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    Credit: PHOTO BY DENISE BAKER

Automated controllers are the most sophisticated pieces of equipment found in the pool and spa industry, hands down.

And while manufacturers are doing everything they can to simplify the units and make them more intuitive for users, there’s still room for error. 

Here, manufacturers offer advice on how to avoid common mistakes when installing and programming their units.

Use the system to its full potential

One of the biggest selling points for automatic controls is, ironically, one of its most neglected, says David Goldman, director of product development at Zodiac Pool Systems in Vista, Calif.

“People don’t necessarily take advantage of the ability to control things like landscape lighting and irrigation,” he says. “They often have other systems installed near the pool area, which can easily be controlled by automation systems. However, people don’t fully use the features available to them.”

In the case of landscape lighting, this can easily be remedied by connecting the wiring into one of the controller’s relays, rather than into an outlet and separate timer.

Another often-ignored function is the external input for a pool cover. This safety feature can prevent a waterfeature pump from turning on if an automatic cover is closed. “Automated covers have the ability to send out a voltage signal,” says Paul Poisson, a technical services representative at Hayward Pool Products ’ North Kingstown, R.I., location. “We have a circuit on our board that allows us to monitor whether or not we’re getting voltage from a pool cover and, based on that signal, we can react — we can stop equipment from turning on, or we can turn pieces of equipment off.”

Locate the transceiver carefully

Some installers will place the transceiver directly on or inside the controller housing, or load center. They do this to create the cleanest-looking installation or in the belief that having the two components right next to each other will guarantee the best signal.

But this strategy actually will hinder reception. “The high voltage inside the automation boxes can cause interference, which will degrade the signal,” says Ben Patterson, a technical support representative with Pentair Aquatic Systems in Sanford, N.C.

The Federal Communications Commission only allows the controllers to emit about ¼ watt of power, making strategic transceiver placement a crucial part of any install. For the best reception, the unit should sit at least 10 feet from the load center. Also try finding a place that’s “line of sight,” meaning the homeowner can see the antenna when he or she uses the hand-held device. This minimizes the possibility of interference within the controller’s signal. “Now there are no walls or other obstacles to go through,” says Allen Ustianowski, pool/spa marketing manager at Intermatic Inc. in Spring Grove, Ill.

The transceiver also should be kept away from metallic elements, which will cause interference. This includes stucco walls since the wire mesh underneath will act as a ground plane and send incoming signals to ground rather than the receiving load center. In such cases, consider mounting the units on poles, fences or other nearby structures.

When line-of-sight location isn’t possible, units with longer cables can be place in the attic. “Radio will transmit through wood framing or shingles with fewer problems, so you get adequate inside and outside transceiver range,” Ustianowski says.

Avoid conflicting programs

Sometimes homeowners or less-experienced pool and spa professionals accidentally program redundant or conflicting functions into the controller. This can leave the system to work in ways the homeowner doesn’t understand.

This can happen because the programmer was distracted and forgot that they already set, say, the pump schedule. Other times, someone might think a program didn’t go through and re-enter it. “We’ve had people call in because they have 10 programs for the pool pump and they just don’t realize,” Patterson says. “They accidentally do it, thinking they made a mistake and starting over when it’s still in there.”

To avoid this, check to make sure the right number of functions have been programmed before completing that project. On a Pentair controller, this can be done by going into the schedules menu, which will display each circuit and the number of programs beside it.

Don’t rely on the default programming

Many controllers arrive from the factory with default programming to operate primary functions. However, the scheduling will probably be wrong because it isn’t customized to the customer’s pool or spa. The set point, alarms and feed event timers likely will need adjustment to meet the demands of the specific vessels.

“If you don’t program the unit for the proper amount of time to meet chemical demand, you may not have enough chemical fed to meet your set points,” says Ron Akin, vice president of sales at Santa Barbara Control Systems in  Santa Barbara, Calif.

Also keep in mind that some manufacturers design their controllers to only run on default mode for a limited amount of time.

Add weatherproof splice cap connectors

Most temperature sensors on the market today are based on resistance. As the sensor receives voltage from the controller, it will resist the flow of electricity a certain amount, depending on the temperature. The colder the water, the more it will resist the voltage. The controller then translates this amount of resistance into a temperature and makes the proper adjustment to achieve the optimum.

For the controller to properly monitor the water’s heat, it must receive a pure resistance reading. So when installing the sensors, one goal is to prevent extra resistance from entering the system. To do this, installers should use weatherproof splice cap connectors in those cases where the connection must be extended past what the provided wire allows. For instance, when installing a solar temperature sensor, chances are it will have to go on the roof with the panels, thereby needing extra wiring.

With no weatherproof splice cap connector, extra resistance can be gradually introduced into the system. “Air will get to the connections and slowly oxidize the copper, and it makes a bad connection,” Patterson says. “This happens over time.”

Don’t forget the fireman’s switch

Many of the energy-efficient heaters on the market do not require a fireman’s switch hookup for cool down, so some installers have become used to skipping this installation.

However, for many generic controllers to operate the heater, the fireman’s switch must be enabled. “Basically, that allows us to set the temperature from our hand-held remote, controlling power to the heater’s thermostat and ultimately the water’s temperature,” says Dan Vladic, a technical support specialist at Intermatic. “If our controller is not hooked to the heater’s fireman’s switch connection, and the function is not enabled in our control system, the heater control feature will not work.”

Remember to ‘include’ the controller

Often, controller remotes must go through a process where they become familiarized with their receivers so they can communicate with little or no interference from the neighbors. This is called “including.”

“It’s like a handshake,” Vladic says. “We introduce the hand-held remote with the load center’s receiver, and they define their own communication path. If your neighbor has the same system, you don’t need to worry about you controlling their system.”

Though this task should be performed when the controller is first installed, it is often forgotten, resulting in a remote that can’t do its job, Vladic says. In addition to performing this step during the controller’s initial installation, service technicians should check to make sure it remains included after changing any of the settings.


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Avoid placing transceivers near metallic elements. The wire mesh underneath stucco, for instance, will send incoming signals to ground rather than to the load center.

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If splicing is required to wire the temperature sensor, use weatherproof splice cap connectors to ensure the most accurate reading.

MORE INFORMATION

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It is easy for conscientious commercial operators to become overzealous when calibrating their controllers.