Filtering Your Options: Pool Filters 101

December 11, 2009

Choosing the right type of filter can be intimidating for pool owners, but filtering water is essential…Unless you enjoy swimming through an obstacle course of germs and algae, that is.

Pool filters should run for around eight hours a day, but it’s recommended you run it continuously for 24 hours. Any filter system you choose will require maintenance, and proper care of your filter elements will ensure a long life and healthy pool. It would be wise to spend a bit more on a filter that is a bit larger than what you initially think you need – your money would not be going to waste. Considerations like brand and size are often more important than type!

The three most popular methods for filtering your pool are sand, diatomaceous earth (DE), and cartridge. When choosing a new filter system, consumers need to gauge what is most important:

  • Size, size, size….. did we mention size?
  • Initial Cost
  • Maintenance & upkeep
  • Ongoing cost for filter elements, such as sand or cartridge replacements
  • Best filtration vs best price

This tried-and-true method of filtration has passed the test of time and remains the most popular among pool owners. True to its name, sand filters all have one common element: sand, which is actually high-rate silica sand that has sharp edges which prove helpful in separating debris particles. In lament’s terms, particle separation is filtration! As water flows from top to bottom and passes through the sand, first the larger bits of debris become trapped in the sand. Once the larger debris has been captured, it essentially helps the sand by blocking the spaces between sand particles and then trapping smaller bits of dirt. Sand filters are cleaned by a backwash process.

Say hi to the trend setter of pool filtration! Although cartridge filtration has been around a while, pool owners are taking note of this method and it’s growing in popularity. Much like with a sand filter, as water passes through the screen of the cartridge element, the larger debris that tags along for the ride is trapped first. As the screen pores fill with dirt, smaller particles can’t make it through the clogged element, thus resulting in debris-free water. To clean the element, you can remove it and wash the inside and outside, using a little pressure with your garden hose. The filters don’t last forever though and will need to be replaced.

Ah, what a fun word to pronounce… Let’s just call this a DE filter. Diatomaceous earth itself if a porous powder much like a microscopic sponge and in a sense can be considered the most natural way to filter your pool. Add this powder to your swimming pool water or directly to the plastic filter grid, then let it naturally circulate, removing contaminates in the process. The DE filters themselves can become coated with the diatomaceous earth (“filter cake”) which actually strains algae, dirt and dust from the water. To clean DE filters, you can backwash it like with a sand filter, but be sure to replenish the amount of powder for continual filtration.

It’s hard to say which type will initially cost less to purchase, simply because of the huge variety of sizing and brands. Most pool professionals will have their own opinion of what’s best, and whatever their reasoning it’s usually a matter of personal opinion based on experience.

When it comes to maintenance, the number one point to keep in mind is that a properly sanitized and circulated pool will put much less strain on your filter. In general, cartridge filters tend to be a bit more hassle to clean and maintain. Although a properly maintained filter can last up to five years, it takes a bit of diligence to remove the element and wash it whenever it gets dirty, whereas a simple backwash of your sand or DE filter will do. However, the one pitfall of sand and DE filters is the appearance of sand or diatomaceous earth powder in the pool. The presence of powder indicates a faulty filter part, whereas the presence of sand is fairly common.

Some of the most popular manufacturers of filters are Pentair, Hayward and Sta-Rite. They are all well-established, trustworthy companies and choosing one over the other is always a matter of preference. Products like filter aids can help promote longer filter cycles.

There are pool experts out there willing to help you through the process. Be sure to take your time when choosing a new filter system, and contact Swift Pool Supplies at any time if you have questions. Shop on!


Postpone Those Winter Blues: Pool Heat Systems 101

December 7, 2009

No matter what part of the country you live in, the summer heat unfortunately doesn’t last forever. When the temperatures start to drop outside, it’s hard to watch your swimming pool – which is a big investment – turn useless.  The seemingly high expense of heating your pool may seem too costly to be worth it, but with a little research and education, you may change your mind rather swiftly once you learn how much an efficient pool heat pump can maximize your investment.

Consumers seem to have tons of options for any product they aim to purchase, especially since online shopping is rapidly growing in popularity. With readily available customer reviews, price comparison, no in-store sales pressure and boundless information sources, making an online purchase seems to be the wisest choice one can make. Making a selection on any swimming pool product is no exception. There are a variety of heating options for your pool and choosing the best product can be decided according to a few factors:

  • Price
  • Size, usually measured in BTU output
  • Energy efficiency

The Basics
Most of us aren’t interested in the technical details of the equipment we use in daily life. As long as the basics are covered, we feel pretty confident in our continual use of these life-enhancing products. Learning all about electromagnetic waves will not make heating up my Chinese leftovers from last night any more beneficial or enjoyable!

First thing you should know are your options: there are electric pool heat pumps, solar powered heat systems, and then there are gas powered pool heaters. Heat pumps are powered by electricity and convert energy, as opposed to creating it, whereas heaters use either natural gas or propane. Solar powered heat systems, as the name suggests, harness the sun’s energy to power the unit and heat your pool. While these may not be the absolute only choices one has, it’s hardly advisable to go with alternative methods – while entertaining and creative, the “Redneck Pool Heater” serves as a prime example of an alternative method that probably shouldn’t be pursued.

Heat pumps transport heat from the air to your pool (or spa) by the means of external energy.  That being said, it may take quite a bit more of an effort from your heat pump to heat a pool when it’s 2 degrees outside – in fact, 45 degrees is about the cut off for premium heat efficiency, but if the temperature outside is below that benchmark, your pool will still be heated, just not with optimum efficacy. Still, for the majority of the time, your heat pump will be one of the best means of heating your pool since it never has to create energy, which can be costly.

Heaters are fueled by natural gas, and many of us are well aware of the unfortunate high fuel prices. Therefore, using this means of heat for your pool tends to be a bit outdated and more expensive. One major benefit is the low heat-up time – gas heaters are excellent for bringing your pool up to temp quickly.

A newer and often overlooked contender in the pool heating market is solar heat systems.  Most units include a solar collector, a filter, a pump and a flow control valve. The solar collector actually has pool water circulating through it as sunrays are “collected” to heat the water. The filter, much like the one already used in your pool, removes contaminates from the water before it ever enters the collector. The pump does all the heavy lifting, circulating the water through the system, and the control valve acts as the traffic director, diverting water through the collector. Depending on your climate, you can opt for a glazed or unglazed solar collector. If you only want to use your pool in above freezing temperatures, unglazed is the way to go.  It may go without saying that the solar heater will be out of commission on a day with less than ideal weather…Not that many people want to swim on a bad weather day, anyhow.

Heater Efficiency Comparison
At this point, you may have drawn your own conclusions for this section. Energy efficiency is higher on some people’s lists than others, but it seems that this is a steadily rising concern for everyone – and rightfully so.

Hands down solar energy is the most cost efficient, environmentally friendly, recommended means of heating your swimming pool. With virtually no additional cost to run the unit and its use of an already available heat source (the sun), a solar heat system is well worth the initial investment. They also tend to outlast the competition.

Next on this list would be an electric heat pump. The potential scare of an outrageous electric bill may scare some homeowners, but there’s really no need to fear. Technological advances ensure a low cost of operation, since heat pumps also utilize external heat sources and never have to generate their own heat.

It’s true, gas heaters are becoming a thing of the past. While there is still a demand for them, as consumers are made more aware of the importance placed on efficiency, it’s hard to truly justify a gas heater purchase – unless, of course, fuel costs in your area are significantly low. Still, gas heaters tend to die before any other type of pool heating system.

The Real Deciding Factor: What Will it Cost Me?
Ah yes, the most important part, especially in an uncertain economy. Basically, gas heaters will be your lowest cost initially, but may not be worth it in the long run. Solar heat systems cost a pretty penny to buy, but their low to non-existent operating costs will yield a payback of 1.5 – 7 years! Heat pumps are typically in the same price range as a solar heat system, but some units are a bit more capable in that they can cool in the summer and heat in the winter.

For a closer cost analysis, visit any of the following resources:




Contact Swift Pool Supplies if you’d like a custom detailed cost comparison of running a heat pump versus other heating methods.

Before Your Purchase, Some Final Considerations
There’s a lot of emphasis on a heater’s BTUs, which is what most pool heaters capacity is rated by. One BTU = 1 degree Fahrenheit per pound of water. That may sound a bit confusing, but with a little math, calculating your exact needs isn’t a huge stretch. It’s helpful to know that there are about 8.33 pounds in a gallon of water, meaning 8.33 BTUs will heat one gallon. If you feel up to it, there’s a detailed formula for more in depth calculations.

In most cases, higher BTUs will draw more energy and result in slightly higher costs. But if you want to heat your pool quickly and more efficiently, choose a heat pump with BTU output on the higher end of what you need. Bigger tends to be better, but don’t go overboard!

There are industry leaders for a reason. Not all brands are created equally and you, as the consumer, should be able to place all your trust in the brand you are purchasing. Reading other customer reviews or having a small discussion with a pool professional can help you decide which company consistently exceeds customer expectations.

My last bit of advice is very important: spend a little bit more and buy a solar pool cover! You may have heard it growing up (and perhaps say it to your own children now): “close that door, I’m not paying to heat/cool the entire neighborhood!” While amusing, it’s a good bit of advice. All the energy you use to heat your pool will escape unless you keep the heat trapped where it belongs.

Buy With Confidence!
Now, if you made it this far, the only thing left to do is make your purchase! Shop and compare heat systems with the knowledge you’ve gained, and don’t be shy to ask questions if you’re still the slightest bit confused or curious.

Be sure to educate yourself and compare different types of filtering systems for your pool, too.