Spring means it's pool heater mania time

BY DAVE YATES PLUMBING CONTRACTOR EACH SPRING WE get referrals from several local pool companies to install underground gas lines to pool boilers they've sold as part of their installation package. They must be buying them by the train carload because their retail price for that option is less than our wholesale cost for the boilers. I expected this past winter's huge spike in fuel costs to dampen

BY DAVE YATES
PLUMBING CONTRACTOR

EACH SPRING WE get referrals from several local pool companies to install underground gas lines to pool boilers they've sold as part of their installation package. They must be buying them by the train carload because their retail price for that option is less than our wholesale cost for the boilers. I expected this past winter's huge spike in fuel costs to dampen pool heater mania, but we're fielding just as many referrals as last year.

Recently, a potential customer objected to the notion that her gas line can't handle the 650,000 Btuh combined load for the proposed pool heater, residential heating boiler, water heater and stove. No way around the house, so the line must pass through the basement. She said they'd turn off the boiler in the house if that would make enough of a difference!

Let's see if I got this right: She'll will-ingly sacrifice her home's heating in order to heat a pool so she can avoid a few hundred bucks to increase the size of the gas line. This from someone who's about to burn 400,000 Btuh for days on end, and she's fussing over a few hundred dollars to have a safe installation?

Given that these are referrals from the pool installers, I need to tread lightly when warning customers about how much it's going to cost to heat a pool. They want Bermuda-like pool-water temperatures — right up until that first shocker-of-a-gas-bill is delivered. So, I gently advise them to consider how many hours each day they heat the pool and to invest in the best thermal/solar cover money can buy.

Another customer I met recently was given an aboveground pool and propane-fired pool boiler by her parents. A conversion kit for natural gas was included, and she was inquiring which fuel would be less expensive to operate and what the installation costs for propane vs. natural gas would run. No referrals to muzzle me here, so I proposed a solar installation. Free energy!

The only thing limiting the pool's final temperature would be the square footage of the solar panels on her nicely pitched south-facing roof, an ideal installation site. No dice, she wasn't interested in solar. Her father noted he only used 300 gal. of propane each year, so I had a definitive amount of fuel for an analysis.

Retrieving my Burnham Heating Helper booklet from the truck, I was able to show her two things: that the pool boiler was larger than required for her 24-ft. round, 4-ft. deep pool and the Btu values for both natural gas and propane.

Once back at the office, I called several propane delivery companies for pricing and was given the following price quotes per gal.: $2.599; $3.81 (they asked what I would be using it for and said that was their rate for pool heaters!); and $2.21 — "for now."

Checking the cost for natural gas is like going down a rabbit hole and my latest bill has more varying surcharge rates than most women have shoes! Simplest thing to do there was simply divide the Ccf (100 cu. ft. of natural gas) by the bill's total, which equaled $1.07 per Ccf.

The Burnham Heating Helper booklet lists propane at 91,800 Btu per gal. and natural gas in our area is rated at 1,050 Btu per cu. ft. The energy content for 300 gal. of propane would be 2.754 million Btu and an equal value for natural gas would require 262.3 Ccf.

Final operating cost: $280.66 for natural gas and $663.00 for propane. The $382.34 annual savings will offset the cost for the underground natural gas installation in less than five years and sooner if she uses the pool boiler more often than did her parents.

Happy Mothers Day to all you moms! A mother's love is unconditional and her patience is an exceptional thing to behold.

I have a confession to make. When I was first given this opportunity to write a monthly column, I was petrified. No, not because I couldn't write, but because my writing was simply chock-a-block full of grammatical and spelling errors and I knew that going in. I'm dyslexic, which means I don't see some words; reverse or transpose letters; and I tend to spell phonetically (as words sound).

My mother (who majored in English) offered to be my ghost editor and my columns looked like a bloodbath at first: red editing marks, slashes and circles littered each sentence and paragraph. As each column was edited, she patiently began teaching me the rules of the grammar highway and gradual improvement came slowly — maddeningly slowly. Two steps forward, one step back!

A little more than a year ago, I started getting entire columns back without a single red mark. As a result, I've been able to submit my works directly to my editors at CONTRACTOR magazine without giving them a headache. Mom gave me the gift of life and, now, the gift of a writing voice. Happy Mother's Day, Mom — love ya!

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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