State and local pool and spa efficiency laws take shape under APSP-15

Scott Webb Headshot

Photo Of Capitol Building, Washington DcPool efficiency laws are ushering in a new age of pool equipment design for residential pools. Led by California's Title 20 and Title 24, and spreading to states such as Arizona and Florida and likely Texas once the biennial legislature convenes this summer, the movement is having a strong effect on the way the pool circulatory system is put together.

This includes pump selection, sizing and speed, pipe size, filter size, automation for the pump, and heaters.

The pool building industry has been in the midst of a revolution for years now, one that will continue for several more, leaving a radically changed design paradigm. People will one day talk about the old style of building pools with mighty single-speed pumps and spindly little pipes the way they talk about muscle cars with V8s and four-barreled carburetors, only with considerably less nostalgia.

Even as states and municipalities are passing regulations, the APSP is trying to unify these different laws under a national consensus standard, APSP-15, instead of a hodgepodge of conflicting state and local strictures.

APSP-15 is roughly modeled after Title 20 and Title 24, with a few changes. For instance, sweep elbows - originally deemed important because they save a significant amount of energy at high flow rates - offer diminished returns at the lower flow rates mandated by the new standard. So while they are recommended they are not mandated by APSP-15.

It is important to understand that these regulations only apply to the swimming pool filtration system, not booster pumps, spa pumps, feature pumps and their associated piping systems. Just as important is the big picture - pools have to be designed and built so that they consume less energy in operation. That's critical, says Steve Barnes, safety and compliance manager, Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Sanford, N.C., and chairman of APSP's technical committee. When the public realizes that pools are much more efficient and cheaper to operate, they will sell better.

Making The List

With the exception of Connecticut's new law, the new regulations focus on the filtration pump, and for fairly obvious reasons. Pumps that drive water features or spas are used a tiny fraction of the time that filtration pumps are used, and therefore their potential for energy savings is very limited.

California currently has a list of approved pumps, and any filtration pump sold in that state has to be on it. It's that simple. States like Florida that are following suit, and ultimately APSP's national standard, will have a list of approved filtration pumps that mirrors California's.

This list was compiled by rejecting less-efficient motors such as split-phase motors and capacitor-start, induction run motors, which simply waste energy, turning it into useless heat, which not only drives up utility costs but shortens motor life.

"Split-phase motors make pretty good space heaters, but not very good pumps," says Barnes, but efficiency is the key - the ability to turn a kilowatt of electric power into the most useful torque on an impeller shaft - not the technology of the pump. "The intent of the APSP-15 committee is to ultimately provide minimum efficiency levels without prescribing the technology required. Much like pool heaters, they must have a minimum efficiency, regardless of the technology used."

Totally Wasted Electrons

Beyond the elimination of certain types of single-speed pumps, their overall use is severely curtailed in the consensus standard on pool building. They used to be the staple of the industry, but have been exposed in recent years for their inflexibility. In general, pumps need to run at a low speed for filtration, and at a higher speed for tasks like backwashing and vacuuming. The only single-speed pumps you can use in code-adopting states are ones less than 1 hp. You can't use a 1-hp or a 1.5-hp or a 2-hp single-speed pump anymore, period.

Another way to put it is that any pump you use, 1-hp and above, must be multi-speed.

Obviously, if you are using a two-speed or multiple-speed pump, you'll need to be able to switch from high to low speed and all the speeds in between. Controls are necessary to do that, and they are mandated in the new codes.

Legislators hope the use of automation can eliminate some waste due to forgetful homeowners leaving pumps on when they're not needed.

"The point being," says Barnes, "to prevent someone from flipping the pump on high at their winter home in Florida for the party they're going to have that night, packing up and leaving the next day, and six weeks later getting bill for $400 instead of $80, and realizing they left the pump on high.

"You need controls that can default back to the filtration speed or low speed (in the case of a two-speed) within 24 hours after running at a higher speed.

"You should be able to run your equipment as much as you want, but they don't want it to be left on inadvertently. They're trying to get the 'Oops, we left it on' waste out of the system."

Too Small

Up and downstream of the pump, the new standards sound the death knell for another formerly popular but outdated item, the 1.5-inch pipe, which can only be used on the very smallest of pools in the filtration system. Consider the table below and note 1.5-inch pipe can be used on the return side of pools up to 18,000 gallons.

Pipes must now accommodate filtration flow such that it does not exceed 8 fps on return side, 6 fps on the suction side, after a nominal flow rate is calculated based on a six-hour turnover time.

chart of pool gallons/minimum pipe sizes

For a 15,000-gallon pool, then, the nominal filtration flow rate is 42 gpm.* Checking pipe size tables reveals that a 2-inch pipe is required to accommodate that flow. This example illustrates how the regs end up forcing bigger pipes and smaller pumps - their overall goal.

Savvy builders will not be surprised or inconvenienced by any of this, notes Barnes.

"The guy that was using a 3-hp pump, inch and a half pipe, and the little cartridge filter, he's not going to be upset by this because he went out of business two years ago. Everybody that's left should be OK."

Crank It Up

As for heaters, they have to have a readily accessible on-off switch mounted on the outside of the heater that allows the heater to be turned on and off without adjusting the thermostat setting. This is a rather brilliant idea that prevents waste through monkeying with the thermostat in a vain effort to make the pool heat more rapidly.

Many people figure to get their pool (or their car, or their house) to heat more quickly by turning the thermostat way up, thinking that once it's warm, they'll turn it down. Unfortunately, pools, cars and homes heat at exactly the same rate whether the thermostat is set at the desired level or 120 degrees. The only difference is the propensity to overheat and waste money. Having a prominent on-off switch on heaters seeks to reduce the temptation to crank it up and then crank it back down.

The Pinch Of Mandate

It's always hard to work with the government, but with the new efficiency codes and APSP's emerging national standard, APSP-15, it's in every pool builder's best interest to learn the fundamentals of the new pool codes and follow them. Why? Because following these guidelines will dramatically reduce the drain on a pool owner's finances and the country's resources, leaving the pool industry with an enhanced image. And in a growing number of areas, it's the law.

The opinion is sometimes expressed by industry personnel working in the field that these evolving energy efficiency codes are simply a burden that has been placed upon our industry by a bumbling and over-eager government. Whether or not that's true, the fact is that elected representatives across the nation have decided that pools have to become more efficient.

They are struggling to affect this change through sporadic code-writing, which has not generally been well coordinated on a national level. APSP is trying to provide that higher-level vision which will result in a more workable solution to the problem, but either way, pools are destined to lose the energy-hog tag they have received over the first 50 years of the industry's history.

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

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