Sunday, February 04, 2007
KILROY WAS HERE
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 http://thepoolbiz.blogspot.com
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.