Image

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.

The pump

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 technology.

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 high-speed setting.

“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 cleaner.

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].”

Applications

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,” DePasquale says.

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 energy-efficient.

“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.