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Water Savings in Pools and Spas

Scope

Install an appropriate cover for pools and spas that are financed, installed, or sold as upgrades by the home builder in single-family homes. The EPA WaterSense Program requires that pools and spas have a cover to minimize the amount of water lost due to evaporation.

Common-use pools/spas in multi-family buildings must have the following features:

  1. Be independently metered such that water use attributable to the pool and/or spa can be tracked and leaks can be readily identified.
  2. Be equipped with a gutter or grate system to catch water splashes or drag-outs.
  3. Be equipped with either sorptive media or cartridge filtration.

See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

Description

It is difficult to determine how much water an average swimming pool uses. However, by comparing homes with and without swimming pools and correcting for differences in landscape size, it is estimated that single-family homes with a swimming pool use about 58% more water outdoors than single-family homes without a swimming pool. This research indicates that the addition of a swimming pool results in a substantial increase in water use.

Pool pumps perform many functions in a swimming pool including circulating water through the filtration system and heater, backwashing the filter, operating a chlorinator, providing water for the pool sweeper, etc.
Figure 1. The main source of water loss in swimming pools and spas is via evaporation from the water surface (courtesy of Steve Easley & Associates)

Covering the pool installed at single-family homes, however, will reduce water loss due to normal evaporation. The cover can also reduce heating bills up to 50% by preventing night heat loss and will also save on chemicals. Pool covers come in a wide range of types and costs, and it is important to make sure the cover fits properly.

 

Pool covers minimize heat loss and water loss due to evaporation.
Figure 2. Pool covers minimize heat loss and water loss due to evaporation (courtesy of PNNL)

Swimming pools installed at multi-family buildings primarily lose water by evaporating from the surface, cleaning the pools via backwashing filters, and maintaining overall water quality standards. To mitigate water losses from these sources, the U.S EPA WaterSense® program requires that the pools be independently metered to detect leaks and perform maintenance before significant water loss occurs. WaterSense also requires that pools be designed to reduce water losses from splashing by redirecting or catching the splashes (e.g., overhanging edges, perimeter gutter, and grate systems).

In addition, WaterSense requires that the pools be equipped with water filtration systems using sorptive media or cartridges that use less water during backwashing than other filtration systems such as sand. Sorptive media filters include conventional diatomaceous earth (DE) or perlite filters and regenerative filters that reuse the filter media. These filters remove particles down to 5 microns in size, while sand and cartridge filters work in the 10- to 40-micron removal range. Sorptive media filters have hundreds to sometimes more than 1,000 fabric-coated tubes inside a pressure container. The medium (DE or perlite) is made into a slurry and mixed with the water in the filter. The medium is then deposited on the tubes by the water being pumped through the filter. Conventional sorptive media filters must have the DE or perlite replaced after each backwash. With regenerative sorptive media filters, the medium is periodically “bumped” off of the filter tubes by backflow, air agitation, mechanical shaking, or a combination of the three. It is then recoated onto the filter cloth. No water is lost in the recoating process. When the medium is flushed, only a few hundred gallons of water are needed. This makes regenerative sorptive media filters very water-efficient.

Water-efficient cartridge filtration systems use reusable filter cartridges that do not require backwashing to clean the filters. In this type of system, two sets of filters are required and each should last two to five years. When one set is removed for cleaning, the other set is installed in the system. Reusable filter cartridges must be soaked in a cleaning solution, then brushed and rinsed off prior to reuse.

Covering pools during long periods of inactivity, when possible, will also aid in reducing water losses through evaporation.

Builders should work with landscape professionals to ensure that the surface area of a pool or spa installed at a single-family home is included when conducting a landscaping water budget using the WaterSense® Water Budget Tool. The pool or spa surface area is treated as turfgrass in the tool.

For information on energy-savings pool pumps see the guide Variable Speed Pool Pumps.

Ensuring Success

For single-family homes, the inspector will verify that a cover is installed on all pools and spas.  Builders should also ensure that the cover is installed on the pool and/or spa prior to the inspection.

For multi-family homes, the inspector will verify that the pool is independently metered, has a gutter or grate system, and is equipped with either sorptive media or cartridge filtration.  Builders should ensure that the pool complies with all of the required criteria prior to the inspection.

 

Climate

No climate-specific information applies.

Training

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Compliance

The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense® New Home Specification

4.1.4 Pools/spas – Install an appropriate cover for pools and spas that are financed, installed, or sold as upgrades by the home builder in single-family homes. The EPA WaterSense Program requires that pools and spas have a cover to minimize the amount of water lost due to evaporation.

Common-use pools/spas in multi-family buildings must have the following features:

  1. Be independently metered such that water use attributable to the pool and/or spa can be tracked and leaks can be readily identified.
  2. Be equipped with a gutter or grate system to catch water splashes or drag-outs.
  3. Be equipped with either sorptive media or cartridge filtration.

 

This Retrofit tab provides information that helps installers apply this “new home” guide to improvement projects for existing homes. This tab is organized with headings that mirror the new home tabs, such as “Scope,” “Description,” “Success,” etc. If there is no retrofit-specific information for a section, that heading is not included.

Guidance for the measures described in this guide is applicable to both new and existing homes.

More Info.

Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

Case Studies

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References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: July, 2014

    Resource that provides WaterSense inspectors with guidance for verification of program requirements for water-efficient new homes under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense program.

  2. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: July, 2014

    Resource to help builders better understand the WaterSense requirements for labeled homes and assist them in meeting the criteria so they can receive the label for their new construction.

  3. Author(s): Alliance for Water Efficiency
    Organization(s): Alliance for Water Efficiency
    Publication Date: January, 2016

    Web page providing information about water use in pools and spas and tips for how to increase water efficiency.

  4. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: July, 2014

    Resource that provides a checklist of program criteria for water-efficient new homes under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense program.

  5. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: July, 2014

    Resource that establishes the criteria for water-efficient new homes under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense program.

  6. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Publication Date: June, 2017

    Resource that provides a directory of individuals that have sucessfully completed all requirements of at least one WaterSense labeled professional certification program.

  7. Author(s): East Bay Municipal Utility District
    Organization(s): Alliance for Water Efficiency
    Publication Date: January, 2008

    Report describing practices and considerationsfor more efficient water use in pools, spas, and fountains.

Contributors to this Guide

The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

Last Updated: 06/30/2017