A chemical automation system is admittedly the best way to ensure proper water chemistry at any commercial swimming pool installation. Because of this, many states have made them mandatory! Commercial pools face greater and more varying demands than residential pools and it can be a losing battle to try keeping pH and sanitizer levels balanced by hand. An automated system ensures that only the required chemicals will be added to the water and in very precise quantities. In addition, automation systems usually provide multiple safety features that ensure that neither the patrons or the equipment will face any risks in case of a major malfunction.
Serious consideration must be given before committing to any particular system.
Here are some points that you should consider before choosing a system for your installation.
Indoor / Outdoor Installation
Depending on the type of installation, the water chemistry requirements can vary dramatically.
Outdoor installations have to use stabilizers to protect the pool sanitizing agent from the sun. The most common stabilizer is cyanuric acid. Cyanuric acid can also be introduced as a by-product from secondary reactions by sanitizer shocks like Di-Chlor and Tri-Chlor.
Cyanuric acid negatively affects the ORP probe’s ability to read correctly. That in turn makes automation -at best- cumbersome, in some cases impossible. Therefore, outdoor installations usually require specialized probes or reagent systems, which are more expensive.
Are you automating a recreation pool, a lap pool, a medical pool or maybe a spa? Again, the type of usage and the expected water temperature do affect the water chemistry requirements.
Bring those requirements into light when inquiring about chemistry automation systems.
Decide what to automate
Automation systems have a great variety of sensors and options for automating pretty much every piece of pump room equipment imaginable. It is very easy to get lost in the available variety and go overboard. The very basic options would be:
- pH Control
- Detection of Temperature
- Detection of Water Flow
Common sense or sometimes local code (especially when using chlorine generation), dictates that sanitation systems have a backup system. There are few options for pH control like acid or CO2. Sanitation solutions are a little more versatile. Options include tablet feeder to liquid chlorine and from chlorine generation systems, etc. Make sure you notate all existing equipment as well as any anticipated short term expansions and discuss them with a specialist. For sanitation specifically, you have to keep in mind that there are two main options to track disinfectant levels. ORP (Oxidation Reduction Potential) and PPM. Depending on the disinfectant medium you use (or if you have had stray current issues in the past), ORP tracking may not be a good option for you. Many older installations might have stray current issues and do not even know it. Stray current issues are hard to detect and even harder and costlier to resolve. If your installation is older, you might want to save yourself the time and aggravation and go straight to a little more expensive ppm solution probe and skip ORP tracking altogether. (California requires PPM)
Most modern controllers offer the ability to gain remote access to the chemical controller in some way. At first it might seem overkill but the benefits, especially for around the clock operations, are very real.
Remote access usually is coupled with remote notification which is an added benefit. Unless there is staff on location 24/7, notifications and remote access are a smart option.
Warranty and consumables lifetimes
Make sure you compare warranties, support plans and consumables lifetimes. The fact that automation systems have consumables and that they eventually will need to be replaced is sometimes overseen. Make sure you take into account how often and how much those consumables will cost. Ask about their general availability or any specific storing requirements. Be prepared for consumables coming of age and budget for it. The cost of consumables is part of the cost of doing business and cannot be avoided, but it can certainly be budgeted for. Take advantage of any added value offerings suppliers have to offer and don’t let yourself get caught in a nasty situation by not knowing what your warranty requirements are until it’s too late.
Protect your bottom line but don’t lose sight of the greater scheme of things, like they say, “You get what you pay for”. Carefully weigh what are you giving up in exchange for a lower price. Hard-earned experience has proven time and time again that there’s no such thing as good and cheap. It’s either good or it’s cheap. As mentioned earlier, don’t go overboard either. Focus on what you really need and what’s the minimum required to get you there. Invest in people as much as you do on equipment. Does your supplier offer on-going training? Are they knowledgeable? Be sure to work with people you trust opposed to the lowest bidder.
Hopefully these few pointers will help you focus your efforts in the right direction and of course when not sure ask questions, require clarification or more information if you need it. Any reputable supplier will have no problem taking all the time you need in order for you to make the right calls.