If we told you to picture the ultimate Aussie family home, it probably go something like this: a house in the suburbs, with a BBQ on the back veranda – all overlooking a big outdoor swimming pool. With our blazing hot summers and mild winters, the backyard pool has become a common feature of suburban homes and a mainstay of Australian culture. In fact, Australia has the highest rate of pool ownership per capita in the world – around 1.2 million household pools! That’s something to make a splash about…
But with ever-rising electricity rates has come increasing awareness of how costly a swimming pool can be to run. There are several factors such as filtration, cleaning and heating that determine the amount of energy your pool needs to run, and what your subsequent costs will be. Whilst items such as filtering equipment and chemicals are an occasional cost, the electricity and water your pool requires is very much a regular appearance on your quarterly bill. So which pool processes chew up the most power, and what can you do to reduce your expenses?
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First and foremost – your pool pump
According to the Department of Industry, the water filtration pump is by far the biggest electricity guzzler in a pool set-up; pumps can account for up to 70% of your pool’s total electricity usage, representing around 16% of a typical household’s total energy usage. This makes intuitive sense – your pool pump is responsible for filtering your water, maintaining balanced chemical levels and often operating a roving pool cleaner, meaning it’s by far the most active part of your pool.
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The first way to make your pump more efficient… is to buy an efficient one in the first place! As of 2016, pool pump products are subject to a voluntary energy rating labelling program. The ratings system is operated by the Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) program, the same federal government initiative that mandates star rating stickers on your fridge or your dishwasher.
Each label comes with a star rating (from 1 to 10), where each star represents a 25% increase in efficiency. They also come with an annual energy usage figure, which is the energy consumed after pumping 50,000L of water every day for a year; this figure means that, if you know the volume of your pool, you can calculate how much a more efficient pump will save you.
It’s important to keep in mind that energy rating labels for pool pumps are voluntary – some manufacturers will have them, and some won’t. Furthermore, there are no minimum efficiency requirements for pool pumps in Australia, so you’ll need to do some research and shop around to ensure you don’t get stuck with some power-hungry monster. The E3 program is currently investigating the possibility of implementing both minimum standards and compulsory labels, but such improvements are still a while away. For now, definitely use those rating stickers to compare products and find the most efficient pool pump.
Cut down on that usage
The second way to reduce your pump’s big energy footprint is to make it use less energy when operating. You can usually set your pump’s filtering cycle to be less frequent or to run for a shorter time, such as once a day for a few hours – consult your pump’s manual or manufacturer to find out the minimum running time that will still keep your pool clean. Consider also buying a pump with a variable speed motor (rather than fixed-speed), which can run at low speeds and save energy during low-intensity functions like filtration.
Your pool pump does most of the work to keep things clean, but you can definitely help it along; regularly emptying your pool skimmer basket (and often a secondary basket inside the filter), as well as using a net to remove sizeable debris, will ensure unimpeded water flow through your pump meaning it uses less energy. It’ll also reduce the risk of your pump getting clogged up or damaged, which would otherwise mean more costs for you to get it fixed.
Many families have heated pools which can be warmed up in the colder months of the year. As you can probably imagine, heating thousands of litres of water requires a fair bit of energy, and can cost you a lot if you’re doing it on a regular basis.
The easiest way to save money on heating is, of course, to only heat your pool or spa when needed. Some systems come with passive heating to keep your pool warm for an extended period – something you can definitely switch off, as it’s not good for your power bill! You can also turn down the temperature of your heating, as the cost differences of just a few degrees Celsius are magnified when you consider just how much water you’re heating. Furthermore, you can consider installing a solar-powered pool heating system rather than one which runs off the mains. The costs and details of installing solar are a separate issue, but it’s definitely worth considering as part of a household-wide effort to lower your long-term power costs.
Another great way to reduce associated energy expenditure is to buy a decent retractable cover (or pool blanket) for your pool. By protecting your pool from the elements, a cover does several important things. It reduces evaporation significantly – up to 30,000 litres a year, according to government guidelines. This means you spend less money on topping up your pool with water, and less on subsequently re-balancing your pool chemicals.
A pool blanket also prevents a significant amount of heat loss, both in convection losses on cool nights and at any time when your pool is heated to a greater temperature than the outside air. By covering the surface of the pool, the blanket insulates the water and prevents heat loss – just like a blanket keeps you warm in bed on a cold night. The Swimming Pool and Spa Association estimates that heating your pool whilst covered with a blanket can reduce your heating costs by up to 50%. When buying a cover for your pool, a short-term outlay can mean significant long-term savings.
If you’re looking for ways to save money on your pool’s energy costs, there are several avenues you can take to make your pool more efficient as using electricity. Much like a number of costs around your home, a pricier short-term purchase to reduce your pool’s energy use can net you much greater savings in the long run.