by Rob Cox, October 18, 2009
Money is tight all around the country, and around the world for that matter. Time for a little belt-cinching perhaps? There are several things you can do in your daily, weekly and monthly pool chores to reduce the cost of pool ownership. And, because all of these methods reduce demand on the energy grid, or on production or transportation of goods to market ~ you can feel good about helping the environment, and your pocketbook at the same time.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of pool operation is to run your pump less. Safer to use a timer clock to automatically start and stop your pump, many times per day if desired. Timers range from simple plug-in devices, to elaborate controller systems with remote control. With the use of a time clock, you can experiment with reducing the filtration time per day. Cut back 2 hours, and watch the pool for changes in water clarity and overall cleanliness. If it still looks OK, cut back two more hours. Continue in this way until you do notice hazy water, or small algae blooms. Balance the water and shock the pool, and increase the clock by 2-4 hours per day.
Most in ground pool filter systems are designed with a turnover capacity of 8 hours. The pump are filter and piping is designed for a flow rate that will pump all of the water in the pool through the filter, in an 8 hour timespan. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to "turn over" all of your pool water everyday. Assuming that your pool pump does turn over all of your pool water in an 8 hour period, this would be the lowest level that you may want to filter your pool per day. 8 hours. However, during the colder parts of winter, when the water temperature is in the 40's, you may be able to filter the pool, (run the pump) as little as 4 hours per day, and still maintain water clarity.
Operating your pump during the "non-peak" hours can help you save money while reducing demand on the grid. Go to your local utility company's website and do a site search for "Peak hours". Also search for "pool pump rebates" and "swimming pools". Electric companies are offering pool owners great incentives in some areas, to reduce the demand on the grid. California utilities are soon required to supply 20% of their energy from renewable resources, such as solar power. Other states or areas of large demand will soon follow, by looking for ways to provide energy more efficiently to their customers. So, check out your local Utility company website!
If you want to save money, but also like the idea of constant movement of the water - you may consider a two speed or variable speed pump. The two speed pump was invented for those pools that don't winterize, but it does get cold in the winter. Sometime around Halloween, the pump can be set on low speed much of the time, or even all of the time. Those with two speed pumps see an average savings of 50% on their pump electric bill. Variable speed pool pumps can save even more. Replacing your existing motor with a two speed motor and a two speed timeclock can be done, saving the cost of replacing the entire pump. For aboveground single speed pumps, you can replace with a handy two speed end cap switch that converts above ground pumps into a two speed pool pump. Payback on an upgrade can be as rapid as 1-2 years.
If you see steam rising off of your pool this time of year, imagine it as small winged dollar bills rising up in the air! Reducing your thermostat just 1 degree Fahrenheit can save 10% on your gas bill. Covering your pool when not in use, manually or automatically, will save over 80% of heat lost. Wind is the largest heat thief around a pool, and hedges, fences and other wind blocks helps conserve. Solar blankets and Liquid Solar Blankets are a cheap way to reduce heat loss and evaporation.
Solar heat can be added to a gas heated pool, or can replace the need for fossil fuel pool heating. Because solar heat is a renewable resource, many local utilities are offering rebates or other incentives to encourage solar pool heating. Another payback item, initial cost can be deterrent, but if you enjoy a heated pool, your payback on a solar system can be very rapid. Another great thing about solar pool heating is the lack of repairs. Simple systems, solar pool heaters are much less trouble than fossil fuel heaters.
Reducing your chemical purchasing will obviously save money. But at what expense? If you are already reducing your pumping time, you may actually need more sanitizer to compensate. Chlorine is arguably the largest chemical expense around a pool. Salt systems can save you money. With a salt system, you no longer have to buy chorine, only salt - and salt is quite a bit cheaper than chlorine. Salt Chlorine Generator Systems have come down a lot in price lately, with many more options available, but they still cost several hundred dollars to purchase and replace. You are reducing chlorine production and transport, however. Which some point to as the largest benefit.
Nature2 purifiers are a great method to reduce chlorine demand. With a $100 Nature2 Express system, (up to 25,000 gals) you will cut your chlorine use in half. The water also takes on a sparkling quality. Nature2 uses copper and silver ions to purify and sanitize. You still need to use some chlorine, but only .5ppm or less. This is about 2 chlorine tablets per week, in a 25,000 gal pool. Not a huge savings here, because you will need to replace the Nature2 cartridge every 6 months of use, at $89. But again, the production and transport of chlorine products is reduced.
I always told my customers to buy the cheapest chlorine they could find, as they are chemically identical. There are some high priced chemical lines available, but I have always had great success with the cheaper brands. As you shop, compare the Active Ingredients and the % Available Chlorine. This works for other chemicals as well, such as Algaecides and Enzymes. Speaking of these, do you need to use Algaecide and Enzymes, and all of those other specialty chemicals? Well, you should keep your pH, Alkalinity and Calcium levels balanced. So, you'll need these Balance Chemicals. If you don't have a recurring algae problem, you may not need to use algaecide on a regular basis. Chlorine, after all, is a great algae-cide. If you do have a recurring algae problem, look to a Phosphate Remover chemical. Enzymes are great for heavily used pools, or pools with smaller filters, or for closing a pool with a mesh cover. But they aren't necessarily needed for every pool.
DE filters require recharging the DE filter powder after backwashing. Here's a trick from the field - If you are out of stock on your DE powder, or just want to extend the life of the cake,you can "Bump" the filter. Bumping the filter is simply backwashing for only 10-15 seconds. When you begin to see white in the backwash sightglass, shut off the pump, and put the valve back to the filter position. I once knew a pool service guy who bragged about never backwashing the DE filters on his service routes. He bumped them once per week, and added 1 small cup of DE powder per month. He probably saved several hundred dollars per year on DE filter powder. But eventually, you will need to do a full backwash.
If you have looked at your water bill lately, you usually will see a portion of the bill for your Sewer usage, and a portion for your Water usage. If you drain and refill your pool, or top off your pool with several thousand gallons, you can sometimes get billed for only the Water portion (since it is not returning to the Sewer system) - if you let your water authority know. Check the website of your water authority or company, and do a site search for "swimming pool". You will likely find information regarding pool water use and billing. They may have a form to fill out, and you may have to check the house water meter before and after filling. Some water authorities may install a separate water meter on fill spouts dedicated to filling the pool.
Reducing waste water from the pool from backwashing and splashout will save you money while reducing the treatment of the water. Reducing evaporation, however, is the largest single thing you can do to save water around the pool. On a hot day, evaporation of 1/4" is not uncommon. Using a pool cover, wind blocks and heat reduction in the pool will go a long way to reducing your pool evaporation - saving you money. For more information on reducing evaporation in swimming pools.