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?

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