With pools and spas becoming more complicated, control systems are a saving grace.

They take an intricate series of switches and valves and harness their functions under just a few buttons.

But if these sophisticated components aren’t installed correctly, they can be a source of confusion and frustration.

For this reason, many pool and spa professionals encourage new installers to consult manufacturers and licensed electricians on the first few tries. Some builders even avoid the hassle altogether by using an electrician to install each controller.

Sometimes, though, it’s easier than you think. Here are some troubleshooting tips culled from our experts’ collective experience.

Know the project before choosing a system.

It may sound basic, but this is an area where many installers foul up.

Consider a few factors before selecting the controller. First, does the system contain a pool or spa solely, a pool/spa combination or a dual system?

While a pool or spa only is usually fairly easy to assess, mistakes often are made with pool/spa combinations.

In these cases, determine first whether the two vessels share an equipment set or each has its own. If they share a pump, filter and heater, then a controller for a pool/spa combination is needed.

“The control system switches it back and forth from pool mode to spa mode, utilizing the same set of equipment. It uses motorized valves to handle the transitions,” says Alan Brotz, owner/president of Swim Systems Inc. in Oviedo, Fla.

If each has its own equipment, order a dual-system controller. Otherwise, Brotz says, the unit won’t be able to operate both systems.

Next, count how many functions the client needs to control. This will determine how many relays the controller should have. (Each function needs its own.) Note that some components will require more than one relay.

For example, look at the lighting systems: Do you want to be able to turn them all on and off at once, or control each light (or zone) separately?

For separate control, each light or zone will need its own relay. The same holds true for feature pumps, such as those that independently operate spas or waterfeatures. “Basically, anything that you want to control separately needs its own relay,” Brotz says.

Also, certain variable-speed pumps will need a relay for each speed. Most newer controls are made to communicate directly with these pumps, without the need for a relay.

However, some older models don’t have this ability. They need two things: a relay for each speed in addition to a manufacturer-specific interface box.

Set the system up for the future.

Your clients at some point may choose to upgrade their backyard. For instance, they may add landscape lights, a waterfeature or a variable-speed pump.

And they’ll likely want to control these features via the control panel.

This requires extra relays in the control system to accommodate any new features. Set the unit up with at least two or three.

“The price difference on a system that has an extra two or three auxiliaries is very minimal,” says Wayne Nicol, president of Blue Coast Pool Service in Oceanside, Calif. “It can save substantial cost down the road, or disappointment from the consumer.”

Controllers shouldn’t share power.

Some installers hope to save money by using fewer parts. In this vein, they might have the controller share a breaker with another piece of equipment.

This, however, also increases the chances of failure.

Say the controller shares a breaker with a pump. If the pump were to short out and trip the circuit breaker, then the control system wouldn’t work, either. The homeowner may try to reset the breaker, but to no avail. Now, everything being managed by that controller is paralyzed.

To prevent this, give the controller its own power source.

Carefully place transceivers.

A hand-held remote system is useless if it can’t communicate with the control panel. So the transceivers that send information back and forth must be placed to prevent interference.

“Each manufacturer has their own set of circumstances that needs to be followed, but the general rule is [put them] as high as possible, then as close as possible to where the hand-held is going to be used,” Brotz says.

The instructions should indicate how far the transceiver can be placed from the panel. Some can operate as far as 300 feet away, while others should be placed within 100 feet.

Also, look for anything that could cause interference.

“Take into consideration where Mr. Jones is going to be using his wireless device in relation to where the transceiver is,” Nicol says. “If the transceiver is back around the corner, it may not pick it up as efficiently as if it were relocated at a potentially more direct line of sight from the pool, spa and back door.”

Even metal lath in stucco walls can cause interference. And don’t expect transceivers to communicate through concrete or brick walls.

Secure remote communication.

Once the control panel is mounted and the hand-held remote turned on, the two components will automatically sync up so they can communicate with one another.

But there’s still one more step.

Manufacturers provide instructions on how to “address” the system so the remote will communicate only with the right control panel. Nicol likens this to having a secure Internet connection.

When installers fail to do this, there could be consequences.

“Let’s say you and your neighbor buy the same kind of control system,” Nicol says. “There is a potential for those two systems to communicate, meaning your neighbor’s control can actually turn on items on your system, and you will think that there is a problem.

“Unless you actually lock in on a channel, your system can be vulnerable to other systems.”