New pool pump law raises concern by contractors

chawes@bradenton.comJune 29, 2011 

Its purpose is to reduce the energy consumed by swimming pools, but a new law slated to take effect at the end of this year has some pool contractors concerned it will cause a tide of “underground activity” by people not qualified to repair or install swimming pools.

The new law, originally scheduled to go into effect July 1, requires all new residential swimming pools to use a variable-speed circulation pump instead of a single-speed pump. It was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2008 as part of a sweeping energy conservation bill; Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Friday that delays the new pool pump requirement until Dec. 31.

The idea behind the change is that variable-speed pumps, if used properly, consume 30 to 90 percent less electricity than single-speed pumps because they run at a less intense level. That kind of energy savings can mean a reduction of up to $1,000 annually in the electric bills of swimming pool owners.

Todd Starner of Bradenton’s Starner Brothers Pools Inc. is all for saving money through more efficient swimming pool pumps. But he’s also concerned that the variable-speed pump’s higher initial cost, coupled with an overall lack of enforcement and regulation, will influence swimming pool owners to skirt the new law.

“What we feel they’ve created is a huge underground market for unlicensed activity to put these single-speed motors in,” says Starner, who is also the regional director over Florida and Georgia for the Independent Pool Servicing and Spa Association. “The single-speeds are still going to be available through Home Depot, WalMart, Lowe’s and other places. So people will hire their pool guy, or a handyman, or anyone who can run down to Home Depot, to replace their motor.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it will create more underground activity.”

Hiring a handyman or swimming pool cleaner to install a motor or pump is not only illegal, Starner says, it’s also dangerous. Licensed pool contractors are the only people qualified and trained to conduct pool repairs including the wiring necessary for pool pumps. People who clean swimming pools aren’t required to have any credentials at all, he said, except for in a handful of counties throughout the state.

Having an unlicensed person install a pump or motor can create problems for swimming pool owners years down the road, the veteran contractor said. He’s heard of insurance companies researching who completed what repairs and refusing to pay claims in situations where homeowners cannot prove that a licensed contractor performed repairs or maintenance.

“We’re going to lose business because of this law,” the contractor said, “It’s going to cause a lot of problems, and it’s going to cost the consumer a lot of money in the end.”

Jennifer Hatfield, government relations consultant for the 550-member Florida Swimming Pool Association, says she actually has encountered little opposition to the new law. Rather, she says, contractors tend to support the new law because they’re supportive of energy-saving measures.

Hatfield also says a close look at the numbers shows the variable-speed motors are likely to pay for their higher initial cost within their first two years of operation.

A new two-speed pump can cost up to $1,500 -- almost $1,000 more than a new single-speed pump. But annual energy savings with a variable-speed are estimated to be $500 to over $1,000.

Consumers can save even more money by retrofitting their old single-speed pump, Hatfield says, which is likely to cost only $800 to $1,000.

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.

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