Putting Pools on Cruise Control: From Cleaners to Chemicals, Technology Simplifies Maintenance

When it comes to chemicals, salt-chlorine generators automate the introduction of sanitizer into the water and can really put a pool on cruise control.

Today, the word ‘automation’ is often heard and is one that seems to drive innovation in many markets. Everyone looks to automate certain tasks in their life as a way to make them simpler, as it allows one to focus on things that really matter to them like family, friends, and fun.

To put this in perspective, think of certain scenarios from a pool owner’s point of view. For instance, imagine it is a gorgeous Friday evening in the suburbs and a homeowner has two options:

  • Lay down on a reclining lounger with his/her headphones on, ready to escape the worries of day-to-day life by taking a poolside nap.
  • Remove the skimmer basket (which is likely filled with various debris and bugs), hook up the manual pool vacuum and begin the tedious job of cleaning debris from the bottom of the pool.

After a long day at work, it is obvious which option most homeowners would likely choose.

When a pool owner is introduced to the various steps involved to maintain a body of water properly, sometimes he/she can be overwhelmed by the amount of work it entails. One of the main concerns most homeowners have is the visual look of the pool, or cleanliness of the surface. Automatic pool cleaners are a great tool for pool owners who have a limited amount of time to spend working on the pool. While deciding to use an automatic pool cleaner seems to be the easy and obvious choice, in this case there are multiple types of cleaners from which consumers and pool professionals can choose. This article will explore a range of these options.

Suction-side cleaners

A suction-side cleaner is a common automatic pool cleaner that is typically available at a lower price point than some of the other options on the market. It includes a hose that attaches from the cleaner to the skimmer (some pools have dedicated suction lines; however, it is more common to use these cleaners through the skimmer).

The pool pump creates suction and the ability to vacuum with the cleaner is obtained. These cleaners move throughout the pool in random patterns. While they are able to catch smaller particulate, they are sometimes limited in the size of debris that is capable of passing through the cleaner head and hose. Suction-side cleaners are particularly popular for pools that are screened in and protected from large debris (e.g. tree leaves).

Debris picked up by suction-side cleaners is transported to, and stored inside, the skimmer basket, which must be emptied as needed. It should be noted, when using the skimmer for a suction-side cleaner, the pool’s skimming capabilities are lessened while the cleaner is being used. That said, these cleaners are perfect for the do-it-yourself homeowner, as they are simple to install.

Pressure-side cleaners

Pressure-side cleaners are popular in regions where bigger pools are more common and larger debris is more likely to be in the water. For instance, they are good at picking up leaves, acorns, twigs, and other similar debris. These cleaners work by connecting a hose from the cleaner head to the pool return. Most pressure-side cleaners work off a separate booster pump, which is meant to give them more power to move throughout the pool. Depending on the model, some adjustments can be made to the cleaner head to control how it moves.

Debris is collected in a bag at the cleaner head, making cleanup easier and, as the unit does not use the pool filtration side (suction side), it prevents the potential of a clogged skimmer. It is also important to note that because a pressure-side cleaner is connected to the return or a booster-pump line, it is distributing clean water throughout the pool that has just passed through the filtration system. This distribution of filtered water is helpful, as it mixes pool chemicals more evenly throughout the water.

Robotic pool cleaners

Robotic pool cleaners are at the higher end of the pricing scale when it comes to automatic pool cleaning; however, there are many reasons for pool owners to consider this type of product. These devices are essentially a low-voltage, electric-powered robot that moves through the pool sucking up debris into a self-contained compartment. These cleaners have two types of debris catchers. Depending on the brand/model, some use a bag, while others use a filter element.

A robotic pool cleaner operates independently of the pool system so, unlike suction and pressure-side cleaners, these products are capable of operating while the pool pump is shut off. These cleaners have evolved to include many bells and whistles over the years, such as remote controls for steering, multiple cleaning cycle settings, and handcarts for transportation and storage. This pool cleaner category is popular in North America and is continuing to expand, as it is one of the fastest growing maintenance products on the market.

In-floor cleaning systems

An in-floor cleaning system is yet another automatic pool cleaning option. These systems are installed when the pool is being built and do not entail hoses or free-roaming cleaner heads. Instead, these systems comprise a series of sprinkler-like cleaning heads installed in the floor of the pool. They are typically used in concrete pools; however, options do exist for vinyl pool applications as well.

The cleaning heads are programmed to pop up in specific patterns to clean the pool. As this happens, they also help to circulate chemicals throughout the water. Some downfalls may include the inability to remove larger debris and, as a result, manual vacuuming remains necessary. Further, these systems can be costly to repair should a problem arise, not to mention more expensive to install in comparison to the other previously mentioned automatic pool cleaners.

Specialty chemicals help automatic pool cleaners

When it comes to chemicals, automation of water care products can really put a pool on cruise control. Examples of this include how chlorinators and salt-chlorine generators automate the introduction of sanitizer into a pool. In fact, many pool owners have moved away from using the traditional ‘tablet in the skimmer’ approach and have incorporated some form of automation into their water treatment routine.

For most pool owners with a chlorinator or salt-chlorine generator, this is where chemical automation stops, as they still need to physically test the water each week and adjust the levels as required. They also need to spend time scrubbing unsightly scum lines or even take apart their filter system to clean them thoroughly. For most, this is not how they envisioned spending their weekends ‘poolside.’ This is where specialty chemicals come into play. These products can assist automatic pool cleaners, and homeowners for that matter, by reducing the frequency of filter cleanings and the need to scrub scum lines.

For example, enzymes and phosphate removers, which have been used in the pool industry for almost three decades, are designed to break down non-living organic waste in pool water such as lotions, sunscreens, bather waste, oils, hair products, etc. By breaking these contaminants down in a naturally based way, enzymes are able to reduce the frequency of filter cleanings by reducing debris from building up on the filter. Enzymes also reduce the occurrence of scum lines along the waterline.

There are many variations of enzymes; therefore, it is important to ensure the right one is used for the particular application. For instance, it is very difficult to treat a pool or hot tub that has an oil-like material floating on the surface using traditional water treatment methods, as they are unable to make direct contact with the oils. However, some enzyme products contain surfactants in their formulations, which helps break the water’s surface tension and pull the non-living organics (oil, in this example) from the surface down into the body of water to be broken down by the enzyme.

Non-living organic waste is broken down piece by piece until all that remains is water and air. If an enzyme product does not contain surfactants, it becomes difficult for the product to make contact with the non-living organics at the surface.

Pool owners can also incorporate phosphate removal into their maintenance routine to reduce potential water quality problems, whereby putting their pool on auto-pilot. Phosphates come from a variety of sources, including fertilizers (landscaping services), some source water, cleaning products, as well as many stain and scale control products.

When phosphate levels increase, it can take additional time and effort to maintain perfectly balanced pool water. It can also lead to issues such as calcium phosphate scale, which can build up on pool surfaces as well as on equipment. Algae must be treated prior to testing for phosphates, and it is ideal to keep levels below 100 parts per billion (ppb). Putting a pool on a maintenance program comprising phosphate removal, can proactively help to reduce future problems with water quality.

By incorporating enzymes and phosphate removal into pool maintenance, it automates the removal of unwanted contaminants (i.e. non-living waste and phosphates) from pool water. For large residential or commercial pools, these specialty water treatment products can be administered via automatic chemical feeders to control dosage amounts and frequency.

Automatic chemical feeders

Automatic chemical feeders can be used for a variety of applications. Enzymes that are dosed throughout the course of the day, for example, can be likened to cleaning up during the middle of a party. As bathers add to a pool’s non-living waste load (at a rate of 473 mL [16 oz] per bather per 45 minutes of swimming), enzymes can work to break down what they leave behind. Therefore, this is a more automated approach than the traditional “wait until everyone goes home and shock the pool” method.

Enzyme dosages are generally calculated as weekly recommendations. Therefore, a chemical feeder can be used to administer the recommended dosage slowly over the course of a week. As a result, homeowners will likely see better results with respect to filter efficiency, reductions of scum lines, a positive effect on non-living organic load, and overall water clarity.

Another specialty chemical that makes sense to dose throughout the course of the week using automation is a liquid solar product. Pool owners these days are always seeking ways to improve efficiency. Water restrictions in some areas have made evaporation reduction products a necessity throughout many areas in North America. It is widely known that 70 per cent of total energy loss in a pool is due to evaporation. This includes indoor pools as well. Many backyard pool owners rely on their solar covers to help reduce heat loss and evaporation, especially in areas that have been affected by drought.

An automatic chemical feeder can be implemented to dose these products as well. By doing so, it can eliminate the task of lugging a solar cover on and off the pool. With the press of a few buttons, a homeowner can schedule the appropriate dose of a liquid solar product to be fed into the pool as needed throughout the week. This is especially helpful to those pool owners looking to extend the swimming season.

In regions where evening temperatures drop prior to closing the pool for the season, automating the dosage of a liquid solar product can significantly reduce heat loss overnight.

Putting pools on auto-pilot

Today, many forms of automation can be found in the aquatics industry. Another example is the incorporation of water levelling systems, which are mainly found on vanishing-edge pools. New technologies are continuing to come to market that assist with water care, such as dissolvable pod products that can be easily added to the skimmer and release as needed. There are even off-season pills available that can float underneath a pool cover, which help make the pool opening process much easier in the spring.

Homeowners invest in pools to reap the many benefits of a backyard sanctuary. They want to have fun in their outdoor oasis, making lasting memories with family and friends. Automation options have revolutionized the modern backyard so homeowners can spend less time working on their pools and more time enjoying them.

This article was written by Jamie Novak and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].