Feature Article - May 2016
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Aquatic Evolution

Design Trends in Outdoor Aquatic Facilities

By Dave Ramont

Eye on Sustainability

There are other forces at play that influence design trends. Berkshire said that it seems like there's always some kind of underlying theme every few years that tends to direct the industry. "We've seen things like VGB (The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act) that came in and really started driving the industry for a couple of years, everybody having to make sure their aquatic centers were VGB-compliant. Then ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations came in after the VGB, and that became a big hot button and all pools had to be accessible and inclusive to meet the requirements for ADA accessibility."

He went on to say that once the economy took a downturn, everyone started looking at things driving the industry like sustainability: How to reduce water usage? How to reduce labor requirements? How to make these things more cost-effective from an operation standpoint? "And now we're seeing the economy starting to take back off, and so there's a lot of pent-up demand within the industry," he added. "At our level we see that first with lots of studies where cities and communities want to plan for how they might go into satisfying the needs for aquatics within a community or school or university, whatever that might be. So that's kind of the big picture of where we see things."

But even as the economy continues to improve and budgets are loosening, sustainability from an environmental standpoint is not going away any time soon. Conservation and green features will surely continue to be part of design trends going forward.

LaLonde and Klarck related how energy codes are catching up to LEED requirements. (LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.) In the state of Illinois, where Williams Architects is based, pools that are heated now require covers. (This applies to any state that has adopted the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code.) Covers minimize evaporation from the pool, which saves on energy by not having to re-heat the water.

They went on to point out other popular eco-friendly features, such as regenerative filtration, which uses minimal water, thus requiring less heating and makeup chemicals, and provides longer filter runs and superior water quality. "A regenerative filter also has a very small footprint, which can reduce the size of the filter building, therefore reducing building costs."

VFDs (variable frequency drives) also conserve energy, extending the life of a pump and allowing fine-tuning of flow (better control). "The VFDs can be interlocked with flow meters for the circulation pump, which will ramp the pump speed up as the filter gets dirty," they explained.

LaLonde and Klarck encourage clients to specify high-efficiency water heaters as budget allows. These water heaters typically run at 97 percent efficiency and provide other benefits, such as having a sealed combustion and exhaust so they are not exposed to the corrosive elements in the mechanical room, which extends the life of the heater. They added that "the combustion air and exhaust can be piped in PVC pipe, thus reducing large duct work. The heaters are smaller, which results in a smaller building footprint, reducing costs as well."

They also encourage clients to install a system controller, which operates and monitors the entire filtration system. System controllers have the capability of connecting remotely, which means the controller can be accessed from smartphones, tablets and computers. "This provides more direct control along with more efficient and effective operation, potentially reducing staff time. The controller is interlocked with the water heater, level control, filter and circulation pump, as well as feature pumps. All these items can be viewed on the system controller and can be customized to different degrees of control," they said.

For the bathhouse, some energy-saving concepts LaLonde and Klarck typically include are solar power for the water heater, photovoltaics for electric power, and natural daylighting and ventilation. They also use LED fixtures and in some instances solar-powered site lighting, plus automatic flush valves and on/off faucets.

With regard to energy conservation, Whiteaker concurred with the use of regenerative filters, VFDs and pool covers. He also pointed out other green features such as water chemistry automation, to provide sanitary water conditions and efficient use of sanitation products, as well as supplemental sanitation, such as UV systems, to remove potentially dangerous pathogens that can harm users and mitigate the byproducts of disinfection.