Pool pumps have been a focal point for energy efficiency in several states. Automatic cleaners may be next.
This summer, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a leading California utility and
advocate of energy-efficient pool systems, will conduct a study on
the energy efficiency of automatic cleaners. Depending on the
results, the company could create new rebate incentives for buying
certain cleaner types, in particular those of the robotic variety.
However, you must consider a number of factors to make sure
cleaners realize the greatest possible energy savings.
Pool cleaners don’t work in a vacuum, no pun intended. The
relationship between the cleaner and the pump is critical when it
comes to saving energy.
To that end, a number of states are embracing legislation that
would encourage pool owners to use two-, multi- and variable-speed
Variable-speed technology creates significant energy savings not
only for pool filtration, but for cleaning as well.
“I’ve got 1 amp [from the pump] for filtration and 3
amps for running the sweep for about three hours,” explains
John Balistreri, owner of Balistreri Pool & Spa Service in
Petaluma, Calif. “One lady dropped her [utility] bill from
$400 to $100.”
But a number of green-minded technicians are less enthusiastic when
it comes to two-speed pumps because of the energy they waste on a
“Usually the high speed is too high and the low speed is too
low [to run a cleaner],” Balistreri notes.
However, in some cases, techs can utilize two-speed motors on
pool/spa combinations, using the high speed for the spa and the low
speed for both filtration and a low-flow suction-side
In addition, some aren’t convinced the difference between
energy on an intermediate speed (on a variable-speed) and
high-speed (on a two-speed) is universally significant. This is
especially true in areas with low energy costs.
“You go to Phoenix and it’s 9 cents a kilowatt
hour,” says Marchal DePasquale, director of marketing,
automatic cleaners, at Hayward Pool Products in Elizabeth, N.J.
“You’re not going to move someone toward a $700 pump
when they’re living [with those rates].”
While saving energy is important, picking the right cleaner for the
job is crucial.
Pressure-side cleaners are a popular option, but the additional
energy expended by the booster pump they frequently require has
been drawing a lot of attention.
“There is a big interest in cleaners. They’re kind of a
low-hanging fruit [because] booster-pump cleaners actually have to
utilize two pumps to perform their as-advertised operation,”
Indeed, pressure-side cleaners that need a booster pump can be
energy hogs, as some booster pumps charge in excess of 7 amps.
Though there have been improvements in the efficiency of pump
motors, running an extra pump can still make a dent in
anyone’s electrical bill.
Yet they are also vital to running many pressure-side cleaner
models. Boosters provide a much-needed pressure requirement —
often above 30 psi — that filtration pumps cannot create over
such a long distance.
This energy need may drive some techs to other cleaner models that
can operate solely on the filtration pump (or on their own, in the
case of robotic cleaners).
Still, when coupled with variable-speed technology, booster pumps
may not be as wasteful as they appear.
“A lot of people look at the booster and [think] that it will
cost a heck of a lot more money to operate,” says Brian King,
Pentair’s senior product manager for automatic
cleaners. “Sure, you’re spending a bit more on the
booster pump, but you can do it while the variable-speed is running
at a very low rate.”
Additionally, the booster pump should only be running one or two
hours a day, and even less so in the wintertime.
Pressure-side cleaners are particularly popular in Northern
California and much of the Southeast. They’re known for being
able to pick up large debris such as leaves, twigs and acorns.
However, because they do not take advantage of the pool’s own
filtration system, these cleaners are not ideal for cleaning up
smaller, dust-like debris.
“If you’re in a leafy environment with a lot of trees
around the pool … you really want a pressure-side
cleaner,” King says.
And not all pressure-side cleaners require a booster pump.
“[For] new pools built today, unless they have a really deep
deep-end and [the cleaner] really needs to climb around the pool, I
don’t put in a booster,” says Dean Nesson, owner of All
Clear Pool & Spa in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Instead, Nesson likes to use a low-volume pressure cleaner and a
dedicated line that’s fed from the pump before the filter to
reduce the risk of filter explosions.
The other standard cleaner type — suction-side — comes
with its own set of pump parameters.
When combined with a two-speed pump, many suction-side cleaners can
work at a low speed. The difference creates a 56 percent savings in
energy consumption between the two speeds, according to DePasquale.
“But there are some compromises that are made with the
performance of the cleaner when you run it at low speed,” he warns.
Certainly the cleaner must run longer on a low speed, but it also
won’t create the same agitation and circulation as it would
on high speed. Also, suction-side cleaners are less effective in
sweeping larger debris than pressure-side.
For its part, the robotic cleaner is purported to sweep large
debris and small dirt particles. And the devices are very
“Our educated guess is that the robotic cleaners offer
dramatic savings over pressure-side with booster pumps, somewhere
in the range of 800 watts per hour,” says Joanne Panchana,
manager of the pump and motor rebate program for Pacific Gas &
Electric Co. in San Francisco.
However, for some applications, its higher price point may counter
balance some of the product’s advantages. And some techs may
hesitate to use robotic cleaners because they don’t function
with the pump.
“They don’t circulate the pool at the same time
[they’re cleaning],” Nesson says. “So if you
don’t have a skimmer working in your pool …
you’re not going to get results.”
Picking a pool cleaner also may depend on maintenance, and
therefore a technician’s own preference. Service techs may
gravitate to whatever cleaner is associated with the repairs and
replacement parts with which they’re most familiar.