Guest Column - March 2010
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Keep Pools Open in Challenging Times
'Green' Pools and the Virginia Graeme Baker Act

By Steve Barnes

As operators of public and commercial pools watch budgets shrink in the face of the current economic downturn, operational cost savings become essential to balance their books, sustain operations and, in the case of commercial pools, turn a profit.

On top of that, the passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) mandated that public and commercial pool operators invest in new anti-entrapment equipment. Some pool operators delayed opening pools to await the installation of new drain covers and other equipment to meet VGBA compliance standards, while a surprisingly large number of pools are still not in compliance.

Fortunately, it is possible for pool operators to lower operating costs and meet VGBA safety requirements thanks to advances in pool and spa technology. What's more, the relatively modest expense to upgrade equipment can be quickly repaid by the savings in energy bills and maintenance costs.

Safety First

Before anything else, pools should be brought into compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007. The act deals with the threat of entrapment, which is by definition any accident that traps a swimmer underneath the water, a hazard that can be all but completely eliminated by some relatively simple equipment upgrades and proper maintenance.

The initial requirement of the law is actually fairly simple: Replace all submerged drain covers and safety drain covers with new covers certified to the ASME A112.19.8-2007 standard.

After that, pools and spas with a single main drain system (other than an unblockable drain) must also be equipped with one or more additional devices designed to prevent suction entrapment that meet the requirements of the ASME/ANSI A112.19.17 SVRS Standard or applicable consumer product safety rules.

Energy Savings Can Offset Investment Costs

The good news is that energy savings can quickly repay the investment and provide thousands of dollars of additional savings over the course of the pump's life. For pools and spas that require a vacuum relief system, replacing the filter pump or pumps with those including safety vacuum release systems, or SVRS, can provide the opportunity for substantial gains in energy efficiency, which translates into significantly lower electric bills.

Energy savings are achieved through the use of variable-frequency drive technology, widely used in other industries that demand hydraulic efficiency and recently adapted into variable-drive and variable-speed pool pumps. In a standard hydraulic system, motor speed is almost always locked at too high a flow rate, wasting energy. In many mechanical applications, the lowest effective speed will be the most efficient.

A variable-drive or variable-speed system can be programmed to meet the exact requirements of the pool at any given time, allowing the system to operate at much lower rates throughout the day. The technology is more common in residential pools, but the potential for energy savings is actually much greater in public pools, where the pumps may be required to run 24 hours a day. Pools using pumps 3 horsepower or smaller will be able to use the same variable-speed pool pumps proven to lower energy requirements by up to 90 percent in residential pools. Installers may also identify opportunities where a smaller variable-speed pump can replace a larger single-speed pump. Commercial variable frequency drive systems have recently become available for the largest applications.

All SVRS-integrated models currently on the market use the programmable variable speed technology recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council and electric utilities nationwide.

Variable speed pumps with SVRS offer a unique opportunity to lower operating costs and satisfy VGB requirements, and there are even rebates available from utilities and municipalities in many communities. Due to the dramatic electricity savings possible, facilities already in compliance should still consider investing in variable drive technology.