Coming in 2021, variable-speed pool pumps will be mandatory for powering the filtration system of any spa or pool. This is due to a new U.S. Department of Energy regulation that will require all pumps past a certain horsepower rating to meet an efficiency threshold, effective July 18, 2021. This federal regulation sets forth minimum efficiency standards that a pool pump must meet to be sold in the United States.

Referred to as “Energy Conservation Standards for Dedicated-Purpose Pool Pumps,” this decision came about after extensive collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy, manufacturers, utility companies and energy-efficiency advocates. This happens to be the second similar type of regulation that applies to the pool and spa industry, with the other one being an efficiency standards for heaters.

The measurements for the threshold uses a different system from that of traditional motor horsepower. Pool Pumps rated between 0.711 and 2.5 hydraulic horsepower have to meet the performance standard. When you convert that to motor horsepower, the regulation will apply to motors between one and five horsepower.

With the cost of variable-speed pumps decreasing, cost won’t present as much of an obstacle as it may have before. Officials says variable-speed pumps will pay for themselves within two years.

The regulation may also impact rebates. When 2021 gets closer, it’s possible the industry will see fewer rebates offered by utilities, as they will feel less inclined to offer incentives. On the other hand, technological advancements may make room for rebates beyond 2021, bringing even more efficient variable-speed pumps surpassing the new DOE standard.

Breaking it Down

Under the new regulation, commercial and residential self-priming filtration pumps past a certain horsepower threshold have to meet an established performance standard – a standard only currently satisfied by variable-speed pool pumps.

The industry as a whole must now acquaint itself with a brand new labeling system, and of course there will be a bit of a learning curve as horsepower is referenced in new terms. Pumps less than 0.711 hydraulic horsepower may be single speed, but even those will eventually have to meet higher efficiency standards.

Waterfall pumps are not expected to be affected because they already meet high energy-efficiency standards. However, most pool, spa and backyard water features are powered by standard pumps, not these type of pumps. Pressure-cleaner booster pumps are allowed to be run with single speed motors, but will have to become more energy efficient as well. The regulation will also affect spa booster pumps.

Wondering about the Energy Star program? This is different, as it is voluntary. Manufacturers must comply with the new regulation if they want to sell their products in the U.S. Energy Star requirements may be changed a bit in the future to more closely resemble the new regulation.

Some say there is a loophole in the new regulation, as there is currently no mention of replacement motors. DOE will soon incorporate language pertaining to this product category, well in time for the new regulation to go into effect.