iAquaLink

iAquaLink

Zodiac has polished up its AquaLink RS interface with the new iAquaLink revision.

The three major players in swimming pool automation all have new slick looking interfaces for our smartphones and tablets. Today I want to focus on Zodiac’s offering, which I have installed several times now. Zodiac (Jandy) has been perfecting their AquaLink RS control system for many years and the iAquaLink is the latest iteration of their fantastic line of controls.

iAquaLink Chart

Traditionally, the AquaLink RS system has been controlled by a wall-mounted panel located inside of the home. There have been two main panels called the “All Button” and “One Touch”. As technology allowed, these wired panels transitioned to wireless using the same frequencies as cordless home phones. Several years ago, a smaller handheld water resistant “remote” was released by Jandy. This device is called the “PDA” and it is still being installed by some pool builders and service companies.

Now there is a much better solution for most pool owners desiring total automation and it is called the iAquaLink. The way it works is your pool equipment is connected to a control panel that contains the “brains” of the system. This control panel has a wifi antenna that connects to your home network, and in turn, to the internet. Then, your computer, smartphone, or tablet is able to connect to your iAquaLink control system through the internet, allowing you to control the equipment and programming from anywhere with internet access. This will allow you to do things never before possible, like putting your system into spa mode and heating it to 104 degrees as you are leaving the airport to come home after a long business trip. Maybe on Monday morning, you want to make sure that you turned the pool heater off after that big party on Saturday night. These things are possible with the iAquaLink system.

iAquaLink iPhone AppThe iAquaLink is not only for new users. Anyone who owns an old AquaLink RS system can upgrade to the iAquaLink by installing an upgrade kit. Amazon has a great price on this kit for anyone interested. Be careful because they make a couple of different upgrade kits. I believe that the one I am linking to here will work with any AquaLink RS system because it replaces the entire motherboard in the power center. You can even still use your existing wall mounted indoor control panels. The PDA is not compatible with the iAquaLink, however. For what it’s worth, the IQ900-RS iAquaLink upgrade kit has become the most affordable way to replace a bad circuit board in any old AquaLink RS system.

There are so many pros for the iAquaLink it is hard to think of any cons. The only real con that I can come up with is that the iAquaLink must be initially configured to connect to your home network by connecting a laptop to it via USB cable. This is hampered by having to remove two screws from the wifi antenna. If you have ever dealt with home networking and routers, you may know how much trouble this can be to make work properly. I know that for me, I rarely enjoy dealing with networking. You should make sure that your wifi reaches the location of you pool equipment before installing the iAquaLink if you want the complete functionality of it. I should mention that there is a hard wired ethernet option if wifi is not available. Obviously this would be used as a last resort.

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Acid Washing Your Pool

A double edged knife, the acid wash can make your pool look spectacular, but at what cost?

Acid WashAfter several years of use, a swimming pool’s surface will start to show it’s age. Many times there will be some staining from metals or other contaminates. If only there were a way to clean it up right and make it look new again. Enter the acid wash, a risky, yet rewarding process that involves applying muriatic acid directly to the pool surface. The risks involved are high because muriatic acid is highly corrosive and literally removes a thin layer of the pool surface to expose a fresh layer. If your plaster is not thick enough, the acid could expose the underlying gunite structure. Despite this major drawback, acid washing is quite popular and looked upon as a cheap method to restore a pool’s surface. The results are never guaranteed and most businesses will present the customer with a liability waiver explaining the risk involved.

Although I will describe the process of acid washing a pool here, every pool is different and you should be sure to consult with a pool professional about your particular situation. You should never attempt to acid wash a pool without the proper knowledge, protection, or training.

An acid wash begins by draining the pool. Depending on the location, surroundings, time of year, etc., there may be precautions to follow when doing this. All water must be removed before beginning. This is usually accomplished by using a vacuum to suck up the last few gallons around the deep end.

A plastic watering can (think of the kind for gardening) is used to apply the acid. The muriatic acid is mixed with water at about one part water, one part acid. In extreme circumstances, a stronger mix of acid may be required. Before applying the acid, be absolutely sure there is adequate ventilation, a water supply (garden hose), and you need proper breathing protection. When you are ready to apply the acid, sprinkle the deepest area of the floor and let it fizz for about 15 seconds before rinsing it off with the garden hose. At this point, drop 15 to 20 lbs of sodium bicarbonate into the water to neutralize the rest of the acid as it enters the pool of water. Be sure to mix the sodium bicarbonate into the water so that it does not leave a spot on the floor.

From here I usually wash the short wall of the deep end following the same procedure. Pour the acid on the surface being sure to cover it completely and then rinse it off after 15 seconds. The longer you wait, the more it will work. After the short wall in the deep end, make your way down the other walls toward the shallow end. Do the short wall in the shallow end and the steps, then from the deepest part of the slope, work your way back up to the shallow end washing the floor. If needed, add some more sodium bicarbonate to the water to neutralize the acid. You might expect to use between 8 and 16 gallons of acid and a 50 lb bag of sodium bicarbonate. Once all of the surfaces have been acid washed, the water in the floor must be removed with a sump pump and vacuum.

Hopefully the results are good at this point. There is no way to go back and if there are any problems, the pool may need to be resurfaced. Contact us if you would like our advice on your specific situation.

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AquaRite by Hayward

AquaRite – Simple and Affordable Chlorine Generation

AquaRite

I thought that since I had just blogged about the common misinformation about salt systems, now would be a good time to introduce my personal favorite salt system. The Hayward AquaRite is a well designed, simple, and affordable solution to generating free chlorine from salt.

Hayward actually purchased the company, Goldline Controls, that created this salt system and Goldline was producing the AquaRite more than 10 years ago. My point is that this salt system has been around for a very long time and Hayward thinks enough of it to actually buy the original producer of it.

When it comes to pool equipment, I generally think that the simpler it is, the better. I think that is why I like the AquaRite so much. There is a 4 digit lcd display that shows you the salt level in the pool. This display can also be used with the diagnostic button to show other relevant information to a technician. A 3 position switch is located at bottom left. The switch goes starts at “Off”, then “Auto”, and finally “Super Chlorinate”. “Auto” generates chlorine according to how the dial is set and “Super Chlorinate” generates at 100% for 24 hours and then reverts back to whatever the dial is set to. The “Super Chlorinate” setting is similar to shocking the pool. The dial in the center adjusts the amount of chlorine being produced by the AquaRite. To the right of the dial there is a column of 8 lights. These are just indicators for the status of the AquaRite.

AquaRite T-CellHayward makes 3 different cells that mount in the plumbing. They are rated for different amounts of water. The smallest is rated for pools up to 15,000 gallons, the middle is for up to 25,000 gallons, and the largest one will handle up to 40,000 gallons. For most applications, I recommend the largest cell because this will allow you to use a lower generation percentage on the dial, thus allowing the cell to work less and last longer.

Typically, I see the AquaRite components fail on about a 5 year cycle. They have a 3 year warranty from Hayward. Unfortunately, the circuit board in the AquaRite system has been plagued by a problem component for quite some time. As a technician, I can verify that one single electrical component causes about 99% of the issues with the AquaRite. I have been told recently by a representative of Hayward that this problem component has been rectified once and for all. He even wanted any replacement circuit boards in my inventory. This is a good sign for future AquaRite systems and I am very happy that they have finally fixed this problem that has plagued the product. Regardless of any issues, I would still highly recommend the Hayward AquaRite to anyone looking for an affordable solution to finally owning a saline pool.

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Salt Systems

Common misconceptions about salt systems…

Hayward Aqua Rite Salt System

Salt systems are gaining popularity among pool owners around Atlanta, GA. What’s not to like about them? They generate free chlorine from salt and they cut down on maintenance costs. All of your friends will recommend them to you and eventually you will get around to asking a pool professional about them. That brings me to the point of this article. I receive many questions about salt systems and most of the time these questions are very easy to answer because of how far off path they are. I want to take a lighthearted look at these common salt system questions and comments. We all must start somewhere and I recognize that, so please follow along and learn the basics of the salt system. Let’s dive in!

  • Customer – “I need to replace my filter so now is a good time to upgrade to a salt system. What do we need to do to put in a salt filter?”
    • Answer – A salt system does not replace your filter. It is simply another piece of equipment that works with your existing system. The salt is poured directly in the pool, not the filter. Once the salt dissolves into the water, the salt cell generates chlorine from the salt. When the generated chlorine is used, it converts back to salt. This means that the salt is technically only borrowed to make the chlorine and the only way you lose the salt from a pool is by draining or losing water.
  • Customer – “Since I had this salt system installed, my water just takes care of itself. I never check my chemicals and the pool just stays clear.”
    • Answer – A salt system only handles one thing and that is the production of chlorine. There are several elements to a properly maintained pool, most of which I cover in this article about pool chemistry. The free chlorine should still be checked weekly along with the pH. I would check the total alkalinity at least monthly and the calcium a few times per season. Cyanuric acid is very important for salt pools and I would check it periodically (monthly or bimonthly).
  • Customer – “I can’t wait to install a salt system so I don’t have to use chlorine anymore.”
    • Answer – First of all, salt systems generate chlorine from the salt. Any salt pool is using chlorine to sanitize the water. Secondly, there are still a few good reasons to keep granular chlorine or tablets on hand. Salt systems cannot generate chlorine during cold weather. Once the water temperature gets down into the fifties, most salt systems will turn themselves off. The reason is because they need more amps at colder temperatures and the circuits cannot handle the increased load. The good news is that during cold weather, there is almost no algae problem and a pool needs minimal chlorine. Another situation in which a salt system performs poorly is the cleanup of extremely foul water. If the water is green, the pool will need good old-fashioned granular chlorine.
  • Customer – “My pool was starting to turn green so I added more salt. Now it is completely green and I can’t even see the bottom. What happened?”
    • Answer – A pool’s salt level and chlorine level are two independent things. One does not directly affect the other. All salt systems will give the user a salt reading, which should be kept around 3200 on most systems. Pools need a free chlorine level of around 1 – 3. Every salt system has a way to control the percentage of chlorine generated. This may be a dial or simply up and down buttons. The chlorine level needs to be tested weekly and then the percentage being generated must be adjusted slightly to increase or decrease the chlorine level in the pool. If the salt level itself needs to be adjusted you simply add salt to the pool to increase it or drain some water, replacing it with fresh water, to lower the salt level.
  • Customer – “I’ve only had my salt system for a few months and the check cell light is on. Is this thing defective? It shouldn’t already have a problem!”
    • Answer – The Hayward salt systems specifically have indicators that remind the user to inspect the cell. This light turns on as nothing more than a reminder and in reality, the salt system does not know whether the cell is clean or not. To inspect the cell, it must be disconnected from the plumbing and visually checked for calcium buildup inside. If there is no calcium buildup (a white mineral looking growth), then the cell can be returned to the plumbing and the inspect cell light may be reset. It will turn on once again when a predetermined number of hours have passed, at which point the cell should be inspected and cleaned if necessary.

For any other questions about salt systems, feel free to comment below, call us, or email.

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Intellibrite 5G

You too can have epic lighting with the Pentair Intellibrite 5G!

Intellibrite 5G

When thinking about lights for a pool or a spa, the Pentair Intellibrite 5G color changing LED light stands out to me. It is not your typical light and many may say it is too expensive. If you are trying to impress your friends or throwing a big party, this light is sure to fit the bill.

Color changing lights are nothing new. For many years, colored lights have used a rotating color wheel and halogen bulbs. This led to mechanical issues eventually and many blown bulbs. Recently, LED lighting has become popular and that has brought us the Intellibrite 5G.

There are a few really interesting features to the Pentair Intellibrite 5G. First off, by using LEDs, these lights consume 50% less energy than incandescent lights. You also don’t need to worry about blown bulbs since these LEDs have a much longer lifespan. The Intellibrite 5G lights have 7 modes where the colors rotate in a sequence and 5 fixed color modes. There is also functionality to hold any color during a rotation sequence. The Intellibrite 5G can be controlled by either the optional Intellibrite Controller or a standard light switch / relay. All of them that I have ever seen were controlled by a switch, but the Intellibrite Controller seems to be a much better option. The problem with using a switch is that you must turn the switch on and off a certain number of times corresponding to the mode of operation you desire. If you find a sequence that you like and leave it alone, this will work fine for you, but if you are the type that likes to fiddle around with things, you will want the controller for sure.

Check out the video linked below to see just how cool these lights are!

Pentair Intellibrite 5G Video

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Pool Light Not Working

A GFCI outlet could cause your pool light to not work.

Pool Light Not WorkingWe’ve all been there. You flip the pool light switch expecting the pool to illuminate and instead you are greeted with darkness. Many just assume that the bulb has blown and make a phone call to the pool guy, others may go out to the equipment looking for a tripped circuit breaker. One place that you need to look is at your outdoor GFCI outlets.

GFCI stands for “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”. The GFCI outlet is designed to cut power off to a device that has malfunctioned. It’s easy to understand why pool lights are wired with GFCI outlets since dangerous electricity is being provided to a location which is submerged underwater. Most of the time a pool light is wired up to a GFCI outlet that is located very close to the switch. If there is an automation system controlling the equipment, this GFCI outlet may be located right on the side of the power center box. Occasionally, a pool light is wired to a GFCI outlet on the side of the house or in the yard. Regardless of the location, check to see if the reset button has popped out. You might just be surprised by what you find!

Sometimes the GFCI outlet will trip from moisture, lightning, or a power surge. GFCI outlets themselves will malfunction on occasion. Other times, a good reason exists for why it has tripped, after all, the GFCI outlet is there to protect you. Pool lights can develop issues between five to ten years into their life. These issues result from high temperatures and leaks into the fixture from bad gaskets. If a light has leaked internally it can be repaired if caught soon enough, but after a few months, the water causes vital parts to rust and corrode beyond repair. Once water is inside the light, it will trip a GFCI each time it is turned on. Call us if you are unable to reset your GFCI.

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Leaf Trap by Pentair

Keep your skimmer line flowing by vacuuming through the Pentair Leaf Trap!

As a pool professional, there is no worse feeling than vacuuming a pool directly through the skimmer line and suddenly realizing that the line has become clogged. Now a simple cleaning job has become a mission to unclog the skimmer pipe. We use a few methods to clear the skimmer lines of debris and they are not incredibly difficult to perform, but the time that it wastes is the problem for us. As a consumer, I can only imagine the sinking feeling one might feel when discovering that there is little to no suction on the skimmer line after vacuuming.

Pentair Leaf Trap

The important thing is that these clogs can be avoided by using a simple device made by Pentair. It is called a leaf trap and it does just that. The leaf trap contains a mesh bag which catches any debris that you may vacuum up. The included mesh bag is pretty good normally, but there are other options to catch the debris, as well. You can get a heavy duty basket that works better for vacuuming heavy algae or there is a 25 square foot cartridge filter that works very well for fine silt.

You may be asking, “Where do you connect the leaf trap?” Well, you connect a short hose (included) to the hole in the bottom of your skimmer. This hose is connected to the leaf trap, as seen in the photo. Your vacuum hose connects to the other end of the leaf trap and you vacuum the pool as you normally would.

I personally use the Pentair Leaf Trap about 80% of the time I vacuum. Basically, anytime there are more than a dozen leaves in the pool, I get this device out. The alternative is just not worth the risk and setting up the leaf trap takes almost no extra time.

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Frozen Pipes? Now What?

A day of frozen pipes…
Frozen Pipes

Today was a strange day for pool professionals in north Georgia.  When I awoke and checked my weather app, as I do every morning, the temperature was only seven degrees. With the wind chill factored in, we were well below zero. My day unfolded into a trip to see a few pools that didn’t fare so well last night. The extent of their damage will not be known until Thursday, when the pipes and equipment finally thaw completely. One of them was running when the freeze guard apparently failed. This left all of the equipment completely full of water and by the time we arrived, all of it solid ice. We could not even remove the lid from the pump. Another pool had a different type of problem, one we refer to as “user error”. The intake valve from the pool had been left closed the last time the pump basket was emptied. This had apparently taken place almost a week ago and had gone unnoticed. With no way to draw water in, the pump was severely overheating and not moving any water at all. Ice had formed in other parts of the plumbing and once the valve was opened correctly, water could still not get through the pipes. The last visit was to check out a burst pipe on a fresh fill. The crack was on a valve that was mounted just above ground level. The water had sprayed high into the air and frozen all around. We were able to shut off the water to the house, cap off the broken pipe and then restore the water.

These scenarios and other phone calls that were received made me realize that there is a lack of understanding about what to do when you have frozen pipes. Depending on when you discover your frozen pipes, you may be able to minimize damage. Here are some things to try:

  • Place multiport valve on waste and try running the pump
  • If you are able to pump water while on waste then try placing the valve on recirculate and look for movement in the pool water
  • If able to remove the pump lid, you might try pouring hot water into the pump to melt ice around the impeller
  • You can purchase heat tape, which may help thaw the frozen pipes before more damage can occur
  • Blankets can help insulate the pipes and equipment and prevent further damage
  • If all else fails then pull as many drain plugs out of your equipment as possible and then shut off the circuit breakers

Do not attempt to use space heaters to warm your frozen pipes. They generate too much heat and often melt the pvc or cause chlorinators to explode. If your frozen pipes are so solid that you cannot move water through them, then the damage is done and you simply have to wait for them to thaw. Be sure to keep an eye on things when the thawing occurs or else your pool may drain down.

 

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Taylor Test Kit

Start 2014 off right with a new Taylor test kit!

Taylor Test KitK-2005 Taylor Test Kit

I would like to suggest that everyone take a minute to think about how you test water. Some of you will use a basic test kit similar to the one above, others will use test strips. I bet a few of you use expired test strips even. Taylor’s reagents have a one year shelf life, so you really should buy a new kit or new reagents each year. The question I ask to most of you is, “Why are you not more concerned about the safety of your water?” For most people, if the water is clear, that is all they care about. There is a little more to it than that and it really is not that hard to do a simple test each week. It’s a new year, why not start with a new test kit!

At the very least, you should be checking your free chlorine and pH. If you are concerned about the pH, you should check the alkalinity at least monthly. These are your most important tests and the Taylor K-2005 test kit will handle these with ease. If you would like to go one step further and help protect your plaster or pebble surface, you need to maintain your calcium level. The K-2005 Taylor test kit can take care of that too. One more test that the K-2005 can do for you is cyanuric acid. Read my article here for why it is important. You only need to check it once or twice a year and this Taylor test kit has enough reagent for about six cyanuric acid tests.

Why do I recommend this kit? Because I use it every single time I test water. It is easy to read the results, way more accurate than strips, and it contains a cyanuric acid test, which is useful when troubleshooting cloudy water. Best of all, it comes with a small water resistant book that explains all chemical tests and has dosage charts for all common bulk chemicals. To top it off, the price on Amazon.com is $44.00 as I write this and that is a wonderful deal. Do your pool and yourself a favor and grab one today.

Taylor makes literally hundreds of different test kits and I encourage you to check out their complete list here at www.taylortechnologies.com.

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Freeze Guard

Have you checked your freeze guard lately?

This weekend’s weather is going to be mighty cold and it serves as a reminder that we need to check our freeze guards to be sure they are working correctly. Sure, we may have dipped below freezing a few times so far this winter, but now we are faced with some seriously damaging temperatures. Sunday night, the low is expected to be 23F. Monday’s high will be 28F, then the low on Monday night is forecast at 8F. Tuesday, the high is at 25F and the low, 16F. Finally on Wednesday, the high will reach above freezing again. I can guarantee that there will be freeze damage in the Atlanta area from temperatures like this and that brings us to the question, “Have you checked your freeze guard?”

Jandy Temp Sensor Intermatic Freeze Guard

For those of you that have not winterized and covered your pool, there is a need to ensure your freeze guard is working each and every winter. A freeze guard can be as simple as a thermostat installed inside of a mechanical timer or as complicated as a computerized automation system with an air temperature sensor. If you know where the sensor is for your freeze guard, the easiest way to verify its operation is to place the sensor into a glass of ice water. The ice water will cool the sensor down to simulate freezing conditions and the freeze guard should activate, turning on the pool pump and any other equipment protected by it. If you need help locating the freeze guard temperature sensor, give us a call. The basic timer freeze guard (pictured at left) will have a copper wire with a small bulb on the end. This copper bulb is what needs to be dipped into the ice water. For an automated system, there will be a sensor (pictured at right) either dangling underneath the control box or mounted nearby on a post or wall. This sensor should be immersed in the ice water to test the freeze guard. Do not confuse the water temperature sensor that is mounted in a pvc pipe with the air temperature sensor. The air temperature sensor will never be installed on a pvc pipe.

If the freeze guard does not turn on when the sensor is dipped into the ice water, you might try adjusting the freeze guard temperature up to see if the sensor has just fallen out of calibration. The mechanical timer type freeze guard will have a knob that increases above 40 degrees and the automated system will have a system configuration setting that allows you to increase the temperature when the freeze guard activates. Normally you want this temperature to be set at around 38F. If you are unable to confirm that the freeze guard operates your pump, you can still protect your equipment. Just be sure that you manually turn on the pump and disable any timer that may turn it back off.

One common misconception about keeping your equipment safe is that you need to run your pool heater. Under no circumstances should you try to heat your pool water when it is near freezing. This will actually cause a tremendous amount of condensation inside of the heater and it will accelerate the rusting and corrosion of the bottom of your heater cabinet. The proper way to combat freezing temperatures is to simply move water through your pipes and equipment. As long as the water is moving, it will not freeze.

So by now, hopefully you know that your freeze guard is working. There is one last thing to be sure of. Your valves need to be placed in positions to allow water flow through all of the pipes. I don’t have the time or writing space to explain how to do this on every single system or valve, but basically, if water is not moving through the pipe then it may freeze.

If you are unsure about your freeze guard, contact us so we can check it out for you.

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