In Fine Foam

John Barnes knows what plagues his customers. After more than 30 years in the pool industry, the owner of VIP Pools Inc. in Four Oaks, N.C. says the biggest problem that people in his area have is the high price of heating a pool.
“I listened to the concerns that current homeowners had about the cost to maintain the pool, asking how to keep the ‘season’ going when the weather got cooler,” Barnes said. I saw an advertisement [for the technology] and decided that it was worth the investment in time to look into.
Barnes was referring to a new niche in the pool market: In-ground concrete insulated structures that use foam wall panels to naturally keep water temperatures 10 to 20 degrees warmer than traditional pools. Imported from Australia in the late 1990s, the technology has undergone strength and durability testing and has been available in the United States for eight years.
“I think it’s going to capture a decent portion of the market, especially for the people who are willing to spend the money on the quality pool,” said a builder in Schererville, Ind. He has built two pools with the help of Barnes and said that he’s received a 20 percent increase in telephone inquiries since adopting the technology a year ago. “It’s 70- to 80 percent off the heating costs for an average pool. The reward is that these pools will be used slightly longer in our neck of the woods than they currently are,” he said.
Traditionalists won’t be easily converted, but they don’t have to be, this is more of a consumer-driven product, especially now that people are catching up to the “green” thinking, said Jeffrie Rowland, who is the exclusive U.S. manufacturer of the panels. Pool builders don’t like to change what they’re doing, when something new comes along, they’re skeptical. But in the future, they’re going to literally have no choice because of energy prices. Barnes said he waited a year of two before he started building with the system and wished he’d have started sooner.
Still, the technology is relatively new and not very widespread. That doesn’t faze Rowland, who sees great potential. “New and innovative technologies are out there,” she said. “There really have not been any pool structural changes in terms of how to build the pools for 15 to 20 years. That’s quite awhile really, so we’re coming along and saying, ‘Look there’s a better way to do this.’” We were “green” before it was popular and didn’t want to use that terminology with swimming pools because people would associate the word green with the water and not energy-efficiency.

Rather than using an acrylic- or steel-walled shell, the insulated pool wall system is structured around 4-inch thick polystyrene foam panels that are glued together. The pieces can be cut into any shape, radius or curve. Then two coats of a structural plaster 3/8-inch-thick are applied to each side of the panel. Once the plaster sets, the pool is ready to build and finish, like any other pool. Using either our preferred EVM Coating is recommended for the interior finish, or a vinyl liner or fiberglass gel coat in place of traditional surface plaster.
“The difference is that you’ve literally installed an R-20 insulated value wall in the ground,” Rowland said. “That’s the resistance factor to cold or heat. You would have to have a 10-foot-thick concrete wall to get that same level of insulation in the pool.”
“The ground temperature around a pool will average 56 degrees. In the Northeast, the ground freezes 3 or 4 feet deep,” Rowland said. “You can’t keep the gunite warm. But with our pools, people are swimming from April to October without heating their pool.”
Some states even offer governmental rebates for using products that save energy. That can be a great promotional tool for a builder looking to appeal to environmentally conscientious consumers. In warmer climates, the foam works in reverse, keeping pool water cooler for a longer period of time.
“In my opinion, the [insulated] pool has unlimited potential … and offers higher profit margins,” said Barnes, who has built several insulated pools and spas throughout California, North Carolina and Illinois.