If there’s one fact about automation on which almost every
builder agrees, it’s that no two systems are quite
From the first discussions with clients to the final training
walkthrough, it’s crucial to maintain a clear dialogue about
what features customers want, how they expect them to work, and
what expansions are being considered for the future.
Throughout this process, careful planning can make the difference
between efficiency and confusion.
Here, we talk with residential automation experts across the
country, and walk through the general design and execution outlines
of an automation project.
As many pool builders know, customers in search of automation tend
to fall toward the higher end of the price spectrum.
This can be both a positive and a negative: While such clients are
often flexible on the finer financial points, their standards are
likely to be as high as the project’s price tag, especially
if they aim to impress others with their new backyard.
After determining the project’s overall automation needs,
it’s time to select a suitable controller. While some
designers try to save on costs by choosing a controller with just
enough slots, most professionals advise stepping the controller up
a size from the required minimum, to leave room for future
“I don’t ever want a customer to need to purchase an
additional controller in order to add an automation feature,”
says Gary Minor, vice president of operations at California Pools
& Spas Inc. in West Covina, Calif., a Pool & Spa
News Top Builder. “Two or three additional spaces
represent a fairly inexpensive step up, and they allow the customer
to feel like you left them room to expand.”
Selling a customer on a controller with expansion room is easier
than it might seem. Experts say that as long as the customer
understands the usefulness of such an upgrade, they’ll rarely
push back against it.
“The customers’ main concerns seem to be ease of
operation and the simplicity of the controller,” says Greg
Dolzonek, project manager at Johnson Pools & Spas in
Huntsville, Ala. “They usually leave the rest up to us, as
far as putting the right piece of equipment in there to control the
features they’ll want.”
Once all the automation components have been chosen, it’s
time to begin running wires. Though the project’s layout is
typically finalized by this point, it’s still crucial to keep
a few basic principles in mind while linking up the system’s
circuitry. Taking a little extra time on the wiring now can help
prevent a variety of problems down the road.
When running wires to the equipment pad, underground is typically
preferable to over-the-top. “If the equipment pad is by the
side of the house, or close to some of those outlets, some people
tend to cut corners by running up the house and then over the
balcony, then out to the source,” Minor says. Instead, it may
be better to run the wiring right to the footing underneath the
house. As Minor puts it, “anything that can be hidden should
If electricians are working on new wiring for the house or yard,
it’s helpful to communicate with them about the pool
system’s wiring scheme. “We don’t necessarily
want to run wiring through their framework,” says Rick
Legnon, president of Advanced Pools in Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Instead, talk with the electricians about running wiring out to a
spot where the automation system can pick it up.
This is also the time to ensure that expansions to the wiring
layout will be as simple as possible for future builders. One way
of providing for this option is to leave extra chaseways —
empty channels for wires — in spots where future crews are
likely to need them. For instance, if the clients choose to add a
solar heating component, it’s probably helpful to leave empty
chaseways between the roof, the controller and the breaker
Future crews — and the clients — will also appreciate
the convenience of easily accessible junction boxes that are wired
back to the main controller. “What we’ll usually do is
oversize the conduit, and we’ll run that into a larger
j-box,” Legnon says. “That way, if someone wants to add
a component later, all they have to do is get to one of those boxes
and hook the new wiring into it, which will allow the wiring to run
right back to that original controller location.”
After the entire system has been installed and wired together, the
final step is to teach the clients how to use their new automation
components. Properly educating the customers helps prevent service
callbacks throughout the coming weeks — and more importantly,
it ensures their satisfaction with the design by reassuring them
that the system they’ve paid for performs all the tasks they
As with the early design phases of the project, the primary
emphasis here should be on simplicity. “The mentality of
today’s typical buyer is, ‘I want everything to be as
simple as possible,’” Legnon says. “A customer
told me just the other day, ‘I want to touch one button and
have everything turn on the way I want.’”
If the system has been designed from the ground up with that idea
in mind, this desire should already be met; all that remains is for
the client to press the button. Still, in the interest of avoiding
callbacks, it’s worthwhile to run through a quick quiz with
the customer to ensure that all the basic adjustments that might be
needed are simple and intuitive.
In the end, automation design all comes down to a simple principle:
taking a system of vast complexity and joining its components
together under an easy, elegant control scheme.
“Customers today are mainly worried about aesthetics and ease
of use,” Dolzonek says. Satisfy those desires, and even the
most cost-conscious clients will be glad they upgraded to a
cutting-edge control scheme.