Tips for going green in your pool, spa, and backyard
Unless you’re in a serious drought, your backyard probably looks rather green, and your pool and spa hopefully do not—but are they eco-friendly? Many environmental improvements require little effort on your part and also provide cost savings. From more efficient lighting to reduced water consumption, follow these tips to make your pool, hot tub, and outdoor living space a little greener.
1. Time for digital. Replace the manual clock that runs your pool pump with a digital version that allows you to program the timer by month, day, and hour. The energy savings you’ll realize is even greater if you live in a warmer climate where your pool stays open year round—you can program the pump to run only six hours a day in the winter, compared to about 10 hours a day in the summer.
2. Upgrade your pool pump. Switch from a one-speed pool pump to a variable-speed model that runs on a free magnet motor. These units cost more initially ($800 to $1,000) but run more efficiently and allow owners to see a 30 to 70 percent savings within the first month, more than making up the price difference. Multi-speed pumps can be programmed to run at a lower speed for circulation and switch to full-speed during the cleaning cycle. In fact, they can run 24 hours a day at low speed without racking up costs—a huge benefit for states such as Arizona where the high temperatures and sunlight can easily lead to algae blooms if water is not constantly circulated.
3. Turn your pool pump into a night owl. To save on your electric bill, run the pool pump during off-peak hours. Electric companies typically charge lower rates between 9 pm and 9 am, so it pays to run your pump at night. If you have a salt chlorinator, which produces chlorine only while the pump is on, you’ll need to run the pump for about two hours during the day (rather than solely off-peak) to prevent chlorine depletion from the sun.
4. Cover up. Pool covers prevent water and chemical loss from evaporation—an environmental and economic twofer. If you go automatic, you’re much more likely to cover your pool when it’s not in use, but if you have a small budget, try a deck-mounted mesh cover instead. It will still block out 90 percent of the sun’s rays.
5. Consider a natural pool. Naturally filtered pools have been popular in Europe for years, and they’re finally catching on in the United States. An adjacent pond actually filters and cleans the water, reducing the need for chemicals.
6. Try a cartridge filter. Sand and D.E. filters require periodic backwashing, which runs 150 – 300 gallons of water out of your pool every few weeks. Cartridge filters do not need to be backwashed and are cleaned easily and replaced when needed.
7. Improve your pool heater’s performance. Because return jets are installed several inches from a pool’s surface, heated water from a pool heater can take many hours to circulate. By purchasing an extender device for the return jet, you can direct heated water toward the bottom of the pool where it will warm up quicker, reducing your energy bills. It also improves water circulation and prevents algae growth.
Eco-friendly Hot Tubs & Spas
8. Keep it covered. Use your spa/hot tub cover whenever the spa is not in use to keep the water clean and prevent heat and chemicals from escaping. Spa covers should contain thick foam with an R-value of at least 14.
9. Ask about spa insulation. An effective way to save on your hot tub energy bill is to trap as much heat as possible. Make sure your hot tub comes with a quality insulation system, such as high-density foam with an R-value of at least 40 for the floor and walls. Methods vary by manufacturer so be sure to ask your dealer about the type of shell insulation being used.
10. Circulate on low speed. Many hot tub models use a separate low-speed pump that runs 24/7. While you may be skeptical about running them continuously, these specially designed circulation pumps operate on very low horsepower, keeping monthly bills to a minimum and maintaining healthy water.
11. Recycle the heat. Many hot tub models can recirculate the heat given off by the unit’s pump and use it to help heat the water. This keeps the heater from working overtime, extends its life, and reduces your energy consumption.
12. Reuse the water. Hot tubs need to be drained about every three months, depending on usage, to get rid of accumulated contaminants. To avoid having an average of 500 gallons of water go to waste, you can use it to irrigate your lawn—just remember not to add any chemicals three days prior to draining.
An Earth-Friendly Backyard
13. Go solar. Harvesting the sun’s rays with direct solar panels often allows pool owners to extend their season by about one month in the spring and one month in the fall. A direct solar system draws water into roof-mounted panels where the water is heated and then returned to the pool. This type of system costs anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 based on the size of your pool and how many panels are required, but the systems pay for themselves within four or five years. An inexpensive way to utilize solar energy is to purchase small accent lights that come with their own built-in solar panels and require no installation; simply place along backyard paths or plant beds and enjoy!
14. If you go faux, make it recycled. Hot tub cabinets, yard fencing, and outdoor furniture can be manufactured from recycled plastics and other resins made to look like natural wood. These items are often made from recycled milk cartons and soda bottles and are meant to last for decades. They are extremely low maintenance, meaning they don’t have to be hosed off very often, nor do they require periodic sealing like natural wood.
15. Look for sustainable or reclaimed wood. If you love natural wood, purchase items that have a seal from the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or SFI® (Sustainable Forest Initiative). These forestry certification programs ensure that wood with this label was harvested from forests that promote conservation and new growth. You can also look for wood that has been reclaimed from structures no longer in use.
16. Learn your materials. If you don’t know the eco-friendly properties of the materials listed on a product, do some research. Bamboo—used in many pool and backyard accessories, including towels and placemats—is sustainable for its rapid growth rate. Soy—used in candles and even some swimsuits—is a plentiful byproduct of soybean oil production that would otherwise be thrown away. There are many other materials that are green for other reasons and to varying degrees. When reviewing labels and contents, also pay attention to the percentages of each material used.
17. Don’t let rain go to waste. Rainfall harvesting systems capture water from your roof, filter it, and store it in either an aboveground tank (which typically holds 305 gallons) or an underground cistern. Filtered rainwater can be used for lawn irrigation or even to fill your pool back to the proper level after evaporation or splash-out. Systems cost between $4,000 and $5,000 (higher if a hole needs to be dug) but will pay off in three to four years.
18. Conserve water by xeriscaping. Grass lawns and non-native plants require tremendous amounts of water to survive in hot, dry climates. Xeriscaped lawns rely on native plants and terrain to reduce water usage. They also supply native birds and animals with natural habitats.
Photo courtesy of Rin Robyn Pools