Ready, set, swim! Automation to suit every pool owner


Wednesday, 14 August, 2013



Ready, set, swim! Automation to suit every pool owner

The backyard swimming pool was once considered to be high maintenance. With all of the cleaning, maintaining equipment and checking chemical levels, no wonder there were so many green and unused pools across the country. With major advancements in automation in the past decade, pool owners barely have to lift a finger to have a warm, clean pool ready for use at any time. Pool+Spa discusses the latest in pool automation with some of the pool industry’s top automation specialists.

Consumers want a pool that is self-sufficient and low maintenance. Consumers do not have the time to be cleaning pools and checking chemical levels etc. It has to fit into their lifestyle.

Warren Best, Product Development Manager at Pool Water Products, has been involved in process control and automation for over 20 years, dealing mainly with the water and wastewater industries and with industrial automation control systems. Pool Water Products is an independent distributor of high-quality products and systems that make swimming pool ownership an enjoyable and relaxing experience. With more than 30 years’ experience in the swimming pool and spa industry, the company works closely with world leaders in the industry including Paramount, Pentair and Spa Electrics to ensure ongoing research and development of products and systems for the Australian market.

According to Best, the latest trend is “having the pool control system connected to home automation and operating everything from either the iPhone or iPad”.

“Pool builders ask for a cost-effective control system that the consumer understands and can operate with ease. The control system the builder/owners want has to be capable of controlling pumps, in-floor cleaning, lights, spa blowers, water features, garden lights and any other device that can be connected to the control system,” said Best.

“Automation can be installed on existing pools. Initially, a full inspection of existing equipment would be required, to decide what type of upgrade of equipment is required, and this upgrade would include the automation. However, for best results and for cost efficiency, automation is best considered at the planning stage or when the pool equipment is being considered. The builder should ask the consumer what they expect from their control system.

“When it comes to automation, the biggest mistake that pool builders and owners make is not considering all devices that can be controlled via automation; for example, garden and driveway lights and any other power points in the vicinity of the control equipment.

“There are no real limits when it comes to automation as now all pool owners can control and communicate with their pool control system from anywhere in the world via the internet. Problems only exist when equipment is installed or programmed incorrectly. I would advise pool builders and designers to ensure the automation system suits the client’s needs and expectations for their pool,” said Best.

One team taking automation to the next level is Zodiac with its release of the iAquaLink, which was the brainchild of the automation team based in Vista, California, USA. The software was released in the USA in June 2012 and has been available in Australia since October 2012. Since its release, many thousands of people across these two continents have downloaded the software and this number is growing daily since its introduction to the European market this year.

Jonathan Bristow, Category Manager at Zodiac, said developing the software presented many challenges. “As we are a globally focused company, converting the software into many languages across many countries was very time consuming. Getting the app approved through Apple’s iOS platform regulations and designing it to suit the Android and HTML5 platforms also presented challenges.

“For anyone looking to add a bit more in their product offering to their customers, nothing beats the iAquaLink for its ease of use or install. The app is free to download and free for future updates,” Bristow added.

Robert Sterland, Product Manager at Pentair Australia/New Zealand, believes people want the luxury of owning a pool without the time and hassle of maintaining it. “Australians are working longer hours and want to spend their leisure time in the pool not in the pump room.

“The latest trend in automation is remote interfaces. The Screenlogic iPhone/iPad interface is probably the most requested thing in pool automation. People expect to have information instantly available nowadays and that includes what their pool is doing, what temperature it is, what the chemical balance is and how much power their equipment is consuming.

“Any pool can be automated. It’s best to start with a list of what you want to be automated. It could just be basic heating and filtration or you may want to make your client’s pool completely automated and as maintenance free as possible. Systems can be selected to meet the customer’s expectations and budget.

“It is always best to consider automation at the beginning of the planning stage. Automation systems, like the IntelliTouch, allow many pumps to be replaced with one multipurpose pump, like the Intelliflo, if the pool system is designed for it. You can make big savings on equipment and long-term energy and maintenance savings this way. Having said that, you can always retrofit to an existing pool and still get terrific benefits and enhance your pool experience.”

Sterland believes that when it comes to automation the mistake is not making the most of the system that is installed. “I have often noticed that there are additional peripherals such as garden lights nearby that aren’t connected to the system when there are plenty of auxiliaries available, and sometimes additional pumps that were unnecessary.”

With so many positives, it’s easy to forget about the limitations of automation. “No system can be truly maintenance free and you can’t just have the set-and-forget attitude. Chemical containers still need to be refilled, the skimmer basket still needs emptying. Automation can make the pool hassle free, but the owner or maintenance company still needs to keep an eye on it. The remote monitoring software with the ScreenLogic helps pool maintenance companies with this,” said Sterland.

Hayward Pool Products has been on the front line of the controls and automation market both residentially and commercially since the acquisition of both Goldline Controls and CAT Controllers in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Hayward Australia is in the process of introducing these and other associated product lines to the Aussie marketplace in the near future, pending necessary approvals and certifications.

Stephen Reed, Director of National Accounts and Marketing at Hayward Pool Products, says “Hayward Commercial has had Poolcomm operational for some time as a web-based interface and has just launched the applications for mobile devices such as iPhones and Android devices. AquaConnect is our web-based residential terminal emulation interface that allows residential customers that same access to their pool systems that the commercial sector has had for years.

“The challenge is to make complex technology simple and easy to use for customers that are accustomed to instantaneous digital gratification,” said Reed. “This technology may not be for everyone, but for those who decide to take the foray into controls and automation with all that entails will certainly distinguish themselves from some of their competitors and possibly carve out a new niche or find a new level of clients.”

Back to basics

If your client isn’t interested in accessing their pool automation remotely and wants to steer clear of high-tech controllers, there are still a number of basic automation options that you can suggest to upsell your pool design or construction.

According to the team at Kleenco, a time clock is one of the best things you can get for your pool; they can be set to automatically switch your filter on and off. Time clocks remember to turn your filter on when you forget or when you are away on holiday. They are available in a digital, electronic variety or one that’s mechanically operated. Both types work very well.

While in-floor cleaning systems need to be installed into new or renovated pools, there are several varieties of automatic cleaners that will also reduce the level of maintenance for your clients. In Australia there are currently three common types of automatic pool cleaners used in domestic pools - suction, pressure and robotic.

Suction cleaners are the most common automatic pool cleaners in Australia. They work in much the same way as a vacuum cleaner. Operating when the pool pump is turned on, they suck leaves and debris into the skimmer basket.

Pressure cleaners work from a dedicated return line and run by water pressure from the pump. This water pressure drives the cleaner around the pool. Pressure cleaners don’t suck leaves and debris into your pool filter or pump basket, thereby taking the load off your filtration system. They are perfect for pools in leafy areas with heavy debris.

With advancement in technology, robotic cleaners are now an affordable and effective option for many pool owners. Robotic cleaners work independently from the filter and pump and are driven by an electric motor inside the unit. They are self-contained, collecting dirt and debris in a bag or cartridge within the cleaner. Robotic cleaners have built-in intelligence that ensures they don’t get stuck in corners and on steps. They also provide a more thorough and complete clean than any other cleaner.

Then there’s the sanitiser. Automatic pool chlorinators, such as liquid chlorinators and saltwater electrochlorinators, come in various price ranges, depending on the size of the pool, the form of the cleaner and the quality of the chlorinator.

Warwick Valentine from Kleenco explains, “The device is attached to the pool filtration system and releases chlorine or other pool cleaners automatically into the water; it just needs to be filled with the cleaner manually and it does the rest.”

Liquid chlorinators continuously monitor the pH and chlorine levels and release necessary amounts of chlorine to ensure the pool water is automatically kept in perfect balance.

For those running a saltwater pool, a saltwater electrochlorinator is a device that is attached to the pool circulation system and uses electricity to change salt into a form of chlorine called sodium hypochlorite. “The chlorinator, containing an electrolytic cell, is attached to the pool circulation system across the filter. Common salt is dissolved into the water to a concentration of 3000 parts per million and usually needs to be topped off only a few times per year. However, the pool might require other chemicals to reduce the concentration of minerals in the water and maintain the pH balance,” added Valentine.

With all of the advances in swimming pool automation and countless teams across the country and internationally working towards even more advanced systems and software, the days of manual care and green, neglected pools are surely numbered.

Continue onto our product watch section to review pool automation products currently available in the market.

Image credit ©iStockphoto.com/blackred

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