Swim ‘n’ Save: How to Splash the Cost of Running Your Pool

by James Florence
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Swimming pools may be notorious energy guzzlers, but there are plenty of ways for pool owners to decrease their summertime power bills. Photo: Royal Pools of Santa Clara, Inc. (2016)

While children anxiously await the coming of summer, there are others who are less enthusiastic about it—and no, we’re not just talking about their parents. Motorists, for example, know all too well the “pain at the pump” that sets in as gas prices make their seasonal ascent. Likewise, if you’re a swimming pool owner, you experience a similar summertime phenomenon—only, instead of the fuel pump, your pool pump is the source of pain.

Let’s face it: swimming pools are enjoyable, but they aren’t cheap to maintain. In fact, it’s been estimated that homes with swimming pools use almost 50 percent more electricity than those without. Fortunately, there’s good news: with a few proactive measures, you can dramatically reduce your pool’s energy consumption and, consequently, its operating costs. To do this, you’ll need to address two key areas: heating and filtration.

Saving Money With Pool Heating

A heated pool may be more comfortable than an unheated one, but that comfort comes at a price. In fact, raising the temperature just one degree (say, from 79 F to 80 F) can translate to a cost increase of 10 to 30 percent. That’s why the simplest step you can take to reduce pool heating costs is to turn down the temperature, aiming for the lowest possible setting that still provides a reasonable level of comfort. After all, even two or three fewer degrees can put a noticeable dent in your energy bills.

Turning down the heat is easy enough, but not everyone is willing to sacrifice comfort for cost savings. In this case, it’s worthwhile to consider an energy-saving solution that won’t diminish your pleasure: solar pool heating. As the hottest trend in energy-efficient remodeling, solar power has allowed many Bay Area homeowners to virtually erase their electricity bills, so it only makes sense to apply this technology to one of the prime sources of energy consumption. While the initial investment isn’t cheap (usually in the neighborhood of $4,000), once your system is installed, your pool heating costs will be a thing of the past.

If a solar heating installation isn’t in your budget, another way to warm your pool with minimal usage is to keep it covered. A standard “bubble cover” will increase your pool’s temperature, dramatically reduce evaporation (saving you on refilling costs) and keep debris from falling in. Add to that its affordable price and it’s easy to see why a cover is one of the most cost-efficient pool accessories you can buy. 

Saving Money With Pool Filtration

If a pool’s heating system is an optional amenity, its filtration system is an absolute necessity. At the heart of this system is the pump, whose main function is to keep the pool’s water clean and fresh. It does this by circulating water through the filter, keeping chemicals mixed and directing debris toward the skimmer.

While pool filtration is crucial, pool owners commonly make the mistake of running their pumps more often than necessary, which results in unnecessarily high operating costs. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to reassess your pump’s runtime. Try the following strategy: Set your pump to run at (or, if you’re feeling adventurous, just below) the minimum recommended interval, and observe the condition of the water over the next few days. If it doesn’t seem clean or fresh, add an additional 30 minutes to the pump’s runtime and reassess. Repeat this process until you find the shortest possible interval that still provides an adequate amount of circulation.

In addition to decreasing your pump’s runtime, consider setting it to run for multiple, shorter intervals throughout the day, as opposed to a single, prolonged one. By circulating the water more frequently, this helps keep your pool cleaner and reduces the filter’s workload. You can also set your filtration system to run during off-peak hours, when electricity rates are lower (usually from the evening to the early morning). Of course, all this business of “setting” pump runtimes assumes you have a pump timer. If you don’t, get one—in terms of cost-effectiveness, it’s right up there with a pool cover.

While running your pool pump for shorter intervals will save energy, if it’s outdated, you’re just putting a bandage on the bigger underlying issue. Older, one-speed pool pumps are known for excessive energy use, so you should consider replacing yours with a more modern one. A two-speed pump, for example, lowers energy usage by allowing the user to switch between higher and lower speeds as needed. However, the most energy-efficient option is a variable speed pump: utilizing permanent magnet motor technology, these pumps are up to 90 percent more efficient than the single-speed models, which can translate to a $20-$30 monthly cost savings.

Between replacing an inefficient pump and reducing pump runtimes, you can reduce your filtration system’s electrical consumption by as much as 75 percent. However, there’s still one more way to decrease costs: keep your pool clean. When a pool is clean, the pump doesn’t have to work as hard, so keeping the intake grates clear of debris is an easy way to cut costs. You should also backwash your filter; just make sure you do it at appropriate intervals, as backwashing too frequently wastes water.

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