Pool Equipment Exposed

swimming pool heater pump filter uv

There have been many improvements to pool equipment and maintenance systems over the last few years, many of which are beneficial to both homeowners and the environment we live in. We chose to call this section “Pool Equipment Exposed” because there is a lot of confusion about what really is the best system for maintaining your pool – and we want to discuss the basic truths we have learned over the many years we have been installing pools.

With the wide range of options to choose from, you really can spend less time and money maintaining your pool and more time enjoying it!

The Truth About Salt Water Pools
Salt water purification systems are a popular choice for many pool owners looking to reduce their regular maintenance and improve the comfort of their pool water. These are really the two biggest benefits of a salt water system: eliminating the need to handle and store chlorine pucks and shock, as well as improving the feel of the water.

How Does a Salt System Work?

A salt water system works by using electric current to convert common salt (chemically known as sodium chloride) into hypochlorous acid, a highly effective chlorine sanitizer. Sanitizers kill and prevent the growth of organic substances like viruses and bacteria. You are using salt to create your own chlorine!

You know that smell when you walk into a hotel with an indoor pool? That is the smell of chlorine byproducts known as chloramines, which are the compounds created after chlorine has done its job sanitizing the water. Hotel pools have a very strong smell because heavy use means a lot of organic substances are being introduced to the water, which results in higher amounts of chloramines being created. Don’t blame high chlorine levels for your red eyes, itchy skin or rash after swimming – chloramines are the real culprit. If a pool smells strongly of chlorine, you should not be swimming in it and it probably needs to be “shocked” (more on that later).

Salt pools don’t have a lot of chloramines in the water because the electrolytic cell that converts salt into chlorine is also good at destroying these byproducts.  People often think the salt is the reason why the these pools feel nice to swim in, but eliminating chloramines is the real key to avoiding red eyes and skin irritation. A well balanced and well maintained pool should have very little chlorine odor and will feel comfortable to swim in, whether it uses a salt system or chlorine pucks as the primary sanitizer.

Salt is added directly to the pool water to levels ranging from 1,200-3,400 parts per million (ppm) depending on the brand of salt system installed. This is less than half as salty as your tears, which are about 7,200 ppm, and also less than one tenth the salinity of ocean water, which measures about 36,000 ppm. If you think the water in a salt pool feels soft, it may be partly because of the salt content and mostly because there are fewer irritating byproducts in the water – the salt level of the pool should be below your taste threshold and not overtly noticeable to the touch.

Do I Still Need To Buy Chemicals?

A salt water chlorinator can be used to sanitize your pool as well as superchlorinate (or “shock”) the water. The amount of chlorine generated by the salt water system should be kept within 1-3 ppm, the same level as if you were using other forms of chlorine to sanitize the water. You need to test the chlorine levels in the water and adjust the system to produce more or less chlorine – salt systems do not automatically adjust the amount of chlorine they generate. You should also test pH, alkalinity and stabilizer levels on a weekly basis and add the necessary balancing chemicals when they are needed.

It is very important to keep the pool water balanced to preserve the life of the electrolytic cell inside the salt water chlorinator. In Waterloo region, our water has high calcium content and is slightly high or alkaline on the pH scale. High pH and calcium hardness levels will encourage scale to form in your pool equipment and on your pool surfaces. On the other hand, low pH and low calcium hardness levels will accelerate the corrosion of metal objects in the pool, which includes pump parts, heater manifolds, handrails, and even the steel walls of vinyl liner pools. For the benefit of all of your pool equipment, maintain your pH between 7.2-7.6 and your calcium hardness level between 150-200 ppm.

What is a Zinc Anode and Why Do I Need One for My Salt Water Pool?

We recommended that you use what is known as a sacrificial anode or anti-electrolysis anode in salt water pools, which are small discs or bar shaped pieces of zinc that you place in the skimmer basket or on pool railings to help prevent galvanic corrosion of any metal parts in the pool. Having different types of metals in a salt water pool (such as the copper in your heater and the stainless steel of your handrails) essentially creates a battery as some amount of current flows between the metals. The electrons that make up the current are supplied by one of the metals, giving up bits of itself in the form of metal ions to the pool water. This is called galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion causes metal erosion. The solution to this problem is to use a zinc anode. Zinc is a metal that gives up its metal ions faster than other metals in the pool. In other words, the zinc anode will erode instead of other metals (pool light, rails, heater, light niche, ladder, etc.). The zinc anode should be replaced after half of it has eroded, approximately every 3 years.

Are Salt Systems Less Maintenance?

Salt water chlorinators are definitely not “maintenance-free”. You will still need to test your pool water on a weekly basis, balance and maintain your pH and alkalinity, add stabilizer and scale prevention products, and add salt when needed (roughly once per month if there is a lot of splashing or you have a sand filter that requires backwashing). You will also need to descale the salt cell from time to time (about every three months).

Salt generators also cause pH levels to rise over time. Expect to add pH reducing chemicals on a regular basis and closely monitor the pH to avoid scale build up in the pool. Many people ignore this step, which can cause (expensive) items like heaters and the salt cell itself to fail prematurely, not to mention your chlorine does not work as efficiently when pH levels are high. A pH level around 7.4 is ideal.

Will A Salt System Save Me Money?

Expect to spend about the same amount of money with a salt water system installed vs. using chlorine pucks and shock. The average pool owner in our region should spend approximately $100-$200 on chlorine per season, and the average salt cell will need replacement about every 3 to 5 years, at a cost of $500-$1000 depending on brand and whether or not you can do the install yourself. If your salt cell lasts for 5 years and cost $750 to replace, you would have spent approximately $750 on chlorine in the same time period (avg. $150 per year for 5 years).

There are many different brands of salt chlorinators on the market, so when looking to purchase one for your pool be sure to do some research. Some systems are more user friendly than others and offer better diagnostics and serviceability. Different units also require different salt content – we recommend using one of the newer low salt systems as they will be less likely to cause corrosion of metal surfaces in the long run.

For more information about salt water systems and how to incorporate one into your pool system, contact us.

UV Purification Systems
A UV system utilizes a UV-C light bulb to effectively eliminate microbes from your pool water. It is a device that is plumbed into your pool lines similarly to a chlorinator or salt water system, but does not add or dispense anything into the water passing through it. This technology has a proven history of use in the treatment of drinking water in both residential and commercial settings. It is a newer product to the pool industry that is gaining in popularity, mainly because it actually reduces the need for chlorine and kills a wider range of bacteria and viruses than chlorine alone.

How does it work?

As the pool water circulates through the UV device, it is exposed to UV-C light produced by one or more light bulbs housed within. This form of light will disrupt the DNA of any bacteria, viruses, spores, microorganisms and algae, rendering them harmless and unable to multiply. The light is also effective at destroying chloramines from the water, eliminating the smell and irritation commonly associated with chlorine pools.

Do I still need to use chemicals in my pool?

Yes, you will still need to maintain a low level of chlorine in your pool water, typically at 0.5 to 1 ppm, to ensure it is 100% sanitized. Many pool owners report that they have reduced their chlorine use by 50-70%. The great thing about UV systems is that as long as your pool pump is circulating, your UV system is operating and working to keep your pool clean, so you are less likely to experience algae blooms if your chlorine levels get too low.

What are the advantages of UV over Salt Water chlorinators?

1. UV systems allow pool owners to maintain lower chlorine levels than salt systems – UV pools require 0.5-1 ppm of chlorine, salt pools require 1-3 ppm.
2. UV systems requires less physical maintenance than a salt system – no regular cleaning of the unit required, no salt levels to maintain.
3. UV systems are less effected by water chemistry than salt cells.
4. UV is about the same price to install as a salt system, but has much lower long term maintenance cost.
5. UV does not add anything to the water, so pH and alkalinity levels are less likely to fluctuate over time.
6. UV systems kill a wider range of bacteria and viruses than chlorine alone.

What maintenance is involved?

You will need to replace the UV-C bulb(s) after about 13,000 hours of use. If you run your pool pump 24 hours per day, 6 months of the year, expect to replace the bulb every three years or after 18 months of usage. Replacement bulbs range from $100 to $200 per bulb, and replacements are usually easy enough for the homeowner to do themselves.

What is an Ozonator?

Ozonators are an electronic device you can install on your pool to help purify your water and reduce your chemical maintenance. A pool ozonator works by turning oxygen (O2) into powerful ozone (O3)— the same type of ozone that is found in the upper atmosphere to protect us from harmful UV rays. There are various methods to producing ozone in a pool or hot tub, the most common are using UV light and corona discharge. Ozone is highly reactive and when mixed with your pool water it is highly effective at oxidizing bacteria, viruses, algae, oils, sweat, urine, fungus, chloramines, and even metals. This potent oxidizer combines with contaminants so rapidly that it usually exists in pool water for only a very short time, leaving nothing behind but ordinary oxygen (O2) when it is done.

Do I still need to use chemicals if I install an ozonator?

You should still maintain a low level of chlorine in your pool water, between 0.5-1 ppm is usually enough to ensure bacteria and viruses wont spread from bather to bather. Using an ozonator can reduce your need for chlorine sanitizers anywhere from 60-90%. Ozonators allow you to go longer periods between shocking your water, since the ozonator is already oxidizing the wastes from the pool on a regular basis – you may only need to shock the pool manually after heavy use periods, like parties. Ozone will not affect your pH , but your water chemistry will not fluctuate as frequently if you are not adding as much chlorine and shocking compounds to the water.

What are the benefits of installing an ozonator on my pool?

The best part of an ozonator is that the water will smell fresh and feel comfortable because smelly chloramines and other irritants get destroyed by the ozone. Ozone systems are easy to install on any type of pool, and require no regular maintenance. The electrodes are typically designed to last about 15,000 hours (20 consecutive months – about 5 years of running it 24 hours a day, four months of the year, longer if the pump is on a timer).

  • Ozone is simple and natural. Once installed, it purifies the pool automatically.
  • Ozone kills dangerous organisms on contact.

Ozone kills up to 99% of harmful bacteria and viruses on contact, including dangerous organisms like cryptosporidium that chlorine cannot readily kill within a reasonable amount of time.

  • Ozone helps to keep pool water clear and sweet smelling.

Ozone oxidizes iron, sulfur, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide. Ozone is a front line defense against cloudy pool water, and its only byproduct, ordinary oxygen, also helps make water sparkle.

Contact us if you would like to get more information about ozone systems and how they could benefit your pool.

Variable Speed Pumps

Most of the complaints people have about their pool are related to their pump: either that the cost of operation is too high, or that their existing equipment it too noisy, or that they have difficulty keeping their pool water clear and free of algae.

Lately we see more and more customers inquiring about variable speed pumps and if they offer any advantage over regular one speed pumps. There are a few things we think you should consider in this debate.

Flow Rates & Water Turnover: A variable speed pump operates at multiple flow rates that can be programmed to run on high or low speeds as desired. Some pumps have pre-programmed speeds you can choose from, others can be set by RPM’s (revolutions per minute) so you have total control over the speed of operation. As with any pump, you need to be aware of how long it takes for all of your pool volume to be moved through your filter with the aim to filter the entire pool volume at least once per day (two or three times if possible). To figure out how long it takes to do one full turnover, you would look at the flow rate of your filter, the flow rate of your pump, how much water your pool contains as well as any reduction in flow taking place due to long pipe runs and elevations (also called head pressure or resistance). Most pool pump manufacturers have a chart on their website or in their manual showing their respective pump flow rates based on different head pressure. An average pool typically has anywhere from 40-80 ft of head pressure or resistance, though the exact number can be hard to calculate. If your filter has a higher flow rate than your pump, you would use the pump flow rate to calculate the time it takes for one complete turnover (divide  Compare this to how much water a variable speed pump moves on low speed and see how long it would take to do one complete turnover. You may find you need to run the pump for long periods alternating between low and high speeds to be successful.

The benefit to running a pump on lower speeds is that there is a reduction in the noise being generated both by the motor and the turbulence of the water. Near silent operation can make a difference in when you run your pump.

One part of the equation many people do not consider is compatibility with their pool heater. Gas heaters and heat pumps both require a certain amount of flow to operate (usually not less than 25 gpm), so on the very lowest speeds your variable speed pump may not provide enough water flow.

Many of our customers have invested in timers for their pumps, and really only run their pumps for 6-12 hours per day. This is a lower cost alternative to using a variable speed pump, as once installed the timer will last for a very long time, and one speed pumps are about 1/3 the cost of a good variable speed pump. The only downside with using a timer is that many people choose to only run their pumps at night when electricity is cheaper, and risk getting algae blooms because they are not moving the water through the filter or circulating any chlorine during the day. You should ideally have your pump run whenever bathers are using the pool to circulate the pool chemicals as well as any additional hours needed for filtration.

Instead of running a one speed pump on a timer, you can program your variable speed pump to run on low speeds throughout the day. If a variable speed pump is something that you are thinking about but aren’t sure if it will work for your pool, you can always contact one of our pool service experts for more advice.

Cartridge Filters
The best way to improve your water clarity, reduce chemical usage and spend less time and on pool maintenance is to invest in a high quality cartridge filter system. By improving the way debris and particulate are removed from the pool water, you will lower your need for chlorine while increasing the clarity of your pool water.

Using a cartridge filter on your pool has several advantages over other types of filtration. Cartridge filters do not require backwashing like sand filters, meaning that you won’t be wasting vast amounts of pool water to keep it clean. Not wasting water also means you are not wasting your chemicals or needing to top up stabilizer or salt levels as frequently, saving you money.

Cartridge filter media will also catch smaller dirt particles (down to 5-10 microns in size) than sand filtration, and can last anywhere from 3-10 years before the cartridge media needs to be replaced.

The biggest benefit to owning a cartridge filter system is that it requires infrequent cleaning. Each season with a cartridge filter should entail one or two thorough rinses of the filter cartridge—once halfway through the season and again before winterizing. The bigger the cartridge filter, the less frequently you will need to clean it and the longer it will last.

Choosing the Right Size Filter for your Pool

Cartridge filter systems range in size, so choosing the proper system will depend on the water capacity and flow rate of your pool. While it is always better to go bigger when it comes to filters, your pump needs to be able to provide adequate flow to the filter. You will need to refer to the manufacturers specifications for flow rate on the filter you want to install, and compare it to the flow rate provided by your pump. Too little or too much flow and your heater, chlorinator or other equipment may not work.

By installing the proper size of pump and filter, you can achieve a higher turnover rate (the number of times all the water passes through the filter per day), and effectively cut down on chemical usage and pump running times.