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.



Harry Clay said...

You wrote an interesting article; I don't agree with many of your opinions.

I do take exception to your inference that my only concern is profiting from the destruction of the environment.

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 experience, with the least likely chance of failure, & greatest longevity.

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.

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'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.

Dan R. - Tuc. AZ said...

Wow, long read, (truth be told, am printing it now to read in bed!). I am searching for more information on chlorine generating systems and found your blog. I plan on diving into more of it soon.

I am familiar with ORP, how pH and things like stabilizer can affect it. I worked for a global sanitation company for several years, learned a lot about chemical automation and what not, but, the learning never ends! I don’t do much with pools anymore other than telling people, if ya just keep your water balanced, your chlorine levels up around 3 ppm or so, you will buy a lot less ancillary products/devices to fix your water! I live by it, have proved it again and again, but it never fails, along comes another miracle product for pools.

I have a client who now wants a salt pool set up. I am going to be studying this subject in depth over the next few months… The resort where she has her home has switched all of their pools and spas, (around 25 bodies of water total), over to salt systems and everyone just loves it so far. Staining has begun on metal surfaces however… Is it just the beginning? Time will tell and so will I! I can tell you this, the pool operators there are no slouches, they know how to and have the resources and time to do what needs to be done to maintian those pools. I will be in close contact with them as I may end up running a salt pool myself for the first time. Client wants it, what can I do?