Sunday, February 25, 2007

Comments Lost in the Shuffle

I have posted twenty-one pieces to this blog. That’s a total of about 46,000 words. As a point of reference, a good novel weighs in at about 125,000. There have been about 25 comments made to various pieces. You can access them by clicking on the tiny little icon at that bottom of the blog piece that says, // posted by The Pool Guy @ 10:33 AM 1 comments. You click where it says 1 comments and it’ll take you to the page where the comments for that piece are listed.

I don’t think many people do, and I think that folk’s comments, their opinions about what I write here, get lost in the shuffle and go unheard. Which is fine with me. If I really wanted to debate this stuff, I’d be posting at a forum. I don’t want to debate it because I think that at this point in the evolution of salt systems, the only people left on the other side of this issue are fast buck artists - and arguing with them is like arguing with a cash register - and those members of our industry who have been so thoroughly snowed by the fast buck artists that they still believe the salesmen’s hype while Rome burns around them.

Every day I hear of yet another builder who has stopped selling salt systems, or yet another tile and coping sub who tells his builder’s that he’s only warrantying his work on decks and coping where there’s no salt system installed.

Every day I talk to another pool serviceman or repairman who nods knowingly when the subject of salt and damage come up.

Even our biggest internet seller, The Pool Plaza, run by Tim Mott here in Dallas, Texas, has posted a warning on his website on the page titled: How to Choose a Salt system:

"Make sure your pool equipment is compatible with a salt system.

Most pool equipment is compatible with salt, but there are a few pieces that are not. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer of the equipment to see if your pump, filter and heater are compatible. Some warranties may be voided by the installation of a salt system. In particular some heaters and newer stainless steel filters are not designed for use with a salt system. The older stainless steel filters like Swimquip DES series filters handle salt just fine, but the newer Pentair NS stainless steel filters can develop corrosion issues quickly and the manufacturer will not warranty it."

I wrote and asked him about the distinction he draws between older DES filter tanks and the newer NS tanks, and he responded:

"As I recall, originally Sta-Rite's warranty contained a disclaimer, however I'm sure that they have changed that since they are a part of Pentair and a salt proponent now.

Our experience with NS and DES tanks is very similar. Of course, I cannot guarantee that someone with one such tank will not experienced a greater level of corrosion, but typically it does not significantly shorten the life expectancy of the filter.

I think that the difference in the old stainless and the new stainless is the quality of the stainless steel and the quality of the welds. I do not recall if the older tanks have any welds. I don't remember any offhand. On the newer tanks, it is the welds that will go. I had one go out in about amonth on a Nautilus Plus. I had tried to get the guy to go FNS plus, but he would not listen."

Now, Tim Mott is no small change. He doesn’t just run an internet store. He also runs a pool service and repair company called Tropix, and except for the fact that he still sells salt systems - a position I wish he would reconsider - I would be prone to listen to what he has to say about what goes on out there on his pool routes. And you heard it here first; salt blew through a brand new stainless steel filter tank in one month.

Salt will also eat through that thin metal band on the FNS Plus that was added to that DE filter a few years ago. It's located right at that crucial point where the tank halves come together. When that band fails, does that make that tank any less stable under pressure? That sure would be good to know. The only other thing inside the FNS Plus tank that’s metal are the stainless steel rods and the plated brass nut/fasteners, which, we all now know, are susceptible to galvanic corrosion. Read about galvanic corrosion here:

But I’m wandering off my point about the comments being lost in the shuffle. Let me make one more side point here and then I’ll get to that. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I’m not adverse to throwing someone under the bus. And for the most part, no more thought goes into it than, "Well, the bus is coming , and he’s standing right there. Ah, what the hell..." And I guess the reason I’m so cavalier about it is, I only throw people under that bus if they’re engaged in selling salt systems to unsuspecting homeowners. In my mind, it’s kind of like disposing of a guy who runs a payday loan business, where they actually make people write postdated checks and charge them anywhere from 300 to 1,000% interest for a short term loan. And while you may think I’m being unkind to salt peddlers, they sell you a system for about $1,200 and if you’re lucky you’ll get off with $10,000 damage to coping, equipment and decks. That’s nearly 1,000% interest you’re being charged.

But anyway! Getting back to the comments lost in the shuffle thing. A Salt Peddler took exception to me throwing him under the bus, twice. You see, it’s Harry Clay, of Castaic Pools. In my first blog piece, I wrote about his opposition to the Santa Clarita Sanitation district’s salt pool ban, and then when I republished that piece last week, of course, he was mentioned again. So he posted a comment. It is published with last week’s piece and you can read it there by clicking on the little 1 comments thing, or read it here. Here, I’ve added comments - rebuttals, as it were - in italics:

You wrote an interesting article; I don't agree with many of your opinions. Harry, they’re hardly opinions. They are backed up by facts. Facts that are cited and made available as Hyperlinks in the body of every piece I write.

I do take exception to your inference that my only concern is profiting from the destruction of the environment. Then quit encouraging people in your part of the country to circumvent the spirit of a local ordinance intended to protect our environment by pointing out that, by the letter of the law, it’s okay to spew their backwash waste onto the ground or into a storm drain. Where do you think storm drains go, Harry? Have you ever heard about the phenomenon experienced in some northern parts of our country and in Canada where their ground water chloride levels are elevated due to winter road salt percolating down to the the aquifers? Wake up. Everything has a cumulative effect. There were about 8,000 cars in the US in 1900. 107 years later, we melt the polar ice cap with their emmisions.

I build projects utilizing the best evidence & techniques available, with the intention of constructing a long lasting structure that will give the homeowner the most pleasent [sic] experience, with the least likely chance of failure, & greatest longevity. Then why, oh, why on earth would you sell them a salt system? I know it bugged you when you saw that I had quoted you and had posted a link to your website, but if you’d just get over it and read the rest of my posts about salt, and then read the references I’ve cited, many of which are studies and texts that builders who are going to use salt owe it to themselves and their customers to read before they embark on the use of salt just because some Sales Rep said, "it’ll be okay", I think you’ll come away with a lot of questions about the wisdom of selling salt.

I believe the vast majority of saline pool owners will attest to the fact that saline sanitation systems provide a much more pleasant, cleaner, clearer, attractive, & healthy environment for their families to enjoy. Harry, I know that most everybody was fooled when salt systems came back this time. We all said, "Well, so much more of our equipment is plastic. Maybe it’ll work this time." But then the deck and coping issues showed up, and the galvanic corrosion issues on the remaining metal showed up. You want to make me a bet on how long the stainless light niche to copper conduit galvanic mismatch is going to hold up before the leak detect guys start making a land office business in fixing those, too? I understand that your customers like it now. But they will be cussing you when the problems start.

As in any form of sanitation, care must be taken to carefully balance the water; but if manufacturer's guidelines are carefully followed, I believe that saline pools provide the most satisfying experience for the pool owner. I’ve pointed out time and again in this blog how people like you always resort to this excuse about how careful monitoring and balancing the water is the real issue, and how that automatically makes it the homeowner’s fault when everything goes south. Yet every brochure from every manufacturer pitches these systems on the falsehood that they are trouble-free. "No more mixing, measuring or messing with harsh chemicals. No more hassles buying, storing, measuring chlorine." "You only need to check the pH and total alkalinity periodically". That first quote was from Hayward Goldline. The second from Zodiac, who now owns Jandy. That probably represents 80% of the salt systems out there.

I'd like to think that it's possible to have an honest difference of opinion, without engaging in ridicule, & personal attacks regarding motives of people you don't even know. Ah... finally, the meat of the matter. I hurt your feelings. Just one question? How is it okay for you to ridicule the folks who wrote the Santa Clarita Sanitation District's salt pool ban, but it’s not okay for me to ridicule you for your position on this issue? I have read quite a bit about the situation there, and there are real issues with high chloride levels in the upper Santa Clarita River resulting in decreased crop yields and leaf burn, the leaf burn making the agricultural product less attractive and so less valuable. The limit of 100 milligrams per liter for the upper Santa Clarita River weren’t established by some local town council bent on picking on your pool business. It was set by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Los Angeles region in 1978. And the ordinance never even said you couldn’t sell salt systems. It said you couldn’t install a salt system on a pool where the backwash line was plumbed to the sewer.

So, why did you dedicate a whole page of your website to a rant about "ill advised legislation" when after you took a minute to read it, even you had to admit that it wasn’t a salt system ban, but a prohibition of installing salt systems where the backwash goes to the sewer? If I remember correctly, in the tone of your rant you took great delight in pointing out that, nanner-nanner-haha, pools aren’t plumbed to the sewer, so it's okay to spew our backwash right into the dirt or down the storm drain.

Now, I see that you’ve dropped that page from your website. I see that you no longer want to own those sentiments. And good for you. It couldn’t have helped your local image to be seen by some as a callous poolman more interested in the bottom line that in the local environment or the local economy so dependent on the health of the Santa Clarita River for irrigation.

But try this; Google "Santa Clarita Salt Ban" and go to page two of the returns and this is what you’ll find:

Salt Water Pool Update

On November 9th of 2005, the Board Members of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation ... picked up the story, with headlines stating "Ban On Salt Water Pools"

Look familiar? You still own those comments, Harry. Good luck with that.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Grading Paper & Watching Reruns

About six months ago, my wife and I went ahead and signed up for the HD channels with Dish Network. We got the HD DVR and everything. It is so much fun. And we only have to keep the thermostat at fifty-five degrees to make up for it in our monthly budget. Really, wearing three sweaters isn’t that bad, and the fog of your own breath hardly obscures that fabulous HD clarity.

Anyway, since we got it, I’m now hooked on Arrested Development. I love this show. I wish I would have watched it when it was on Fox. If more people had, maybe it wouldn’t have been cancelled and they’d still be making new episodes. I think it had trouble finding an audience because it was on Fox. After all, who would have ever suspected the Fox network of getting behind such a delightfully funny show? Case in point; I’ve never heard anybody on Arrested Development say, "Here, pull my finger", and I thought that was a prerequisite for airing a comedy on the Fox network.

There’s an attorney, played by Scott Baio, named Bob Loblaw. I laugh out loud every time someone on the show says his name. Try it. Say it fast three times. Bob Loblaw... bob lob law... blah blah blah... See? Just like an attorney. Or a slightly overfocused person who’s driving you nuts.

This week it is the latter. Not the former. Yes, I am cursed with corresponding with a Salt Rep, who shall remain nameless, who by way of arguing with me via e-mail, goes out on the internet and digs up all this arcane research and comes back to throw it in my face. At which point, I go, "Yeah. I talked about that in (This or That) blog post. There are references there for what I said if you’d like to actually take the time to read my blog and then go look up my references."

You see, the guy wants to argue with me each week, but only about that week’s blog post. I keep asking him to read the whole body of work I’ve posted. But he’s like Bob Loblaw and all he replies is, blah blah blah...

Like this week, he discovered, through his own research on the internet - probably about five minutes worth of Googling - that the crystallization point for sodium chloride is "somewhere around 30 to 40 grams per 100 milliliters, or 400,000 ppm ???"

I responded to him that, yes, he gets a 90% on his homework assignment, and it could have been 100% if he had read Winkler’s Stone in Architecture, where it’s stated that the crystallization point is 36 grams per 100 milliliters, or 360,000 ppm. He could have found out the same information by reading my blog of October 29th 2006, the post titled Res Ipsa Loquitur, where I quote Winkler and talk extensively about the crystallization point of sodium chloride and how it conclusively proves that splash out around a pool causes salt damage to decks and coping.

What really irritates the hell out of me is that all of these guys have been selling salt systems for years, installing systems that are destroying coping and decks and corroding metal most everywhere that they’re installed, and they don’t even know at what concentration sodium chloride will crystallize. This is the same guy that didn’t know that the EPA mandated level of taste for sodium chloride was 250 ppm. AND HE’S ONE OF THE BEST INFORMED SALT PEDDLERS OUT THERE... So, maybe you can start to see why opening my e-mail makes me feel like a teacher grading papers.

I didn’t sign on to teach these Salt Reps how salt works, and it’s becoming a full time job. I am just saddened, though, at how little these Salt Answer Men (and Women) know about the thing they’re pouring into swimming pools by the fifty pound bagful. These people who are blasting me with all these lame arguments are the same ones who write the misleading marketing brochures and hold the Salt Is Great Pep Rallies disguised as Training Seminars and convince unsuspecting builders and servicemen how happy their customers are going to be once they’ve gone over to The Dark Side... I mean, once they’ve changed over to salt.

But all that set me to wondering; if I am constantly reminding the Reps that I’ve already published answers to their, "Oh yeah? What about this?" question-of-the-day, how many folks who visit this blog actually go back and read the old posts and get that information. Probably not a lot of them. So, this week, I thought I’d reprint the first piece I posted. The one that got everybody buzzing to begin with. It’s still one of the better posts I’ve written. Probably because it was the first. I hope you enjoy it. And even if you’ve already read it, read over it again. The issues are still the same and it’s good to remind yourself just exactly how screwed up salt is in so many different ways.

Salt Belongs In The Shaker; Not The Pool

I've had it up to here (imagine me reaching about a foot over my head) with these manufacturers telling us what a boon to the pool biz these salt systems are.

Hello? Has anyone noticed what it does to limestone? Travertine? Sandstone? Concrete? Diving board stands? Stainless steel filter tanks? Those little brass handles on the skimmer baskets? Brass pencil jets?

Has anyone noticed how the stainless steel teeth on Polaris 280 drive shafts are eaten down to rusty little nubs in salt pools but not in tablet pools?

Has anyone noticed how filter tank warranties have gone from the typical ten year full or prorated to one year?

Has anyone noticed how every time it rains, if your pool has a tile line drain, you’re humping salt out to all your pools the next week? Where do you think that salt’s going? But more about that later.

The really hard part to swallow is that the manufacturers aren't admitting any of these problems exist. One time, I asked a manufacturer's rep why didn't he at least tell builders they ought not to sell a salt system on certain pools. We were standing in one of my customer's backyards, looking at one year old decomposing limestone coping at the time.

And this is what he said:

"How can I tell them not to sell a salt system when I don't believe that salt caused this damage. You see, salt is only corrosive at levels above six thousand parts per million and our system only uses around three thousand parts per million. So, to my way of thinking, it's impossible that salty water caused this damage."

I said to him, "We recently discovered this phenomenon that we call evaporation, wherein water, splashed out of a pool onto, say, limestone coping, will actually disappear, leaving it's mineral content behind. Now, we suspect the Sun is the culprit, as the rate of this phenomenon seems to decrease when the Sun Chariot goes behind the hills beyond the edge of town for the night. In the Olden Days, when the magical evaporation occurred, the worst thing we ever saw as a result of the minerals left behind was a chalky white calcium stain.

"But then, we added salt to the mix, and after the water evaporates, the three thousand parts per million salt level is magically transformed to one million parts per million, slightly in excess of the six thousand parts per million you say we need to damage the stone am I going slow enough I realize you're a salesman and so can only speak and not listen but perhaps you can read my lips or think about something besides dollar signs and I've always wondered how do you people lay your head down and sleep at night and what's it like to tell lies for a living and did it ever occur to you to put a moments thought into the handy answers your company feeds you to overcome sales resistance and customer dissatisfaction when a year after your product is installed it's caused upwards of ten thousand dollars worth of damage to a sixty thousand dollar swimming pool and don't you have a decent bone in your body or even a hint of a sense of responsibility to the homeowners, or failing that, to the builders you conned into selling these Trojan Horses along with their otherwise beautiful custom built pools?"

And he smiled and slapped me on the back and said, "Hey, I'm really glad we were able to get together today and brainstorm about this problem your customer is having. It's always such a pleasure talking to you and I'm so glad I was able to come here today and make a difference. Come on and follow me out to my truck. I want to give you some free parts to shut... I mean, to show my appreciation for choosing our products for your customers and to give you some of our brochures about the exciting things we have planned for next season. Real win-win products, because they’re great profit centers for you, and, just like that salt system, wonderful new inventions guaranteed to enhance your customers swimming experience. Like the jagged glass ring toss game that we’re test marketing for next year. I’d like to give you a couple to pass on to some of your better customers..."

Now, I’m just a pool cleaner and repairman. I don’t have the advanced degree in basket weaving or canoeing that is required to even fill out an application for a sales job at most of the Big Three pool manufacturers. But I got tired of watching my pools far apart and listening to sales reps tell me that the only problem here is that I’m a child of the sixties and, well... you know.

So, I started doing a little research into the possibility that someone out there just might know some of the reasons why I was seeing such heavy damage to so many of my salt pools.

I was bowled over by what a night of Googling revealed.

For example, did you know that:

"Over the past 60 years, concrete infrastructure in cold climates has deteriorated by ‘salt scaling,’ which is superficial damage that occurs during freezing in the presence of saline water. It reduces mechanical integrity and necessitates expensive repair or replacement. The phenomenon can be demonstrated by pooling a solution on a block of concrete and subjecting it to freeze/thaw cycles. The most remarkable feature of salt scaling is that the damage is absent if the pool contains pure water...(and that) ...salt scaling is a consequence of the fracture behavior of ice. The stress arises from thermal expansion mismatch between ice and concrete, which puts the ice in tension as the temperature drops. Considering the mechanical and viscoelastic properties of ice, it is shown that this mismatch will not cause pure ice to crack, but moderately concentrated solutions are expected to crack. Cracks in the brine ice penetrate into the substrate, resulting in superficial damage."

Oh.... so that’s why the stamped concrete around my customer’s eight pencil jet water features is deteriorating. You see, the first winter after the pool was built, the freeze guard was running the water feature pump every time we got a cold snap. Then, the wind would blow a little bit of the water onto the deck, where it would pool around the base of the brass pencil jets, penetrate the more lightly coated stamped concrete there and cause the damage just like the damage cited in the research study.

On the one hand, I’m just a pool cleaner. I’m sure the builder and the salt system manufacturer thought about all that beforehand and I’m just hallucinating again. And, of course, I have an axe to grind with the builder and manufacturer for screwing my customers like stump-tied sheep. I admit. I’m biased.

On the other hand, the scientists, Dr. Scherer and Dr. Valenza, the guys who wrote this research article for The Journal of the American Ceramic Society, have some pretty hefty credentials. Like the Princeton Institute for the Science & Technology of Materials, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton, New Jersey.

Gosh... who should I believe? The guys with the degrees in basket weaving - with a minor in business, of course - or the scientists from Princeton?

Then there’s the article titled "Salt-induced decay in calcareous stone monuments and buildings in a marine environment in SW France", by a group of six scientists from universities and institutes from Antwerp to Athens to La Rochele, France. The research article matter-of-factly states that "salt-induced deterioration of architectural heritage is considered to be accelerated drastically in marine environments".

Hmmm... decaying stone... salt-induced... marine environment... What could they be saying? It must be some secret language that only scientists can understand. Certainly the salt, or NaCl, that’s in these marine environments is wholly different from the salt, NaCl, that we dump into swimming pools.

I know. Let’s go to and ask them.

Wait... what’s this? There appears to be a photo on their home page of salt being harvested from sea water through solar evaporation. Hmmm... I wonder? Could it be that the salt manufacturers forgot to mention fifty or sixty years of research that proves conclusively that salt hastens the destruction of stone and concrete structures?

But then there’s the article, "The evaluation of crystallization modifiers for controlling salt damage to limestone".

Ahah! Herein lies hope. These guys are talking about adding something to the salt to "significantly affect the capillary passage of dilute and concentrated solutions of sodium chloride and sodium sulfate through columns of limestone." In other words, reduce the damage of salt on limestone.
They clearly state that "sodium chloride passage through Monks Park limestone gave predominantly subflorescence with mild edge erosion while sodium sulfate mainly effloresced and severely damaged the stone column" (emphasis mine).

So, the answer is easy. Just put this additive in with our salt... what is it this wonder additive? Oh, yes, potassium ferrocyanide... Hey, wait a minute. I read somewhere else that they’re already putting sodium ferrocyanide into most road salts and:

"under acidic conditions...this compound is known to break down, generating toxic cyanide forms, including hydrogen cyanide. These toxins appear to have caused serious fish kills as the result of sodium ferrocyanide’s use by the BC Ministry of Forests in fire retardants. Recent animal studies also have shown chronic cyanide exposure may be deleterious to liver and kidney functions and causes both time- and dose-dependent DNA fragmentation, accompanied by cytotoxicity."

Maybe not what you want your kids swimming around in, after all.

But while we’re on the subject of road salt:

"The corrosion and environmental costs pertinent to road salts amount up to at least $469 per ton on average, and they are often ignored in formulating highway winter maintenance strategies. The magnitude of such hidden costs is significant compared with the nominal cost of using road salts for snow and ice control (approximately three times)." (3/10/09 ; Don't know what happened. It's a dead link. I googled the text for it's new location, but I'm the only one hosting it presently.)

A ton of road salt only cost about $75.00, or about 15% of that $469.00 a ton. The rest is infrastructure cost. Infrastructure like cars, roads, bridges, the environment. In the US we use about ten million tons of road salt per year. Do the math. That’s $4,690,000,000 a year. If you subtract out the cost of the salt, that means that $3,940,000,000 damage results from road salt.

But I’m sure it won’t hurt your pool, or your coping, or your deck, or your metal water feature fixtures, or your stainless steel filter tank, or your diving board stand, or the ground around your swimming pool. You see, my salt system salesman told me so. And you can take that to the bank. After all, he did.

Then I read:

"Sodium exchanges easily with calcium and magnesium in soil, as well as other nutrients needed for soil fertility. This process destroys soil structure and fertility. Long-term salt accumulation can cause high soil density and low permeability, which adversely affects plant growth and erosion control." (3/10/09: Another dead link and no new source available.)

Think about that the next time you do a cannon ball into the pool. What’s all that salt in the splash water doing to the flower beds? To the grass? To the trees?

Funny story here. Unfortunately, not funny haha. Funny like I wished I could have crawled into a hole when it happened.

Imagine you’re looking out a huge picture window. In the foreground, there’s a beautiful negative edge pool. The edge of the pool appears to waterfall over onto a tree covered hillside gently sloping away from you. There are several trees on this hillside, but the largest and oldest, a huge pecan tree, is smack in the middle of your view, as if this whole project, this whole house and pool and terraces were built centered on that tree’s magnificent canopy.

They were.

The water in the negative edge pool doesn’t really flow down the hillside. That’s the illusion. It drops into a trough about six feet below the edge of the pool. That’s where the auto water fill for the pool is installed. When the negative edge pump turns on, it pump water up from the trough, overfilling the pool and creating that illusion. The auto water fill kicks on as the trough drains to make up for any water lost since the last time the negative edge pump was run.

Now, add a salt system. Everything’s fine - except for the water splashed as it falls from the pool into the trough that’s impregnating the ground around the trough with salty water so that no grass grows. But other than that, everything’s fine.

Then the auto water fill gets stuck open. Now the trough overflows. The pool keeps waterfalling salty water into the trough so the water running down the hill has a slowly decreasing saline content. This is about a 40,000 gallon pool, so that’s quite a bit of salty water. If you just poured the undiluted salt granules onto the hillside it would be 1,334 lbs. of salt. Say that to yourself slowly. One thousand three hundred thirty four pounds of salt. Nearly twenty-seven 50 lbs. bags.

Yes. That salt pool killed that magnificent pecan tree. That’s what the arborist said, anyway. He didn’t even know that you could chlorinate a pool with salt when he rendered his opinion, and was pretty well baffled by the idea that a mighty pecan had been felled by salt in Dallas, Texas, several hundred miles from the nearest marine environment and about that far again from any salted winter roads.

That was my first clue that maybe there were going to be "issues" with salt systems.

Think about a good hard rain. You know, the ones where your weatherman says you got a couple or three inches of rain in twenty-four hours. And the pool never overflows because the builder’s a sharp guy who installs tile line drains in all his pools.

Wherever that tile line drain comes out just got about 1,000 gallons of salty water, or about 35 lbs. of salt.

There are so many studies that show significant damage to trees and shrubs and soil from salt. Just google salt damage and plants or trees or soil and you’ll see hundreds of returns of university studies, federal state and local studies, environmental legislation, and more and more and more, all dealing with the down side of too much salt.

If that’s not enough, here’s another one:

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation district became concerned because the salinity of the water rose from 129 milligrams per liter in 1997 to 168 milligrams per liter in 2001. The 129 was already far in excess of the 100 milligrams per liter maximum established by the state of California.
The main culprit of this additional salinity was traced back to water softening systems installed in less than 10% of the homes in the water district. So, they banned water softening systems.

Then in November, 2005 they banned any saltwater pools that were connected to the sewer system. In other words, any system that backwashes to the sewer. Salt systems require between 3 and 4 grams per liter to operate. That’s 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams per liter, or thirty to forty times the maximum established by the state of California for potable water. So, you can see why they were concerned.

Now, if they passed that law here in Dallas, Texas, just about every pool with a DE or sand filter would be affected. Because they’re all supposed to be plumbed to the sewer to meet code. In California, though, they’re not required to be plumbed to the sewer. At least according to this guy: (3/10/09: I knew this was a dead link. Has been for a long time. But it's not like he didn't say it. And dead links are keeping this page from being indexed by Google. Hence the housekeeping.)

This guy, Harry Clay, isn’t worried about the amount of chloride in the water supply. He’s worried about being able to keep selling them salt systems. And I quote; "With no previous discussion, or input from the swimming pool industry, [industry input? Isn’t that kind of like asking Enron to help the government establish energy policy? Oh, wait a minute. They already did that.] this controversial bombshell caused quite a bit of shock among builders, manufacturers, & salt water pool owners for a few days, until the legs were cut off this ill advised ordinance. The key words to this poorly thought out ruling are ‘Pools connected to the sewer system’. Virtually no pools have been built in Santa Clarita that are in fact, connected to the sewer system."

You see, Harry’s proud of the fact that in California, they can spray their backwash effluent directly onto the ground. Even though the research shows that "long-term salt accumulation can cause high soil density and low permeability, which adversely affects plant growth and erosion control".

Because, truth is, most backwash hoses get rolled out to the same spot every time they’re used. So that salty water gets deposited in the same spot every time the pool is backwashed. Too, since they don’t have to plumb to the sewer, they drain pools pretty much wherever they want to out there, depositing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 lbs of salt onto the soil at the end of that drain hose.
Even if they put that hose in a storm sewer, it eventually ends up flushing into a creek or a river, which in turn damages vegetation and the soil.

But Harry’s only concern about putting the salty water in the storm drain is that "storm drains do not run thru the sewer system & are not under the jurisdiction of the Sanitation District".

Pretty much Harry’s only concern about this "ill advised ordinance" is finding a way to cut the legs off of it, so he can keep selling them salt systems. After all, why should he give a rip about his neighbor’s water quality when there’s money to be made?

And I think that’s the thing that bothers me the most about these salt systems. There’s lots and lots of Harry’s out there. Guys who are more than happy to spread misinformation about salt systems for the few bucks they make when they sell them. Misinformation like, "the owners of the technologically superior Salt Water / Saline purified pools don’t flush or backwash their pools nearly to the degree that owners of older pools with the old fashioned chlorine floaters do".

Honestly, have you ever read anything more ridiculous in your life? No? Then read this; "With the newer Salt Water Purification Systems, we’re using Electrolysis to Oxidize combined chloride molecules & to kill algae & bacteria."

It’s pretty clear that old Harry doesn’t even know how salt systems work, or when to capitalize in a sentence. He’s turned electrolysis into a sanitizer, instead of what it is in this case; the mechanism that turns a chloride ion into chlorine gas, which dissolves in the water to form hypochlorous acid, the killing form of chlorine.

And the other thing that bothers me is that after all the years of manufacturers and builders ignoring the down side of these salt systems, they continue to stonewall and obfuscate, even as these chickens come home to roost on each and every one of us, as we try to explain to our customer why their pool is falling apart so much faster than their neighbors pool who doesn’t have a salt system.

Because you already know what the manufacturer and the pool builder are going to say, don’t you?

"It must be your poolman’s fault."

Postscript: Since I first posted this entry in late September 2006, nearly four thousand people have visited this blog to read about salt and salt chlorine generators, and I’ve tried to make it abundantly clear that I HATE SALT because it is destroying our swimming pools. I’ve received e-mail from lots of people involved in the salt business, some of them not so nice. But none of them have posted anything to the comments section of this blog to dispute anything I say. None of them say publicly that I’m wrong or that I’m lying or that I make this stuff up. It makes me wonder why they keep selling salt systems. It must just be the money. That must be it. That money habit is a bitch to break.

I’m sorry for all of you folks who have bought salt systems. The best advice I can give you is turn your salt system off and drain and refill your pool with fresh water. Too, I hope any of you who haven’t yet bought a salt system and came here for info have decided against it. That’s all I can do, is hope that the tide will turn and these salt sellers will give it up and get a new gig, maybe kiting checks or running a We-Tote-The-Note car lot. Anything, as long as they get out of my pool business and out of your back yard.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Boom Goes The Salt Cell

This week’s blog piece kind of writes itself. It starts with this first picture here. Nice huh? All of these pictures, by the way, are from R. Baker in Arizona. He commented here at The Pool Biz blog two weeks ago when I ran that piece, Boom Goes The Dynamite, Part Deaux.

He said: “Wow. Great information, I have a salt/chlorinator and it exploded just this past Thursday evening. This it the second time in 18 months. Of course manufacturer and pool store all act as if it can't happen and this if the first they have ever heard of it. Now I know better. Going the salt way has certainly not saved me any money of the last 5 years that I have had the system. Now going back to chlorine.”

Being the shameless opportunist that I am, I wrote and asked him for pictures, so I could share with all you lucky salt system owners what the end game can very well be for you, too. Just like it was for R. Baker.

I had a million questions for him. I asked him if he could send me pictures of the exploded cell, and then if he could send me pictures of the plumbing and the electrical connections. You see, I wanted to see if it was possible that Mr. Baker had accidentally closed a valve and stopped the water from flowing through the cell, or if his system had been wired incorrectly, not on the load side of his pool pump - in other words, only getting power when the pool pump was getting power and could be sure to push water through the cell.

The picture above and this one show the exploded cell a few nights after it happened.

This picture shows the inside of his pool pump timer. Notice the black cable coming in to the box from the left and how it’s wires are connected to the second and fourth terminal lugs. That’s the Zodiac power cord and they’re properly wired so that they only get power when the pump is on to push water through the cell.

The last one shows a complete picture of the plumbing from the output of the pump to where the cell used to be - Mr. Baker had to remove the cell by the time these pictures were taken. He replumbed his system so he could get it up and running again - The cell was installed where the plumbing seems to take those crazy u-turns. It was initially plumbed higher up than that pipe behind it, as you can see by going back to look at the first picture of the exploded cell. It is also the last component in line before the pipe disappears into the ground headed back to the pool. To make sure we’re looking at this right, let’s read what the manufacturer says about where and how the cell should be installed:

“The Clearwater cell MUST be installed horizontally, with the ports down, as the last piece of pool equipment in line. (The design of the cell forms a natural gas trap. Even though the LM unit has an internal flow sensor, this installation provides a secondary safety feature to prevent gas buildup within the system.) There are no height restrictions or requirements. The cell should be installed within 6' of the power pack. Unions and adaptors are provided. Water can flow in either direction without affecting performance. 11/2" or 2" sch 40 rigid PVC is required. Any standard PVC cement may be used. Allow adequate drying time before turning on the chlorinator.”

I have looked and looked and looked at these pictures. And it looks like everything is installed correctly, all in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. The cell is supposed to drain partially down when the pump is turned off, and you can see by the little rust line on the plates and clear plastic cell casing that it appears to have been doing that when the pump turned off.

The only question I had was about that big old brass gate valve between the filter output and the cell, and so I wrote Mr. Baker and asked him about that.

He responded: “That valve is left open. It circulated water to the heater. I have a small spa adjacent to the pool. It is at the same level as the pool. I never use the spa as the heater has not functioned for some time. It was not in spa mode [at the time of the explosion]. The pool timer is set to come on around 8 pm every night. There was nothing different [that] night. I opened the rear door to the house at around 9:30 or so to let my son in and I could hear that the pool didn't sound right. Upon checking it out, I found the unit had blown its top.”

So, what we have here gives every appearance of being an honest to goodness explosion of a properly installed salt system cell, an explosion so strong it blew the top of the salt cell into the neighbor’s yard. Either that, or someone snuck into Mr. Baker’s back yard and hit his salt cell with a baseball bat, twice in eighteen months.

And the resolution that Mr. Baker has received from the manufacturer?

In his own words: “This seems to be the industry’s dirty little secret and no one, manufacturer or pool store/repair guys want to talk much about it. The manufacturer sent me to an authorized (pool) repair place that in turn referred me back to the manufacturer so I am caught in a vicious circle.”

In other words, he has had no resolution. And since his system is five years old, he’s not likely to get any. The Clearwater comes with a one year full, three year pro-rated warranty on the cell that exploded.

But that’s not even what’s important. What’s important is that line in Mr. Baker’s e-mail where he said, “I opened the rear door to the house at around 9:30 or so to let my son in and I could hear that the pool didn't sound right. Upon checking it out, I found the unit had blown its top.”

How lucky that his son wasn’t playing near the pool equipment when the cell exploded.

The salt system is gone out of Mr. Baker’s back yard now. He’s had enough of exploding salt cells. And now he’s entertaining bids for repair of his Kool Deck.

Jeff Jones, the National Sales Director for Del Ozone made mention of problems with salt and Kool Deck in his e-mail two posts ago, A Long Post But Worth The Read; “In the earlier years of salt units we saw the same issues with corrosion of hand rails, diving board stands/jigs and even hard scapes like cool deck and cantilever decks.”

Coincidentally, Mr. Baker reports that the deck company “sales rep came over this morning and as soon as he looked at it [the Kool Deck] he asked if we had a salt pool. He said they see the salt damage all the time.”

And this is why I get so mad. All of us in this business who work with salt and salt systems on a day to day basis know that periodically salt cells blow up and that salt is destroying pool decks and coping and metal accessories. But most everybody pretends that it's just the most natural thing in the world and that we should all just shut up and put up with it so that the salt system manufacturers can keep selling their "equipment bundles".

When are you all simply going to say, "That is ENOUGH!" When?

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m contentious. I would have never made it as a diplomat. Just not in me. Not part of my DNA. Sorry about that. All I can say in my defense is when I choose to be contentious it’s about things that I not only believe in, but things I’ve seen with my own eyes.

For instance, like most Americans, I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald probably didn’t act alone. But I wasn’t in Dealey Plaza that day, and all the pictures of the grassy knoll are pretty grainy, - not to mention that I’ve been up behind that picket fence as recently as 2003 when my best buddy came to town, and we kicked around for spent cartridges back there, and I can say conclusively that there was no evidence then that anyone fired any shots from the Grassy Knoll. So, after that, I’ve pretty much decided not to invest a big chunk of my life trying to prove the unproveable.

Another example; I believe there is intelligent life on other planets. I think it’s just narrow and conceited of us to think that we’re the only life forms among all those stars. Though I doubt they’re as good looking as we are. Do I think that the US government is hiding a space ship crash site in Area 51? Probably not. Now, if I had seen a space ship flying around somewhere out near Roswell, I’d have a different opinion. And a different blog.

Lately, my friends in the pool business have been telling me that the folks who sell salt say some pretty nasty things about me. They say I’m spreading lies and half truths. And what’s so funny is I thought that shoe was on the other foot; their foot.

Let’s look at some of the things I’ve talked about in this blog. Let’s look for the lies and half truths.

1. First and easiest is the Level of Taste. They all say it’s somewhere around 3,500 ppm sodium chloride. You can find that statement on nearly every salt system marketing brochure and website. But the United States Government Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water says it’s 250 ppm. But “well below the level of taste!” sells a lot more salt systems than “fourteen times higher than the level of taste!”

An interesting side note here is that I was conversing via e-mail with a Salt Rep and I mentioned the EPA standard, and he came back with, “I have to admit and thank you though, as you are causing me to reflect on what I present in my seminars, and am forcing me to research more of the "facts" related to salt levels, such as: EPA standards for the taste threshold for chloride is 250 ppm (I never knew this).”

Now, the article I pointed this out in is titled Lying Liars (11/19/06). I called it that because I honestly couldn't believe that salt system manufacturers, who make their living by putting salt into water, didn't know something as rudimentary as the level of taste as set forth by the government of the country where they are selling their products. Now I know differently.

Kind of gives you a whole different perspective on how well informed even their best informed folks are about their own technology. I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not even intentional. I think it’s more the Sales & Marketing Effect, where a bunch of people repeat the same lies - pardon me for being blunt, but when you don't tell the truth, it's a lie, even if you don't know it's a lie - until they become the prevalent "facts" surrounding a technology. The EPA has been saying 250 ppm just forever. But they don't spend as much money as salt guys do on advertising, so the 3,500 ppm myth becomes prevalent.

2. Next easiest is green hair. Chlorine doesn’t cause green hair. Copper in the water causes green hair. I was talking via e-mail with another Salt Rep and I pointed out, after looking at their website, that the first lie I spotted was the one about “No more Green Hair!” And the Rep wrote back; “Thanks for pointing out about the green hair thing. I agree. It is a tired old tale that just unconsciously spews from any type of salt-water pool marketing material or rep.”

3. But those two examples are just the cosmetic lies. The biggest one, in my mind, is the denial of Salt Attack on stone and concrete. Once again, a Salt Rep wrote to me and posited, “...back to damage as a result of salt, this is a moot point as most sodium hypochlorite pools will have salt levels above 250 ppm in short order, and no one ever complains about corrosion or deck damage. Remember, when the water evaporates, the salt in a bleach pool still increases in concentration just as it would as a salt pool. Therefore wouldn't the damage be the same?”

So, you can see that while they never mention Salt Attack in their marketing information, they know about it. In fact, they know enough about it to come up with handy answers for why these types of issues are really non-issues. And this Rep is right. All chlorine dissolved in water results in chloride residual in the water. On a tri-chlor tab pool with really old water, it’s as much as 500 ppm. On a salt pool, from day one it’s at least 3,000 ppm, nominally 3,500 ppm.

I wrote back and said; “if I spill 3,500 ppm sodium chloride solution on limestone and it evaporates, it'll get me to crystallization [which is the point at which salt starts to damage stone & concrete] 7 times faster than 500 ppm water. If salt damage is showing up on salt pools with limestone in 2 years, then it's going to show up on tabs pools in 14 years. Which pool would you rather own? The pool that needs recoping every two years, or every 14 years?’

And that’s really being short on the estimate about tri-chlor tab pools. First, you need really old water to have that 500 ppm chloride residual. Then, you’d have to keep that same water for fourteen years. Nobody keeps the same pool water for fourteen years. That’s why the damage, which even salt system reps are starting to admit occurs, is pretty much a phenomenon related only to salt pools.

These days, they’re amending their story and saying that you should hose down all your decks and hardscape every time you use your pool, and that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to seal all your stone and concrete and reapply at least twice a year - some say every three months. I bet you wish they’d told you that before you bought.

4. Galvanic corrosion. I’ve written several blog pieces about galvanic corrosion. I’ve cited numerous references for everything I’ve said, and yet the salt system manufacturers keep denying that it exists, or if it does, it’s because of improper installation, improper bonding, or improper grounding. But the truth is it’s because of the Electrolysis Process. That, and these installation, bonding and grounding issues. Together, they cause the rapid destruction of the other metals in your pool. A salt system is the only device that can cause any corrosion damage to metals outside of it’s own box simply because you turn your pool water into an electrolyte by adding salt and you’re running an electrical device whose function is to perform the process of electrolysis. Take salt out of your pool and the water is no longer an electrolyte. One of the first definitions of Galvanic Corrosion that I cited in this blog states, “Galvanic Corrosion, often misnamed ‘electrolysis’...”, because they are such similar processes.

5. Explosion Danger. I’ve written two pieces about explosion danger with salt systems, because the electrolysis process produces hydrogen gas, which is flammable and explosive. A very smart guy who I correspond with wrote to me after my second piece on exploding chlorinators. He was concerned that the video I referenced of the 15 year old kid making the flammable hydrogen gas with a mockup salt cell was giving salt pool owners the wrong impression. His e-mail precisely described the chemistry behind his reasoning why the video was an inappropriate example by stating that salt system manufacturers only needed about 1.4 volts to create chlorine without the byproduct oxygen that would make the hydrogen explode. The kid in the video was using a 12 volt battery. He summarized as follows; “So what is the bottom line of all this? If the salt cell were driven with too high a voltage, then oxygen will be produced in addition to chlorine. A properly designed and functioning SWG unit will produce little or no oxygen unless there is either a malfunction or if the SWG manufacturer is intentionally trying to produce more chlorine faster and creating an overvoltage to do so — which would begin to produce oxygen in addition to chlorine.”

By the way, SWG means Salt Water Generator. SWG is the shorthand they use in all the on line forums and chats about salt. Why they call it that I don’t know. It doesn’t generate salt water. It generates chlorine. Anyway...

I wrote back and said that I was pretty sure every salt system manufacturer out there was using way more than 1.4 volts and he should look it up. He did, and wrote back; “Well, a cursory check of several different salt chlorinators shows that they tend to operate at 6 to 9 volts. Some units, including AquaRite by Goldline Controls, use 22-27 Volts. My hunch is that designs that use the higher voltage will produce more oxygen than designs that operate at lower voltages... So it would appear that no one operates in the region where no oxygen will be generated at all.”

Now, this guy is smart. Very smart. And so when he crunched the numbers and came up with 1.4 volts, he assumed that the salt manufacturers would, for obvious safety reasons, use that number, too. I think he was taken aback to realize that the way these systems are designed is more like a bunch of guys fiddling around until they get something that works and then creating a production model and putting it out for sale, and a lot less like a project team observing rigorous engineering practices based on scientific research.

Next week I’ll be posting pictures of an exploded salt cell, along with pictures of the plumbing installation and electrical connections. Stay tuned.

6. Environmental Issues: Salt reps are always crowing about how Australia is such a fine example of a whole country that uses salt in their pools. Australia is also a continent that is at the tipping point ecologically because they are out of water. They are looking at spending billions and billions of dollars on their aquifer systems. Many of the pools in Australia use sand filters and those filters require frequent backwashing. How much, over more than twenty years, has that salty discharge contributed to their current crisis?

I read an article recently about an acclaimed Aussie scientist who is refusing to drink recycled water;

“ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - The scientist who set Australian drinking water standards is speaking out against the recent plan to use recycled water to boost supplies, saying, "This is one bloke who isn't going to drink it... You can turn anything wet into drinking water if you have enough money... The risk is orders of magnitude higher than when dealing with conventional sources.”

Is this where we’re heading? Drinking our own waste? Coupled with the undeniable fact that Global Warming is creating droughts around the globe, it would seem that we are. So, why, oh, why would we intentionally create 20,000 gallon reservoirs of salt water that will end up being waste water every time the pool has to be dumped, ending up adding to our reclamation costs to desalinate that water? So that salt system manufacturer’s stock can go up?

You know, they call the area for several hundred yards on either side of the roads where they use salt for de-icing the “Salt Kill Zone”. Salt resistant foliage along roadways is a big item in northern climates. Even here in Texas, Lake Lavon, just north and east of Dallas is looking to plant more salt resistant foliage around the lake - it was down by as much as 18 feet in the last year - because the water that trickles in to refill it is increasingly saline. Do you think that your pool’s salty water might have something to do with that?

Where does your water go when you backwash your pool here in Texas? If your pool is built to code, it’s going into the sewer for waste treatment. It costs a lot of money to get salt out of water. It’s called desalinization, and the cost of it is the reason why we haven’t turned every desert into farm land by desalinating the oceans.

Where does all that rain water that falls on your pool go? It overfills your pool and most likely runs out your tile line drain and either soaks into the ground, increasing the salinity of the ground water, or runs down the curb, into a storm drain, then to a creek, and then the local reservoir, where your drinking water comes from.

Everything is cumulative. Carbon dioxide wasn’t an issue until the last 50 years. Now we talk about it and read about it every day.

But there is already writing on the wall about salt in this country, and it is this; the Santa Clarita Water District prohibited salt pools, not because they're tree huggers, but because they have a 100 ppm chloride limit for the Santa Clara River which irrigates their strawberry and avocado crops. Higher chloride levels will lower crop yields and cause leaf burn. The Governor, a pro business Republican, just signed a water softener buy back program into law for that water district. Water softeners soften the water by exchanging the calicum and magnesium in the water for sodium chloride. They are also outlawed in the Santa Clarita Water District.

But salt systems continue to be sold there because they can only prohibit salt systems on pools hooked up to the sewer system, and in California it's not a code requirement to plumb backwash lines to the sewer. So, our pool guys and salt system owners keep spewing their salty water onto the ground, which percolates down to the water table, or it goes into a storm drain and, you guessed it, makes it's way into the Santa Clarita River anyway.

So, why don't the salt system manufacturers do the right thing for the environment and the economy around the Santa Clarita Water District and have an industry moratorium on selling salt systems there?

Because dollar for dollar, salt systems are the most profitable item that any pool equipment manufacturer sells. It’s just a power supply circuit board, a small and simple electronic control board, a salt cell - usually made in China - a painted sheet metal enclosure and about five dollars worth of plastic and PVC. It is a simple system to build - just look at how many different brands there are - and easy to sell. Especially when you tell people they’ll never have to buy chlorine again - another lie, by the way. The fact that it’s a lie was pointed out by yet another Salt Rep in last week’s blog post.

So, to all you Salt Reps out there; I’m sorry you’re stuck selling these Trojan Horses to unsuspecting consumers. And I understand it’s your job to pitch the company’s whole product line, and that often includes salt systems along with the filters and heaters and pumps. And I know that everybody’s paycheck will get smaller if salt systems go away. But the problem here is bigger than you and me. It’s about the consumer, and protecting them from products that will cause thousands of dollars of damage to their pools, it's about the reputation of the industry that we work in and it’s about the world that we live in. And I’m not going to cave in and shut up when I have seen with my own eyes that these things are true. And as far as you all being upset about how unabashedly rude I’ve been in getting my point across, let me just ask you; would anybody have listened to me if I’d taken the EPA approach of just stating the level of taste and leaving it at that?

Unfortunately, there’s hundreds of you and only one Pool Guy. So far, that is.

Hey! I know how we can have some fun. If you’re a pool guy and you’re seeing the same things that I am on the salt pools you visit, make copies of this blog entry and stuff them in your invoices when you do your billing. Or keep a stack of copies in your truck to hand out to customer’s who ask you if they ought to switch over to salt.

And if someone handed you a copy of this and you want to read more, just go to

But you want to have some real fun? Google any salt system’s manufacturer and product name and the word blog. Depending on the system, this blog shows up either third or fourth spot on the first page. At last count, 16% of the folks who visit this blog got here off the results of a Google search. And it’s not even swimming season yet.

Kilroy Was Here.