Service techs say pumps running at night are the cause of poor water quality. Rebate advocates counter that it's just a matter of proper water balance.
File Photo Service techs say pumps running at night are the cause of poor water quality. Rebate advocates counter that it's just a matter of proper water balance.

Some Los Angeles area service technicians are drawing a correlation between cloudy, green pools and pumps that operate at night.

They say the problem stems from a generous rebate program offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. As an incentive for homeowners to swap out single-speed pumps with more efficient models, the utility provider doubled its cash-back from $500 to $1,000 in February.

To qualify for the $1,000 kickback, pumps must be programmed to run at night. This peak-period avoidance eases stress on the grid and helps homeowners realize maximum energy savings.

But some technicians say this is less than ideal for water quality. Optimally,  they say, the pool should circulate during the day to prevent algae from flourishing in the summer heat.

To make matters worse, some installers have been programming the pumps to achieve only one turnover in order to save the most energy. This isn’t enough for every pool, some say.

“If you have a retired couple who’s not using the pool, one turnover might get it,” said William Jackson, a pool service technician serving the San Fernando Valley.

But frequently used pools are problematic. “Say you have a house with two teenagers who swim in it every day. … It’s just a breeding ground for algae,” Jackson said.

Further compounding matters is a historic drought that’s causing trees to prematurely shed leaves. That sends more organic matter into pools that sit stagnant because of the rebate’s nighttime-only rule, as temperatures soar into the upper 90s. Some say this adds up to a recipe for algae bloom.

With less-than-pristine pools, customers are griping and service techs are flummoxed. They don’t want to reprogram the pumps as the rebates are processed. It can take up to six months, during which time an inspector is supposed to examine the equipment to ensure the pump is set up properly. Service professionals fear that tampering with the settings in the interim may void their customers’ rebates.

“Running it at night doesn’t help because it’s 95 degrees, and I’m not getting the turnover that I need to keep the water fresh,” said one L.A.-area service pro who preferred to remain anonymous. “I’ve got a couple of pools that are turning green because they want their rebates and don’t want to adjust their time clocks.”

Techs say installers can take some blame. “Guys will put [the pumps] in using the factory settings. They’ll put it on the slowest speed [as low as 450 rpm], and that’s just not sufficient,” said Jackson, secretary of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association’s San Fernando Valley Chapter.

Programming pumps to run at night poses another dilemma: Jackson fears that inexperienced service technicians are forgetting to turn on the pumps before they leave their job sites. Without circulation, acidic chemicals could deteriorate plaster.

Techs say the LADWP’s $1,000 rebate program works best under ideal circumstances: a pool that’s lightly used, with fresher water, a newer finish and surrounded by very few trees. A chapter newsletter warns that it is “definitely not for every pool.”

Michael Orr, executive director of the Foundation for Pool & Spa Industry Education, has heard the complaints and believes it’s mostly a matter of maintaining proper water balance. And though the LADWP does have certain guidelines in order to qualify for the rebate, there is enough wiggle room for service technicians to program pumps to achieve clearer water.

The main thing utilities want to avoid is this: Pumps should not achieve a complete turnover any faster than six hours. So, in the case of LADWP’s 8 p.m.-to-10 a.m. rule, you could conceivably get two turnovers, depending on the size of the pool. (There is a caveat to this, however: Flow rates cannot exceed 36 gallons a minute for pools smaller than 13,000 gallons.)

While pumps are programmed for night, nothing stops homeowners from turning them on during the day. In fact, they should after taking a dip. “In the name of cleanliness, when using the pool, turn it on, for God’s sake,” Orr said.