America’s growing love affair with the environment and wireless technology has transformed the market for pool sanitizing equipment.

Responding to consumer demand, manufacturers are producing more earth-friendly products requiring less energy and fewer chemicals.

“The biggest trend with consumers is their demand to work less and use fewer chemicals while still maintaining clean, clear swimming pools,” says Lynn Nord, marketing manager at King Technology Inc. in Hopkins, Minn.

“Simplicity is becoming a huge driver for consumers as our lives become more and more technologically complicated,” she adds. “The easier the product is and the more

intuitive, the greater comfort level consumers will have.”

Here, we explore how manufacturers are reacting to growing consumer needs, and how innovation is revolutionizing the world of sanitizing equipment.

Going green

A decade ago, ozone generators relied on ultraviolet ozone. But UV ozone has its limitations: The bulb’s output, for one, tends to diminish over time.

Today, corona discharge creates three to four times more ozone than its predecessor. The technology uses less energy than ultraviolet, which is a major breakthrough for residential pools, says Dennis Lavelle, president of DEL Ozone in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Increased ozone also means less chlorine is needed for residential pools. The change corresponds with the global shift toward using fewer chemicals, according to Lavelle.

But public demand for chemical-free pools is taking a toll on other products. As a result, equipment such as chemical feeders soon could become obsolete, Nord says.

Today, King Technology only offers a single product within the chemical feeder category. Instead, its customers prefer a system that uses mineral technology to cut chlorine use in half, Nord says.

“Consumers are looking for greater ease and green alternatives, which [our] chemical feeders can’t offer,” she notes. “Alternative products … are taking over the market, especially with new pools.”

Other firms have cut back their reliance on energy. For example, chemical feeders sold through Chemilizer Products Inc. do not use electricity. While traditional cleaning methods utilize chlorine compounds or saltwater chlorine generators, Chemilizer’s feeder injects liquid chlorine into circulating water, says Gary Ardrey, marketing director at the Largo, Fla.-based company.

The injectors do not release emissions or heat into the atmosphere. And they’re designed to produce less chemical waste than other systems, Ardrey says.

“Consumers are used to using electric-powered equipment for pools,” he says. “Our approach is a nonelectric water power ejector. We’re very green because we’re not electric.”

Setting trends

Recent advances in technology have jolted the steady world of sanitizing equipment.

Pool owners now have greater control through wireless communications and personal central command posts.

“Chemistry is chemistry,” says Dave Button, national sales manager at Chemtrol. “It’s technology that’s driving the change.”

The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based manufacturer reports strong sales of remote-access software programs for its pH/ORP controllers. Pool owners can manage the equipment from afar by dialing into their controllers through laptops. It’s proven particularly useful for frequent travelers, Button says.

CAT Controllers, meanwhile, has begun marketing a pH/ORP controller that monitors pool data remotely. The system transmits alarm notices to homeowners and service technicians when it senses trouble with water chemistry.

“Think of it as your home alarm system,” says Culin Tate, vice president of the Gaithersburg, Md.-based manufacturer. “It reaches out and notifies the authorities.”

Elsewhere, manufacturers are streamlining equipment by bundling multiple products.

With patents to merge ozone and salt-chlorine generators, Prozone Water Products Inc. has introduced a full line of combination systems. Compact and with straightforward controls, they require less salt and use less energy than traditional salt systems.

The combination salt chlorinator and ozonator systems are among the company’s strongest sellers. “[Those] systems are inherently user-friendly, which is self-compensating, and requires much simpler electronics that are easy to maintain,” says Cherie Brook, president of the Huntsville, Ala.-based company.

Growing sales

Many of today’s pool owners prefer sanitizing systems that do the work for them.

This trend, along with rising chlorine costs, has driven a strong and steady demand for salt-chlorine generators over the past five years, says Sean Assam, commercial product sales manager for AquaCal AutoPilot Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Homeowners are realizing the convenience of salt-chlorine systems as well as the ability to help them maintain their pools better than they could themselves,” Assam says.

As a result, salt-chlorine generators are fast becoming standard equipment for new pools, as opposed to an add-on for existing vessels.

Again, customers are driving the demand, says Jim Eisenbeis, vice president of marketing at Fox Pool Corp. in York, Pa.

“When the consumers start asking for it, the dealers start providing it,” Eisenbeis says.

And sales have surged.

At least 60 percent of new residential pools now have salt-chlorine generators, compared to approximately 1 percent a decade ago, manufacturers report.

Competition is equally strong for ionization systems, says Randy Hannum, marketing and operations director for Pioneer H2O Technologies.

However, the Denver manufacturer does not see the same rivalry with the saltwater generators it builds for spas. It’s still a young market for the product, Hannum says, adding that he’s unsure when interest might rise.

“We don’t have much competition for our product,” Hannum says. “And in the back of our minds, we wonder why.”

With automation the name of the game, sales of computerized pH/ORP controllers have spiked as well. Manufacturers report a 40 percent jump in sales over the past decade.

Ozonators, meanwhile, tend to sell better in conjunction with salt-chlorine generators. Still, manufacturers say the product needs more time on the market to catch on with consumers.

Making changes

The new generation of pH/ORP controllers is making a splash with residential pools. Automating chemistry allows homeowners greater independence from builders. And it gives builders a break on the closely watched break-in period for new pools.

In the past, builders frequently returned to their pools within the first 60 days of

operation to help maintain healthy pH levels and prevent damage to new systems. That maintenance costs time and money.

Builders now know there’s a device that monitors pH levels, Tate says.

“It’s probably the hottest market right now,” he notes. “It’s been addressed as an elegant way of sanitizing the pool for homeowners.”

Several manufacturers say the key is to simplify installation and operation of sanitizing equipment. That’s the goal at Lakewood, N.J.-based SmartPool, particularly on its saltwater chlorine generators. Cutting prices helps as well, says Stephen Shullman, director of marketing.

“There was this mystique surrounding the saltwater chlorine generators for years that seemed complicated,” Shullman says. “People didn’t know how they worked. They were a little more expensive. They weren’t designed for the masses.”

The approach has taken hold at Zodiac Pool Care Inc., where the company has developed a combination system of salt chlorination and other technologies that cleans pools automatically. Selling points include decreased reliance on chlorine and a long-life rechargeable battery.

It’s also designed to provide longer cell life through reduced chlorination output, says Buzz Robinson, national technical training manager at Zodiac Pool Care of Pompano Beach, Fla.

Facing challenges

Though ease of use is always a goal, some products, such as pH/ORP controllers, do

require extra care and maintenance.

These products rely on high-tech probes that need regular cleaning — a challenge to broader market acceptance, says David MacCallum, product manager, lights and automation, at Pentair Water Pool and Spa, based in Sanford, N.C.

Along with sweeping modernization of sanitizing equipment comes caution from pool builders. Some hesitate to adopt often pricey new products, especially in today’s uncertain housing market.

Still, some manufacturers argue that producing sleeker, cleaner products is exactly what’s needed in an uncertain economy.

“In any economic downturn, the brightest companies fight it and thrive,” Tate says. “There are all kinds of new technologies that allow you to build a better pool and a more diverse pool.”