The Pump That Revolutionized An Industry
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
The Pentair Intelliflo VS Pump has been the leading variable speed pool pump and motor in the industry since it's release in 2004.
If you're in the market for a new variable speed pool pump and you want the absolute most for your money, you should buy the Pentair IntelliFlo VS pump. It's the highest quality, most reliable pump and motor on the market, has the highest rating across the web and is the most popular among industry pros. It also comes with a 3 year bumper to bumper warranty and offers the widest range of models to fit virtually any application. I also think it has the most intuitive software making it the easiest to program.
But if you're not a Pentair fan and you don't receive the level of service from them as you do from other equipment manufacturers, or you simply prefer having a better warranty, you should consider the Hayward TriStar VS 950 which is my pick for The Best Warranty On A Variable Speed Pool Pump. It's a bit more expensive than the IntelliFlo and they're not available online but it's Haywards largest and most durable VS pump and the only variable speed pool pump on the market that comes with a standalone 4 year warranty on both parts and labor.
The first ever variable speed motor
Since the release of variable speed motor technology, energy efficiency has become a top priority for homeowners, designers, builders and even utility companies and federal departments. The same way hybrid cars and now fully electric vehicles are on their way to replacing gas powered automobiles as the new standard, variable speed pool pumps are on the rise. You're actually no longer allowed to install a single speed induction style motor on a new swimming pool filtration system and they're already in the process of being phased out all together.
In 2011, FPL released a new mandate that required pool pumps of one or more horsepower to be multi-speed for all new homes and started offering rebates as incentives for homeowners to swap out their existing pool motors with new variable speed ones.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy has finalized a federal regulation setting forth minimum efficiency standards that a pool pump must meet to enter commerce in the United States. So starting in July of 2021, variable-speed pumps will become mandatory on all residential and commercial pool and spa filtration systems, therapy jet systems as well as some other setups.
Traditional induction style motor technology has also already started to be phased out by some of the larger manufacturers. For instance, Pentair previously released their 2019 product manual with all single speed motors that now utilize the TEFC technology found in new variable speed pumps.
And yet with all of this going on, designers and builders are still utilizing single speed motors on their pools for some reason. I actually don't understand it. Even some industry elite continue to use single speed motors for their spa therapy jet pumps, water features, or dual pump setups and I'm not really sure why.
Apparently having multiple VS pumps can complicate programming and spa jets don't need multiple speeds. Either way, I disagree; Respectfully, of course. I don't see any instance where having a single speed motor that's less efficient, generates more vibration, noise and heat, ultimately resulting in a shorter lifespan, pollution to our air, and costs you around 70% more in the longrun, would be a better option. Even if installing a variable speed motor did create an extra step or two, I don't think that justifies using a technology that's so outdated and inefficient, that the entire pool industry as well as utility companies and even government departments are pushing to replace them. And since we know the benefits of VS pump technology and that they're going to be mandatory soon anyways, why on earth would you want to use anything else?
To be fair there are still a lot of applications that require flow rates that are currently too high to be met by a single variable speed motor but as far as everything else is concerned, if you'r not utilizing a VS pump and motor, you're on your way to becoming a dinosaur :)
Why you should trust me
I'm a second generation pool professional so I've installed, repaired, replaced, and troubleshooted countless pumps and motors during my years as a service tech. I've also been working on pool pumps since before variable speed motors were even a thing and I was actually at the Regional Pool and Spa Show in Orlando when the first ever variable speed pump was introduced. I was also a warranty station for Pentair so I worked on a lot of IntelliFlo pumps and motors.
I've spoken to many industry professionals and experts who would argue that the Pentair IntelliFlo is the highest quality pool pump on the market and Swimming Pool Steve, who operates one of the most technical sites dedicated to pool products, considers the IntelliFlo to be "the overall highest quality and most reliable variable speed pool pump on the market."
PSN also recently conducted it's first Brand Use Study which is an online survey that yielded 887 responses from builders, retailers and service professionals across the nation on 20 separate product categories. In the category containing pool pumps, Pentair ranked first for "Brand Most Used" and "Highest Quality" across all regions of the U.S. It's also worth mentioning that most respondents ranked product quality and performance a more important factor in their decision making than unit cost.
Pentair is also more than just a pool and spa equipment manufacturer. They're a
global company with a focus on smart, sustainable water solutions for residential, commercial, industrial, municipal and infrastructure, and agriculture applications.
Swimming pools are just a small segment of the overall company but they benefit from pulling research and development from their other sectors which makes them notorious for being one of the more innovative pool companies.
Case in point, Pentair was the first company to introduce variable speed technology to the industry with the release of the IntelliFlo in 2004 and it took a full 5 years before they even saw a competitor. So they had plenty of time to perfect the product and stay ahead of the curve. The IntelliFlo was also the first Energy Star Certified pump which is the government-backed symbol for energy efficient products and practices.
And before manufacturers started quitting the internet, it also has the highest rating and lowest failure rate of any variable speed pump across the web with 4.5 stars on Amazon and Pool Supply World with 402 combined reviews.
Why I chose the IntelliFlo
In my opinion, the Pentair IntelliFlo Variable Speed Pump is the best VS pump you can buy for your pool. It's built to the highest quality, lasts the longest, makes less noise and is easier to program than other variable speed pumps. They're also available in a beige or black color outfit which isn't something offered by any other company.
I think the IntelliFlo has a better overall design and superior engineering than most VS pumps currently on the market. To start, it utilizes the same WhisperFlo pump housing that Pentair has unchanged since 1998 making it one of the most reliable pumps around. There's something to be said about a design that doesn't need to be changed and stands the test of time. Other pump housings like the Hayward Ecostar had to be entirely redesigned before they introduced them to the market so they don't have nearly the amount of proven in-field reliability compared to a WhisperFlo pump. And regarding durability, you could also argue that manufacturers in this day and age, just "don't make em like they use to."
The IntelliFlo pumps also create one of the best vacuum seals which reduces priming issues and allows less overall air in the system resulting in a longer motor life. Less air in the system also means better performance from other equipment which is why it's also one of the preferred pumps by some industry leading water quality companies like CES who produce some of the finest water treatment equipment in the industry. If you talk to a CES specialist or ask for a quote on one of their Ozone or UV systems, they'll tell you they like the Pentair pumps, specifically the WhisperFlos, because of the seal their lid creates.
Other pump lids don't create as good of an air tight seal and can become difficult to prime. In my experience, the Jandy Stealth Pumps were the most difficult to close properly and I've actually left a job site before, after about an hour of messing with a lid, gasket, magic lube, hose and valves, trying to close the lid and catch a prime, without getting it to work.
The WhisperFlo pump lid is also very practical, making it easier for pool techs to service. A properly sealed pump lid is air tight and creates a vacuum inside the pump which can sometimes become extremely difficult to open with your hands. This is why some manufacturers like Hayward make a tool specifically designed to open their pump lid but in my experience none of these off the shelf lid tools work as good as the back of your channel locks or a piece of 2x4 or even a brick. - sometimes you gotta make due :)
And most pump lids just don't have the durability to be consistently opened by banging on the lid arms or wings to knock it loose. Pump lids like the Hayward Ecostar utilize much thinner plastic for their wings that break over time and ultimately need replacing. The wings on the WhisperFlo pump however, are durable enough to be beaten on over and over again with a wrench or brick if need be. And although brand new pump lids open and close with ease and typically don't require the use of a tool, over time this can become more difficult especially if you don't properly lubricate or replace your lid gasket.
To be fair, it's hard to take credit away form a pump lid that can't withstand you beating it with a hammer when it's not intended to be used that way. That said, using a tool of some sort to loosen a pump lid is arguably more common than not using one because its much easier, more convenient and you can hurt yourself trying to pry open a pump lid that won't budge. So although they aren't intended to be opened with the force of a hammer or wrench, it's great to have the ability to use one when necessary without having to worry about damaging the lid.
So the Pentair pump housing may be old but it's also a solid performer in the field. This is actually why the WhisperFlo pump doesn't currently have some of the more modern features you see on newer pumps like a carry handle and unions. The original mold from 20 years ago is still intact and stamping out pump products but Pentair has assured me that once this mold breaks they'll be updating some of these features.
The WhisperFlo pump is also equipped with a 3hp impeller and the motor built to handle up to as much as 6HP. And although its sized and rated to perform at 3HP, it has a break HP of 3.96 which is basically 4HP. So in actuality the Pentair IntelliFlo motor is over sized for the job it's intended to do which allows the pump to produce the same flow rate as other pumps while doing less work. Other motors like the Hayward Ecostar have a break HP of 2.7 giving it a much smaller workload capacity which means its working harder to do the same job.
This means the IntelliFlo is much better suited to handle higher flow rates, electrical loads and most importantly, heat. Heat is the primary reason most motor components fail. And just as power and noise are reduced at lower speeds, less heat is generated by the motor as well, leading to considerably less stress on mechanical and electrical components. And because the IntelliFlo motor is sized larger than comparable motors, in my experience this tends to make it last longer. It's larger capacity to dissipate heat, handle more flow and ultimately more wear on its components, makes the IntelliFlo a much more durable motor. This decreased workload on the motor also results in much less vibration and sound which directly contribute to the pumps quieter operation.
Did you know that outside of your air conditioner, a single speed pool pump is the largest energy consumer in the average pool-containing home? In fact, a standard single speed pool motor will consume more electricity than all of your other household appliances combined. They also release more Carbon dioxide into the air which nowadays is a big no-no for a lot of people.
According to the The International Energy Agency and the European Commission of Energy, if you compare several domestic appliances like a washing machine, a kitchen cooker or a fridge, a pool pump consumes as much as 7 fridges! That means that a single speed pool pump produces indirectly about 1,380,000 grams of CO2, which is equivalent to 138 trees.
Needless to say, older style single speed pool pumps are the least energy efficient of all the pool pumps on the market. They operate at an unchanged speed of 3450 rpms using up to 2,500 kWh per year to circulate and filter the water. And according to FPL the average monthly costs for a 1 HP pump running 8 hours per day in Florida is approximately $30.00. Switching to a 2-speed pool pump motor will save approximately $7 per month and switching to a variable speed motor can save approximately $21.00 per month.
FPL also commissioned a study performed by the University of Miami that showed a dual speed pool pump on average can save up to 24 percent over a single speed pump, while a variable speed pool pump can offer up to 72 percent energy savings. In terms of dollars, a customer with a 10,000 gallon pool with a single speed pump running six hours per day could save approximately $105.00 per year on their energy bill if they upgrade to a dual speed pump. However, they could save up to $316.00 per year if they opt for a variable speed pool pump.
Dave Penton, an SWD Master and owner of Fluid Dynamics in California who also heads up the Ask The Masters Podcast also conducted his own case study when variable speed pumps were first released. He installed a couple units on some of his clients homes at cost and monitored the monthly electric bills. What he found was that the pumps basically pay for themselves in the first 6-8 months.
These types of energy consumptions and savings is what lead FPL to release the mandate back in 2011 that required a 2-speed or variable speed motor on all new pool construction in Florida and it's why having a variable speed pool motor will soon be a law effective in 2021.
True variable speed technology
Pool motors are comprised of one of the most common types of motors in the world that are used in both household and industrial applications because of their low cost, efficiency output and readily available AC voltage operation. These motors convert electrical energy into mechanical energy in one of two ways depending on the motor type: Synchronous or Asynchronous.
Traditional style, single speed pool pumps use the latter. They operate on what's known as an AC Induction Motor or Asynchronous Motor where as the new variable speed pool pumps utilize Permanent Magnet Motors or Synchronous Motors.
There are a few key differences between the two but Permanent Magnet Motors are more efficient and used for certain high-efficiency applications like electric cars. In fact, Synchronous motors are the same type of motor used in the new Tesla Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and the Chevy Volt.
So the pool industry isn't the only one making the transition to a more efficient motor type. Tesla actually made the same transition from the AC Induction style motors used in the Model S and X to a Permanent Magnet style in their Model 3. Their principle designer, Konstantinos Laskaris said:
"So, as you know, our Model 3 has a permanent magnet machine now. This is because for the specification of the performance and efficiency, the permanent magnet machine better solved our cost minimization function, and it was optimal for the range and performance target. Quantitatively, the difference is what drives the future of the machine, and it’s a trade off between motor cost, range and battery cost that is determining which technology will be used in the future.”
The main difference between these two motor types is basically the rate at which they rotate relative to the rotating magnetic filed that is created in all AC electric motors. The Synchronous Motor rotates at the same speed or in sync as the magnetic field produced in the motor and the Asynchronous Motor doesn't; It rotates slightly slower. Therefor, Synchronous motors become more efficient.
I am now going to attempt to explain the functional difference without losing you but you can visually see the magnets in the rotor of the Synchronous motor compared to the other.
AC Induction Motors or Asynchronous motors rely on a magnetic field to turn the rotor. Take the image above, for instance. The Stator is the stationary ring and the Rotor is the shaft that rotates in the center of it. When you introduce an electric current to the Stator by turning the power on, it produces a magnetic field that rotates around the outside of the rotor. This magnetic field induces an electrical current into the rotor which ultimately creates it's own tiny rotating magnetic field. And because of the laws of physics and a lot of fancy scientific words, the induced tiny magnetic field in the rotor then follows the larger magnetic field created by the Stator, essentially trying to play catch up. So the Rotor always rotates at a lower speed than the magnetic field created by the Stator which is also referred to as "slip."
On the other hand, a Permanent Magnet Motor or Synchronous motor relies on magnets inside the motor instead of a magnetic field to turn the rotor. Take the same stationary ring or Stator with the Rotor in the middle, except the Rotor has permanent magnets or electromagnets in it. The Stator also has electromagnets on it and they share the same or similar amount of poles as the Rotor magnets. (Poles...that's just how magnets work.) So when you turn the power on and introduce an electric current to the Stator, the rotating magnetic field that is created inside of the Stator, rotates at the same speed as the rotor because they're locked to one another by the permanent magnets. So the rotor spins at the same speed as the rotating magnetic field in the Stator.
As a result Permanent Magnet Motors offer a highly efficient means of converting AC energy to mechanical and have significant efficiency improvements over AC Induction Motors. The synchronous rotation is also why most synchronous motors are used in applications that require precise, constant speeds like clocks, timers and tape recorders.
Another key difference is that Permanent Magnet motors require a drive like a variable frequency drive or VFD in order to start. They come mounted to the motor and some can be removed to place on the wall for easier programming but because the magnetic field inside the motor is constant, it requires this additional power source to kick it into gear. It's also why they only operate on a set voltage of typically 220V where as AC Induction motors can be used without a VFD or starter and can switch between 110V or 220V voltages.
But VFD's are also widely used in larger single speed pump applications in an effort to improve system efficiency because like a variable speed pump, a VFD allows you to change the speed of a single speed motor which you couldn't otherwise do. It allows you to operate the pump at lower or higher speeds when necessary instead of running the pump on high all day. This is basically the premise behind variable speed pump technology just without the technology part. It's a make shift way to save on electricity and it's definitely more efficient than not using a VFD on an Induction style motor but it's also not the same thing as having a variable speed pump with a permanent magnet motor.
I don't care what anyone tells you; VFD's do not improve motor efficiency. They help improve system efficiency by allowing you to lower the speed of the motor. I've had industry "elite" tell me that it's the exact same thing or suggest "what's the difference." Well, I just told you.
To be fair, there are still a lot of applications that require more flow than current variable speed pumps are able to produce. Especially when you're designing some of the projects we do at Smart Aquatics. Some of our projects require upwards of 500 or 600 gpm if not more on a single system. And if you'r designing a lazy river, you might be using pumps from Riverflow that can move thousands of gallons of water a minute. So in applications where we simply can't produce enough flow from even the largest VS pump currently on the market, we have to use single speed pumps and slap VFD's on them.
There are also pumps that claim to be true variable speed motors but are really only single speed motors with variable frequency drives attached to them. For example, the first "variable speed" pumps released by Hayward as the Ecostars that have since been renamed, were a Variable Hertz drive mounted on a 3-phase motor. They've long since did away with those and re-released true variable speed tech with their TriStar lineup but there are still pumps out there doing the same thing. They're marketing themselves as variable speed which they technically are but given people perceptions of what a true variable speed pump is, I imagine there are some assumptions about the tech being used in the motor, that the manufacturer is not disclosing.
Who should buy this
If you have a pool you should have a variable speed pump. I don't even care if it's the Pentair IntelliFlo, as long as it's not a single or dual speed pump or even a pump with a variable frequency drive attached to it. You should have a true variable speed pump and motor that has a permanent magnet style motor. And if you're going to spend the money on a variable speed pool pump, I also think it should be a Pentair IntelliFlo. In a couple years you're not going to have a choice anyways. Variable speed motors will eventually be mandatory because of how inefficient single speed motors are. so its clear that vs technology is much better and soon you wont have the option to not purchase a vs pump so you may as we
In addition to the Pentair IntelliFlo Pumps preferable build, it also has the most user friendly display and drive. The display and keypad are much easier to read, use and understand making it easier to program and operate. To give you an idea, Pentairs keypad has a 16 button selection which lets you "go back", "select", "enter", and more with dedicated buttons. The Jandy and Hayward models only have a handful of buttons and use the same ones for multiple functions. This makes them a little more difficult to use and may involve a couple curse words every now and then :)
It's worth noting that if you have your pool equipment hooked up to an automation system or you plan on having a pool company service your equipment, this won't be a big concern. But, if you want to be able to control your pump directly a regular basis or in case of an emergency, for example, the Pentair IntelliFlo has a convenient "stop" button in red text in case you ever need to shut off your pump manually and you don't have any idea what you're doing. Also, during my service career I worked as a warranty station for Pentair so I saw a lot of Pentair pumps and in my experience the failure rate was typically pretty low. The only item usually needing replacement was the drive assembly which was usually covered under the 2 year warranty. In addition, of the online reviews for the IntellFlo pump, it has one of the lowest failure rates across the web for Variable speed pumps. Of the combined 50 reviews, only 4 reported a problem with the unit which is a failure rate of 8%. Online reviews are always a great way to give yourself a "second opinion" in case you're not sold on the product just yet. That said, the Pentair IntelliFlo Variable Speed Pump is, in my opinion, the best swimming pool pump you can buy. This is the pump we installed on my parents brand new pool and the only pump I would spend my money on.
The Pentair IntelliFlo comes with a 2 year warranty if it's installed by a pool professional. If you decide to do it yourself or have a handy man do the install in order to save some money, you only get a 60 day warranty and if it happens to be installed incorrectly, you'll void your warranty all together. So I highly recommend letting a licensed pool pro get his hands dirty. As part of the online war between large retailers and private contractors, Pentair along with Jandy and others are trying to give incentives to homeowners for having a licensed professional install their products and even buy the products through them in the first place. I'd dish out the cash and have a dedicated pool professional install the IntelliFlo to be safe. It's also worth mentioning that if you're purchasing 3 or more products from the same manufacturer, Pentair and other vendors will give you an extended 3 year warranty on all the purchased products. So if you decide to buy a pump, light and filter, and have them professionally installed, you'll get an additional third year warranty on all 3 items.