Environmentally-friendly pool renovations

5 A 708 AqGreen's the new black, as the fashionistas of the world would say, and it's hitting the pool and spa runway full force. Energy-saving, eco-friendly products are making their way into the market, teasing dealers with trendier options and enticing homeowners to save a buck or two - not to mention the Earth. It's time to look into upgrading and revamping the pool and making way for the next generation of "greener" pastures.

"The average age of pools we are renovating is 15 to 20 years old," says Thomas Lopez, president of Aquavida Pools in Phoenix. "At that point in time, they didn't really offer any economical or efficient motors back then." But times have changed, and repair-driven renovations are now taking a backseat to lifting up the hood and replacing what's inside - because you want to, not because you have to.

Renovating a pool can be costly, especially if moving toward a more eco-friendly backyard. It's an investment, says Lopez, and one that not everyone is able to make.

Green makeovers are a smaller part of the renovations Aquavida Pools does, says Lopez, because of the financial investment Green renovations can cost anywhere from $225 to $12,000, adds Lopez, depending on what's being done.

One of the main consumer selling points of going green - besides being more eco-friendly, of course - is the financial payback. But the initial cost of the project can scare customers away from green renovations. In today's unstable economy, customers may have a hard time seeing beyond the bottom line and into the future.

Pump Magic

For the consumer who has just started thinking about renovating a pool, there is a good place to start that doesn't break the bank. "Probably the most economical approach is the basic industry-standard upgrade pump, an [energy efficient motor]," suggests Lopez. "The armatures in the motors consume less energy," adds Lopez, so at a minimum, he recommends customers doing this upgrade.

But for consumers who are able to put a little more investment into their renovations, Lopez recommends a programmable pump. While these pumps generally cost more than the standard upgrade, their payback is well worth it.

Energy consumption savings are astonishing: manufacturers estimate savings between 30 and 90 percent. Pentair Water Pool and Spa says its IntelliFlo High Performance Pump can offer homeowners a $324 to $1,356 savings in yearly utility costs.

Introduced by Pentair during the 2007 trade show season, the IntelliFlo is great for a multi-purpose system, says Lopez. Part of the company's Eco Select collection, the programmable, variable-speed pump relies on variable-drive technology controlled by an on-board computer to allow for custom programming to achieve optimum flow rates.

In an effort to encourage customers to make the green leap and renovate their pools with a more energy efficient product, Mary Hampe, president of Paradise Pools and Spas in Goose Creek, S.C, likes to tout the savings of the IntelliFlo pump by taping her electric bill to the showroom display.

"I installed it on my own pool and my electricity bill went down $80 a month," she says. "I don't know if you are like me, but people will say, 'When you buy this new air conditioner, your power bill is going to go down, it's so much more efficient.' And I get my power bill and there's nothing. No change. But this dramatically changed my personal power bill, which is what made me so excited.

"It's not just the money it saves you, but the fact that you are using that much less energy for those who are thinking in a green or global way."

Hayward Pool Products also recently launched its own eco-friendly product line, Energy Solutions, designed to be kinder to the Earth and the cost of pool ownership, says Kevin Potucek, vice president. Products include pumps, a robotic cleaner, filter, heat pump, heater, lighting and Goldline Controls' Pro Logic automation system.

"Probably the single largest energy savings opportunity [we're noticing] is with two-speed and variable-speed TriStar pumps," says Potucek.

The variable-speed TriStar Energy Solution delivers additional features that are particularly well suited for pools that have attached spas where pool owners want variability in jet intensity or for pools that are equipped with water features. When the customer comes in wanting to revamp the look of their backyard and mentions adding a waterfall or something similar, programmable pumps are a great add-on and long-term cost saver.

"We're in general showing a 70 percent dollar-savings opportunity, depending on what part of the country you are in. In Texas for instance, that two-speed pump has a one-year payback. In some place like northern California, that payback is probably four to six months," says Potucek.

Behind The Curtain

Micromanaging the pool through the use of a home automation system has really taken off, and while it's more popular to the buying public as a convenience, manufacturers are eagerly finding ways for consumers to understand its energy-saving purpose, as well.

Incorporating an automated system during the renovation process is a must have for the pool owner on the go. Time is a precious commodity these days and an automated pool makes life that much simpler.

"Controls themselves add flexibility and automation to managing the pool, even if people have got time clocks," says Stuart Baker, vice president of Goldline Controls. "Whenever you've got a proper pool controller, you can have multi-day or weekend settings. You can have settings for different periods of the year."

Not only does automation offer a finer, more optimized control of pump speed, but it also allows "you to do a better job of managing energy-efficient equipment," says Potucek. "You claim more energy savings from it, and at times, it's what actually enables the energy savings in some of the other equipment."

What about other environmentally friendly aspects of an automation system?

Hayward also offers the Sense and Dispense salt chlorine generator control system. Sense and Dispense uses a proportional feed algorithm that continuously tests the water, sampling pH and sanitizer activity, and adjusts chemical feeding on a basis proportional to the demand, says Baker.

"Sense and Dispense has been a big step forward, not just for power management, but also for chemical management," he adds. For the environmentally conscientious consumer who's making changes to their poolscape, incorporating a Sense and Dispense would reduce the amount of chlorine needed in the pool and decrease person-chemical contact time. An additional advantage of the system is that it's one less shipment of chlorine with its potentials for hazard.

Here And There

Little upgrades also mean bigger savings. Potucek recommends owners change over to LED lighting. The lights consume considerably less power and they last a lot longer, not to mention, "you probably have around a 79 percent savings in energy consumption with LED lighting," he adds.

He also suggests owners invest in using a heat pump versus a gas heater, saying cost of heat savings can reach up to 80 percent. While it's still relatively new - and quite expensive - Lopez also recommends looking into a heat exchange system that draws heat collected by the concrete deck.

After reading about this system on the Internet, Lopez pulled the deck up at his personal pool and installed geothermal collectors between the deck and the dirt. "If you see the temperature rise, you are basically just exchanging the heat from the concrete directly to the pipes around the perimeter of the pool and then returning it back to the pool. You can get a temperature rise anywhere between 8 and 12 degrees."

A simpler renovation suggestion is a programmable time clock. Phoenix's swim season ends around the middle of October, says Lopez, but he notes that customers with a typical Intermatic time clock would still allow the pool to run on an eight-hour cycle, even during the off-season.

"So when you have a programmable time clock, you are able to put two program groups in it and set it to the exact day, so it will switch from group A to B, meaning summer and winter," adds Lopez. Oftentimes, Lopez groups the time clock with the standard energy-efficient motor, inviting customers to start with a small, yet affordable eco-friendly renovation.

Upgrading pool cleaners is also something manufacturers and retailers suggest during a renovation. Lopez suggests the Solar-Breeze solar-powered, robotic topical skimmer. The robot skims the pool's surface throughout the day, keeping dust and debris from sinking to the bottom of the pool, reducing the amount of time a pool pump would need to run, says the company.

Because the cleaner operates on solar energy and without pumps, electricity costs are estimated to be 23 less than usual, as well as a 13 reduction of chlorine use, according to Lopez.

Potucek recommends upgrading to an electronic robotic pool cleaner during renovation, which can provide up to a 94 percent energy savings.

"Clearly, when you look at the energy savings opportunity, that falls in very nicely with the big push that's going on in the world at large," says Potucek. "Everybody is paying attention to the energy crisis. We aren't green for the sake of being green. Everything is focused on the payback for the consumer. People are looking for the payback."

What's The Point?

Industry experts say the amount of money saved on power bills because of the new energy-efficient products is remarkable. A product's payback varies throughout the United States.

"I keep going back to Texas and northern California just because it's a great example of where the price of energy is the highest," says Potucek. "That's where your energy savings, your dollar savings, is greatest" - not to mention two states that make up a large percentage of the installed pool base in the United States. "They are two of the top four states in the country in terms of pool population," he adds.

"[Energy is] somewhere around 36 or 37 cents a kilowatt hour in PG&E land. You've got similar costs of energy down in southern California when you're in the third-tier Southern Cal Edison energy plan.

"Texas is down around 16 cents a kilowatt hour, and so the savings aren't as great, but it's still a 12-month season similar to California. Your energy rates in Northeast, like New Jersey or Connecticut, are similar to Texas." But because that part of the United States really operates a five-month-long pool season versus a yearlong season in the Southwest, the payback is longer.

Hampe's summer campaign includes a direct-mail piece to all owners of in-ground pools Paradise has installed since 1981. "What we said to them was that the future of pool care is here now and we talked about the Pentair IntelliFlo pump and their Clean and Clear Cartridge filter."

But Hampe's aware of the challenges marketing to her area will bring. "I like to tell people that South Carolina is 20 years behind the times. It's not as bad as it used to be because we are seeing the same news as everybody else has seen. I think there are people out there thinking green, but they're really not quite there to spend the big bucks."

Like others in the industry, Hampe thinks education is key in raising awareness about the eco-friendly products and the cost and energy savings they bring and is hopeful for a greener and brighter future.

"I want to be out there talking green," says Hampe. "I think we are going to make a strong market for it."

Cleaning House

Get rid of calcium while conserving water

An Arizona-based company is taking water conservation to a new level, offering owners a chemical and mechanical process that physically removes calcium and other hardness minerals from the swimming pool while conserving 100 percent of the water. When customers want to make a few renovations to the pool, why not recommend a service that will help their new pumps, filters and liners last that much longer.

"[The process] removes calcium hardness, as well as lead, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, all the hardness minerals in the pool," says Ken Scheer, vice president of Calsaway Pool Services, located in Tempe. "It also lowers stabilizers, CYA and phosphate, and you never drain a drop of the pool."

Calsaway offers pool owners two different processes to rid the pool of calcium.

"With our original technology, these big filtration trucks come out and on the back of them are 14-foot-long filters that can trap the hardness minerals," says Scheer. "On average, we take out about 300 to 400 pounds. So we needed an industrial-size filter to take it out."

Scheer says Calsaway's newer technology comes in a trailer-mounted unit that can give customers "pure, pretty much drinking water in their swimming pool. That removes the hardness minerals, removes CYA, removes total alkalinity, removes or lowers salt and lowers TDS, as well."

Before Scheer decides which technology to use, he comes to the house, determines the volume of the pool, takes a sample of the water and brings it back to the company's lab to get finite numbers that will determine which is best for the customer.

Like many green improvements, the initial cost can cause a customer to shy away from making the commitment. However, Scheer recommends the process once every two years, and touts its eco-friendly and economical benefits as a selling point.

"Calcium-free water is a lot softer to swim in," says Scheer. "And the less amount of calcium in a pool, the more efficient chemicals will work," reducing chlorine usage, a bonus for people who have sensitive skin, and reducing the monthly chemical bill.

And just to make sure nothing truly goes to waste, the calcium removed from the pool can be reused as filler for asphalt, concrete or as an ingredient in fertilizer.

- J.E.

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