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Designing a Green Backyard

Adding energy efficiency to your aquatic oasis

By Barry Justus

Photo courtesy Poolscape Inc.

The green revolution is front and centre in the swimming pool industry. Whether you have an existing pool, spa or water feature, or are starting on a brand new project, there are many ways you can be more energy and environmentally conscious (and save a few dollars along the way).

Small changes, big differences in energy efficiency

There are a number of relatively easy changes that can be made to any existing pool to make it more energy efficient and eco-friendly. For example, a pool cover (solar or automated) can reduce evaporation and heating costs, while a pool timer can adjust heating to cater to peak and low-use periods. Cartridge filters and auto fills can also make a difference, as can a two-speed or variable-drive pump.

When embarking on a major renovation or new project, several additional options can be incorporated to create a more energy-efficient environment (depending on your budget, of course). In addition to the options above, you should consider:

  • project automation;
  • proper site, pool and hydraulic design;
  • insulation;
  • heating and chilling options (e.g. solar or geothermal systems);
  • plumbing (big pipes, small pumps);
  • light-emitting diode (LED) lighting;
  • underground equipment bunkers; and
  • proper project management.

The most important aspect of any new project or renovation is the overall design. From the most basic backyard environment to million-dollar getaways, an enormous amount of energy and money can be wasted by not planning ahead. Indeed, with a small amount of forethought, a good design, reputable contractor and efficient use of available technology, your pool can operate at a fraction of the cost of a project missing these key elements.

Design details

The location of your pool should be part of the overall site design, taking into account the various other uses of your backyard. Design can be as simple as a scaled drawing on graph paper, to a highly detailed 3-D plan using computer-assisted design (CAD) software, complete with cross sections, elevations, construction details, engineered soil reports and complete hydraulic systems.

When it comes to pool placement, choose your spot carefully. Locating the pool in direct sunlight, away from prevailing winds, will have an impact on ongoing energy costs. While traditional pool design has comprised a tiny shallow end, small step entry and large deep end suitable for a diving board, this type of design is inherently inefficient and not always user friendly. For example, when watching your kids in a swimming pool, especially at parties, no one is actually swimming; everyone gathers in the shallow end to play games. As such, modern designs have become much shallower, with more steps, benches, shallow lounging areas and very few diving boards. Shallow pools hold less water, are easier to heat and clean and are generally much more fun for both children and adults. The bottom line is this: less water equals lower costs.

Pool covers

A pool cover can have the single biggest impact on energy efficiency. You can prevent more than 70 per cent of pool water heat loss by using a well-designed cover. One simple, cost-effective solution for any pool is to add a solar (bubble) cover. An automated cover can be added to an existing pool, but is normally part of new construction or a major renovation. Automated covers offer ease of convenience, energy efficiency and safety for your children and pets. (You can even walk on top of them if necessary.)

Water features

While large water features cascading into your pool are impressive, they are also loud, energy inefficient and, in most cases, turned off the majority of the time. Energy-hungry pumps operate large waterfalls, sheers and vanishing edges; the water evaporates, dumps heat and generates a significant amount of noise.

However, well designed and properly engineered vanishing edges or perimeter overflow pools can be operated by small, energy-efficient, variable-drive pumps. Instead of large waterfalls, mini sheers or wet walls are energy-friendly alternatives. Another option is to build a waterfall that does not use water from your pool for circulation. A faux stream from the water feature to your pool will be very efficient, using less water, energy and heat.

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