By Marcelle Dibrell
Are gas fired heaters becoming a thing of the past? Recent decarbonization codes — laws aimed at reducing the country’s carbon footprint — may result in the eventual demise of this pool and spa industry staple.
For the past several years, many municipalities have passed codes that prohibit the inclusion of gas lines in new construction.
So, gas pool and spa heaters, not to mention gas-fueled fire pits and outdoor kitchens, may become obsolete in many regions of the country, and sooner than expected.
Recently, legislation has been enacted that may accelerate that possibility on both a national level and in two particular states.
This August, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was approved by Congress and signed by President Biden, and it is said to represent the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history. Congress has allocated nearly $370 billion over the next years to scale up renewable energy production and drive substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation invests in a variety of strategies, including low-carbon technologies, tax credits to promote electric vehicles, incentivizing rooftop solar panels, and funding for other consumer programs, including those that encourage the use of heat pumps, which are energy saving.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a climate change bill designed to meet a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was approved this July. The bill’s broad details include, among many other items, allowing 10 cities and towns to require fossilfuel- free new construction, as long as each community first meets the 10% affordable housing target set by state law.
And an increasing number of cities in both Northern and Southern California have adopted Title 24 REACH codes — which require all-electric new construction projects with no gas appliances or gas plumbing. This September, the state has passed an array of environmental bills, including a suite of ambitious climate measures that have been opposed by the California Pool and Spa Association.
These bills will:
• Codify a statewide carbon neutrality goal.
• Increase the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.
• Establish setbacks for new oil and gas production wells.
• Establish carbon capture regulation.
According to the CPSA, these proposals will “also accelerate issues relative to decarbonization that bans the use of natural gas appliances for swimming pool and spa heaters, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, and water features.”
Currently, while there are alternate technologies available for pool heating, such as heat pumps and solar, there is really no acceptable substitute for a gas heater when it comes to the pool and spa combination, common in so many backyards.
An electric heater is another option that some may consider to heat up the spa. It has a heating element like one on an electric stove or in a domestic hot water tank at home. While is sounds efficient, in reality it can cost six or seven times as much as a heat pump to run.
And although there are heat pumps that are able to bring spa water up to the desired temperature, most still work at their optimum efficiency when the ambient temperature is about 60 °F or above.
But for areas that experience a lot of seasonal variation, unfortunately, the gas heater remains the best way to quickly bring spa water up to temperature.
So until the technology evolves to a higher level of sophistication, a ban on gas pool and spa heaters is tantamount to banning winter use of the pool spa combo, except for those with deep pockets.
In this issue of Service Industry News, we take a closer look at some of the more common heating options.