by Rob Cox June 4, 2013
Swimming pools can consume a lot of energy in circulating, heating and lighting. They can waste a lot of water through evaporation, leaks and backwashing the filters.
However - with proper methods and modern pool technology, you can reduce your swimming pool's impact on the environment.
Reduce is the key word, and the keyword, of the day.
I don't know of the actual impact of the production and transport and waste packaging of the swimming pool chemical industry, but I'm guessing the cumulative effects are measurably large.
Reducing pool chemical use of unnecessary pool chemicals - is a good thing. Some people feel like they need to buy 19 kinds of pool chemicals to maintain the pool. If your filtration and circulation is good, you should need only balanced water and a sanitizer level. Adjustment chemicals for pH, alkalinity, calcium and conditioner are necessary to have on hand. Algaecide, clarifiers, stain & scale treatments, etc... - maybe not. Use only if you need them and if not, reduce!
Chlorine is also a necessary chemical for most pool owners, but it can be reduced - cut in half, when you add mineral or ozone purifiers to your water treatment regimen. With good filtration, a proper cyanuric acid and pH level, you can run your pool under 1.0 ppm of chlorine, reducing your chlorine usage by at least 50%.
Another way to reduce, actually eliminate your need to buy chlorine, and reduce the worldwide demand for chlorinated pool products - is to install a salt chlorine generator on your pool and manufacture your own chlorine. Modern salt systems are full of user friendly features and have come down in cost in the last few years. Just connect the unit and controller, and add salt to the pool.
Regular testing and balancing of the pool water is helpful to maintaining a pool that requires fewer chemicals. Good filtration and circulation are also important, and if any of these is lacking, chemical use must increase, as compensation.
Pool pumps are the largest energy hog on the equipment pad. In some parts of the country, energy costs are at a premium, and a standard pool pump can cost hundreds of dollars per month to operate. States with many pools (az, ca, fl, tx) have a problem with pool pump energy use, and have passed laws requiring new pumps, or replacement pumps, over 1 hp, to be either Variable Speed or Dual Speed, to reduce demand.
Prices for Variable speed pumps are beginning to drop. Hayward recently introduced a line of less expensive variable speed pumps, mounted on the familiar chassis of the Superpump and Max-Flo pumps. For a pump that costs only about 50% more, it can reduce energy consumption by 75%.
For standard pumps, reduce usage with a timeclock, set to operate during off peak energy use hours, and run fo just enough time to properly filter all of the pool water daily. For most pools, during the summer season, you should turnover, or filter all of the water, 1 to 1.5 times daily. For most pumps, this equates to 8-12 hours of operation.
You can experiment by reducing the pump's run time every few days, until you notice the water lose a bit of clarity - then add another hour or so above this minimum. Keep in mind that during hotter weather, storms or high use, more filtering will be needed.
Pool Lighting is another energy consumer. 500 watt bulbs of last century will probably soon be unavailable. Halogen bulbs offer better economy, but the LED lightbulb is the future of pool lighting. Consuming very low energy, and very long lasting, LED bulbs give a pronounced reduction in energy use for pools that use the lights frequently.
In some areas, commercial pools are being required to replace pool lights with LED lamps, or replace the bulbs with LED bulbs.
Another advantage of LED lighting is Color! LED pool lights can bathe your pool in a palette of different colors and even display light shows of changing colors.
In some parts of the country, water restrictions are a reality. Your pool may be a water hog - taking up more than it's share of a valuable resource.
Evaporation can take 1/4 in. of water from your pool on a hot day. Using solar covers, automatic covers or liquid solar blankets can reduce evaporation tremendously. Wind will accelerate evaporation; using wind blocks on the windward side of the pool can be another effective way to reduce evaporation.
Leaks in the pool could be hardly noticeable if they are small, and they usually are small. A big leak is something over 1/4 in. per day, and it should be found and fixed to save water, but also to prevent damage to the supporting soils around the pool.
To see if you have a leak, you can perform the 'bucket test'. Fill a 5 gallon bucket halfway full of water and place it on the top step or swimout of the pool. Use a marker or tape to mark the pool water level on the outside of the bucket and the bucket water level on the inside of the bucket. After 24 hours, mark & measure the water level inside and outside of the bucket. If they are different, the pool has a leak.
Backwashing the filter can waste 1-2 inches of water for a sand or DE filter. Cartridge filters use much less, since backwashing is not done, cartridges are rinsed off with a garden hose, using only a fraction of the amount that DE or sand filters use.
For DE filters, you can bump the filter to extend your filter cycles and backwash less. A 'bump' is a quick backwash, only for 10 seconds or less. When the DE just begins to flush out, shut off the pump and return the filter valve to the filter position. You should see the pressure gauge now lower, and it should stay lower for a week or more, before another bump is needed. Eventually, a full backwash will be needed, but this method can considerably reduce the annual water loss through backwashing.
Backwashing only when needed should be mentioned. Some folks backwash every week, whether they need to or not. These are the same people, I believe, who shock the pool every week, whether it needs it or not. Wait until the pressure gauge tells you to backwash, which will be 8-10 lbs above the clean pressure, or when you notice that flow rates are considerably diminished.
I believe that everyone would like to reduce their impact, and reduce their costs - if the pain of change' is minimized and benefits are amplified. It's also got to be easy to implement and operate.
If change involves new pool equipment, the equipment needs to be priced close to standard equipment. Even if payback is within a few years, no one wants to pay 3x the cost for an energy efficient pump or pool light, for example.
Just like hybrid automobiles; now that some are just 25% more than their standard version, adoption is much greater. As prices continue to reduce for pool owners on energy efficient pumps and lights, and for salt systems and other ecofriendly pool products, I predict that we'll also see greater use. I also predict the increase in laws requiring pools to use certain equipment, to reduce energy, water or chemical use.
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