New Heat Beneath Our Feet

High energy costs and environmental concerns are mobilizing the aquatic industry to engineer more efficient ways to heat pool facilities. While gas, electric, boiler and heat exchanger technologies are making strides to enhance their efficiency, it appears that geothermal and solar alternatives are gaining public support and financial stimulus incentives.

Heat is naturally abundant from the sun, as well as within the earth. It is inexhaustible and renewable. Advanced technologies are underway to capture this abundance and divert it to heat aquatic facilities. It makes sense to tap into these resources to provide cleaner, greener facilities. Enhancing the aquatic facility with a renewable energy source does involve a cost, but the ability to capture the sun’s rays and earth’s water offers a substantial payback over the long run.

A Closer Look

Heat-pump use is gaining momentum at aquatic facilities because it effectively meets clean energy initiatives. Air-source heat pumps do not actually burn energy to create heat–they only use energy to transfer heat from the outside air to the pool water. Geothermal heat pumps extract heat from ground wells, earth loops, surface water or cooling towers. The energy is absorbed and collected from underground. With the utilization of a heat exchanger, the heat is transferred to the pool water. While this is not a fast heat–as one would gain from a traditional gas (fossil fuel) heating system–the heat from a geothermal heat pump is available year-round.

A noteworthy installation captured the interest of the geothermal industry with a hybrid geothermal system in Pensacola, Fla. Albert Barfield presented a beachfront HVAC system in the June 2008 issue of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Journal, ( This heat-pump system combined the resources of the HVAC system in heating the pool and spa. At the historic Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, management recently retrofitted the heating and cooling system to incorporate the pool heat-pump system with the air-conditioning cooling towers. While some people may perceive that geothermal is only from inground waters, these two installations show the versatility of geothermal heat-pump systems for aquatic facilities and water parks–both indoor and outdoor.

The region of the country plays a major role in the viability of geothermal heat pumps. A case study, titled “Residential Swimming Pool Heating with Geothermal Heat Pump Systems,”(GHC Bulletin, 2004), by Andrew Chiasson of the P. E. Geo-Heat Center, stresses that cooler climates require additional ground loops because the air extracts heat from the earth; however, in warmer climates, the economic feasibility of payback is approximately five years. While this study was based on residential-pool installations, it is evident that those involved in public-pool green initiatives should review these findings. There is a caution that any geothermal heat-pump installation must be engineered prior to taking on such an expansive project; technologies must be specific when transferring heat from a water source. These specifics include the distance from the water source to the equipment room, desired temperatures, recovery of heat and piping requirements.

Identifying Source Water

To further explain the technology being implemented in the water-source heat-pump applications, there are four types of source water commonly available:

1. Open loop

2. Closed/group loops

3. Surface water

4. HVAC loops.

Open Loop

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