The job of the “pool guy” is changing rapidly. These
days, it takes more than a bucket of chlorine and a scrubbing brush
to maintain a pool at the standards many customers expect.
From variable-speed pumps to centralized automation controllers,
the technology in today’s pools offers precise control for
the customer and the serviceperson — and a range of new
responsibilities to match.
Even so, devices on the cutting edge of automation are designed to
keep water sanitized and algae-free with a minimum of human
intervention. Many of these technologies, however, are only
beginning to see wide use in the industry, leading some service
veterans to dismiss them as fads or gimmicks.
But that, say proponents of these new technologies, would be a
mistake. By getting educated on these products, a service
technician will become aware of opportunities to make pools more
energy-efficient and less chemically irritating — and it
opens up new avenues of profit. Here, we
explain the basics of several of these new technologies and
demonstrate just how helpful they can be.
The least expensive and most basic new sanitation devices are
mineral purifiers. These devices release algaecidal ions
(electrically charged atoms) from a proprietary mixture of minerals
— typically copper and/or silver — into the
pool’s water passively by allowing the metals to dissolve
through the bars of a containment basket. Thus, these devices
require no external power source to perform their work.
“It’s plumbed in just like a traditional chlorinator
would be,” says George Barnett, owner of Austin Pool
Builders in Austin, Texas. And like an on-site chlorinator, a
mineral purifier includes a dial that allows precise adjustment of
the level of ions released into the pool. This simple form of
automated release makes a purifier ideal for a pool whose owner
prefers “hands-off” management, and who wants to reduce
the pool’s chemical usage and environmental footprint.
In fact, an even more powerful selling point is that pools using
mineral purifiers can stay sanitized with an extremely low chlorine
residual — often as low as 0.5 to 1.0 ppm. Systems like this
also eliminate the need for phosphates, which in turn eliminates
the need for phosphate removers when levels get out of hand. In
short, “Customers love that because they don’t have a
big chemical bill,” says Troy Becker, owner of Ojai Pool
Store in Ojai, Calif.
One benefit cited by many supporters of alternative sanitation
systems — mineral purifiers included — is that a lower
chlorine residual is required in pools sanitized with this
technology than in a pool sanitized with traditional chlorine.
Though a pool using a mineral purifier will require some kind of
additional sanitation — typically in the form on chlorine
— the automated device will provide a baseline of
disinfection power as long as it’s properly maintained. This
means fewer chemical adjustments, and thus quicker service
calls and lower chemical costs, for techs who learn how to install
and service these devices.
It’s this automated convenience, along with the environmental
friendliness of this technology, that have made mineral purifiers a
top-selling item, even for cost-conscious consumers. “I
install mineral purifiers on approximately 80 percent of the pools
I service,” Becker says, and that number is growing all the
Copper’s algaecidal properties have been known at least since
ancient Roman times, when it was common knowledge that fountains
filled with copper coins tended to develop less algae than
copper-free ones. Today, we know that copper and silver ions
disrupt the metabolism of algae, preventing them from digesting
food, and quickly killing them. This has led to the development of
a variety of more efficient ion-based chemicals and technologies,
the latest of which are electric ionizers.
Ionizers supply metal ions by releasing them from a
“sacrificial bar” (a copper or silver bar contained in
an electrolytic cell). As electricity passes through the cell, the
metal bars are slowly eroded over time as they release their ions
into the water. Because these systems can run much lower chlorine
residuals than traditional pools, their required stabilizer
residual is correspondingly low, often under 30 ppm.
Of course, copper and silver have been common ingredients in many
traditional algaecides since the industry’s early days. But
copper and silver ionizers offer several benefits unavailable to
customers using a traditional sanitation regimen. For one thing,
mineral purifiers can be linked to an automation controller and
programmed to release ions at a specified rate and time, which
keeps excess metals from building up in the water while extending
the life of the copper or silver cell.
Like the electrolytic chlorine generators (ECGs) in salt pools,
ionizers pass electrical current through minerals to release ions.
That’s where the similarities stop, however. Instead of using
electricity to catalyze a chemical reaction that produces chlorine,
mineral purifiers keep water sanitized by releasing algaecidal
copper or silver ions directly into the pool’s water.
It’s this trait, some pool professionals say, that their
customers prefer because it keeps the pool sanitized without the
addition of salt.
Another benefit of metal ionizers is the decreased tendency of
deposits to form on pool walls and floors. “You still have to
adjust your pH, but you don’t tend to get waterline problems,
scale problems and so on,” Becker says. All these problems,
he explains, are rooted in the same basic cause: Putting solids
into the pool, where they can stick to the tiles and the plaster.
In other words, when ionization is performing most of the
sanitation work, there simply aren’t as many solid chemicals
in the pool — and that means there’s less chance for a
deposit to form.
Selling and using
Though these systems are designed to provide sanitation with a
minimum of user intervention, selling them and setting them up for
maximum effectiveness may take a few new tricks.
The most significant of these is likely the price point: Mineral
purifiers start at approximately $1,300, while high-end ionizers
can run above $5,000. That means it’s crucial to explain the
long-term savings and bathing benefits to any customer who shows
interest in these devices. Perhaps the most effective way to make
the point is through a simple side-by-side comparison of various
For example, in terms of price, ionizers are roughly equivalent to
electrolytic salt chlorinators, but they also bring a few unique
selling points to the table. As mentioned above, they require a
very low residual of sanitizer and stabilizer, which some retailers
say creates a less irritating chemical environment than salt
However, proponents of salt chlorination systems point out that
their customers find saltwater quite comfortable. “The
saltwater we’re talking about is one-tenth the salinity of
ocean water, so it’s extremely gentle on skin and
eyes,” says Bob Harper, general manager of Pristiva Inc. in
Overland Park, Kan. “In fact, many owners of salt-chlorinated
pools don’t think their pools contain any chlorine at
In addition, some service veterans say it’s easier and less
expensive to swap out a copper bar than to clean or swap out the
plates in an ECG cell.
Salt chlorination manufacturers take a different stance on this as
well. “The life span of any cell depends on how many hours
it’s run every day,” Harper says, adding that a
well-maintained ECG cell probably will only need to be replaced
once every five to seven years. In other words, cell-related
savings are relative, and are best explained in the context of a
pool’s typical bather load and frequency of use.
Though each type of automation technology provides its own unique
advantages, these cutting-edge developments demonstrate that when
it comes to pools, fresh ideas are as crucial as fresh water. For
those willing to roll with the changes, the future of the industry
is shaping up to be an exciting place.