Remember that laptop you bought last year? Chances are, the
hardware is already obsolete. Pretty soon, the same will be said of
the latest pool pump.
Rapid technological advancements have infiltrated nearly every
industry, from housing to medicine to publishing. For years, the
pool industry was isolated from this trend, but not
“I feel like our equipment industry is heading in that
direction,” says Vanz Steimle, distribution manager at
California Pools & Spas, a Pool & Spa News Top
Builder in West Covina, Calif. “Products are coming out and
six months later, they’re last year’s trend.
That’s good because it means we’re pushing that
envelope and the ability to go farther with our
At its most fundamental level, the equipment pad keeps a
swimming pool running smoothly. In fact, a well-designed, efficient
set of products makes maintenance a breeze and keeps the owners
happy with their investment. Here, we examine six trends shaping
the equipment pad market.
1“Core” equipment is more than the basic bundle.
For most of
the 20th century, the equipment pad had two standard components:
the pump and filter. Heaters were added to the mix in the early
1990s. Soon manufacturers were selling the three pieces as a
single, cohesive bundle. While this trend continues, the majority
of industry watchers say that the “usual suspects”
comprising the pad are expanding.
“Today, the standard products are the pump, filter,
heater, and now we’re adding lights and automation to the
mix,” says Carlos Del Amo, vice president of marketing and
product development at Pentair Water Pool and Spa in Sanford, N.C.
“If the consumer is looking for cost reduction, they’ll
take out a component. That’s a paradigm shift from before,
when these were add-ons.
“It’s a whole different approach to selling,”
Steimle agrees: “As I look at what we’re
distributing and putting on the equipment pad, the core equipment
is now a pump, heater, filter, salt system or other alternative
sanitizer — possibly a colored light, as well as a remote
control and automation system.”
Still, people disagree about what today’s essential
equipment includes. Some say that automatic cleaners are the most
popular, with nearly 40 percent of new pools nationwide adding
them. Others say colored lights, automated controls and alternative
sanitizers now are the must-have items.
“Homeowners are busy, and those with the money and means
to add convenience to their lives do so,” says David Nibler,
vice president of marketing and business development at Jandy in
Petaluma, Calif. “It’s following the same trend as home
construction, where you used to have only an oven and
“Today, consumers require the fridge, washer and dryer,
dishwasher and microwave,” he adds. “Consumer
expectations are higher.” (For more information on
automation, see Remote
2 The pad is smaller, quieter and more attractive.
Concurrently with these changes, convenience has become a
commodity. As such, the trend by manufacturers and builders is to
make the equipment pad less cumbersome for service technicians and
“As much as we love our equipment, the consumer
doesn’t want to look at it,” says Kevin Potucek, vice
president of marketing at Hayward Pool Products in Elizabeth, N.J.
“The consumer is looking for a less obtrusive equipment pad,
so all the manufacturers have focused on how their products look,
improving the industrial design.”
Builders are following suit. “First, it has to run
quietly. Second, the pump, filter and heater need to look like they
go together,” Nibler says. “So the gray pump, tan
filter, white plumbing and fittings, and the PVC glue marks
dripping down are going away.
“Builders are making the equipment pad pleasing to the
eye,” he notes.
The driving force behind this movement? Local restrictions. As
home lots shrink, municipal codes require that pool equipment be
kept a certain distance from a neighbor’s home. Plumbing also
must be painted to make it attractive and resilient to ultraviolet
Simultaneously, the pad is shrinking. That’s strange, say
some, considering that filters are larger and the number of pumps
per project is growing. Manufacturers have managed to address this
as well, designing taller equipment that fits the same footprint as
10 years ago.
“The basic principle in equipment design used to be
functionality,” Del Amo says. “Now you have the element
of aesthetics that you must satisfy in addition to
Some builders have cut down the hassle of designing tightly
compacted equipment pads by purchasing prefabricated concrete
bases. Multiple 2-by-3-foot pads can be used to create the
foundation for plumbing.
“The connecting points are more efficient and compatible.
There’s tighter compaction between equipment,” says
Jeff Fausett, president/CEO of Aquatech Corp., a buying group based
in Huntington Beach, Calif. “These composite bases are
becoming popular because they’re so lightweight and easy to
3 Smaller heaters are the standard.
desire for a longer swim season grows, pool heaters — and
heat pumps — are shrinking in size and becoming more popular.
Manufacturers say heater sales grew 2.3 percent from 2004 to
“There’s a huge trend toward pool-spa combinations.
About 65 percent of all projects have heaters because the pool-spa
combo requires it,” Nibler says.
These heaters are smaller and designed with angled vent lines,
minimizing their obtrusiveness.
“A heater today vs. 10 years ago is half the size with
the same Btu,” Fausett says. “When pools were built 10
or 20 years ago, they didn’t think space on the plumbing side
was so important. Now it’s imperative because lot sizes are
Within the heater category, there’s been significant
sales growth among high-efficiency models in the past two years.
However, heat pumps have experienced an even bigger boost. Long the
preferred heating choice in Florida, demand for the units is
rapidly increasing in a number of other regions: the Northeast,
Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Canada.
“The biggest growth area is the mid-Atlantic to the upper
Atlantic states. It has a strong presence in Virginia and
Maryland,” Fausett says.
What’s more, specific types of heat pumps that reverse to
chill water are proliferating in desert markets such as Palm
Springs, Calif., and Phoenix. When pools are too warm to enjoy,
these units offer a solution.
“Smaller pools on smaller properties, shallower pools and
darker-surface pools [that] heat up more seem to be creating the
growth in chiller products,” says Bruce Aubrey, product
manager for heaters at Hayward. “Just to knock 5 or 10
degrees off and get the temperature down from the low 90s into the
mid-80s is worth it.”
filters, bigger is better and cartridge is king.
In the past, projects required multiple filters to keep monthly
maintenance at a minimum. Today, a single, oversized filter —
up to 600 square feet in some cases — accomplishes the same
task. As a result, filter sales in 2005 dipped slightly by 3.4
percent overall, according to industry data.
“The major trend is larger, larger, larger,” Nibler
says. “It’s driven by the homeowner’s need to
enjoy the pool more and work less.”
Simultaneously, builders design pools with greater efficiency
and easier accessibility. Larger plumbing allows for lower water
velocity, which makes servicing the pool easier.
In addition, cartridge is the preferred medium in many markets
for the same reasons. “The cartridge business is taking a
larger percentage of the mix between the three current types of
filtration,” says Mark Normyle, director of marketing for
pumps and filters at Hayward. “For all pools, including
aboveground, cartridge is in the low 40 percent range, sand is in
the low 30 percent range, and then DE gets the rest of
“Looking at it broadly, we see sand as still being the
premier type of filtration in the Southeast and Midwest, whereas
cartridge dominates in Florida and out West,” he
Still, sales of cartridge filters fell in 2005 after a weak
aboveground pool season failed to spur growth. Meanwhile, DE has
seen a decrease in popularity, thanks to increased reports of
droughts in the West and a higher level of environmental
As a result, manufacturers are developing products that address
these concerns. For instance, Pentair will launch a product this
fall that gives DE clarity with a sand filter.
have multiple pumps with a variety of speeds.
Manufacturers report that pumps grew 3.4 percent industrywide
from 2004 to 2005. Driving that growth is an increase in the number
of pumps installed per pool.
“It used to be 1.3 pumps per pool, and now we’re at
1.5 pumps per pool and growing,” Nibler reports. “More
spas, waterfalls and accessories are being built, and so pumps are
exceeding pool growth rate. There are now even specialty pumps
— ones that are designed specifically for waterfeatures, for
example. Those are seeing some significant
Russ Watters, for one, installs an average of three pumps on
his projects. “I like to see different pumps for each
feature,” says the owner of Watters Aquatech Pools & Spas
in Las Vegas. “In our market, the in-floor cleaning systems
are popular. Those, when they’re hydraulically designed, rob
the valves of water.
“Multiple pumps solve that problem,” he adds.
“It’s the best design for our
In such cases of multiple pump installations, each model on a
pool is dedicated to a specific function. That way, if the booster
pump operating a pressureside cleaner needs repair, another one
will keep the vessel’s circulation running
Another trend moving the industry in a different direction:
multiple-speed pumps that allow builders to divert water, or
increase or decrease flow to a number of applications, with
significant energy savings.
“In California, they are mandating that energy
consumption be reduced,” Normyle says. “And
they’re encouraging it through rebates, the use of two-speed
and other pumps.”
Indeed, energy efficiency is an issue. The variable-speed pump,
which was only introduced to the pool industry a year ago,
addresses those concerns. Yet it often costs significantly more
than a standard pump. (See “Weighing the variables” for
more information on variable-speed pumps.)
future is environmentally friendly and
industry members agree that the design and installation of pool
equipment in the next decade will be dictated by environmental
“The consumer is looking at everything that is affecting
them — the energy prices, increased costs of fuel and
electricity, and global warming,” Del Amo says. “They
want to do more for energy efficiency and environmental
As a result, manufacturers have begun a process of increasing
efficiency and operation, from selling more low-NOx heaters to
developing better pumps. While those products are costlier today,
consumer popularity and government mandate will increase demand and
reduce the price of these products.
This trend also is forcing the acceptance of alternative
products. “The cost of energy is rapidly driving us into
solar heat,” Fausett says. “For years and years,
it’s always been a niche market — the rubber-mat solar
panels on the roof. We’re not trying to replace the heater,
but to supplement it because of the high cost of fossil
As the movement toward environmental consciousness continues,
product innovation will follow. Steimle, for one, can’t wait.
“The industry has changed so much in the last five
years,” he says. “Our customers’ demands are
greater. We’re starting to catch up to the technology out
“We’re on the cusp of seeing great growth,”
Steimle adds. “I am absolutely excited about the future of