The thing I love (and fear) about working with pools and spas is the uniqueness of each one we visit. There is rarely an ordinary, repetitive day. This also means we cannot assume a certain symptom demands a cookie-cutter solution. The same uniqueness is carried into how existing pools and spas are controlled. Some are fully automated, with computers and control interfaces that automatically and manually operate the pool equipment. Others, especially for older pools, rely on electro-mechanical time clocks, manual switches, and manually-adjusted valves. Knowing what you currently have controlling your pool can help you determine whether to switch to full automation or even upgrade your existing automation to the latest in pool and spa controls technology.
YOU’RE MY [MECHANICAL] EVERYTHING
Mechanical timers work exactly like analog clocks. A circular dial indicates the time of day and slowly spins by means of motors and gears. An “on” tripper and an “off” tripper are set at the desired times. When the tripper passes a switch on the timer, it flips on or off, sending power to or interrupting power from the pump or other component it controls. Normally, you find these types of controls in one of three scenarios. First, the pool is an older one built before automation came to be and has never been upgraded. Also, it’s possible that the customer for whom the pool/spa was built may have had no problem walking to the equipment pad to manually change settings (e.g., placing the system into “spa” water flow and pressing the switch on the heater). Finally, the system may be simple enough not to warrant anything more than a mechanical timer or two. Even in these days of minute-by-minute technological advancements, we sometimes recommend nothing more complicated than timers when a simple on/off setup will do. This mainly has to do with pool-only installations with no added features; even the required pool lights can be switched via a timer or regular light switch.
BE MY ONE AND ONLY
There are many factors that determine which kind of automation best suits the unique needs of both the customer and the pool. Answering these few questions can help decide what type and even brand of controls is right for you – note that some of them may need a professional diagnosis:
- Do you have a pool with no spa (or vice versa), a pool and spa combined (water flows to spa from pool in normal operation), or two separate systems for pool and spa?
- Does the electricity for all features of the pool (lights, water feature pumps, filtration, cleaning system) pass through the same area near the equipment?
- How much money do you intend to spend, or how much is needed to fully automate?
- Would you prefer an indoor control interface mounted on the wall; a hand-held device that can be kept in a drawer; or a web-based controller that can be accessed via smart phone, tablet, or computer?
When upgrading from electro-mechanical to automation, it is almost always possible to connect lights and other features beside the pool pumps to the new system. However, if switches controlling some of these features are indoors, far from the equipment area, an electrician would need to rewire. The same holds true if you would prefer an indoor, wall-mounted control interface but have no existing one. Wires would need to be installed between the equipment area and the controller. Such work carries a hefty cost, but again – in most situations – it can be done. Still, it is just as feasible to control only some aspects of a pool without controlling them all. Customization is certainly possible, and the answers to the preceding questions will determine the best product for any customer.
HOW DO I LOVE [AUTOMATION]? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS…
How could automation benefit a pool and spa owner? The following list will help, and it is certainly not exhaustive:
- You can activate the spa and heater from a warm, comfortable location – in some cases, even from the airport when a long trip demands a therapeutic soak.
- You can make adjustments to programming for all connected components, from the comfort of the indoors, using no tools and with little effort.
- You can turn on the lights in the pool or even set them to run specific hours, then change those hours as the seasons change, for ambiance and for safety – being able to see what is happening at night in your pool is critical.
- If you have color-changing LED lights, you can choose a light show or a specific color and watch the automation system go directly to that color (without automation, you have to switch the lights on and off in specific sequences).
- With some systems, you can have preset “macros” that turn on a list of equipment all at once (for instance, a “Night Party” macro may have lights, water features, and spa heating come on simultaneously).
- With the web-based features, your pool professional could have access to the controls for the purpose of diagnosing automation issues, possibly eliminating the need for a service call.
- Some systems allow you to use the web-based controls to monitor certain chemical levels.
Feel free to call us with specific questions regarding how pool and spa automation could change your life, and fall in love with a new way of enjoying your investment. Happy Valentine’s Day!