By Bob Dumas, Technical Editor

Showing customers how to save on their energy bills can help you keep accounts, and profit from selling and installing aftermarket products.

In a struggling economy, service technicians need to focus more than ever on proving their worth ? or risk becoming victims of household budget cuts. Helping to make clients? pools as energy-efficient as possible is one of the best ways to make yourself invaluable.

Energy-efficient pools save customers hundreds of dollars in operating costs and also make your job easier, freeing up time to add more pools to your route.

Converting to an energy-saving pool also gives you an opportunity to do some aftermarket selling and installing. Cost-saving heaters, energy-efficient pump motors, covers, fencing and rockscapes all can boost your bottom line.

The U.S. Department of Energy?s Reduced Swimming Pool Energy Costs (RSPEC) Program offers an array of tips and information to help technicians and pool operators make pools more energy-friendly. Those pointers, combined with some savvy advice from veteran service technicians, should set you on the road toward saving your clients money, while at the same time making a little extra for your company coffers.

Cover me

One of the best ways to accomplish both goals is by installing a cover. In fact, covering the pool is the single most effective means of reducing heating costs, resulting in savings ranging from 50- to 70 percent, according to the DOE. Pools lose energy in a variety of ways, but evaporation is by far the largest source of energy loss for swimming pools.

Evaporation wastes a tremendous amount of heat energy. It takes only 1 Btu to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree, but every pound of water that evaporates removes 1048 Btus of heat from the pool, according to the DOE.

?The Red Cross recommends 78 degrees [for optimal swimming temperature], but just to bump it to 82 degrees will [result in] an [expense] increase of more than 40 percent in an uncovered pool,? says Bob Blade, owner of Aloha Pool & Spa, a service company based in Pacific Grove, Calif.

How much water a pool loses to evaporation depends on several factors: Water and air temperature, the humidity level, and wind speed at the water?s surface all play a role in evaporation rates. Seventy percent of energy loss in both outdoor and indoor pools is the result of evaporation. The remaining energy loss may be traced to radiation to the sky, losses to ground and losses to ventilation. With evaporation being such a major source of heat loss, covering the pool makes a lot of sense.

Of course, there are some other factors to consider. The DOE says that outdoor pools absorb 75- to 85 percent of the sunlight striking the pool surface. This phenomenon is called solar gain, and the type of cover used ? be it upscale automatic or relatively inexpensive bubble or solar covers ? determines how much solar gain will be lost from covering the pool. For example, a transparent bubble cover may reduce solar gain by 5 to 15 percent, and an opaque cover by 20 to 40 percent.

?I think solar (bubble) covers are the best [for saving energy],? Blade says. ?They can gain you 10 degrees of heat. It might even get [the water] too hot. But then you can just pull [the cover] back and let it breathe. The prices are really low, but the drawback is that they are ugly and kind of hard to handle.?

However, some service techs say using a solar cover involves a bit of a trade-off.

?The problem with solar covers is that while you are raising the temperature of the water, you also allow a lot of debris into the pool,? says Jim King, service manager of San Diego Pools, a construction and service company in San Diego. ?So, if you are using them to save on heating costs, then, yes. But in terms of filtration and chemical costs, then, no, they don?t really save anything.?

King says automatic covers do a better job at keeping debris at bay and thus save the customer more in terms of chemical costs. The filter will also run more efficiently.

In dry and/or windy conditions, the evaporation rate of the pool increases, so it becomes beneficial to have a transparent cover on during daylight hours. In warm, humid conditions, the evaporation rate decreases and it may be more energy-efficient to leave the cover off during the daytime.

Covers present two other benefits to the service tech as well. First, the cover will reduce the amount of dirt and debris in the pool, resulting in a cleaner pool and making your job easier. This will ease the burden of the filter specifically and the circulation system in general. Covers are also a good way to get a start in sales of aftermarket products.

Updating the equipment

Covers aren?t the only energy-saving add-ons you can offer customers. Manufacturers currently are making a wide array of pool components and equipment more energy-friendly. As a service tech, you can point out the benefits and savings these improved devices will provide, as well as profit from selling and installing the parts to the customer yourself. ?Installation is where you make the most money,? Blade says. ?And once you get into a project, [if it grows larger] you can sell even more.?

Here?s a look at some possibilities:


Across the nation, electronic ignition heaters have begun to supplant the older millivolt heaters with pilot lights. Several states, such as California, have banned millivolt heaters ? citing pollution issues from the continuous pilot ? although they remain popular in places like Florida.

Most research puts electronic ignition heaters at approximately 82 percent efficient and millivolt heaters at 68 percent. However, the DOE says there are some high-efficiency gas-heating systems available with steady state efficiencies as high as 97 percent.

Although heater replacement costs extra money, it will be recovered quickly in energy savings. Many manufacturers provide data illustrating exactly how much pool owners can save with a more environmentally friendly heater. Such statistics can aid you as a selling tool.

?There can be a $60 a year savings if you have an electronic ignition instead of a pilot [light],? Blade says. ?The fuel savings alone pays for the heater.?

However, King says it is not the electronic ignition itself that makes the heaters more efficient. ?While I?m sure something is saved by not having a pilot light, I doubt that it?s very much,? he says. ?The efficiency comes in the new ways the interior of heaters are being designed. The heat exchangers are better.?

Regardless of what type of heater your customer has, it should be kept in top-notch running condition. In addition, shut the heater down if you know the pool will be unused for three days or more.

?I recommend a biannual inspection [of the heater],? says Blade. ?Twenty minutes [of inspection] could save them $200 a year [on their heating bill]. Things tend to get jammed and plugged in there, so you want to take a look.?

Pumps and motors

Using properly sized, energy-efficient pumps and motors when replacing older models (or building a new pool) will significantly lower electrical consumption. Pump motors can use many times their initial cost in energy consumption over their lifetimes and often can consume several times their cost in the first year alone, according to the DOE. The savings from an energy-efficient motor can pay for itself in a very short time.

It?s not difficult to find an energy-efficient replacement, according to Blade. ?A lot of manufacturers are making energy-efficient motors,? he says. ?It?s become more of the norm. In fact, some distributors only stock those.?

For example, manufacturers have developed energy-efficient 1-horsepower motors that pump the same amount of water as their counterparts, but use half the electricity.

In fact, power companies in some cities and states are offering rebates to homeowners who switch to a less powerful circulation pump.

?In the San Diego area, the utilities are offering a $200 rebate if you downsize by 1 horsepower on the filter pump,? King says. Newer pumps are more efficient because they use closed-face impellers as opposed to the open-face impeller in older models, he says. Closed-face impellers can double the turnover rate, but techs still must be careful to make sure they?re providing the proper turnover.

The advent of two-speed pump motors that draw fewer amps and run cooler on the low setting also contributes to energy savings. The low speed will move the water more slowly through the circulation system, thus requiring more ?on? time for a complete turnover. But a two-speed motor set on low speed still will save money compared with a single-speed motor working for less time because it uses fewer amps.

The slower flow rates also will mean better filtration, says King. And if the installation includes a spa, say experts, you may want to install a dedicated pump for the spa jets and automatic cleaner. Because jet pumps are off more than they?re on, the system can use a smaller (and less expensive) motor for filtration. No reserve flow will be needed to power those jets, the cleaner, or anything else connected to the circulation system such as waterfeatures.

Blade agrees, saying that if the system isn?t split, ?you are running at a higher pressure with a lower flow. Filters are rated at 50 psi maximum and if you are always running them, you can compromise the seal.?


The DOE recommends replacing inefficient incandescent lamps with high-efficiency, compact fluorescents. They consume half to one-third the amount of electricity and last 10 times longer than standard incandescent lamps. The Department also recommends replacing standard fluorescent ballasts and lamps with electronic ballasts and T-8 lamps to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent.

The cost of energy-efficient lighting is initially higher, but the combination of energy savings and labor savings on replacements will far offset the initial costs, particularly in cases where lights are left on for several hours a day.

[This article is a reprint from Pool & Spa News, November 2001.]