Along with providing a refreshing place to unwind, traditional pools offer homeowners something less desirable: a hefty electricity bill. Because the water needs to be pumped, filtered and kept warm, swimming pools use a lot of energy. Installing the right-size pump, circulating the water, reducing water and heat loss, and heating the pool more efficiently are among the top ways homeowners can save the most money and energy.
According to Jeff Farlow, program manager of energy initiatives at Pentair Water Pool and Spa in Sanford, North Carolina, homeowners can greatly reduce the electricity used by their pool by installing a variable-speed pool pump. Farlow says a typical single-speed 1.5 horsepower pump can easily draw 2,200 watts and may run from six to eight hours a day. “To replace that with a variable-speed pump, it’s very easy to get your wattage consumption down into the 200- to 300-watt range and actually improve your performance and make your pool cleaner,” he says.
Because it’s using less watts, the pump will need to run between 10 and 15 hours per day in order to pump the equivalent amount of water. This is because a variable-speed pump can slow down water circulation. But this lower speed doesn’t mean a dirtier pool; in fact, the reduced pressure allows the filter to remove much smaller particles because the water is moving more gently. “You’re running it longer and filtering it better,” says Farlow.
Alexander Culjak of Alexander Pools and Spas Inc. in Satellite Beach, Florida, agrees that a variable-speed pump is one of the best ways for pool owners to save money and power. Culjak says the pumps are “90% effective” and recommends them to most of his customers. “They cost more, but in electricity alone you get your money back after the first year,” he says. Another option to make a pool greener, according to Cujak, is to install diatomaceous earth (DE) filters. These filters need to be cleaned about four times a year, substantially less than traditional filters, which require weekly cleanings. They also filter more effectively and leave pools cleaner.
And one of the simplest ways to keep your pool’s energy in check is to use a pool cover. An outdoor pool loses 70% of its energy through evaporation; covering the pool when not in use can bring 50%-70% energy savings according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Using solar energy is another way to make pools more environmentally friendly. Todd Franzen of Todd Solar Engineering in Norco, California, estimates that solar energy can lower monthly electric bills by $50 to $100. “It generally has a payback of 18 to 24 months,” he says. For pool heating, solar collectors are mounted on the roof of a house, poolhouse or backyard shed. If it’s only heating your pool, a less expensive unglazed collector will work—one made with strong rubber or plastic that doesn’t have a glass covering. Pool water circulates through the collector via a pump and a filter keeps out debris.
The cost of installing solar panels for a pool system is $4,500-$5,500 for an average-sized pool—typically the collection area needs to be at least half the size of the pool’s surface area. Installation takes a day or two. Once installed, collectors are impervious to chem-icals and have a life ex-pectancy of over 20 years.
Alex Barloewen, a homeowner in Los An-geles, California, couldn’t be happier his eco-friendly pool equipment. When remodeling his 28-year-old pool, he installed solar collectors, changed to a variable speed pump and switched to a saltwater system, which generates its own chlorine. “Utility costs are about half. I was spending probably $100 a month for just the pool and now it’s down around $50,” says Barloewen.
In addition to being a money-saver, saltwater pools contain lower levels of chlorine than traditional pools and are free of the many potentially irritating additives and byproducts present in most chlorine mixtures. He’s also experienced warmer water in the past year than he’s ever had. “We finished work in May and swam from then until October in 85-degree water, all heated by solar,” says Barloewen.
Those wanting to forgo chemicals all together could instead install a “natural pool.” These pools use no chlorine and blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, complete with wood or stone borders and lots of vegetation. In fact, natural pools look so dissimilar to traditional pools that they could be mistaken for old-fashioned swimming holes. They’re able to provide crystal-clear water with the aid of skimmers, pumps, natural aquatic plants and “regeneration zones,” which help to keep the water moving and filtered. You”ll have to pay a little more for a natural pool, and suffer through some algae the first year until the water plants establish, but it”ll do wonders for your backyard beauty.