Supplement Feature - February 2017
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New Ways to Save

Improving Efficiency in Pool Operations

By Chris Gelbach

In recreation facilities nationwide, swimming pools often play an essential role in boosting membership and member satisfaction. They can also hog a big chunk of the budget. So finding ways to operate them more efficiently and effectively is critical.

"Swimming pools are not cheap, but they are loved," said Tina Dittmar, president of the Association of Aquatic Professionals (AOAP) and aquatic supervisor of the Crown Valley Community Pool in Laguna Niguel, Calif. "Somebody will join a gym or a YMCA, or attend a parks and recreation department more readily if a pool is available. Will they use it all the time? Probably not. But they like to know that there's a pool there."

Reducing Energy Expenditures

When targeting reduced costs in operating a pool, technologies that reduce energy expenditures often represent low-hanging fruit for facilities that have not implemented them already.

"The two biggest things you look at when you want to save energy in the pool is the pump and the lighting," said Mike Fowler, who is based in Sanford, N.C., as commercial marketing manager/sales for a major global producer of water quality systems.

For facilities still using incandescent lighting, a switch to LED pool lights within the pool and throughout the aquatic facility alone can add up to thousands of dollars a year in savings.

"There's clearly a little bit more of an initial startup cost when you move to LED, but the energy consumption gives you a payback time that will increase efficiencies long-term. The ability to not have to replace those bulbs as frequently gives you a savings as well," said Shawn DeRosa, director of aquatics and safety officer for campus recreation at Penn State University.

Fowler's company, for instance, produces an LED pool light that uses only 37 watts to create the same light output as the company's halogen pool light does using 161 watts. The LED lights can also last up to 10 times longer than equivalent incandescent bulbs.

An older pump and filtration system can also be a source of significant energy waste, according to Fowler, as the impellers start to erode over time from chemical damage. "When that happens, your pump designed to flow 400 gallons when it was put in is now really only producing 250 to 300 gallons a minute. So you're going to have to run it longer or do other things to make sure you're getting the proper filtration," Fowler said.

As a result, when you start to see rust, the pump is starting to look corroded or you start having to replace motors more often, it might make sense to replace the pump. The decision is made easier by new higher-efficiency models. "A newer pump that we make is maybe 25 to 30 percent more efficient out of the box than the older version that we're still making today," Fowler said.

Recreation facilities that can't currently afford to replace their pump may still be able to experience significant savings by replacing an old open drift proof (ODP) motor with a totally enclosed fan-cooled (TEFC) one. "The implementation of TEFC motors has increased the efficiency factors in a lot of these pumps, and those are also designed to last a lot longer than the old traditional ones," Fowler said.

Likewise, variable frequency drives (VFDs) represent the new standard for energy conservation. "Things like a VFD are important. And if you don't have one in your pool system, you're wasting money," Dittmar said. "This is a good long-term investment." VFDs are also an option that, like a new motor, can be added to an existing pump or as part of a new construction.

At one YMCA client Fowler worked with, the installation of a VFD allowed the facility, which was running too much pump when the facility was closed, to slow down the pump during those overnight hours. They could then ramp the pump back up again an hour before the facility opened to patrons. "They were able to save about $3,700 a year on their energy bill just by streamlining how their pump was working. It almost paid for the drive unit in a year," Fowler said.

Potential savings can also be found in moving to a more efficient heating system, since options available today can be far more efficient than those typically available 15 or 20 years ago. But the potential payback may be longer. "It's through the lighting and the pumps where you're going to see the biggest savings in your facility, because the heaters aren't necessarily running all the time," Fowler said. "In a commercial facility, you're pretty much running the pump 24/7 and the lighting most of the time, as well."

Because of the many technologies available that offer the promise of energy savings, Fowler recommends that aquatic facility managers have a professional come in to conduct an energy audit, particularly if they need their equipment serviced for another reason.

"If they're going to have someone come out and look at a pump, they might as well have them look at everything just to make sure that there isn't a way to make the whole system run more efficiently than it is currently," Fowler said.

The auditor will gather basic information on things like your cost per kilowatt hour and how many hours a day you're running your pool. With this information and a look at your current facility, the auditor can provide information on the monthly savings that you could realize by making particular changes so that you can weigh the return on investment on various options.

Far rarer in practice, but offering the potential for tremendous energy savings, are innovative engineering decisions during the construction-planning phase that offer the potential to leverage the potential of other nearby facilities.

Such was the case at the Crown Valley Community Pool, which was built near a wastewater treatment plant. A heat exchange system was implemented that sends superheated water through pipes from the treatment plant to warm the pool water. It also sends cool water from the pool to the plant to mitigate issues with excess heat when the plant's pumps are operating.

"It's a one-in-a-million situation, but it's been wonderful for us," said Dittmar. "I spend in a year in gas to heat my pool what some other 50-meter pools in southern California will pay in a month in December, January or February." And while the pool does pay fees to contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of the heat exchange system, it's very inexpensive compared to the costs of always using a gas heater to heat the pool.