Disappearing Act

Many of the components in and around the modern day swimming pool are made of plastic, usually white.  These components are necessary, essential for covering  skimmers, drains, trim pieces around plumbing inlets, face rings around pool lights, and so forth.  Visually, these plastic parts are, well, ugly!  However, there are many things that can be done to make these components go away, visually speaking.

Incorporating tile onto the cover helps it go away visually
Unappealing white plastic cover

When you look at the bottom of a swimming pool, the continuity of a field of beautiful tile is often broken up with a white drain cover right in the middle.  How much better to use a cover that will allow you to incorporate that same tile, or whatever material you are using to line the pool?

Lid in disguise
No hiding this lid!

The same goes for skimmer covers around the perimeter of the pool.  Normally the pool builder doesn’t give a second thought as to how these will look, or rather clash with the rest of your landscape or hardscape.  Incorporating stone into a skimmer lid, or even cutting a stone lid is pleasing to the eye.  For that matter, many skimmers utilise an external, white faceplate that sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of a tile line.  It’s more aesthetically pleasing to use skimmer brands that tend to disappear within the pool wall, perhaps one that actually matches the pool tile.  After all, they are available in a variety of colours!

Pool lights as well can be seamlessly integrated into the pool wall.  The stainless steel face ring that surrounds the light itself can be powder coated in an infinite amount of shades and hues.  It’s a durable coating that can also be applied to handrails and ladder rails.

Next we’ll talk about adding water features to your pool, whether you are in the design phase, or are looking to renovate…

 

Continuing Education

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Piscina & Wellness Barcelona Global Aquatic Exhibition in October and the International Pool/Spa/Patio Expo in Ontario, Fl. U.S.A. the following month.  Both shows are impressive, with hundreds of manufacturers of pool and spa products showing off their latest products and offering support to those that sell them. What I always find fascinating are the differences between the European and U.S. market.  Here in Europe, pool sanitation products have a strong foothold in the industry, whether that be UV, Ozone, Hydroxyl-Based Oxidation, or Chlorine Generators.  In the U.S. market, pool automation is king!  This is largely consumer-driven; after all, who doesn’t want to control their pool from their smartphone?!?  Builders are offering their clients fire features, extensive lighting options, both inside the pool and in the surrounding landscape, underwater speakers, multiple jet arrays in spas, the list goes on and on.  Automating all of these systems is no longer an option, it’s become a necessity.

Some of these innovations in automation are making their way here, and as pools get more complex, with lighting, cleaners, and sanitation systems, automating them will be the norm.  In the days  following the trade shows I mentioned, I sifted through all the brochures I accumulated and found two products I would like to share with you.  One is a wireless autofill system made by Kona Labs out of the U.S., and the other is a pool controller that provides basic automation, made by Saci Pumps of Barcelona.

What I like about the autofill system is that it addresses a real need.  In the U.S., most new pools include an autofill of some type, whether that be the float valve type (similar to the type of valve in your toilet tank), or electronic.  In our part of the world however, many pools are lacking this most basic component. What this device does is simple. It wirelessly monitors your water level using a sensor discretely installed in the pool skimmer, and adds water when it’s needed.  It has built in protection against overfilling the pool, the installation is simple, without the need to tear up the pool decking, and can be installed before or after pool construction.  There is even an option to monitor your water level online, with alerts warning you of possible leaks in the pool.  This unit can easily be used in ponds, water features, and tanks, essentially in any application where a precise water level is needed.  This autofill is a basic form of pool automation that I believe many of our clients would benefit from.

The Saci Smart Control panel is a gem. Again, it fills a need in our market and provides entry level automation for any pool owner.  This unit is compact and can be wall mounted, making installation very easy.  What the controller does is automate the pool pump, heat pump, chlorine
generator, and lighting.  It’s simple to program and can be set up for multiple languages if required.  It will automatically turn the pump on if it senses freezing conditions and alternatively, turn the pump off if it senses it is running dry.  It can be programmed to turn the pump on and off multiple times during the day.  This is ideal for areas where the wind picks up, for instance in the afternoon.  The pump turns on during these periods, keeping the pool cleaner.  The pool lights can be programmed to turn on and off at a particular time or day as well.

These are just two of many new products in the marketplace that can make the life of a pool owner just a little bit easier.  Whether it’s entry-level automation that interests you or you would like more information, our team at Smart Pool Solutions would be happy to help!

 

Is it better to leave the pool pump ON or OFF during the off-season?

Why would you leave the pool running on a daily basis during the off-season, when no one is able to enjoy it?  We are all concerned about conserving money and energy, so it seems that shutting off the pool when the weather cools down and turning the pump back on in the spring is a sensible thing to do.

However, in other areas, it’s not always the case. For instance, in the west coast of the U.S., most homeowners circulate the pool water year round. The pumps might be on for shorter periods of time during the day when the pool isn’t in use. Keeping the pump on keeps the pool from becoming a real mess come spring. It’s not so easy to clear up green pool water! It takes a lot of money in chemicals and plenty of patience. Backwashing the filter countless times or disassembling the filter and clearing out debris is required. Not to mention cleaning the organic material out of the pool, which has oftentimes stained the finish. Is there an easier way?

Perhaps you turn your pool pump off because you don’t trust your pool maintenance company to visit your pool on a weekly basis during the off-season. Sad to say, this is all too common. Some homeowners pay for maintenance while they are in another country, for instance. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous companies only show up shortly before the homeowners arrival, doing their best to clean up an ugly pool. Then they offer excuses as to why the water looks so bad. These days, smart locks have solved this problem. They allow the technician access to your yard via a mobile phone app. In turn, you are notified every time they enter and leave the yard. No more missed service calls. No more excuses.

Others turn off the pool pump because let’s face it, it’s expensive to run a pool year round! With the antiquated pool pumps that run many pools, this is absolutely the case. However, there is an alternative, a variable speed pump. These pumps provide tremendous energy savings while being extremely silent at low speeds. And energy savings are realized when the pump is run at a low speed continuously. Yes, that’s right. The variable speed technology allows you to run your pump at very low speeds, and running slowly dramatically reduces the energy consumption.

At the Piscina and Wellness 2017 show this past October in Barcelona, every pump manufacturer had variable speed pumps on display. It doesn’t matter if your pool is 30 square meters or 150, there is one to fit your needs. Would you like to find out more? We would be happy to share more information with you, at no obligation. Give us a call or send us an email!

Water Loss in Swimming Pools

The other day a friend of mine was walking through his urbanisation and saw a large volume of water flowing down the street. Curious, he followed the torrent up around the corner and discovered its source. A huge volume of water was cascading down over a large boulder retaining wall in the back of a home. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that the swimming pool had sprung a leak!

The potential for catastrophe from pool leaks cannot be understated. They can undermine foundations of pools and homes, causing decking to shift and move. If left unchecked, they can affect properties adjacent to the pool, or downhill as was the case with this leak. Most leaks are not as obvious as this one was, and that’s why if you suspect your pool is losing water, it’s time to do a little detective work.

First, look for obvious signs. Is there water around your pool equipment? Are there wet areas in your yard that never seem to dry out? Is your auto-fill constantly running? These telltale signs may indicate a leak.

Unfortunately, most pool leaks are not so identifiable. Due to poor construction practices, leaks often occur at pipe penetrations in the pool shell, around skimmers, inlets, and lights.

Another way pools lose water is through evaporation. Many pool owners are not aware of the significant effect evaporation has on their swimming pool. During certain times of the year, evaporation can increase due to heat, wind, and humidity. Certain types of pools can lose more water than others as well. How is that possible?

Consider the vanishing edge type of pool. Water loss through evaporation is reflected in the catch basin, as the water level in the main pool remains at a constant level. The catch basin also reflects it’s own water loss through evaporation. The small surface of the catch basin makes the effect quite dramatic! In addition, a catch basin that is undersized for the pool it supports makes the problem appear even worse.

Yes, water loss in swimming pools can’t be avoided entirely, as in the case of evaporation. However, pool leaks CAN be addressed, saving you money and the potential of damage to your pool and property. We utilise equipment that can absolutely identify how much water your pool is losing, differentiating between actual evaporation and water loss due to leak(s). We use non-invasive procedures to fix the problem, with the ability to identify and correct issues without draining the pool. Water is a precious commodity. If your pool can’t hold it, give us a call!

Best Practice

When you purchase a new car, before you are handed the keys, a salesperson goes over all of the car’s many features.  For example, he or she will explain how the safety features of the car work, such as the airbags and the seatbelt. The functions of the climate control will be talked about in detail, as well as the many features of the entertainment system. You will be instructed how to adjust the seat properly, what fuel the vehicle requires, the maintenance requirements, and the list goes on and on.

Taking ownership of a new home is very similar.  Before the keys are handed over, the builder or salesperson takes you on a walk through and talks you through the details.  He may explain how the security system functions and how the appliances work.  He will probably program the climate control system and explain its operation.  All in all this walk through may take at least an hour or more depending on the size of the home and at the end you are handed the keys and his business card, with the offer to call him with any further questions or concerns you may have.

The above scenarios are considered ‘best practice’, especially when it comes to making a large purchase of a car or home.  What about after your shiny new swimming pool is finished?  After all, pools can be a sizeable investment of time and money, sometimes running into six figures!  What does the builder do before ‘handing you the keys’, so to speak?  Can you imagine that after spending a huge sum on a pool, landscaping, and so on, the builder turns on the pool equipment and leaves you to fend for yourself?  Unfortunately this happens at times.  It’s certainly not ‘best practice’.

Pools and their related equipment can be confusing, and at the very least, the builder needs to explain the basics to the homeowner.  How does the pump turn on and off?  How is the filter backwashed?  How do the pool lights function?  If the pool includes a chlorine generator, how much salt does the pool require?  What are the basic chemical parameters that should be adhered to for healthy water?  These are just a few of the many features of a new pool that need to be talked about BEFORE the builder ‘hands you the keys’ and drives off!

Some reputable builders work along with maintenance companies that will service the pool for the first month or two for example, ensuring that everything is functioning properly and making sure the water chemistry falls in line. If problems are encountered with the equipment, the builder is made aware and can rectify them.  You then have the opportunity to use this maintenance company if you desire, for the continued maintenance of your pool.  Other builders may offer maintenance ‘in house’, taking care of your pool oftentimes at no charge for the first month, as they ensure the successful hand off.  This ensures that any warranty issues are addressed promptly, and the transition to the homeowner is as smooth as possible.

If you are considering a new pool, choose the builder wisely. Ask for recommendations.  Talk to past clients.  Look at finished projects.  Remember that you get what you pay for.  Builders that charge more for their projects are usually those that offer the best follow through. To them, ‘best practice’ is not just a catch phrase, but the way they do business.  Are you interested in a top notch builder for your project?  Contact us.  We can steer you in the right direction.

Vanishing Edge Considerations

One of the most dramatic pool designs is the vanishing edge, or infinity pool.  Nothing compares to taking advantage of an ocean or hillside view than one of these works of art!  In this part of the world, these  vessels are commonplace, as the beautiful surroundings lend themselves to this type of pool construction.

Are you considering having one of these pools constructed, or are you in the process of having one built now?  If so, let’s talk about a few very important considerations that need to be addressed in the design phase of these vessels.  VE pools are complex, and if a few critical elements are overlooked or not designed into the system, you can find yourself with some serious design flaws on your hands that could potentially lead to disaster or cost a lot of money to remedy.

A primary consideration is the size of the catch basin.  Most of the catch basins that I see in my travels are woefully inadequate.  Essentially this basin needs to be large enough to accommodate all the water flowing over the edge.  Basic hydraulic calculations must come into play when designing the catch basin:  water-in-transit, wind, and bather surge.  A suggestion made by many experts is to oversize the basin that will capture the water.  In this way you can avoid a worse case situation that could occur down the road.  Skimmers should not be placed in the catch basin, as they are rendered useless as the water level fluctuates dramatically. Skimmer(s) should be placed in the main pool to keep the amount of debris flowing over the VE wall to a minimum. In addition, adequate suction points in the basin (drains) are essential for removing debris.

A well thought out system would call for a vacuum line in the catch basin to quickly remove debris.  This vacuum line should be tied in to the pump that runs the edge and the system should have a filter plumbed in as well.  That’s right, the basin should have its own pump and filter!  Why is that the case?  For one thing, the water that returns to the main pool will be filtered and clean. Second, when incorporating a variable speed pump, the VE wall can be wet with the least amount of water possible, saving energy.  It’s important to keep this wall wet during the day, as it reduces the amount of mineral buildup that can accumulate.  The additional pump and filter certainly adds to the overall cost of the project, but it’s a worthwhile investment!

The catch basin should include an autofill.  Don’t leave this to chance!  VE pools lose more water than your typical pool due to evaporation and wind.  This water loss is reflected in the catch basin. Remember, the upper pool is always kept full, so water loss is not discernible.  But take a look in the catch basin and you will see the amount of water lost due to splash out and evaporation.  There are different types of autofills on the market, and ones made specifically for VE pools. Insist on one when having your pool constructed!  There is nothing more annoying than adding makeup water by hand on a daily basis.

These are only a few noteworthy considerations that should not be overlooked when constructing one of these beautiful pools.. As you can see, beauty is only skin deep; there is a lot going on with these pools that is not visible to the eye, but are essential to keep them running smoothly.  In a future post we will talk about the heart of these pools, the plumbing.

How to Protect Yourself From Getting Shocked In a Swimming Pool

The recent news of the electrocution of five people in a water park in Turkey has once again highlighted the need to be alert to the dangers that electricity present in the presence of water. You may think that high voltage is to blame when you hear reports of a swimmer getting electrocuted in a body of water.  In fact, there are various poor practices that can place pool users at risk!

Electrocution has been a real concern ever since pool pumps and pool lights have been incorporated into bodies of water that are used recreationally. In this post, we will talk about pool lights.  They are certainly easy to point the finger at since they are immersed in water.

In the United States, many pools utilise incandescent pool lighting powered by 120 volts.  These lights are present in many residential pools and most commercial pool environments.  If installed properly with a routinely tested GFCI, these types of fixtures are considered safe.  Low voltage lighting utilising 12 volts is an alternative, but are not to be considered foolproof. Like any electrical component, if not installed properly, a shock could occur.

Fortunately, in part because of the energy-efficiency movement, LED lights powered through solid state technology utilise low voltage, and many don’t require a ground wire, eliminating a path for current to make its way into the water.

It’s important when hiring someone to work on your pool, whether it’s the light fixture, pump, heat pump, automation system, chlorine generator, wiring, etc. that you look for someone with the proper skill set.  What are their qualifications?  Have they attended manufacturers’ seminars on installation best practices?  Are they proponents of further education?  How many years do they have in the swimming pool industry?

Here is what you can do to protect yourself and whoever uses the pool:  If you’re concerned, have your pool system inspected by a qualified professional.  They can take a holistic approach and look at all pool components, as there may be problems related to damaged or inadequate bonding in concrete vessels, or there may be a problem somewhere else that could potentially lead to current entering the water.  Unfortunately, we have seen hundreds of cases where pumps or other electrical components have not been installed incorrectly.  The opportunity for serious mistakes comes with the repair or installation of pool lights or equipment.  Do your research and hire a professional.  Safety should be your highest concern!

Suction Entrapment Danger

In the last couple of months there have been two reported incidents of pool drain entrapments in Spain.  This is extremely alarming as we enter the beginning of the summer swim season.  Both incidents were unrelated but resulted in serious injuries to the children involved.  How do these accidents occur?

Result of pool drain suction

This photo illustrates the danger that may exist in swimming pools as a result of the following scenarios:

  • broken drain covers
  • suction from pool pump isolated to one inlet due to improper valve placement
  • suction from pool pump isolated to bottom drain as a result of improper water level

Unfortunately, many pools in Spain have been constructed with a single inlet at the bottom of the pool.  This practice CONTINUES TODAY in many instances and shows absolute gross negligence in my opinion. Children love to dive into the water and invariably end up near suction inlets where their small bodies, hair, limbs, or swimming costume could easily become entrapped when one of the above scenarios comes into play. The result could lead to catastrophic injury such as disembowelment or even death.

There are steps that property owners can take to lessen or even eliminate the dangers outlined in this post.  There are drain covers on the market today that can be installed that eliminate the suction possibility due to the way they are made.  Some are dome shaped, and others are shaped in such a way as to make it impossible to cover it completely by a swimmer.  Many covers easily retrofit onto existing sumps.  Each year these covers should be inspected and replaced if necessary!

Other solutions include:

  • vacuum relief systems
  • variable drive pumps that switch off when a suction problem is detected
  • retrofitting the single drain to a dual drain system

We have experience in all of these methods and have retrofitted literally hundreds of vessels to eliminate the hazard of entrapment.  Our firm would be more than happy to give you some direction in this important area of pool safety.  Give us a call or email for an appointment today.

The Case of the Screaming Pool Pump

We ask a lot from the lowly pool pump.  Often it is housed in a damp environment, which ultimately leads to bearing failure due to rust.  We might ignore the small leak coming from the pump, that indicates future pump failure.  The subterranean vaults or small storage sheds that pumps reside in have very little airflow for the pump to operate efficiently.  Forgetting to add water to the pool can cause the pump to run dry, which leads to melting pipes.  By restricting water flow to the pump due to poor plumbing techniques, or expecting it to function properly when the filter or associated pipework is inadequate is asking for trouble!  Then one day you hear it.  The pump sounds a little different than normal, as if it’s whining. Then a week later it’s noticeably louder.  Before you know it, the noise it’s making is deafening. The screaming pool pump!  What now?

Let’s consider one of the aforementioned issues in a little more detail: inadequate plumbing.  Most pools that I see have been plumbed with pipes that are undersized.  Larger pipe sizes are not that much more in terms of cost, and the benefits of going larger are many:  less restriction, adequate flow, increased life of the pool pump, cleaners, filter, the list goes on and on.  Do you want to extend the life of your pool equipment?  There may not be much you can do with the plumbing below ground without embarking on a major renovation, but there is much you can do above ground.  By eliminating unnecessary fittings, turbulence can drop significantly, essentially slowing down and smoothing out the water.  Your pump will run quieter and cooler.  Cavitation, or the air bubbles you see in the pump, can be reduced or even eliminated.  Do you have a tangled web of plumbing in your pump room?  Give a little love to your pool pump and give us a call.  We’ll sort it out for you!

My Pump Is On But the Water In the Pool Isn’t Circulating!

We’ve all been there. You start the pump, the water is circulating in the pool, rippling across the surface, the pool filter gauge shows a low reading, everything is running smoothly. You walk away and come back later only to find the pump is starved for water, bubbles appear in the pool, no water movement in the skimmers…what went wrong?? Well, first let’s check those skimmers. Clean them out. Empty the pump basket of debris. Backwash the filter until the water runs clear. Often this solves the problem. If not, check the pump basket again. Is it cracked or broken? Is debris getting past the basket? It could be stuck in the veins of the pump impeller. This stops flow in its tracks! It’s good to keep an extra pump basket on hand as the plastic over time becomes brittle and cracks. Clearing that debris from the impeller is a little tricky, but when done properly will dramatically improve the water flow in your pool system.