Karen Maserjian Shan
For the Poughkeepsie Journal 6:53 p.m. EDT June 13, 2015
Splashing around in a backyard swimming pool certainly is a fun way to beat the summer’s heat.
Yet homeowner swimming pools typically require plenty of water and power and harsh chemicals to keep them in top shape, all of which can have a negative impact on the environment.
Carvin DiGiovanni, vice president of technical and standards at the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, said today’s consumers want green solutions.
“Nearly two-thirds of businesses say customers demand they offer more environmentally considerate solutions,” DiGiovanni said by email. “Eighty-eight percent of consumers feel a responsibility to purchase environmentally responsible products.”
Of primary concern for residential swimming pool owners, are water usage, ease of maintenance, avoiding harsh chemicals and energy conservation.
“Consumers are interested in conserving energy and preventing the loss of water unnecessarily with written standards and code addressing conservation slowly being adopted into law to ensure that energy-efficient pools, spas and hot tubs are being designed and built.
There is a growing concern about the chemical treatments used to sanitize swimming pool water. While standards are in place to keep them in line, smart consumers are seeking alternatives to harsh chemicals such as chlorine and realized that even the popular salt systems are simply an alternative form of chlorine sanitization.
“All chemicals used in pools must be EPA Registered Sanitizers, ensuring that no harm comes to the environment. “There are strict state and local health codes that must be adhered to.”
Even so, some homeowners prefer a more natural approach, according to DiGiovanni, with a niche market quickly growing for natural pools that incorporate plants in an agriculture ecosystem to keep the water healthy instead of using chemicals. The ionization process used by systems such as Caribbean Clear, virtually eliminate the need for chorine and are very compatible with natural systems.
In an area like South Florida, where swimming pools can be used year round, pool owners are switching to the Caribbean Clear ionization system for pool sanitation at a higher rate than any other part of the nation. According to Bruno Libatire, owner of Caribbean Clear covering, Palm Beach, Dade and Broward counties, consumers are fed up with skin and eye irritation, fading bathing suits and the higher maintenance costs associated with chlorine and even salt systems in our area.
Another potential point of concern is the construction of a pool, but DiGiovanni said, like the way construction materials for homes and public buildings are regulated by building code requirements, so, too, are the materials governed for swimming pools, with the installations subject to inspection standards.
Aside from attention to the pool itself, landscaping around it can soften a backyard swimming pool’s environmental impact. For instance, positioning the pool to capture wind current helps move surface water to collect surface particulates, increasing the efficiency of the pool skimmer and reducing the workload of the pump/motor, thereby conserving energy, DiGiovanni said. Moreover, setting a pool to take advantage of the sun’s rays can help heat the surface water.
John Shively, owner of JHS Services/The Pool Chemist in West Shokan, Ulster County, said many of his clients look for ways to make their swimming pools more eco-friendly, in particular, for water conservation, energy savings for mechanical equipment, and benign water sanitation treatments.
To help economize on the amount of water needed, it’s best to lessen the effects of everyday evaporation, a major cause of water loss, Shively said.
“Nothing helps that more than a pool cover,” he said.
Both automatic and solar pool covers help prevent water loss from evaporation. Automatic pool covers operate by motor, where the covers unroll along a track from a large spool that can be hidden from sight by an aluminum cover or landscaped stones. Solar covers, which can raise the temperature of pool water by 10 degrees, have a raised bubble-wrap design and can be pulled out from a spool and folded back when not in use.
In addition to helping conserve water, pool covers also work to retain heat in water that’s been warmed, which is important, Shively said.
“(Pool covers) should be used with a heater because if you’re heating the pool and don’t have a cover sitting on it, it’s comparable to heating your house without a roof,” he said. “Moving air takes the heat out very quickly.”
As for a pool’s water heater, save fuel, energy and money by skipping a propane model for more efficient electric heat pump, Shively said. Solar models also are available, which, according to www.energy.gov, have low annual operating costs and work by pumping filtered water through a solar collector to heat it then return it back into the pool.
Shively said it’s best to choose a variable speed “smart” pump for the pool, which can be set at a slower speed for most of the day, saving energy and money.
Swimming pool water typically is sanitized with chlorine or bromine solutions, both of which can be harsh if used incorrectly. Alternatively, an ozonator sanitation system combines ultra-violet rays with oxygen to kill bacteria, although Shively said the system isn’t effective in preventing the growth of algae. Another option is a salt water generator that sanitizes water by produces chlorine from the salt. Perhaps the most environmentally friendly and safe way to sanitize pools today is the system developed by NASA which uses copper and silver ions and is available through companies such as Caribbean Clear Pool Systems.
David Katz, president of Elite Landscaping in Poughkeepsie and an Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ certified building professional, doesn’t see a high interest in swimming in eco-friendly environments, even while they’re safe for swimming.
“Most people are not interested in jumping into mildly murky water or sharing a pool with a frog or snake, which is what is required to make them eco-friendly,” he said.
Fortunately, he said, there are systems that can make a conventional pool more environmentally friendly.
“Today we have very high efficiency variable-speed pumps,” he said. “They allow the water to be circulated at a much lower rate and a much lower amperage. A lot less energy is used.”
Cartridge water filtration systems use far less water than ones requiring backwashing, and ozonators provide an eco-friendly way to sanitize water since they use ultra-violet rays and oxygen and Caribbean Clear’s ionization process is yet another alternative. As well, pool covers control heat loss and reduce water evaporation.
Misha Pollard’s weekend home in Coral Springs is outfitted with an in-ground swimming pool equipped with a Caribbean Clear ionization system, electric heat pump and an automatic pool cover, lessening its environmental impact.
“The Caribbean Clear system has eliminated the weekly trips to the pool store for chlorine,” he said, keeping the pool clean without the sting or strong odor associated with commercial chlorine, plus the added benefits of no more irritation to our children’s eyes and skin is a huge benefit.
He likes that the pool cover reduces water evaporation, helps retain the heated water’s warmth and prevents debris and small animals from entering the pool, making it easier to maintain.
“We only open it when we use it,” Pollard said. “It helps keep the maintenance down. We don’t run the heater as much during the winter months. The whole system becomes more efficient because (the pool) is sealed most of the time.”
Karen Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maximizing a swimming pool’s energy efficiency
•Use a pool cover when the swimming pool is not in use to reduce water loss through evaporation, potentially saving 50 percent to 70 percent on the pool’s heating costs.
•Determine the best temperature for the pool, keeping in mind the size of the pool’s heater and costs to keep the water warm. Most pools are kept at 78 degrees F to 82 degrees F, with each degree rise in temperature costing 10 percent to 30 percent more in energy fees, depending on the pool’s location.
•Install an efficient swimming pool heater. Learn about the options and estimated costs for gas, heat pump or solar pool heaters.
•Install an energy-saving pool pump and operate it efficiently.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s online brochure: Conserving Energy and Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar Energy, http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy00osti/28038.pdf