Feature Article - March 2016
Find a printable version here

Energy Boost

Alternative Energy Sources Help Improve Efficiency

By Deborah L. Vence

Increasing energy efficiency remains the No. 1 way in which recreation industry professionals are trying to reduce their operating costs.

In fact, "According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an estimated 41 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2014 was consumed in residential and commercial buildings, so increasing the energy efficiency of the built environment will have a tremendous impact on the overall energy consumption of our nation," said Robert McDonald, senior principal, NCARB, LEED AP, Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative (OLC), an architectural firm based in Denver.

"Recreation and wellness centers especially consume vast amounts of energy," McDonald said, "largely due to their operating hours, large-volume spaces, physical activity levels, levels of comfort expectations and aquatic features."

Operating Efficiencies

There are some effective ways, though, to improve operating efficiencies and reduce energy costs at recreation facilities, one of which is to use regenerative media filters in the aquatic sanitation system.

"Regenerative media filters (RMFs) are the latest technological advance in replacing sand media filter technology," McDonald said. "Sand filters require a frequent backwash cycle in order to cleanse contaminants from the sand media, and every backwash cycle is literally sending money and resources down the drain, because water that has already been heated and treated is used during the backwash cycle."

RMFs have a reduced backwash cycle, which cuts down on the amount of wasted pool water and saves the heating and chemicals related to treating replacement water. For instance, RMFs would save a typical indoor leisure pool with a 2,000 GPM recirculation rate about 2.2 million gallons of water per year.

"This not only improves the operating efficiencies of the facility, but it also reduces the impact on a town's water and wastewater treatment systems, and reduces sewer and water costs," McDonald said.

In addition, water and electricity-efficient laundry appliances can reduce electricity and natural gas bills, as well as reduce water and chemical use. High-efficiency units today clean and dry at faster rates, while reducing staff wait time as well.

Besides that, installing water-reducing plumbing fixtures can save on not only your water bill, but on heating bills as well. Water-reducing shower heads, automatic faucets and automatic flush valves should be considered as part of the energy-efficiency equation, too.

Solar panels, as an alternative energy source, also can be used on a recreation and wellness center, noted Sam Elsheikh, OLC's chief financial officer, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, and director of OLC's Orlando, Fla., office.

"Our life-cycle analyses have shown that the best use of solar panels on an aquatic center is to use a solar hot water system to preheat the pool and domestic hot water systems. Our studies have shown that there is an average 10-year payback on the installation of these alternative systems," Elsheikh said.

Daylight, another benefit that can be reaped from the sun, can be used to supplement the operations of a facility and make them more energy-efficient. "Placing windows and skylights in strategic locations, and the use of light transfer tubes will reduce the reliance upon artificial light sources during the day, which will save energy," he said.

Similarly, Jack Patton, AIA, LEED AP, principal, RDG Planning & Design, Des Moines, Iowa, suggested using sunlight and harvesting natural daylight to illuminate appropriate portions of a facility.

"This can be achieved via direct illumination (sun coming through a window), reflected sunlight (light shelves), dispersed light (skylights, light monitors, semi-transparent walls, borrowed light systems) and more," Patton said. "The travel path of the sun is well known, and our ability as designers to harvest that energy (light) is profoundly important in boosting the energy efficiency of buildings we design."

He also advised using reclaimed water resources.

"A few great questions to pose to yourself on this topic are 'What happens at your facility when it rains?' and 'Where does the rain go?'" he said.

Some of the most energy-efficient facility operators and managers, he noted, harvest the rainwater that hits their facility to do many things, such as water the landscape; flush toilets and urinals, and be used in other graywater systems; offset potable water demands across the board; become part of a building's cooling system; reduce or eliminate the stormwater burden for a campus, municipality or district; and even become an artistic element of a building design.

For any swimming pool, the most effective means of reducing use of resources is through thermal blankets (pool covers). More than 90 percent of heat loss, chemical use and non-backwash water loss occurs at water surface level.

"By creating a barrier between the water and the atmosphere these losses simply stop occurring," explained Justin Caron, principal, Aquatic Design Group, Carlsbad, Calif.

"On an indoor pool, having a pool cover on the pool will allow the HVAC/dehumidification system to ramp down, saving a significant amount of electricity," he said. "There are downsides (mainly labor, safety and storage), but many energy codes mandate their use now because they are so effective."