Over the years, we builders and designers have certainly been working to turn out projects that are increasingly architecturally more attractive, and to refine our mechanical efficiencies.
But if the water quality is bad, that’s as far as it goes.
While it’s true that builders and designers have become more receptive to automation, that usually includes such features as autofills or the ability to control the heat and spa operations, or perhaps the light functions.
But builders and designers haven’t been as quick to embrace chemical automation. Over the years, I’ve realized that the service industry largely bears the residual effects this fact. It creates a liability for the service companies and for the subcontractors who apply surface finishes. For pool builders, certainly it creates a liability with the consumer when they experience chemical discomfort, bleaching, and the like.
I think the industry now needs to move to the next step, where water quality is included in the process of implementing automation.
The old approach
When I first got involved in the pool/spa industry in 1975, we had a service/repair operation and three retail stores. At one point, we serviced 1,100 pools per week. So we saw the whole process, whether it meant going out and performing equipment repairs or restoring pools.
Even then, it didn’t make sense how the industry chemically treated pools: When techs would add chemicals, the pool was over-dosed upfront. Then you’d cross your fingers and hope that, in the next week, the pool wouldn’t go sideways, that there’d still be enough residual to keep the pool usable. Because in that week between service calls, conditions change — there could have been wind or rain, leaves could have fallen in. There could have been a heavy bather load. But there was nothing to compensate for that, other than maybe throwing a tri-chlor tablet in the skimmer.
At the time, when we would add in-line sanitation, it would be just an erosion feeder. It was better than nothing, but was arbitrarily adding chemicals whether the pool needed them or not. There was no testing — nothing to verify that the pool or spa actually needed sanitation. More importantly, there was no adjustment to pH, which has such a great deal to do with the success of the sanitation. Even today, this hasn’t changed very much.
Decades ago, when I first started building pools, there weren’t many options for controlling water chemistry. Now, we have reasonably affordable devices that monitor water quality from both the pH and sanitation side, and employ a variety of sanitation options, even prioritizing them to suit the current conditions.
Once these systems became available, my company and Genesis took the position that we would design every single pool with inline controls for both pH and sanitation.
During the design phase, I think it is common sense to offer to the consumer the ability to better control their water quality. I believe that the majority of them, even after you look at the cost of these systems, would take advantage of it.
Some in the industry take the position that this technology is too expensive. But how much do you think it costs in the liability of not doing it? It puts an unnecessary burden on the service professionals. Holding the service industry to maintaining water quality with such variables between visits makes no sense.
I believe that, as an industry, we should promote the merits of controlled water quality. And we should do this at both the residential and commercial levels. We should at least offer the option. If the homeowner declines and doesn’t see the value, that’s up to them.
I’m talking about systems that use multiple technologies — and that maintain pH as well as sanitation. If you have one without the other, you’re crippling the system. I’ve had such a system on my own pool for over a decade. It includes three technologies, and prioritizes those sanitation options based on real-time needs. My primary sanitation is ozone and UV — when the system comes on, that’s what supplies the sanitation. When it detects that I’m low on sanitation, then a salt chlorine generator is engaged. Then, if for some reason, there’s a very, very high demand, and none of the other technologies are keeping up, it’ll start adding liquid chlorine. I also have the benefit of two filtration systems — the primary system, and then the secondary one for the vanishing edge.
If my daughter has a birthday party with 16 kids in there, and the water is 88 degrees, that’s a petri dish, by anybody’s standards. But, other than a little debris, the water will still look like gin. Year-round, regardless of the temperature or the use of the water, my water quality is absolutely polished, all the time. You can swim in my pool and won’t even detect any chlorine.
Over the years, some have worried that automation will take service techs out of work. But I still have a service man who comes out every week. To me, the chemical technology increases the value of a service company that actually understands these automated systems and recognizes the value of them.
When working with clients, we have a candid conversation about water quality. We’ll explain: “We can design a beautiful pool, we can make it structurally sound and we provide a highly efficient filtration system. But the water quality is a key component.” It’s just to give them the opportunity to decide what has value.
Keep in mind: Homeowners may think they’re satisfied with water quality that is just good enough, until they actually own a pool. Among my friends who get pools, I’ll explain to them how I handle chemical automation. They’ll say, “Oh, yeah — the pool man says we don’t need that.” Sure enough, once the pool is built, their biggest complaint is the consistency of water quality. They’ll say, “I’ve got a pool service guy who has to go out there and dump a bunch of chemicals in, then I can’t use the pool for the first two days, and it’s sideways in seven days, when he comes back.”
Today, more and more people are concerned about their health, so I think explaining the options is paramount. And we should not degrade it by saying, “If you really want it, we can charge you an extra $5,000, but the service company won’t get it. The next time a red light’s flashing, they’ll just cut it out.”
Don’t degrade innovation to undersell a pool. To me, this really is one of the last foundational hurdles in this industry.