It’s strange to think there was a time, not too long ago, when home automation specialists somewhat dismissed technology on the pool side of that discipline.
“All those who were doing home automation systems were telling pool clients that they didn’t need a pool controller, that they could do everything — they could turn everything on and off,” says Brian Van Bower, president of Miami-based Aquatic Consultants and a Genesis co-founder.
As pool automation systems began to include more functionality — and as home automators learned all that was involved in running a pool or spa — the place for this industry’s controllers became clear. There were temperature controls, heater setpoints, and even features to prevent pipes from freezing.
“It’s so many pool-specific functions that [home automators] would have to go through the learning curve,” Van Bower says. “It’s just not worth it to them. That’s when they decided it would be better to keep [pool and spa automation] and integrate it with their system rather than trying to replace it.”
Today, it’s a given that, past a certain price tag, both home and waterscape will incorporate controllers. “It’s on every single job we do,” says Steve Sargent, president of Elite Custom Pools, a high-end pool and spa builder based in Lake Forest, Calif.
Integrating these systems is easier than ever. Despite this, some choose not to. Here, professionals discuss the pros and cons, as well as the ins and outs.
To integrate or not...
The Internet has removed the assumption that the pool and spa system will be hooked up to home automation.
When working with systems that come with an app and are controlled by handheld devices through the web, some professionals have just decided to keep the systems separate and encourage homeowners to toggle between the apps — one for the home, the other for the waterscape.
In part, this is to preserve all the features of the pool and spa system. Because they use a different language than their home counterparts, in many cases, the home panel or app can’t control certain pool and spa functions. For instance, the home automation system may not be able to pick up the ability to change light colors or perform certain scheduling tasks.
This may leave home automation professionals having to program these functions from scratch.
“You simply have much more limited control that way than you do using the apps developed by and for the pool companies for their equipment,” says Ed Moreau, president and co-owner of Creative Sound & Integration, a home automation specialist based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Still, integration makes sense in many cases, says Moreau and many other professionals: “The idea is to be able to do as much as you can from and within one program and one app.”
Sargeant prefers to do this, too, if for no other reason than to appeal to his clients’ desire to have the latest and greatest.
“In the high-end residential world, you don’t want some guy’s friend to come to a project that we built and discover that ‘Oh, you don’t have this capability? You know what? I’ve got that,’” Sargent says. “It one-ups them.”
And while it’s true that both home and pool automation systems rely more on the Internet, experts such as Sargent and Van Bower prefer to have a system hard wired as well.
“Wi-Fi is not consistent,” Sargeant says. “It’s slower, and it’s subject to any kind of obstructions, like steel beams in houses, heavy lumber, concrete flooring, steel reinforced walls. You need to have hard wiring in a big house like that.”
But thanks to the Internet, the home panels themselves have become less important. They now can be placed somewhere out of the way, such as rack rooms and other inconspicuous spaces meant to house wires, hardware and technology. “Now they have iPad stations that are mounted around the house [for] the whole house control,” Van Bower says.
When it comes to incorporating the pool automation system into the home system, it can be pretty straightforward, thanks to certain advances. Each system uses a particular computer language so, first, check the pool-automation literature to make sure that the product is compatible with the home system to be used. This should prove to be no problem, particularly if the abode will be outfitted with systems produced by the major home-automation manufacturers such as Crestron and Savant.
Sometimes the client or general contractor will plan to use a home system produced by a company that is unfamiliar to you, or that is not listed by the pool automation manufacturer. To manage more complex properties, home automation contractors sometimes need to build or design more customized systems to accommodate functions that are too numerous or intricate for a more standardized product.
If you don’t recognize the brand, ask many questions — as soon as possible. “When these houses get complete and all the programming’s going on, it’s not like it’s too late to change your home automation,” Sargeant says. “But at that point, tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, have been invested into those systems. The owner doesn’t want to find out at that point that it doesn’t work.”
Ask the contractor if they have ever connected a pool and spa control system with that particular home technology. If not, suggest that they contact the manufacturer to ensure compatibility. Also check to see if the system will accommodate all pool and spa control functions that are appropriate for the client.
If you’re not completely convinced, you may want to do some research — and do what you need to make clear that, as long as the pool and spa control system functions, it is up to the home automation contractor to make the integration work. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s not a bug on our side,” Sargeant says. “But when I pull out the app or I walk up to my keypad and I can make everything work, but the home auto keypad is not playing the game, it’s not my responsibility.”
After making sure that the systems will be compatible, Sargeant likes to schedule an integration meeting with the installer of the home automation system. If you have a long-time working relationship with that contractor, it should only take about a half hour.
This is to handle the basic logistics of the job. For instance, make sure to delineate who is doing what. When installing the pool and spa control system, you likely will need to include the home-to-pool-control adapter offered by the pool automation manufacturer. This modular piece will help translate the language used for the pool and spa controller into the home-control language, and it will include a hook-up for the home system to go into. The adapter generally hooks into the automation sub panel like the other components.
This part usually is not necessary if the systems integrate via the Internet.
While either party can install this module, pool professionals may prefer to take care of this. “We like to put the module in so we can say ‘Look, here’s where you connect your wire,’” says David Peterson, president of San Diego-based Watershape Consulting. “Then we let them handle their piece. That way there’s no fingerpointing, where they say, ‘Well, we wanted this kind of wire, not that kind.’”
But pool professionals often prefer to keep out of the home-automation part — after taking every step to make sure the pool and spa automation works, of course.
“All the wiring in the house is done by the home automation guy, and all the wiring at the pool equipment is done by us, with the exception that they’re giving us an Ethernet line with a plug on it that we plug directly into the [pool controller],” Sargeant says.
In planning with the other contractor, find out where the home automation connection will need to go. Tell them how many wires to provide. You’ll generally need enough to connect with the adapter or interface that joins the two systems, as well as those needed to make an Internet connection and hook up to the keypad. Also ask for at least one extra, just in case, Sargeant suggests.
Find out how to access the home network, with user names and passwords, so you can make the Internet connection.
While pool builders generally leave it to home-automation contractors to take care of the integration, they should specify what functions should be included — and not.
“There are some variables that you really don’t want the homeowner to touch because they don’t understand [the function],” says Alvaro Mendoza, president of Commercial Energy Specialists, a Jupiter, Fla. firm that sets up commercial and high-end home systems and performs long-term monitoring of the properties.
His company customizes intensive automation systems that are more robust and control many more parameters than off-the-shelf systems. They generally divide functions into those that homeowners can control, and those they can just check. “The lights, waterfalls and amenities, the homeowner can control,” he says. “Parameters like ORP, parts per million, pressure differentials, they don’t. It’s done on a separate [interface] — they can get information from it, but they can’t change it.”
Also talk to the home automation specialists about grouping functions together in scenarios that can be triggered with the push of one button, Peterson suggests. For instance, one could turn on the pool and spa lights, along with the waterfeature.
With this communication in place, the integration should go smoothly.