Are Variable Speed Pumps Better Than Single Speed or 2 Speed Pumps?

So you need a new pool pump? But you’re not sure if variable speed pumps are worth the cost.

Well, good news, today there are many more options available than in the past and variable speed pumps can save you a lot of money over time. And that’s a good thing because according to ENERGY STAR®, your pool pump could be your home’s second-largest energy user costing you as much as $720 in energy every year.

Depending on your local electricity rates, that amount could be anywhere from several hundred dollars per year to more than a thousand dollars!

Single speed swimming pool filter pump.
Single-speed swimming pool filter pump.

Quick Answer: Are Variable Speed Pumps Better than Single Speed?

Variable speed pumps could save you $7,788 in costs over the pump’s lifetime. Not only do they save money but they have many benefits that single-speed pumps don’t have. They are quieter, will optimize the water flow, are programmable, and can be connected to automation systems.

Let’s take a deep dive into variable speed, single, and dual-speed pumps.

Pool Pump Regulations

It’s also important to note that in some areas there are specific regulations stipulating the kind of pool pump you need to use. Depending on the size of the pump, variable speed may be the only option due to recent Department of Energy pool pump laws.

That helps with the decision because the obvious choice for a new pool pump these days is a variable speed pump for several reasons.

Classification and Types/Categories of Pool Pumps and Department of Energy (DOE) Standards

In order to compare the different types of pumps, we need to understand how the pumps are classified and how they work.

Let’s dive right in and compare variable-speed pumps, dual-speed pumps, and single-speed pumps to understand what is available and why variable speed is the best option for your pool.

The easiest way to classify pool pumps is by self-priming and non-self-priming pumps, and some of those are impacted by the Energy Conservation Standards for Dedicated-Purpose Pool Pumps as published by the DOE.

Self-priming Pumps

Self-priming pumps have two categories, large and small. Think of your pump as the heart in your pool’s circulatory system.

pool pump
Swimming pool pump for inground pool.

1. Large Inground pools

Large self-priming pumps are most commonly used as main pumps for filtration and are usually at least 1.5 horsepower or larger.

All pumps installed on or after 19 July 2021 that are 0.5 horsepower or larger have to be variable speed to meet the energy conservation guidelines.

2. Small Inground pools

Small self-priming pumps are between ½ horsepower and ¾ horsepower and usually come in single speed or dual speed and must meet the DOE energy efficiency requirements as well.

Non-self Priming Pumps

Non-self Priming Pumps fall into two categories, above-ground main pumps, and in-ground accessory pumps.

1. Above-ground main pumps

Above-ground main pumps can be single-speed or dual-speed as long as they meet the DOE minimum energy efficiency requirements

Single speed pool pump system for above ground pools
Pool pump for above-ground pools.

2. Accessory pumps

Accessory pumps come in different varieties and some are exempt from the DOE standard.

a. Waterfall pumps are exempt from DOE standards.
b. Pool cleaner booster pumps must meet the DOE standards.

Differences Between Variable, Dual, and Single Speed Pool Pumps

For the remainder of this article, we will focus on the main pool pumps that power your filtration system, and in some cases, they may power your water features as well.

Single Speed

  • Single speed
  • Old technology
  • Not allowed in many places
  • Cost the most to run
  • Noisiest
  • Cheapest to buy

Single Speed

The oldest, simplest, and least expensive pump for your pool is a single-speed. As you guessed, it only has one speed – full power.

Old Technology

Single-speed pumps use man-made magnets that lose polarity over time and that results in it using more electricity the older it gets.

Single-speed pumps served their purpose as the heart of pool circulatory systems for decades, but as we will discuss later there is a new player on the field now that makes it obsolete for large pools.

Dual Speed (or 2-Speed)

  • Have two speeds
  • Save 50-70% on power costs (compared to single-speed pumps)
  • Cost more than variable speed pumps to run
  • Quieter than single-speed when on the lowest speed
  • More expensive to buy than single speed but cheaper than variable speed

High or Low Speed

Dual-speed (or two-speed) pool pumps are pretty simple to figure out as well, they run at two speeds – high and low. Running a lower speed requires less electricity and on average will save you 50% to 70% on electricity costs as compared to a single-speed.

Save Electricity Costs

You can schedule the pump to run at full speed when electricity prices are lower i.e. off-peak power, and then reduce it to low speed or turn it off when electricity prices are higher. Dual speed pumps also use man-made magnets that lose polarity over time and that results in it using more electricity the older it gets.

Variable Speed

  • Quieter than dual and single speed
  • Save up to 70% on power costs (compared to a single-speed)
  • Most expensive to purchase
  • Programmable to maximum flexibility and efficiency

As mentioned previously, variable speed pool pumps are the way to go and they are the cream of the crop with respect to versatility and energy savings.

Maximum Efficiency & Save Costs

Not only do they save you money, but they also allow you to tune your water flow for maximum efficiency and savings based on what your specific pool needs. That means that you can be in control of your water flow and avoid wasting money on circulating more water than needed in your pool.

Many Speeds

Variable speed pumps do just what their name implies, they can run at different speeds (RPM) and therefore reduce or increase the amount of water moving through your filter and pool.

Programmable and Have Automation Option

Variable Speed Pumps come with a built-in keypad and controller that allows you to create and manage a schedule to control the speed and the length of time for the speed based on your needs.

Most modern pool control systems have integration with the pumps to allow you to control the pump via your pool’s mobile app. That means you can change it any time. But if you do not have a pool control system then you can change it manually right on the pump.

New Technology

There are also some mechanical differences such as the magnets mentioned previously. In a variable speed pump, the magnets that drive the pump are different from those found in single and dual-speed as they are rare earth magnets.

Among other things, this means that they will have a longer life and run much more efficiently and quietly than the man-made induction magnets found in single and double-speed pumps.

Benefits of Variable Speed Pumps

Running at higher RPMs when electricity rates are cheaper

You can run your pump at higher RPMs only when needed instead of running at high RPMs all the time. If you live in a location that has variable electricity pricing and it is cheaper at night, you can use that to your advantage and wait until non-prime time to run at higher RPMs.

Running at higher RPMs only when using the pool or features

  • Water Features and Cleaners
    If your main pump also powers a cleaner or waterfall then you can temporarily increase the speed of your pump to provide more water flow to meet your needs when you want to use them.
  • Skimming
    During the day when you may need more skimmer suction to effectively clear debris from the top of your water then you can increase the speed of your pump for a set amount of time to effectively boost cleaning power.
  • In-floor cleaning systems
    Running this at night when energy rates may be lower will help to save money on pump running costs.
  • Increase water flow for the heater only when needed
    If you run the pump on low speed then you will likely need to increase the water flow if you want to use your heater because the heater has a pressure switch that needs adequate flow for the heater to operate.

With modern automation systems, you can even tie the heater operation to the speed of the pump so that it “automatically” increases the pressure when needed.

General benefits of using a variable speed pump.

  • Tuning run time and speed according to pool size
    You can tune the speed based on your particular pool setup and plumbing so that you don’t use more pressure than you need, thereby conserving electricity because you are running at a slower speed for longer periods of time.
  • Extended pump life
    By reducing the speed you are also reducing the noise from the pump and the wear and tear on the pump’s motor. The less strain you put on the pump then the longer it will last.

Variable Speed Pool Pumps are Cheaper to Run

One of the most important principles to understand is that it is cheaper to run at a lower RPM for longer periods of time than it is to run at higher speeds for shorter periods of time. If you use a single-speed pump then you only have one option, full throttle.

By being able to run your pump at slower speeds you can save money on your electricity bill and still meet the needs of your pool.

How Variable Speed Pool Pumps Save Money

Who doesn’t like saving money? Let’s look at how much money variable speed pumps can save you and talk about how to maximize those savings.

The first thing to consider when comparing the total cost of operating a pool pump is the price of each type of pump and the average life of the pump.

For this calculation, we will use the average of 7 years for pump life and we will use Hayward pumps for the comparison as they are one of the most popular brands of pumps.

How Much Do Pool Pumps Cost

Single Speed approx. $849.00
Hayward W3SP2610X15 Super Pump Pool Pump, 1.5 HP

Dual Speed – approx. $499
Hayward PowerFlo Matrix 1.5HP

Variable Speed – approx. $1,199.00
Hayward W3SP2303VSP MaxFlo VS Variable-Speed Pool Pump, 1.65

Pool Pump Electricity Cost Calculations

For the pump power consumption calculation, we will use an average electricity cost and pump runtime, however, it’s important to understand what your local rates and options are.

Some electricity providers in various locations offer free weekends, free nights, or other similar programs that could end up saving you money if you run your pump wisely.

Here’s a summary of the power use and running cost for each of the pump types. Below the table you’ll find the full working:

TypePower Use Per MonthRunning Cost Per Month
Single Speed Pump803 Kw$110.84
Dual Speed Pump330.5 Kw$45.54
Variable Speed Pump188.9 Kw$26.07
Running costs of single, dual and variable speed pool pumps.

* We made some assumptions with these calculations. In reality there are many variables, such as TDH, efficiency of the pump and many more factors. It’s complex to calculate properly so we’ve given you the best estimate we can using some average values.
**A flow rate of 65 gpm has been used and we’ve assumed the pumps will move around 47,000 gallons of pool water in the given times.
*** We’ve used an average electricty rate of 13.8 c p/kWh and we’ve used 1.5 HP pumps.

Single Speed Pump Electricity Costs

Let’s assume you have a single-speed pump that uses 2200 W at 3450 RPM and you run it 12 hours per day.

The monthly power usage would be:
12 hrs x 2200 W = 26.4 kW per day = 803 kW per month

And the monthly power cost would be:
803 kW x 13.8c per kilowatt hour = $110.84 per month

Dual Speed Pump Electricity Costs

For the dual speed calculation, we’ll make the assumption that we’ll run the pump at high speed for 5 hours per day and low speed for 15 hours per day. This should move a similar amount of water as the single speed pump.

We’ll also assume high speed use 2200 W @ 3450 RPM and 140 W @ 1725 RPM.

The monthly power usage would be:
3450 RPM – 5 hrs x 2200 W = 8.8 kW
1725 RPM – 15 hrs x 140 W = 2.1 kW
Total power use = 10.9 kW per day = 330.5 Kw per month

And the monthly power cost would be:
330.5 kW x 13.8c per kilowatt hour = $45.54 per month

Variable Speed Pump Electricity Costs

For the variable speed calculation, we will base the usage on taking advantage of the variable speed functionality to run the pump at higher speeds based on pool usage and maintenance requirements.

3450 RPM for 2 hours to account for vacuuming and running water features. 1725 RPM for 10 hours to provide sufficient skimming and circulation. 860 RPM for 12 hours to provide runtime for salt cells and more filtration for cleaner water.

The monthly power usage would be:
3450 RPM – 2 hrs x 2200 W = 4.4 kW
1725 RPM – 10 hrs x 140 W = 1.4 kW
860 RPM – 12 hrs x 34 W = 0.41 kW
Total power use = 6.21 kW per day = 188.9 Kw per month

And the monthly power cost would be:
188.9 kW x 13.8c per kilowatt hour = $26.07 per month

Variable Speed Vs Single Vs Dual Speed Cost Savings Overtime

Let’s look at the running cost of each of the pumps over a 7 year period. Then we’ll add on the pump cost to arrive at a total cost for each pump type.

This table shows the ownership costs and below the table you’ll find the full working, which carries on from the above working.

Pump CostRunning CostTotal
Single Speed$849$10,640.64$11,489.64
Dual Speed$499$4,371.84$4870.84
Variable Speed (VS)$1199$2502.72$3701.72
Table shows the total cost of owning a pool pump.


Single Speed Pump Total Costs

Using the hardware cost and power consumption for a single speed you would spend $849 (cost of pump) + ($110.84 x 96 months)  = $11,489.64 over a period of 7 years.

Dual Speed Pump Total Costs

The dual-speed running costs and pump cost calculations are as follows. The pump would cost around $499 (cost of pump) + ($45.54 x 96 mths) = $4870.84 over a period of 7 years.

Variable Speed Pump Total Costs

Doing the same calculation for a variable speed pump you would spend $1,199 (cost of pump) + ($26.07 x 96 mths) = $3,701.72 over a period of 7 years.

Further Reading: How Much Are Pool Pump Running Costs? (Cost Calculator)

Which is Cheaper: Variable Speed, Dual Speed, or Single Speed Pumps

A variable speed pump is around $7,788 cheaper over a 7-year lifetime when compared to a single-speed pump. This factors in the electricity cost and purchase. A dual speed pump is approx. $6,619 cheaper to buy and run when compared to a single-speed pump, when factoring in a 7-year lifetime. Savings will vary depending on the electricity rates and usage.

Single Speed: $11,490
Dual Speed (2-speed): $4871
Variable Speed: $3702

* the above costs are the costs we calculated above.

Using a variable speed pump can be almost 3 times cheaper than using a single speed, and even more if your electricity company offers cheaper rates or there are government rebates available.

So there you have it, even though the upfront cost is a bit higher for a variable speed pump it will pay off in the long run when you factor in the potential energy savings. Variable speed pumps may not be the solution for every situation, but it’s clear that they can take a big bite out of your electricity bill if they are used properly.

High-Quality Variable Speed Pump Brands

The old adage that you get what you pay for is as true with pool pumps as it is with almost any product or service. Quality matters and it shouldn’t be ignored when considering pool pumps, especially if you consider the harsh environment the pumps run-in, the amount of time that they run, and the expense incurred when they fail.

Three of the largest and most popular manufacturers dominate the industry and have a history of proven products. Let’s have a look at them and some of their details.

1. Pentair

Pentair is an industry leader in residential, commercial, and industrial water systems from agriculture to power to oil and gas and has been in business since 1966. They have a solid pool automation solution and are well known for pump solutions across industries like RV and fire protection vehicle solutions.

2. Hayward

Hayward was started in 1925 and is the largest manufacturer of residential pool products in the world. They have a solid pool automation solution and are well known for end-to-end automation to manage all aspects of your pool.

3. Zodiac / Jandy / Polaris

Jandy has been on a mission to merge with and /or acquire other companies recently and has a variety of pool equipment. Similar to Pentair and Hayward, they make quality pumps and have a variety of pumps.

So there you have it, variable speed is the way to go. Now let’s look at a couple of good choices for a new variable speed pump.

Variable Speed Pool Pump Recommendations

BLACK+DECKER Variable Speed Pool Pump

Although not one of the largest pool industry players, Black and Decker just released a new line of pool pumps that have good reviews and are economical options from a well-known company. One thing to consider is that they may not be compatible with your pool automation system, but they can be programmed directly on the pump through their control interface.

BLACK+DECKER Variable Speed Pool Pump Inground with Filter Basket, 1.5 HP

Pentair SuperFlo® Variable Speed Pool

For a more well-known manufacturer, Pentair has several models that are good choices and one of the best for inground pools is the Pentair Superflow. When installing a pump you should check the warranty guidelines as some, such as this one, require that it be installed by a qualified company to receive the full factory warranty.

Pentair SuperFlo® VS Variable Speed Pool Pump, 342001

Conclusion

That was a lot of information, but at the end of the day (or 7 years), it’s clear that a variable speed pump can save you a lot of money. Given that the US government is requiring pool pumps over 0.5 horsepower to be variable speed pumps it seems like a no-brainer to choose one.

Even if you do not use the run times that we used in our comparison, it’s clear that variable speed pumps are the winner and you should strongly consider using one if possible. Not only will it save you money, but it can also keep your water clear and the surface skimmed better than running at higher speeds periodically.

Further Reading:
How to Choose the Ideal Swimming Pool Pump
6 Signs a Pool Pump Capacitor Is Bad (and how to test)

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