Indoor Pools Offer Profitable Opportunities for Green Contractors

January 18, 2010
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Splash Universe, Shipshewana, Ind., is a new breed of water park that uses recirculation and mechanical dehumidification to provide better IAQ and green environments.

There is a wealth of green business opportunities in the indoor pool (natatorium) marketplace for HVAC contractors willing to retrofit and/or sell new energy recovery mechanical dehumidifiers. Like direct expansion air conditioners, mechanical dehumidifiers require the expertise of trained service techs and contractors to repair, replace, install, and sell them.

Dehumidifiers that employ green principles (such as heat recovery) to heat pool water, heat the natatorium space, and preheat outdoor air, plus newer technologies such as multifan arrays for varying fan energy consumption, electronically-commutated (EC) brushless DC motors, economizers for taking advantage of suitable outdoor air conditions, and other green features are easier to sell when combined with the following market paradigms:

• Aging dehumidifiers: Since the advent of the modern mechanical dehumidifier in the 1970s, literally tens of thousands of dehumidifiers were installed from 1975 through 1995. These are now reaching beyond their useful 15- to 20-year lifecycles if they haven’t already been replaced. Recent dehumidifier technology advancements offer greater efficiency and greener features than units manufactured prior to the 21st century.

• Replacing outdated makeup air/exhaust methods: Many indoor pools, especially in older facilities, use conventional makeup air units that simply exhaust indoor air to control humidity. This method is very energy inefficient compared to many brands of dehumidifiers that recycle a majority of the air and use heat recovery today.

• Refrigerant retrofits: Most of the mechanical dehumidifier units and/or makeup air/exhaust units manufactured before 2000 use R-22, which are now banned from newly manufactured equipment.

• The lure of incentives: Recently appropriated economic stimulus money earmarked for energy improvements, combined with rebates/incentives from utilities, plus those from federal, state, and local authorities, can be lucrative enough to prompt retrofit or new equipment budgeting. Consequently, these funds make it easier to sell conversions to environmentally friendly refrigerant-based units, as well as new equipment replacements.

HOW TO REAP GREEN PROFITS IN NATATORIUMS

Generating profits from green indoor pool contracting isn’t as difficult a niche to break into as one might think. A little training can go a long way. For instance, interested contractors can send their service techs to become certified in indoor pool theory, service, and marketing through the three-day Dectron Installation & Service Seminar held monthly at its Niagara Falls, N.Y., teaching facility, which charges a nominal break-even fee.

The school, which bases much of its information on standards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), was formed for the purposes of furthering indoor pool HVAC knowledge.

One huge market contractors can tap into immediately is indoor pool market retrofitting. Many early installations are coming into the replacement period. A good example is the Nottawasaga Inn Resort in Alliston, Ontario, which recently replaced its aging indoor pool dehumidifier for its indoor pool with state-of-the-art equipment.

Heat recovery provides free space and pool water heating at the facility. Although the new, 13,500-cfm dehumidifier was an identical Dectron Internationale Dry-O-Tron Model DS-150 drop-in replacement, refrigeration component technologies have improved energy efficiency over the last 15 years. The new unit has a 70 minimum circuit ampacity (MCA) and 110 maximum overload protection (MOP), versus the older unit’s 83 MCA and 125 MOP. This calculates into a total savings of 24,000 kWh annually based on 90 percent compressor run times.

The resort took an even larger step forward in green and IAQ by ordering a dehumidifier with gas-phase filtration, the first such application in Canada. Previously, during huge bathing loads at special events or holidays, chloramine buildup created an undesirable IAQ environment. The resort’s initial remedy was providing more outdoor air through the replacement unit, because gaseous contaminants such as chloramines can’t be removed with conventional media filters.

Adding more outdoor air to heat, cool, or dehumidify, however, would raise energy consumption and certainly reduce overall conservation attempts. Instead, HVAC contractor RHA Environmental, Barrie, Ontario, and HVAC manufacturer’s representative Kilmer Environmental, Mississauga, Ontario, suggested adding a factory-installed gas-phase filtration option to the equipment package. By eliminating chloramines through adsorption with carbon-based media via recirculation (versus exhausting it), the facility has maintained its green intent.

Two newly opened, 25,000-square-foot indoor water parks each uses a Dry-O-Tron Model DS-462 dehumidifier, which supplies 40,000-cfm and has a moisture-removing capacity of 565 lb/hr.

NATATORIUM OPPORTUNITIES

There are thousands of facilities like the Nottawasaga Inn Resort, with indoor pools that are due for equipment updates. A free energy audit and facility performance review, which is part of the aforementioned training school curriculum, is a good marketing method for educating facility owners about more efficient equipment.

John Mills, vice president of Xtra Mechanical, Toronto, is the HVAC contractor that now services the Nottawasaga Inn Resort unit. Mills has transformed his company from a conventional HVAC contractor to an indoor pool niche specialist. The Nottawasaga Inn Resort needed only an equipment replacement, but Mills claims there is an abundance of hospitality business across North America available to any contractor that wants it because a majority of hotel/motel natatoriums either have no dehumidification, aren’t designed/built properly to begin with, or have inefficient air distribution.

A graduate of the Dectron training-certification school, Mills now finds and renovates indoor pool problems such as wrongly placed or poorly designed ductwork/diffusers, improper building materials for high-humidity situations, and a host of other problems that lead to inefficient natatorium operation.

THE GREENING OF INDOOR WATERPARKS

Indoor waterparks are another industry waiting for aggressive HVAC contractors to solve their problems. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of indoor waterparks are now rethinking their past strategy of exhausting moisture-laden air now that their energy bills have doubled and tripled in the last 10 years, and considering the green philosophy of recirculating their indoor air.

Whether it was due to the fact that investors in this niche weren’t quite committed to long-term ownership or needed higher profits early on in a facility’s lifespan, nearly all indoor waterparks opted for a pay later philosophy of installing conventional, 100 percent outdoor air equipment and continually exhausting, versus the more green approach of heat recovery dehumidifiers designed for the high humidity loads of natatoriums. The waterpark industry is just now beginning to realize the pay now approach of air-recirculation equipment that costs more upfront, but pays energy-saving dividends over the long term.

Case in point is Splash Universe, Shipshewana, Ind., a new breed of waterpark developers that embraced the recirculation and mechanical dehumidifier philosophy to provide better IAQ and green environments in two newly opened, identical, 25,000-square-foot indoor waterparks in Shipshewana and Dundee, Mich. Instead of the waterpark industry’s status quo of pay later, both facilities feature a green approach of state-of-the-art mechanical dehumidification equipment that employs several heat recovery strategies.

Each facility uses a Dry-O-Tron Model DS-462 dehumidifier, which supplies 40,000-cfm and has a moisture-removing capacity of 565 pounds per hour. Besides several heat recovery strategies, the units dehumidify the space to 50 percent relative humidity, supply free pool water heating to maintain 84°F water temperatures, and also cool or heat the space to 82°.

Although Splash Universe paid more money for its equipment upfront, dehumidification and recirculation is saving each facility $105,000 or more annually, according to Paul Joliat, P.E., LEED AP, president of Michigan Air Products, a Troy, Mich.-based manufacturer’s representative. Over the 20-year lifecycle of the equipment, Splash Universe will save an estimated $2 million or more, according to Joliat.

Additionally, Splash Universe is the first known indoor waterpark to employ gas-phase air filtration. Other waterparks typically have a pungent odor, but Splash Universe has a very fresh environment that’s noticeable upon entering the pool area, according to Dennis Rainsberger, chief maintenance engineer. To make sure the system is continually delivering purified air that is free of chloramines, Rainsberger periodically sends gas-phase filtration media samples to the Tech-Chek laboratory media testing and diagnostic service offered by gas-phase filtration manufacturer Circul-Aire, Montreal.

The fact that most indoor waterparks, community, health club, and YMCA pools didn’t employ heat recovery dehumidifiers in the 1980s and 90s, points again to a market that’s ripe for contractors to pursue as retrofits.

CONVERTING FROM R-22

Refrigerant management is another paradigm that can generate green profits. The majority of dehumidifiers employed at indoor pools today use R-22. Conversions to environmentally friendly refrigerants, or HFC-based equipment replacements, might complement an indoor pool facility’s green mission.

With rising R-22 costs, converting to a drop-in HFC replacement such as R-407C might encourage facility owners to switch, especially if they anticipate the equipment lasting another 10 years or more.

Replacing an older R-22 dehumidifier prematurely with a new HFC model also might stave off rising maintenance expenses associated with aged equipment such as refrigerant leaks, decreased efficiency, and component replacement.

Approaching natatorium owners with this information might also prompt them to accelerate plans to replace older R-22 units with R-134a or R-410A models, now available from most dehumidifier manufacturers.

ENERGY INCENTIVES

The town of Richmond Hill, Ontario, found its Lois Hancey Aquatic Center in two of the aforementioned situations. First, the 26,000-square-foot natatorium’s aged HVAC equipment needed replacement. Secondly, the existing equipment - a combination of 100 percent makeup air equipment that was later supplemented with a small, mechanical dehumidifier - couldn’t provide the 50 percent IAQ levels and indoor air comfort the facility managers desired.

To comply with the city’s ongoing green mission and simultaneously improve IAQ, the town opted for one Model DS-482, which has a moisture-reducing capacity of 570 pounds per hour. The 38,500-cfm unit uses heat recovery for pool water heating and to heat outdoor air.

This heat recovery combined the reduction in electrical demand by using a multifan array versus one large-horsepower fan, and qualified the project for a $100,000 Municipal Eco Challenge Fund grant from Canada’s Ministry of Energy. Additionally, the new system is cutting annual energy costs by $76,000 and the former equipment’s maintenance costs by $30,000.

When combining the grant, the operational savings, and reduced maintenance costs of a new unit, the dehumidifier’s payback is less than five years, according to Saroj K. Acharya, P.Eng., LEED-AP, CEM, facility systems manager, town of Richmond Hill.

Typically a DS-482 dehumidifier is factory-assembled and delivered to a site in one piece. Due to site conditions, however, the 33-foot-long, by 10-foot-wide, by 11-foot-high dehumidifier was delivered in 150 pieces to fit into the cramped mechanical room and then assembled on site, which significantly raised project costs.

Acharya claims the facility is much greener now, and it has also improved IAQ because there’s no longer a chlorine odor. Humidity is maintained at a comfortable 50 percent year-round.

The contractor that makes commitments to the indoor pool niche with training and then aggressively promotes itself as a company that can retrofit a facility into a greener building - thus paying for its services with short paybacks from energy savings - has unlimited opportunities for business and profits.

Publication date: 01/18/2010

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