Variable speed pool pumps are all the rage. Fantastic energy savings an whisper quiet operation are the two most cited reasons for interest in the product. Comparing variable speed pumps is important because there are a wide range of prices and installation service levels available. All will save you money, but the features and capabilities vary widely. Selecting the right pump for your pool is critical.
While not a solar product, per se, variable speed pool pumps compliment solar pool heaters and become an integral part of a solar pool heating system. It’s critical to understand the comparisons to ensure a variable speed pump will work with your solar pool heater (or heat pump or gas heater for that matter).
Variable speed pumps should not be confused with 2-speed pumps, which have far more limited features and far lower cost savings. My recommendation is to forget about 2-speed pumps and go for the variable speed pump. That’s a discussion for another day…
Here are the most popular variable speed pumps we are seeing on the market in Southwest Florida.
- Pentair IntelliFlo VS
- Hayward EcoStar
- Hayward Max-Flo VS
- Jandy ePump 1.5 and 2.0
- Waterways VSA
Pentair IntelliFlo VS
This is my favorite of the bunch. I have this pump, and have loved it from the day I installed it. It is whisper quiet at low speeds, energy efficient at all speeds, and has excellent connectivity for Pentair automation products. The Pentair IntelliFlo is a 3 HP motor coupled with a variable speed drive with fully programmable speeds and schedules. It has four speed buttons and eight programs. It communicates with Pentair automation products like the SunTouch, SolarTouch, EasyTouch, or IntelliTouch via an RS-485 digital interface. If connecting the pump to non-Pentair automation, it requires an Intellicom II digital interface. However, certain versions of the popular Aqualink system with newer firmware can natively control the Intellicom as long as you have a PDA remote (I should mention that this is not supported by Pentair). When controlling the IntelliFlo with a Pentair automation (excluding the SolarTouch or Intellicom II) or Aqualink PDA, the controller will take over control of the pump and all schedules and speeds are controlled externally. One disadvantage of external control is that the IntelliFlo no longer displays the operating speed or energy use on the integrated display. Fortunately you can get this information through the automation product, but it’s not as convenient when standing over the pump. With the SolarTouch controller and Intellicom II, the pump retains all of the scheduling, speed, and display functionality, and the SolarTouch simply overrides the currently selected speed when solar heating is active. The IntelliFlo also comes in a SVRS (suction vacuum release system) version to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act and Florida Building Code for some pools.
The EcoStar is also a capable variable speed pump. It features a 2.5 HP motor with an onboard drive/controller with similar features to the IntelliFlo pump. There are four speed buttons and eight schedules. The Ecostar connects to automation products a little differently, with an analog interface. When connected to automation, the pump is capable of eight different speeds based on the analog input to the pump. In all cases the onboard controls are overridden and the external controller takes over. Unlike the Pentair pump, the Ecostar continues to display the pump running speed and energy use on the pump display when externally controlled. There are advantages and disadvantages to analog control. You gain flexibility because just about any automation product on the market can send the pump speed commands (even the basic GL-235 solar controller can change the pump speed). Unfortunately, the number of speeds is often limited by the number of available relays offered and available in the automation system. However, we can add additional speeds for pool service personnel or other needs with simple toggle switches. The Ecostar also comes in an SVRS model if needed. One nice feature is being able to mount the display remotely on a wall, or turn it to face any of four directions on the pump.
Hayward Max-Flo VS
The Max-Flo VS is a 1.5 HP pump, which Hayward claims to be “right sized” for most residential pools. Unfortunately, the speed setting on the pump would typically be higher to achieve the same flow rate. Do you want your pump motor running at a higher speed, making more noise and possibly not lasting as long? To me, this defeats the purpose of a variable speed pump. Nonetheless, the Max-Flo VS could be a good option for some people with smaller pools and no heaters and limited features. I do not recommend it because it has absolutely no external automation controls. If you have existing automation or plan to add it later, this pump is not for you. Speeds and schedules are handled only through the onboard control, which has a digital readout for programming, convenience, and monitoring.
Jandy ePump 1.5 and 2.0
The ePump 1.5 and 2.0 are named for their horsepower ratings. The Jandy products integrate well with Jandy automation (Aqualink), but can also operate independently. However, you need the Jandy ePump controller for independent operation, which adds substantially to the cost. In addition, you need the ePump contoller when using external automation, even though the functionality of the ePump controller is lost. The external automation is accomplished with analog controls, similar to the Ecostar, and speeds controllable through automation may be limited. I do not recommend these pumps due to the cost and lower horsepower rating compared to the Pentair and Hayward options. The ePump controller can be mounted remotely from the pump like the Ecostar’s display module.
Waterway, based in California, is located where some of the highest daytime residential electricity rates cause pool pumps to be a major household cost. The Waterway VSA uses a Champion motor and an AO Smith onboard controller. Like the Max-Flo VS, the Waterways VS cannot be controlled externally, severely limiting the functionality and potential savings for pools with features or heating systems. The control module may be mounted remotely. One nice feature is being able to control external equipment like a heat pump with a relay. However, this functionality is a bit backward to me – the pump tells the heater if it is running fast enough for the heater to start. External automation systems do it right, telling the pump to increase speed when heating is required. Like the Max-Flo VS, this pump is not for you if you want to operate a solar pool heater or heat pump effectively. This is a value priced pump with a seemingly good warranty.
The Pentair VS and Hayward Ecostar are close competitors at the top. Both are powerful pumps with great external control options that depend on the existing or future automation system needs. The digital interface on the Pentair adds some nice capability at the cost of flexibility with non-Pentair automation. The Ecostar’s display mounting flexibility and ability to be controlled out of the box with just about any existing automation is great, although sometimes the number of speeds that can be controlled is limited. I cannot recommend the Jandy ePump due to cost and lower horsepower, but it has many of the Ecostar control features and works well with Jandy automation. The Hayward Max-Flo VS and Waterways VSA are only suitable for pool-only situations with no features or heat sources, and you will experience far less functionality and future flexibility. If you have a solar pool heater, and want optimum pool heating with external controls, forget about these last two pumps.
Beyond the Pump Itself: Installation and Programming
A word of caution about installation and programming of variable speed pumps… You may see amazingly low advertised prices for variable speed pumps through discount retailers. Unfortunately, the initial programming of variable speed pumps can be daunting for the average homeowner, and properly setting up the pump to operate for various features and heat sources is not for beginners. In fact, it’s beyond the current capabilities of many pool professionals who are just coming up to speed (pun intended). Connecting variable speed pumps to existing or new automation products just further complicates the installation and programming. But most importantly when having a variable speed pump installed, ask your installer if they are going to install a flow meter! If they don’t, they are doing you a disservice. Installing a flow meter allows the installer to calculate the minimum speed possible to get the desired turnover, an also meet the flow rate requirements for optimum operation of solar pool heaters, heat pumps, cleaners, in-floor cleaners, and other pool features. The idea is to meet the flow requirements of all features of your pool and spa, and balance that with the amazing energy savings offered by any of the above variable speed pumps.
If you see a price that is too good to be true, it is. You will be calling your pool service company (or me) to properly set up your pump. If a capable installer charges more that the competition, there is probably a very good reason. I can’t stress enough that you should not go for the cheapest variable speed pump and installer. That said, once the pump is set up and operating to your satisfaction, the system is simple, reliable, and will pay for itself in no time!