Saturday, October 21, 2006


When Mulwray’s Japanese gardener said that to Jake Gittes in the noir classic, Chinatown, Jake had no idea the gardener had just given him the key to unlock the secret of Mulwray’s death.

I had a similar experience this week, when someone sent me an e-mail telling me they had just attended a seminar where one of the Big Three manufacturer’s reps had let on that there might be this teensy weensy little issue called electrolysis (read galvanic corrosion) causing just the slightest amount of damage to everything metal that a salt system might touch. Everything except the titanium plates of the salt cell, of course. You see, it’s the fact that they use titanium - the fifth most cathodic metal in the galvanic series - that has set the whole galvanic corrosion ball rolling in our pools. Well, that’s not entirely fair. The titanium would be okay if it weren’t for the salt turning the otherwise harmless pool water into an electrolyte. In other words, you can install a salt cell in your pool’s plumbing. Just don’t put any salt in the water.

Anyway, the rep told the class to get some zinc balls and put them in the pump baskets. And, you know, he’s right.

Dr. Stephen C. Dexter, Professor of Applied Science and Marine Biology, says just that in an article titled Galvanic Corrosion:

“Suppose the steel member of a structure is being damaged by contact with silicon bronze. That galvanic corrosion can be stopped by connecting both metals to a third metal more anodic than either of them. According to our Galvanic Series, the third metal in this case could be magnesium, zinc, aluminum, or cadmium. In practice, and for reasons too complex to cover here, zinc works best... The zinc corrodes preferentially to both of the original members of the couple. The steel is now protected, and the zinc is called a sacrificial anode.”

That reference also has a nice graph that shows where all the metals fall in the galvanic series. But getting back to the rep being right, for once.

It made me start remembering how most marine hulls have zincs attached to keep galvanic corrosion from occurring, and how maybe if we really did put those zinc balls into pump strainer baskets, we could put this whole galvanic corrosion thing to bed and we could all start feeling okay again about selling those salt systems. And then I could get on with complaining about the one hundred and one other things about the pool biz that just drive me up the wall.

Then it occurred to me how long they’ve been selling salt systems, and when problems first started showing up for me on my pool route. That 72 square foot stainless steel DE filter that I talked about, the one with pinhole leaks after ten months? It happened in 2001. That painted tank I talked about failing at the welds just happened last year. But that builder is an FNG, or New Guy, for those of you with delicate sensibilities, and I guess he missed a few memos from the BOHICA department.

So, then I was torn. I couldn’t decide if we ought to applaud the Big Three for finally bringing it out in the open, or lynch them for waiting so long to tell us. Because there’s only two takes you can have on it.

Either (a), they’re so thoroughly incompetent that they didn’t even Google the subject before they jumped in with both feet and started selling salt systems.

Or (b), they knew about this stuff all along.

If you chose (a), well... Thank you for playing. We have some nice parting gifts for you on your way out the door.

If you chose (b), now you’re talking. I can see you’ve got your sales and marketing hat on. Cha Ching, baby!

But I tried to push my inherent bias against snake oil peddlers out of my mind and just focus on the facts. Zinc balls might just be the answer, even if the idea was initially presented during a sales pitch. I mean, during a factory training seminar.

So, I called a good friend of mine and somewhat of a pool guru hereabouts, and ran the zinc balls idea by him.

And he said, “Great. So then all we have to worry about is damaged coping, ruined decks and the environmental issues. Right?”

It took a few seconds for the sting of his bitch slap to subside. But when it did, it was all clear to me. Mulwray didn’t accidentally drown in the ocean, like they tried to make us to believe. Mulwray was murdered in his own back yard, drowned in that damned salt pool.

Yeah... The salt is still bad for the glass, I mean grass... I knew it all along.

Those sales and marketing guys are really something. They throw us a bone like zinc balls and stand there and maybe they take a few minutes of heat from a few guys in the class who knew something was up all along. But then they expect us to roll over and be grateful for the bone and ignore the mountain of other issues left unaddressed.

Because after all, they are looking out for our best interests, right?

To quote Samuel L. Jackson, right before he blew enormous holes in Big Brain Brad, “Allow me to retort...”

Hayward cream colored DE filter tanks. First it was the tops. Then the bottoms.

Jandy first generation 90 degree turn backwash valves. O-rings? We don’t need no stinking O-rings!

Pentair Mini Max first generation Lo NOX heaters. Once a Cash Crop for every warranty man.

First generation Polaris 340's. On your mark! Get set! Go! (really fast and then stop and never move again)

Innumerable generations of Jandy temp sensors. Now they work. But how many revs did we go through before we got where we are today? That was the first time I heard the punch line, “That’s a problem. And we’re working on it.”

Jacuzzi Everything. Such a popular brand that Jacuzzi Earthworks DE filter grids are now special order from Canada.

Stop me when I tell a lie.

I hope some day I can crack wise about the fading memory of salt systems, too. Because as bad as these other problems were and as much profit as they eventually sucked out of the sale - even with warranty support from the manufacturer- they were each their own little self contained disaster.

On the other hand, salt screws up everything.

And BOHICA? It means Bend Over Here It Comes Again.


Baboosa said...

Oh? So do you suppose you could make some of this with those balls?

The Pool Guy said...

Well, yes you can. I will have more to say on that subject after some more research. I have posted an e-mail address in my profile. Drop me a line, Baboosa.

Ashley said...

Hey Pool Guy. I just wanted to drop you a line to say that I'm thoroughly impressed with your site. I'm a sales rep, A "Salt Rep" if you will, for a pool company in Louisiana. I will say 90% of my customers are either going with salt or are very interested in that possibility when they come through my doors. I see the dividing line being drawn between the people who can afford the systems and who cannot. I'd also say that a good 65% of our pre-existing customers are entertaining the notion of making that conversion. I've been in this industry, in sales, for going on 6 months and just of the sort who ravish any information I can get my hands on concerning my employ. And that should be a granted, that's how I make my living. In particular, though, the topic of salt chlorinators has dominated my attention as of late. Your blog is very well researched, documented and thought-provoking and I just wanted to acknowledge that to you directly. I walk a fine line because my company sees a great profit margin on these systems and salt sales themselves are incredible. Yet I feel the need to educate my customers to the point where they can make the decisions they need to so that in a year's time or three years from now I don't find myself on the other end of their pointing, accusing finger. I plan on approaching my bosses with this because they are just starting to see the problems that are mounting around these systems: We mainly seem to be experiencing system failure and warranty issues. We promote a pool that has its metal components encased in a pvc-resin to help offset the corrosive nature of the salt and then we make it a literal obligation that they purchase, use and change every six months, one to two sacrificial disks in their skimmer. Yet I fear that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg on this thing. Who knows? Regardless, great site!

The Pool Guy said...


Your honesty is refreshing. Another six months in the Pool Biz ought to beat that out of you.

Yes, you've hit on the number one reason why people in our industry become disillusioned; They sell something that turns out to be an albatross instead of a miracle. You say, " I feel the need to educate my customers to the point where they can make the decisions they need to so that in a year's time or three years from now I don't find myself on the other end of their pointing, accusing finger."

Good luck with that.

I know that seems cold and harsh, and I know I ought to be on "your side" after all the nice things you said about the blog, but what you're experiencing is nothing more than the downside of being in sales. If you continue to educate yourself about the ills inflicted on a pool by installing a salt system, all you're going to do is feel worse and worse about the fact that you're doing something far worse than screwing people out of the money spent on the salt system; you're selling them a Trojan Horse Virus that's going to corrode and disintegrate their pool before it's time with one hand, and with the other you're adding to the growing issue of high chloride levels in our waste water just as our fresh water resources become more and more endangered on this hopelessly overpopulated planet.

As-a-fer-instance: Why don't people on the edge of the ocean just drink seawater? Because it's contaminated with salt.

Get it?

But that kind of worldwide pollution is years from now, right? And there's commissions to be made in the meantime.

So, just keep selling those salt systems to the 90% if your customers who have bought the industry con that Salt Is Great, and keep educating yourself as best you can about the issues that surround this idiotic technology, and keep in mind that you never read one scrap of info on The Downside in anything your company or the manufacturer ever handed you.

That's sales, baby...

J.D. Horton said...

Paid $3k for chlorine generators from Australia for large pool. Hauled 1ton of salt each spring for start up then another 1000 to 1500 pounds before the season was over. Had to shock and add choline at least once a month, gave up trying to adjust alkaline ph with expensive muriatic acid. Each 5 to 7 days had to clean calcium/mineral residue from generator plates with muriatic acid. One generator cell ($1500) began to malfunction after/ during second year. Suffered damage to flagstone pool and deck. Replaced salt- chlorine generators with $100 in line tablet dispenser. Much less hassle and expense. More consistent chlorine levels. Much easier to haul 50 pound buckets of chlorine tablets than 3000 pounds of salt. JD Horton Gardendale, Texas