Are ECM water pumps worth it?

Posted 2020-08-27
Written by Reception

The AEA has offered rebates for several years on pumps that use electronically commutated motors—or ECMs for short. Like many newer energy-saving technologies, these pumps have taken a while to catch on, but more and more northerners are discovering their benefits.

ECM-based pumps use small computers, permanent magnets (instead of electromagnets) and low-voltage DC power (instead of AC power). This all means that they are more efficient than standard pumps. On top of this, the computers in many ECM pumps can vary their speed or pressure based on the demand, which saves even more money. As a bonus, they’re also usually quieter.

So how do ECM pumps stack up against standard pumps?

Cost

Because ECM pumps involve more sophisticated technology than standard pumps, they are sometimes more expensive. But this isn’t always the case. Some ECM pump models are now priced around the same as similar standard models.

For example, let’s compare two similar circulation pumps that are commonly used for water-line freeze protection in homes.

  • Non-ECM (Grundfos UP15-29SF): $368 (retail price in Yellowknife)
  • ECM: (Grundfos Alpha2 15-55SF): $375 (average price paid by clients receiving a rebate)

For the record, we aren’t necessarily recommending these pumps over other brands. We’re using them as an example because they are common in the NWT, and we just happen to have both of them on an ECM pump display in our Yellowknife office.

Prices can vary, so what you pay may not be what we’ve listed here, but the point is that the ECM version doesn’t cost much more than the standard version in this case.

Also keep in mind that there are many different types of pumps, for many different applications. This means there is a huge range in prices. Some of those ECM pumps could be quite a bit more expensive than their non-ECM counterparts. Which brings us to our next point…

Rebates

The AEA offers a rebate on ECM pumps. We’ll give you 50% of the purchase price back, up to $175. Residents can get a rebate on up to five pumps a year. Businesses, community governments and non-profit organizations can get a rebate on up to 25. Or, through our programs for non-residential buildings, they can include ECM pumps in bigger energy-saving projects.

After a $175 rebate, that Grundfos ECM pump from our example above would be $168 less expensive than the standard version.

Savings

The AEA compared the actual power use of the two Grundfos circulation pumps mentioned in the example above. Our results are below. For the operating costs, we’re assuming each pump is running 24 hours a day for a whole year, which is how many homeowners choose to run their circulation pumps. The costs are based on an electricity rate of $0.32/kWh.

Non-ECM version

  • Rated for about 85 W, actually used 92 W.
  • Costs $258 a year to operate.

ECM version

  • Can use between 7 and 43 W (the lower end of this range is usually okay for freeze protection).
  • Costs between $20 and $126 a year to operate.

So the ECM pump can save up to $238 a year. Even if it were running at full power, it would still save $132 a year.

This means that with a $175 rebate, the ECM pump could pay for itself in less than a year. Or a year and a half at the most.

And keep in mind that most communities throughout the NWT rely on fossil fuels to produce electricity. Using ECM pumps won’t just save money; it will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Where can I get them?

Most plumbers or plumbing suppliers in the NWT should be able to source ECM pumps. The particular models they can get will vary, of course.

 

Our head-to-head comparison looked at only two pumps, but it’s clear that the ECM model is the winner. Even if the up-front cost of a different model is much more than the standard version, the combination of a rebate and energy savings means that the ECM pump will almost always be the better choice.