Small changes in pool design can make a big difference overall

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rendering of a pool designAlthough nearly a half-century old, the green movement (or its sister cause, energy conservation) has only recently reached the point where it's a major driver of product development, sales and legislation.

Builders are still in different stages of acceptance. Some have been pushing green pool design for a long time under the guise of energy savings, while others have begun adopting measures such as selling variable-speed pumps and oversize filters as these have become popular.

One building company that has been selling green pools for many years is Riviera Pools of Tampa, Fla., and the company's experience may be helpful for builders still feeling their way into the new age of energy awareness where each kilowatt-hour is examined for possible wastage.

First and foremost, says Bob Albano, sales manager and 20-year veteran of the business, whatever green policies the company has pursued over the years, they have all been subservient to its business goal of profitability.

Or, put another way, while the company uses many green design practices in its pools, that's mostly because its customers see value in the lower operating costs green practices guarantee.

Altruism is nice, but if it's going to work for a pool building company, it has to help pay the bills.

"I've found that most customers aren't into the environmental side of it," Albano says. "They're much more concerned about their operating expenses. So that's the angle I take with it; that we can give them a pool that won't cost that much to operate.

"Our typical customers are upper middle class; they're more value shoppers than price shoppers. And if you can show them the value of purchasing the more expensive equipment that saves energy and money, they usually do."

The Rivenergy Package

With that philosophy in mind, Riviera long ago developed an entire package of energy-saving elements which it dubbed the "Rivenergy System." These elements work together to dramatically reduce the amount of power-plant coal (and utility rate payment) required to supply the pool's needs.

The company focused on the circulatory system, examining every component with a view toward eliminating energy-wasting constriction. It starts with 2- to 3-inch piping, sweep fittings and, depending on the customer's wishes, a variable-speed pump or an efficient two-speed or single-speed pump, properly sized for the application.

While big pipes, sweep elbows and efficient pumps are now the accepted ideal for efficient pool circulation, Riviera adds a design component that is often overlooked by both builders and the media in general. The company makes its pools with a plethora of ports into the pool, in combination with, most importantly, a heated water return at the bottom.

The science here is straightforward. If heated water is returned at the top of the pool it tends to stay on top and produce a heated layer with cool water at the bottom, whereas water returned at the bottom mixes naturally and provides better heating efficiency and better chemical dispersion. Albano has seen clear field results for years.

"It definitely saves energy," he says. "I've had customers tell me their water heats up one to two degrees per hour quicker when you return from the bottom."

Filter Savings

As for the final major component of the system, in the great green filtration debate, Riviera comes down on the side of DE because of its combination of high performance (trapping particles down to single-digit microns) and low-flow restriction.

"We don't use the vertical-grid DE filters," Albano says, "We use Sta-Rite's modular DE filter because it gives me another 5 to 7 gpm of flow, and their heater doesn't use a burner tray, which slows the water down. We look at everything we put on the pool to make sure it doesn't hurt your flow rate."

While Riviera looks to save energy at the filter, it can be an excellent place to save water. Up the Atlantic seaboard in Deptford, N.J., Randy Budd of Budd's Pool Co., AQUA Hall of Famer and second-generation pool business owner, is saving thousands of gallons a year by using green filtration methods.

Budd uses new water-saving MultiCyclone prefilters, which require no input of electrical energy, but create a centrifuge out of normal water line velocity to separate out debris over 20 microns in diameter before it enters the main filter chamber. This means the filter needs fewer cleanings - and each backwash saved conserves up to 400 gallons.

"They really do work," Budd says. "I was skeptical at first, but I brought a couple of them in and, especially if you have a sand filter, it's a product that saves thousands of gallons of water - you only have to backwash maybe once a year. It takes 80 percent of the dirt out before it gets to your filter.

"And if you have a cartridge filter you only have to clean it maybe once a season, which doubles the life of your cartridges, so that's a really green product. What I really like about it is that it's bulletproof, an idiot can install it and the customer can't screw it up."

Just downstream from the prefilter, Budd uses an oversize sand filtering system augmented with zeobrite, which also extends cleaning cycles dramatically. "It's much more environmentally friendly than DE without the mess of a cartridge filter," he says.

Over And Over

These elements of pool system design can certainly have an enormous impact on the environment, but when it comes to the actual construction of the pool, Albano notes, it's harder to be green. "You're pouring concrete or you're shooting concrete, and you're hanging tile. There's not a whole lot in there you can do."

Budd, on the other hand, has adopted a reusable forming system for making inground swimming pools, which allows his pool company to construct vinyl-liner pools of differing shapes from the same elements, saving a good deal of landfill space.

"It's a direction we just took this year," he says. "It allows us to build pools that do not require manufactured walls. We just buy these Aqua Forms from Frank Wall and reuse them; you could build 3,000 pools with one set of forms. So now you're bypassing the kit, and no longer putting petroleum-based products or steel in the ground. Obviously, with the price of oil being up and the issues with petroleum-based products, we were looking to do things a little bit differently."

Budd says that, in addition to reusing the forms, the use of concrete in pool walls has a smaller environmental impact than steel or plastic. "You set the forms up and do a monolithic pour and your walls are done. And then we just put a vinyl liner inside it. You can built it as a gunite but we do it as a vinyl-liner pool."

This building process is better for the environment, but that's not the primary reason Budd uses it. He uses it because, like so many other building and retail trends that have grown out of the environmental movement, it makes sense from a business perspective. The green aspect is almost a happy accident.

"You know, it's weird," he says, "but a lot of times if you're just trying to do things that separate yourself as a builder and help your customers, a lot of times that's also the green way to do things."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Green Laws A-Comin'

Builders range in their attitudes toward the green movement, but regardless of their opinions, those in the largest pool building states will soon be forced to incorporate major green design principles as legislatures rewrite building codes.

In California, the largest pool builder, benchmark Title 24 legislation - energy efficient design practices which apply to the pool filtration system (water features, fountains, etc. are exempt) - went into effect in January of this year. As one might expect, enforcement has been spotty so far as building officials come up to speed in the midst of a recession, but that will certainly change over time.

On July 1, 2011, the second largest pool building state, Florida, will officially adopt very similar legislation. Enforcement - permitting and inspections - begins in December 2011.

The third largest builder, Texas, gathers its legislature next summer primed for action as well. Legislators there will be looking at laws and effect in California and Florida as they decide what to pass. It is likely to be something very like what those states have adopted, with some tweaking here and there.

What this means for pool builders in these states, and eventually, almost everyone across the nation, is a 6 feet per second flow speed limit on the suction side, 8 feet per second on the return, and all the implications for pump sizing and piping that follow from it.

Basically, the turnover time must be at least 6 hours, so the builder takes the number of gallons in the pool, and divides by 6 hours to get a flow rate. The pipe installed has to be big enough that, using that calculated flow rate, the 6 feet per second speed limit is not exceeded.

"As the pools get bigger, the pipe is going to get bigger, but it's not a builder option, it's a level playing field," says Steve Barnes, safety and compliance manager, Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Sanford, N.C., and chairman of APSP's technical committee. Meaning, for instance, that if a homeowner wants a 20,000-gallon pool, every builder that bids on that project is going to have to figure in the same size pipe (or larger).

Regarding pumps, once enforcement takes effect, says Barnes, most single-speed pumps will be too big and powerful to meet the flow speed limit (single-speed pumps one horsepower and above are banned outright). Two-speed and variable-speed pumps will come to dominate the market, because these pumps can reach the lower flow rates mandated by the new laws.

This is just the briefest of summaries; more detailed coverage is available in numerous articles in the AQUA magazine archives, available at our Website, and from APSP, Pool And Spa News, and other industry information sources.

Barnes and many others involved in standards-writing have endeavored to keep the different states' legislation aligned, thereby avoiding the chaos that can easily be imagined if each state went its own way, resulting in a hodge-podge of disparate building codes. "The goal nationwide," he says, "is to get everybody on the same page and part of the same team, so that we can all build quality, energy-efficient pools.

"If we can do that," he says, "we can sell a lot more of them."


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