Searching for ways to increase efficiency and reduce our environmental impact, my company has been employing old and new technologies in many facets of our operations. I hope that sharing some of these initiatives might encourage other companies to explore their own procedures for conservation, making our industry more environmentally friendly.

The art of building a swimming pool is not an eco-friendly process. When you think about the manufacturing of steel, concrete, PVC and other petroleum-based products that our industry uses, our carbon footprint is rather large. To be more efficient with these products, we have to look to other industries.

Over the past three years we’ve launched five major initiatives to make our company the most efficient possible:

Propane conversion of gas-powered vehicles and pumps

Propane autogas costs one-third the price of gasoline, produces 30 percent fewer harmful emissions, extends the life of an engine, and is made in the United States. For a truck that gets 14 miles per gallon and drives 25,000 miles per year, the return on the investment to install an approximately $5,800 bi-fuel, propane, autogas conversion kit is about a year and a half. The performance remains the same between autogas and gasoline vehicles; and because autogas is a cleaner burning fuel, oil changes are needed around every 5,000 instead of 3,000 miles.

Alliance AutoGas provided vehicle conversions, fueling, fuel-station installation and training for our staff. They installed a 500-gallon on-site fueling station at our yard at no upfront cost, and they top it off every few weeks.

Once they helped us realize how beneficial this new system could be, we started examining the rest of our fleet. While the bi-fuel Prins VSI autogas system does not yet work with diesel engines, several of our pumps and mixers are powered by gas engines. With the help of Alliance AutoGas, we fabricated mounting brackets for propane cylinders, ran fuel lines under the bed of the plaster trucks, and brought the vapor injection system directly into those engines. The pumps and mixers run quieter, cleaner, and more efficiently than ever before.

On the vehicles that have been converted, the engines start up on gas and immediately switch over to propane autogas. At the touch of a digital button mounted on the dashboard, the driver can switch back to gasoline if they cannot make it back to our yard to refuel with autogas.

The fuel tanks come in a variety of sizes and can be mounted under the body or in the truck bed, with a second fuel door added to the side of the vehicle to make refueling easier. When it’s time to sell those vehicles, the conversion kit can be removed and installed on the new replacement vehicle, allowing our investment in the system to carry over as part of the new fleet.

Some of the other advantages of propane autogas include:

>Economical:

-Current price of propane autogas is $1.50 per gallon less than the national average price for gasoline >Clean:

-12 percent less carbon dioxide

-30 percent less carbon monoxide

-35.6 percent less hydrocarbons

-60 percent less NOx

>98 percent American-made: 

-68 percent U.S. natural gas

-30 percent U.S. petroleum refineries

-2 percent Canadian and other imports

Slurry boxes no more

We primarily install Pebble Tec brand pool finishes, and like all pebble products, the exposure process requires washing away the top layer of the cement coating, called slurry. A typical pool creates more than 1,000 pounds of slurry, which is a clay-like sludge that will harden if not broken up and hauled away within a couple of days.

The industry standard has been a wooden box inlaid with plastic sheeting, allowing the slurry and water to separate and dry, to be broken up later and hauled away. Because we install hundreds of Pebble Tec finishes each year, we were slowly filling up landfills and paying more than $50,000 annually to dumpster companies.

To reduce this expense, we fabricated hydraulic dump beds with waterproof liners on our F-550 pickups. The slurry is pumped into the bed as it is being produced and brought back to a dump area at our yard when the job is done. The locks are released on the hatch, the slurry pours out of the truck, and the bed and liner are washed out using well water and a pressure washer.

Once we have enough dried material to fill a dump truck, we take the dried slurry to an inert landfill several miles away, paying a much lower price than a traditional landfill. The state Department of Transportation then picks up our dried cement chunks and reuses it as crush and run for the construction of road beds. The slurry is desirable because under the weight of a bulldozer or steamroller, it flattens easily. There are now many miles of Georgia’s roads with an underlay of multi-colored slurries, recycled to help build our road system.

Diesel refueling station

When crews are paid by the hour, every second counts. A 15-minute stop at the gas station each morning may not be a big deal for a single technician, but each of our installation crews has seven men, so that short stop costs nearly two hours in combined wages. We found a fuel vendor who provided us with a 500-gallon aboveground tank so the crews can top off their vehicles at the end of each day, allowing them to start the clock the moment they arrive the next morning. There are no savings in the cost per gallon of diesel, but this has made our crews more efficient, thus saving on payroll. Bag recycling

Many pebble finish manufacturers use plastic to bag their product. Pebble Technology uses paper bags that are 100 percent recyclable. Most bags are recycled, but for those that find their way into a traditional landfill with our other non-cementitious waste, the bags will decompose in just a few years.

Cement-reducing additives

Every finish we install uses P3, a unique additive that makes our Pebble Tec finishes stronger, more colorfast, and reduces one bag of cement per batch. Since the average pool uses seven batches, that’s 700 pounds less cement per installation, which in turn reduces the weight of the slurry, and ultimately reduces the amount of greenhouse gas produced during the manufacturing process of the cement itself.

We implemented these initiatives in order to address our growing environmental challenges, and the waste reduction helps make the art of installing interior finishes in pools better for our planet. This is also used as a selling point by our builders when they talk about their quality-minded plastering and shotcrete subcontractor, looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.