With pools and spas becoming more complicated, control systems are a saving grace.
They take an intricate series of switches and valves and harness
their functions under just a few buttons.
But if these sophisticated components aren’t installed
correctly, they can be a source of confusion and frustration.
For this reason, many pool and spa professionals encourage new
installers to consult manufacturers and licensed electricians on
the first few tries. Some builders even avoid the hassle altogether
by using an electrician to install each controller.
Sometimes, though, it’s easier than you think. Here are some
troubleshooting tips culled from our experts’ collective
Know the project before choosing a system.
It may sound basic, but this is an area where many installers foul
Consider a few factors before selecting the controller. First, does
the system contain a pool or spa solely, a pool/spa combination or
a dual system?
While a pool or spa only is usually fairly easy to assess, mistakes
often are made with pool/spa combinations.
In these cases, determine first whether the two vessels share an
equipment set or each has its own. If they share a pump, filter and
heater, then a controller for a pool/spa combination is
“The control system switches it back and forth from pool mode
to spa mode, utilizing the same set of equipment. It uses motorized
valves to handle the transitions,” says Alan Brotz,
owner/president of Swim Systems Inc. in Oviedo, Fla.
If each has its own equipment, order a dual-system controller.
Otherwise, Brotz says, the unit won’t be able to operate both
Next, count how many functions the client needs to control. This
will determine how many relays the controller should have. (Each
function needs its own.) Note that some components will require
more than one relay.
For example, look at the lighting systems: Do you want to be able
to turn them all on and off at once, or control each light (or
For separate control, each light or zone will need its own relay.
The same holds true for feature pumps, such as those that
independently operate spas or waterfeatures. “Basically,
anything that you want to control separately needs its own
relay,” Brotz says.
Also, certain variable-speed pumps will need a relay for each
speed. Most newer controls are made to communicate directly with
these pumps, without the need for a relay.
However, some older models don’t have this ability. They need
two things: a relay for each speed in addition to a
manufacturer-specific interface box.
Set the system up for the future.
Your clients at some point may choose to upgrade their backyard.
For instance, they may add landscape lights, a waterfeature or a
And they’ll likely want to control these features via the
This requires extra relays in the control system to accommodate any
new features. Set the unit up with at least two or three.
“The price difference on a system that has an extra two or
three auxiliaries is very minimal,” says Wayne Nicol,
president of Blue Coast Pool Service in Oceanside, Calif.
“It can save substantial cost down the road, or
disappointment from the consumer.”
Controllers shouldn’t share power.
Some installers hope to save money by using fewer parts. In this
vein, they might have the controller share a breaker with another
piece of equipment.
This, however, also increases the chances of failure.
Say the controller shares a breaker with a pump. If the pump were
to short out and trip the circuit breaker, then the control system
wouldn’t work, either. The homeowner may try to reset the
breaker, but to no avail. Now, everything being managed by that
controller is paralyzed.
To prevent this, give the controller its own power source.
Carefully place transceivers.
A hand-held remote system is useless if it can’t communicate
with the control panel. So the transceivers that send information
back and forth must be placed to prevent interference.
“Each manufacturer has their own set of circumstances that
needs to be followed, but the general rule is [put them] as high as
possible, then as close as possible to where the hand-held is going
to be used,” Brotz says.
The instructions should indicate how far the transceiver can be
placed from the panel. Some can operate as far as 300 feet away,
while others should be placed within 100 feet.
Also, look for anything that could cause interference.
“Take into consideration where Mr. Jones is going to be using
his wireless device in relation to where the transceiver is,”
Nicol says. “If the transceiver is back around the corner, it
may not pick it up as efficiently as if it were relocated at a
potentially more direct line of sight from the pool, spa and back
Even metal lath in stucco walls can cause interference. And
don’t expect transceivers to communicate through concrete or
Secure remote communication.
Once the control panel is mounted and the hand-held remote turned
on, the two components will automatically sync up so they can
communicate with one another.
But there’s still one more step.
Manufacturers provide instructions on how to “address”
the system so the remote will communicate only with the right
control panel. Nicol likens this to having a secure Internet
When installers fail to do this, there could be consequences.
“Let’s say you and your neighbor buy the same kind of
control system,” Nicol says. “There is a potential for
those two systems to communicate, meaning your neighbor’s
control can actually turn on items on your system, and you will
think that there is a problem.
“Unless you actually lock in on a channel, your system can be
vulnerable to other systems.”