If you're looking to replace your pool pump because it’s time for a new one or because you're tired of paying the huge electricity bill that comes with your current one, then a variable speed pump might be the way to go.
Variable speed pumps can be quite a bit more expensive than single speed or variable speed pumps, but they also last a lot longer and run more efficiently.
They're also quieter and more and more technologically advanced!
In this guide, we'll go over how variable speed pumps work, the benefits of owning one, some potential downsides to consider, how to choose the right size, things to look for when buying, and our favorite pumps to consider.
How do variable speed pumps work?
As you know, a pool pump’s job is to circulate water by continually pushing it through your filter to clean out any uninvited debris that happens to land in your pool.
>>Read: How to choose the best pool filter
Most pumps run at one or two speeds and there is no way to control it other than turning it off and on.
Variable speed pumps are considered extremely innovative and a solution to some of the issues with single and dual speed pumps.
Basically, the way they work by using a pressure sensor that detects when the water pressure is low enough for the pump to slow down.
Instead of just running at the same speed all the time, the motor only operates at the speed it needs to in order to get the job done.
You can see how this would save energy costs and wear and tear on the motor.
5 benefits of a variable speed pump
Just to elaborate a little bit more on the insane awesomeness of a variable speed pump, here are five major benefits:
1. Low noise
Variable speed pumps are much quieter than single or dual pumps because of something called a Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled (TEFC) motor.
Not only are these motors quieter, they're also better isolated from outside conditions.
2. Energy efficient
A variable speed pool pump can save you around $1,000 per year on your electricity bill as opposed to the other types of pumps.
And because these pumps last about three times as long as the others, that savings can really add up over time!
3. It could be the law!
By 2021, there will be a regulation that will come into effect in the US that sets forth minimum efficiency requirements for pool pumps.
These standards have been set by the US Department of Energy and will make it mandatory for manufacturers to comply and only build pumps that pass their energy-efficiency tests.
At this time, the only pumps that meet this criteria are variable speed pumps.
However, it's expected that some dual speed pumps could possibly brought up to code with some re-engineering.
So, what does this mean for the pool owner?
While you probably won't be forced to replace your existing pool pump, finding parts for them could be a problem since they won’t be manufactured anymore.
If you’re in the market for a pool pump, it’s probably wise to go ahead and purchase a variable speed for this reason if nothing else.
4. Long lasting
Because the pumps are built a little differently, their housing keeps them drier than other pump, by keeping the moisture from the air out a lot better.
They also run more efficiently so that the motor is not overly stressed. As a result, most experts say these pumps last about three times longer.
Advanced technology allows these pumps to be controlled digitally: they have some pre-programmed settings to choose from or you can set it yourself.
They're also equipped with self-diagnostics, meaning they will alert you when there are problems.
This way you can address them before they have time to create bigger issues or maintenance problems.
While it’s my opinion that you can’t really go wrong with a variable speed pump, there certainly are some common reasons why some pool owners don’t agree.
So, before you buy, take a look at these common complaints:
It’s true, a variable speed pump is likely to cost about three times as much as a single speed or dual speed pump.
Do keep in mind, though, that they also usually last three times as long and save over $1,000 a year in electricity costs.
2. Too much technology?
While this is usually a good thing, not all pool owners are all that fond of technology.
They can, in fact, be more complicated to operate and read if you're extremely technologically challenged.
And this technology also makes them more expensive to repair.
3. Not for every pool
Variable speed pumps are great for most pools, but to be honest, if you have a large pool and consistently have lots of swimmers, the demands for the pump to run at maximum RPM won’t allow you to see much of the benefit of a slower running pump.
Also, salt chlorinators often require you to run your pump at higher RPMs more often.
What size should you buy?
Buying the wrong size pool pump can completely negate all the energy and use efficiency you could be gaining with a variable speed.
So, it’s important to know the water volume and size of your pool.
Finding your pool volume is pretty simple.
If you had the pool installed yourself, chances are you already know this number.
But if not, there are some online pool volume calculators to help you out. For square or rectangular pools, the equation is:
Length x Width x Average Depth x 7.5 = Volume
And if you have a round or oval pool, the calculations get a little trickier.
But hey, why do the math if you don’t have to, right? My suggestion is to just use the online calculator and save yourself some time.
The first thing you need to figure out is your pool’s flow rate, or the volume of water that passes through the pump.
Your pump must be able to recycle all the water in your pool every 24 hours to keep it clean and germ-free.
To get minimum flow rate you divide the volume of the pool in gallons by 1,440 (minutes in a day).
Pool volume/1440=Minimum Flow Rate (gpm)
This just means that your result from the equation is “the least amount of water the pump must circulate through the filtration system in order to achieve the minimum daily turnover.”
The maximum flow rate is the maximum amount of water your plumbing system can handle in a minute: it's calculated by dividing your pool volume by the minimum flow rate.
Pool volume/Minimum flow rate = Maximum Flow Rate (gpm)
The maximum flow rating is the largest amount of water your pool filter can handle.
And this amount can usually be found right on your pool’s filtration system. If you're not able to find the numbers, you can usually find them on your manufacturer’s website.
Once you have all this information, you'll be able to easily decide what size pool pump you need.
Variable speed pool pumps usually come in ½, ¾, 1 and 1 ½ HP (horsepower) sizes, so you'll need to check the information available with each manufacturer to determine which one you need.
Each one will pump a certain amount of water and it's important to stay as close to the range of your calculations as possible.
You'll also need to take your plumbing pipe size into consideration.
Smaller piping (such as the 1.5” pipe used in a lot of older systems) cannot handle high horsepower pumps, so if you find that you do have small pipes, talk to your local pool store or the pump manufacturer to find the best solution.
Important features to consider
Now that you know what size pool pump you need, there are still a few other factors you'll want to keep in mind.
Each manufacturer and pump is different, so do your research if you want to get the most bang for your buck.
Generally speaking, these pumps are made a lot more durable than others anyway, but there are always exceptions.
To make sure you're getting a quality product, look for long warranty periods and manufacturers with the best reputations.
You can find out a lot about any company with a little online research, such as reviews and complaints.
Variable speed pumps are made to be efficient, and again, online reviews are your best way to find out if the particular model you're looking at holds up its end of the bargain.
It’s also a good idea to monitor your electrical usage for the first 30-45 days to decide if you're seeing a savings. If it seems to be an inefficient model, return it.
Also, look for Energy Star Certified models whenever possible. A lot of local utility companies offer rebates on your purchase of these pumps as an incentive to conserve energy.
Occasionally, you'll probably need to run your pump at maximum flow.
For example, after adding chemicals, some pool owners like to run their pumps faster in order to get them circulating and working quickly.
You should be able to put your pump on max speed whenever you need to, so make sure the model you choose has a lot of flexibility in its settings.
Best variable speed pool pumps
As you'll notice from these reviews, the majority of the pumps we recommend are either Pentair or Hayward.
That doesn’t mean there are not a few other good brands on the market, but these two companies certainly have the best reputation and carry the most products.
But if you find another brand you like, be sure to do your research and find out how long the company has been around and what customers have to say.
This large Pentair pump (click here to check the price on Amazon) powers in at 3 horsepower and is also Energy Star certified an with 8 programmable speed settings.
It's equipped with a built-in timer to ensure maximum efficiency, and its diagnostic system alerts the owner to any potential trouble before it causes damage.
It's compatible with many brands of digital pool controls so it can be programmed remotely along with lighting and other pool amenities.
And as an added bonus, the IntelliFlo pump has a proven track record for dependability that no other pump has.
This SuperFlo pump by Pentair (click here to check the price on Amazon) is 1 ½ horsepower and Energy Star Certified.
Its technology is designed to be simple to use with a real-time clock and 24 hour memory retention, while being easy to install, program and operate.
It has three operating along with override capability so that you can set the speed yourself when needed.
It runs on a 115 or 230 volt connection so it does not require rewiring and also has a digital display monitor that is easy to read.
This heavy duty .85 horsepower pump from Hayward (click here to check the price on Amazon) is designed for smaller pools and is simple to install and use.
It comes with an energy saving motor, programmable digital interface and 8 custom functions, while it can be easily connected to a 115 or 230 volt connection without rewiring and runs very quietly.
Its fully programmable touch control can be rotated in any position or wall-mounted for handy access.
This Energy Star certified pump from Hayward (click here to check the price on Amazon) is made especially for small to medium sized pools using 1.5” plumping.
It has an intuitive time clock for easy reading and programming, and a rotatable display for easy access in an spot.
Along with its diagnostics programming, it provides you with an accurate power consumption reading so you can adjust its setting for maximum efficiency.
It's also made to operate incredibly quietly and last for many years, and it’s large skimmer basket allows for effective removal of large leaves and debris.
This Hayward pump (click here to check the price on Amazon) is Energy Star-certified and industry compliant, making it eligible for utility rebates where available.
It's built with a TEFC motor, making it extremely energy efficient and durable.
It's completely programmable with a touch pad control that can be rotated or wall-mounted for easy access, while the digital touch pad control provides internal diagnostics, protecting it from priming failures, extreme temperatures and fluctuations in voltage.
It’s made with a large skimmer basket for better debris removal.
This one from Hayward (click here to check the price on Amazon) is the granddaddy of variable speed pool pumps, powering in at 2.7 horsepower that can be used with 2 - 2 ½” plumbing.
Its EnduraDrive technology is known for its reliability and performance in all conditions, and the TriStar VS system design is the most energy-efficient design available.
This pump is simple to install and service with its built-in diagnostic testing, while it has enough power to use in a large pool, but can also be adapted for use in smaller pools.
It's Energy-Star-approved and has an all-in-one controller for convenience and easy operation.
Another Energy Star certified Hayward pump, the Max-Flo (click here to check the price on Amazon) is a medium sized pump made for small to medium sized pools with 1.5 or 2” plumbing.
It 's designed with an intuitive time clock to make programming super easy, and can be customized for speed, duration and priming time.
It also contains its own extra large skimmer basket to clean away even larger debris and leaves.
Like most variable speed pumps, the Max-Flo is built with a totally enclosed fan cooled (TEFC) design that makes it super durable and long-lasting.
This 2 HP pump from Jandy (click here to check the price on Amazon) has 8 speeds and is one of the quietest pumps on the market.
It can be controlled with its own controller or programmed for use with a variety of others.
It has an extra large skimmer basket for clearing out debris and leaves and is designed for easy use and maintenance, and it's made durably and more compact than a lot of other models.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size fits all variable speed pool pump we can recommend.
As you can see, there are several factors you need to consider for your particular pool size and setup.
And a lot of it may depend on your budget since they do vary so greatly in price.
The best advice we can give you when choosing one is to stick with well-known brands and look at their warranty.
And then let us know what you decide and how well it works for you.
We always like to know how we can help!