixture over the edge of the pool.

You can then open the fixture and change the bulb, replace the seal, reassemble the fixture, and put the wire and the fixture back into the niche.

Replacing an entire pool light fixture? Opt for professional help

Replacing the entire fixture is another story, and should probably be done by a professional. The entire wire integral to the fixture has to be removed back to a junction box near the pool. The new fixture and wire will also have to be installed and connected at the junction box.

If you cannot find a suitable LED bulb that fits your existing fixture, you might want to replace the fixture. Your local pool installer will likely be able to recommend a good package.

Must a pool be drained to install lighting?

In most cases, the way inground pool light is installed doesn’t require you to drain the pool. These lights are simply designed to be removed and replaced when needed.

To better explain this process, check out this video:


Choosing a light bulb for your in-ground pool

If you just need to replace a light bulb, your simplest choice is to replace a burned-out bulb with the same model; For many people, this is an incandescent bulb.

On the other hand, if you want more exciting lighting with colors and light shows, LED lights are the way to go.

3 tips for selecting a replacement light for your in-ground pool:

  1. Install a replacement LED bulb in your existing fixture. I found a few replacement LEDs here on Amazon from $50 – $100 depending on the type, and whether or not they are remote-controlled.
  2. Know beforehand the manufacturer of your niche to determine whether a specific LED bulb will fit. Hayward, Sta-Rite, Pentair, or Jandy are all common.
  3. Another option is to replace the entire fixture with your choice of an LED light/fixture combination. Hayward, Pentair, and Jandy make a number of different models here.

Above-ground pool lighting types

above ground pool lighting

If you have an above-ground pool and are looking for some lighting options, you can choose from several types of corded, battery-powered, or solar light components.

For above ground-lighting, these are all typically very low voltage or battery powered. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Over-the-edge immersion-type lights clip onto the side and dip into your pool (click here for an example).
  • Pool return lights that attach to the pool return to provide illumination (click here for an example).
  • Backlit water jets. There are pretty cool and specifically made for Carbin above-ground pools as you can see in action on YouTube here.

Your local pool supplier may also be able to recommend safe, waterproof LED strips around the perimeter of your above-ground pool if allowed locally, although these aren’t self-contained components.

Stay away from cheap pool lighting

Some relatively inexpensive retrofit models are from Chinese manufactures, without the electrical certification (CSA or UL) you always want to have.

They screw into the wall of your pool underwater with an exposed wire running up the side of the pool; this is certainly not code-compliant—or safe. It is not OK to have wires emerging from the pool and stretching across your pool deck.

The importance of GFI protection for pool lighting

Keep in mind, that many inground pool lights are 120 volts and MUST BE GFI-protected. Some jurisdictions require 12-volt lights; they are not likely to harm you but still should be GFI protected (and are usually required to be).

GFI devices protect you against a shock or electrocution by cutting the power instantly if they detect a short circuit—which could be YOU. You should install GFI protection if you do not already have it—and test it regularly.

How to control pool lights: control panels, timers, and programming

programmed pool lights

Depending on what lighting system you have installed, most pool lights can be controlled with a simple on/off switch (which can be remote-controlled), a timer that turns the lights on and off, or via a more sophisticated automation system.

Automation systems allow remote control of lighting and other pool functions and are most useful for pools with more than basic pool equipment. They cost around $1,500 to $3,500 depending on how much equipment they control.

Can a smart device control my pool lighting?

Yes, a couple of pool automation systems like the Pentair Screenlogic2 controller here on Amazon can enable you to control your pool and patio lights using your Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, or Alexa device.

When it comes to programming your pool lights, many lighting systems come with the color sequences that have to be programmed in, and then that program runs when you turn it on.

Others have pre-programmed light sequences. Different lights offer different combinations of colors and may have different programs available.


So there you have it. There are so many options for lighting your pool, whether it is an in-ground pool or an above-ground one, so  hopefully this guide was helpful.

The important thing to remember is that if you don’t already have a pool wired for lighting, make sure a certified professional installs these correctly.

According to The National Electrical Code – Article 680-20a1, a pool light fixture over 15 volts must be GFCI Protected. This is a concept that they should be familiar with.

Outside of a bulb change,  waterproof, battery-powered clip-on light, or floating pool light, it’s best to seek professional help whenever dealing with installation.

Looking for some cool bottom-of-pool design ideas for your next project, including tiles or decals? Check out my blog post here for more on this topic.

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