Taking the plunge into "green" pools
By Andrea Cyr
For many families, the ultimate backyard escape is a swimming pool. Whether it’s a simple dunking tank or an elaborate landscape that includes a waterfall and spa tub, these watery respites provide fun and fitness, and even help cement family ties. Today, top-quality pools are designed to be “green”—not in color, but in being eco-friendly and energy-sustainable.
Bill Drakeley and Jeffrey Boucher of the Drakeley Swimming Pool Company in Bethlehem say that without even trying, the pool industry has a sustainability aspect to it. “Where we install concrete, we use one-sided forms, versus the general construction industry which is a two-sided, box-type of format for installation of concrete or steel or what have you. So, we’re using less materials to put in our product, which is environmentally friendly,” Drakeley explains.
Drakeley’s company installs pools using the shotcrete process, in which concrete is sprayed at a high velocity and then generates its own shape. “Each pool is unique because we’re using the earth to form it,” says Boucher, vice president and managing partner of Drakeley Pools.
The company also renovates old swimming pools. “We can take a dilapidated concrete shell built by somebody else, with faults and cracks, and we can bring it back to life, repairing it correctly with the shotcrete process or installing new support mechanisms to give it useful years,” says Drakeley, who also teaches the process. He says the process helps the environment because existing products in the ground can be reused. “By renovating and refurbishing what’s already there, you’re lessening your carbon footprint,” Boucher adds.
For customers who want to lessen their carbon footprint even further, Drakeley Pools can work with a geothermal system. “Typically, the geothermal just preheats water,” says Boucher. “There’s also another source of heat, whether it be a gas furnace or electric, that continues to heat the water to the desired temperature. By having that constant temperature in the ground, you’re using less fossil fuel to heat the water.” Since geothermal systems are expensive, usually one is already in place for the home and the pool’s mechanics tap into it.
If solar power is a turn-on for a client, Boucher says there are panels and systems designed specifically for pools. Working on the same principle as a home-heating thermostat, solar-powered pool systems only send water through panels as needed. “Control systems actuate the flow of water to maintain temperature. Once it gets to temperature, it shuts it off,” says Boucher of the energy-saving system.
The high-end pool company also offers an efficient pump that saves its clients energy. The variable-speed pump is the company’s standard, its speed based on turnover rate—how often the water is filtered, heated, and sanitized. Unlike a traditional pool pump, Boucher says the variable-speed pump can ramp itself up to maintain the desired turnover rate. Energy savings can be as much as 40 percent, he claims. “Most people don’t install them because of the cost, or they don’t educate their clients enough that they can recoup the cost in two to three pool seasons, depending on how long their pool is open.”
Pool covers are another way to save money since they conserve heat and prevent water and chemical loss. “You get a temperature differential and all of a sudden you start evaporating water. Well, that gas that’s evaporating is full of chemicals, too” says Drakeley. “So, it saves on chemical purchasing and input.”
Boucher says they’re now seeing a trend toward chemical-free swimming pools. To achieve that, Drakeley Pools uses natural balancing chemicals, such as baking soda and enzyme treatments. Ozone, an oxidizer, is another popular alternative. “Ambient air is pre-dried and we send it through a chamber that is electrically charged. It splits the oxygen molecule from O2 to O3. O2 is oxygen, O3 is ozone,” explains Boucher. “As the pool water passes an injector, it draws the ozone into the pool water. All of the disinfecting is done in three to five seconds, and the ozone reverts back to oxygen.”
Adds Boucher: “Ozone is so volatile, it attaches to anything that it can, like bacteria, detergents from clothes, shampoo, etc. As it attaches to that, it kills it.” Basically, he says, the end result is like swimming in bottled water.
Drakeley warns, you get what you pay for. “You get a pool company that says, ‘I can have an environmentally friendly filter and sanitizer unit and charge you a couple hundred bucks.’ Ours is going to be a thousand because it works and it’s going to last.” Drakeley says they do everything in-house and offer quality. “Our challenge is to let people know our pools will look good for years, our structural warranty is lifetime. That’s how much faith we have in our concrete, that’s how much faith we have in our building ability.”