Variable-speed pumps have set the new industry standard for efficiency, and many customers already know the energy-saving potential of these products. What they don’t know is how to calculate that savings and get the most out of the pump they purchase.

In order to maximize the energy savings from each pump, you’ll need to consider other variables. For this reason, Michael Orr, director of education at The Foundation for Pool and Spa Industry Education (FPSIE), recommends starting with an energy audit, especially when replacing an older pump with a variable-speed model.

Some are slightly more efficient than others, but these days, there’s generally not a huge difference between pumps. To find the most efficient, compare one brand’s Energy Star number to another, Orr advises.

When it comes to installing and optimizing a variable-speed pump, professionals are becoming more proficient not only at using tools such as electrical meters and gauges to measure performance, but they also are mastering the information gathered through algorithms in online calculators, says Phil Gelhaus, FPSIE board chairman.

Once you’ve determined the right variable-speed pump for your facility, try these tips to help the pump produce the best results.

Proper programming

Key to getting the most out of a pump is to program it correctly. In addition to following the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, you’ll want to take your facility’s unique circumstances into account.

“You can tune a pump to a particular swimming pool,” Orr says.

Check the energy provider’s website for peak demand hours. Programming the pump around these hours will save money.

“The key thing for installers is [not] running pumps [during] the utility company’s higher tier billing hours,” Gelhaus says.

Additionally, the pump should run on the lowest speeds possible for long periods of time. The most energy savings and cleanest water result from running the pumps all day. This is especially appealing when installing corona discharge ozone systems. Since this technology doesn’t leave a residual, they’re best to run 24 hours a day so the water is continually sanitized.

But even when using chlorine, it helps to move the water all day so the chemicals are constantly mixed.

“So you don’t have issues where, when the pump shuts off, everything sits stagnant and the pH drops, and in the deep end the pH changes,” says Ben Honadel, owner of Pools by Ben in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Still, the water must run on higher speeds for a while in order for proper skimming, and for chemical feeders and automatic cleaners to do their job.

Pipe size

The hydraulic detail is an important factor in getting the most out of a variable-speed pump.

The rules for minimizing turbulence become even more important on these installations. For instance, installers who use hard 90-degree elbows should convert over to sweep 90s.

Says Orr: “If you use old tight-radius 90s in PVC plumbing, [the energy efficiency] will get worse, but if you use the new long-radius sweep 90s, it’ll get better.”

Without the right plumbing, not only are energy savings lost, but the unit’s quiet operation is compromised as well.

To learn how efficient an existing hydraulics system is, Orr recommends consulting a flowmeter and RMS power meter, then using this formula: number of gallons pumped in 1 hour divided by the watts being used. You can take this measurement before and after you replace equipment to see the difference in energy usage.

The trick is to generate the necessary flow while running at the lowest speeds. This requires large plumbing. Pools under 40,000 gallons should have at least 2-inch piping to get the best out of a variable-speed pump, Orr says.

Better flow

Upgrading the jets and filter can ease the burden on a variable-speed pump, adding another level to its efficiency.

New, high-tech jets on the marketplace, such as the V-fitting and eyeball jet, help accelerate the water. This, in turn, makes the variable-speed pump more efficient.

“We want to accelerate it down at a 45-degree angle [because] this aids in the filtration process,” Orr says.

FPSIE also recommends mega-cartridge filters, saying they improve efficiency by eliminating the need to backwash.

For those outside of California looking to improve energy efficiency, Orr and Gelhaus suggest following California’s Tile 24 code when updating equipment.