Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stray Currents Are Still Dissolving Your Salt Swimming Pool

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." – Upton Sinclair

I often get e-mails from Salt Reps. Often, they are not pleasant. I understand why. If I’m successful in getting the word out about how salt is destroying your pools, their world will have to change. They’ll have to get a new hustle. So I understand when the tone of their e-mails drifts over the line a bit.

Like Sean Assam at AutoPilot. He sent me a flurry of e-mails this week. You see, Sean’s convinced that an exploding salt cell I talked about some weeks ago blew up because of a water hammer in the in-floor cleaning system and not because of hydrogen gas buildup. And he’s been dogging me for more details about the incident. Not because he wants to help make Mr. Baker, the pool owner, whole again. It’s not Sean’s system that blew up. It’s because he wants to point out that the "Clearwater manual... cautions against operating over 29 psi (if I recall correctly). I'd say most in floor systems operate at 25 - 35 psi on a routine basis", then later, "AutoPilot does not have a clear body cell. We can handle and have been tested by NSF to 60 psi."

He did offer up one interesting side note on his way to pointing out this pressure sensitive Market Separator, "AGAIN, I'm not saying that it [hydrogen buildup and explosion] couldn't happen as I've seen the results of an exploded cartridge filter. The homeowner, who also happened to be the pool service contractor, admitted to installing the system incorrectly and causing the resulting damage. Basically he jumped out the flow switch rather than replacing it, lost prime and the rest was explosive."

I spent some time when I first got out of the Navy as a Logistics Engineer for a defense contractor. God-was-that-a-boring-job. It’s the main reason I ran away to the Pool Circus. But one of the things I studied as a logistics engineer were failure modes; all the different ways that a component, like a flow switch, can fail. Then we’d extrapolate what the results would be. I’ve done enough of that kind of forecasting to be able to say that there By God is at least one failure mode for that flow switch that will act the same as if it were bypassed (Sean’s jumped out). Something as simple as the contacts sticking together when the pump loses prime will make the system think that it’s supposed to keep operating.

So, there’s another Salt Rep on record admitting that salt chorine generators can explode.

You can read about the exploding chlorinator incident here:

But the exploding chlorinator was really just cover for why he wrote to me this past week. I think perhaps he’d asked for one too many extra shots at the Starbucks drive thru, because once he’d built the pretense for the e-mail by asking again about the water hammer theory, he began ranting about last week’s Stray Currents blog piece:

"Why do you only give credibility to the dealer [sic] that have problems and blame salt... Why is there such merit given to a builder that blame [sic] salt for doing the damage to the bonding grids and causing electrolysis or causing the pool water to shock his customers because it has corroded the bonding grid???? What research was done to determine this? 15 years of researching the pools he's installed with salt systems? 200 pools/year x 15 years? WOW, that as much as 3000 salt systems! Why didn't this builder go out of business after 2 years of salt systems? What research did they do to evaluate the soil conditions? How much salt was in, or HOW ACIDIC was the soil to begin with? Where did they get all the salt from, the pool water from backwashing? [Pool Guy Note: Right here, Sean makes my case for me. I have been saying over and over again in this blog that backwashing your salt pool is going to have an adverse effect on your soil. If you can sorta read between the lines of his rant, you can see that what he’s saying is that backwashing your filter onto the ground around your pool is just as likely to create corrosive soil that did the damage to the bonding grid as Stray Currents. You have to wonder if it’s not because he’s seen that situation. But whether it’s Stray Currents or salty soil that caused the damage, getting rid of the salt system will fix the problem. The fact that Sean can’t see that goes back to Sinclair’s quote at the top of this blog piece. Now, back to Sean;] Where is the logic to your last blog's dealers letter blaming salt systems to corrode the electrical grids? I think you're getting tired or loosing [sic] your touch. Could this "builder" be decieving [sic] you with this letter? Apparently you've got his voltage charts to support his letter. Please realize that according to UL1081, we are not allowed to introduce stray voltage into the pool? [Akin to the quote, "Please be advised that as Captain of the SS Titanic, I am forbidden from hitting icebergs".] What is going from the positive electrode is routed to the negative electrode and not into the pool water or any other ground. This is not "electronically" the path of least resistance. Water is a POOR conductor of electricity. There is no tendency for the voltage to stray from the cell to the light ring, handrail or ladder, if the system is operated and bonded properly. The tendency is to find the nearest negative to discharge to, that's usually a inch away, on the negative electrode IN the cell."

Now, this last part about WATER BEING A POOR CONDUCTOR is the funniest thing anyone has ever said to me. While it is true that pure, deionized water won’t conduct electricity, this webpage, for anybody who bought Sean’s hooee and needs straightening out, will explain;

I sited this reference before, in my second blog piece, Why Salt Sucks. It illustrates that "when a salt, like sodium chloride is dissolved in water, the sodium and chloride separate temporarily. The sodium atom will become a positively charged ion and the chloride atom will become a negatively charged ion. An ion is an atom or group of atoms that has a negative or positive electric charge. Negative ions are formed by atoms gaining electrons, and positive ions are formed by atoms losing electrons. Substances that conduct electric current are called electrolytes. They are formed as a result of a dissociation into positively and negatively charged particles called ions."

What this is, is a fourth grade science experiment designed to teach ten year olds "that the ions in the water make salt water an electrolyte. An electrolyte is a nonmetallic electric conductor in which a current is carried by the movement of ions". In the experiment, the children observe that as they begin to add salt to the water, the water begins to conduct electricity, and the light begins to glow. The more salt they add, the more brightly the light glows."


Sorry for shouting. I just really want to get my point across to you about this. And I’m not shouting at Sean. I’ve accepted the truth in the statement, "it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." This enables him to believe that salty water is a poor conductor of electricity.

On the subject of stray currents, he had previously written that, "our manual also states that the installation should be performed by a licensed electrician, whom we assume should know to bond the equipment, so stray currents/voltage are not a problem... When a pool is not bonded properly, or if the installation of the salt system... is NOT installed according to the manufacturers instructions and the National Electric Code (NEC) guidelines, it may allow stray currents/voltage into the pool."

Now, you all need to stop and think about that. Who installed your salt system? Was it a licensed electrician? Or was it your pool man? Because if it was your pool man, then AutoPilot is off the hook if anything goes wrong. It says so right in their manual. And that is the point of that statement. To get them off the hook. And to drive that point home, Sean said in another e-mail, " a result of... any pool company being able to buy a salt system over the counter at their local distributor, and not knowing anything about it, reselling it to a pool owner. No training, no education, ignorance. It is a shame."

Pretty scathing indictment of pool supply distribution and local pool companies. Wouldn’t you say? That’s you, Pool Guys. That’s you he’s talking about. Did you know that if you don’t have a licensed electrician do the work, then you’re on your own if anything goes wrong?

On the subject of salt’s corrosivity, he wrote, "as I sweat (which can be up to 9000 ppm salinity) on my elliptical trainer, I don't bother to wipe it down everytime, [sic] so is my persiration, [sic] which also evaporates leaving a high salinity behind, causing corrosion to the metal frame of my elliptical device? I haven't seen any."

So, in Sean’s World, salty sweat isn’t corrosive. All of you Gym Rats out there can tell him different. Right? You’ve all seen the corroded metal from that very thing.

He’s also the fellow who wrote to me and said, "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 neven [sic] knew this). Although I've also found other sites where it states the salt taste threshold for humans are as low as 50 ppm or as much as 1000 ppm. I've been stating it to be 3500 ppm for years."

Odd. His references tell him that the taste threshold is anywhere from 50 to 1000 ppm, but it’s convenient to use 3500 ppm in training seminars because... hmm, let’s see... could it be because that’s the upper threshold for operating his salt system?

On the subject of the lie that all the salt system manufacturer’s tell that you’ll "Never Have To Buy Chlorine Again", Sean qualifies the lie thus; "To support our marketing statement, if you're producing your own chlorine, why buy chlorine again? Regarding never having to shock your pool again, our Owners Manual states that you may occasionally have to shock your pool, page 12 under chemistry, and page 16 under troubleshooting. Although we recommend a non-chlorine shock (MPS), there's no reason why a chlorine shock should not be used, but using monopersulfate certainly allows the statement to be correct in never having to buy chlorine again, even to shock."

The thing that makes it okay to say "Never Buy Chlorine Again" is that they want you to buy the more expensive non-chlorine shock instead.

So there’s that.

The first time Sean wrote to me, I responded by saying "I don't think we can have much of a dialogue". But he persisted. And he vacillated between being insulting and rude - like the rant that opened this blog piece - to apologetic, like "I apologize for the ‘nasty’ tone of my e-mail" - his very next correspondence, as a matter of fact. But in the end, he wrote, "I think our communication has disintegrated" and swore never to write to me again, sorta like, "well, you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more".

These are the people who are selling you salt systems. Makes you want to run right out and switch over to salt, doesn’t it?

Res Ipsa Loquitur.


Sean Assam said...

You're a funny man TPG (the pool guy). It's your blog so you can pick and choose whatever "quotes" you want to use from someone's communication with you.
It would be very interesting to see if you allow my response to be posted and left unedited, on your blog.

When I first contacted you back in January, this was my opening paragraph:
"Dear "The Pool Guy",
Thank you for taking the time to mention me in your blog site. I'm sure your site is viewed by pool owners and pool industry people alike. I'm sure you also realize the salt chlorine generator industry people probably view your site as an attack on their testosterones. If I may be so bold to try to explain it from a "salt" point of view, not speaking for the salt chlorine generator industry or as a spokesman for AutoPilot, but from my point of view, having dealt with salt chlorinators since I entered the pool industry in 1986. By no means am I an expert or claim to be smarter than the average bear, but I would think that with your experience in the industry, which I believe you've mentioned to be quite a bit more than my 20 years, I have to believe you've seen similar type degradation and damage to pool decks and equipment, as you are seeing today. I've read this over and over again, before I send this to you to make sure I am not being aggressive or argumentative in my response. Hopefully it is conveyed as such. If you read it differently, please accept my apology. It is not ment to be."

I went on to ask you specific questions, which you've dodged with your salt industry attack like this one:
"That is exactly why the tone of my blog is so contentious. I am the counterweight to that lack of education. I am the natural consequence to the kind of marketing that's been done for salt systems so far.
You guys have had it all your way for too long. You've all made a fortune off the misfortune of pool owners by not disclosing the whole story about salt and not giving them all the facts before they made their buying decision. Zodiac made so much money off of salt that they were able to turn around and buy Polaris two years ago and Jandy last year. That is staggering sums of money.
I just want you all to start spending a part of that pile of money on telling the truth about your products so that the pool owner's can make informed decisions, and not have to find out in some blog rant or some forum post that they ought to be hosing down their hardscape every week, just as an example.
Not to mention that you're putting potentially explosive devices into the hands of poolmen, for God sakes, to properly install and teach the customers how to maintain. You know and I know that for every good, experienced pool guy, there are ten who ought not be trusted with a screwdriver. It is the sad and ugly truth of our business."
WAIT A MINUTE, did YOU say that about your fellow pool service companions? Quite hypocritical for you to point out:
"Pretty scathing indictment of pool supply distribution and local pool companies. Wouldn’t you say? That’s you, Pool Guys. That’s you he’s talking about. Did you know that if you don’t have a licensed electrician do the work, then you’re on your own if anything goes wrong?"
By the way tpg, take the WHOLE section rather than selective words to "imply" my thoughts. The whole section in which I said, "...ignorance. It is a shame" goes like this:
"“No More Buying Chlorine” - AutoPilot chlorine generator marketing information.
This is a true statement, unfortunately the message being conveyed to the consumer by the dealer selling the salt system is that you never have to by CHEMICALS again. This very well may be as a result of (as you mentioned) any pool company being able to buy a salt system over the counter at their local distributor, and not knowing anything about it, reselling it to a pool owner. No training, no education, ignorance. It is a shame."
So, am I speaking of "pool supply distribution and local pool companies", or am I speaking of the ignorant salesman telling a homeowner that they never have to buy CHEMICALS again?
Tpg, don't mislead your readers by using selective quotes to stir emotions. That's pretty devious.

I asked "How many salt pools do you have, and are they all experiencing these issues?"
Why have you never answered this question? If salt is so bad, wouldn't the 40+ salt customers you have (30 - 40% of your all your customers) all be complaining?

This blog opens up with my asking for more information on Mr Bakers cell and pointed out to you that Clearwater cells cannot handle high pressures. It's very possible that the damage occured due to this reason. In fact, without even knowing, I asked if he had an in-floor cleaning system, to which you admitted he did. Let's just blame salt then!

I've pointed out many things to you in our correspondence, which you've not replied to. You said that a salt pool will experience deck and coping damage in about 2 years. I asked if you've ever tested the salt level on a pool on sodium hypochlorite, which adds quite a bit more salt that you can imagine, no answer from you. In my experience, years of adding sodium hypochlorite can bring the salt level to above 1000 ppm. Past the EPA level of taste of salt, yet I don't think these pool owners are complaining of salty pool water. Have you gotten these complains in your 30+ years in the industry? Have you personally been in a salt pool? At 3000 ppm, the water does not taste salty.
Here is another perfect example of your pick and choose what you want to use.
You replied to CHEM GEEK in one of your earlier comments (Oct 14th):
"Further, the more I hear you and Dynamictiger talking about stray currents, the more convinced I am that, even if it doesn't fit the textbook example of Galvanic Corrosion, that's what it is. But then, I'm "just a pool cleanup guy". I don't have the advantage of the view from the Ivory Tower. Just down here on the ground, where everything's turning to rust."
What is your experience on salty taste, or deck and coping corrosion with sodium hypochlorite pool customers? Are they experiencing deck and coping damage?
Would you agree that the salt level increases to high levels when the water evaporates, whether you start with 1000 ppm or 3000 ppm? So the same results of deck and coping, rail and light rings, electrolysis, etc....should all be complaints of sodium hypochlorite pool users too, right? Where is that blog?
Everyone should stop using sodium hypochlorite and salt, and switch to tri-chlor! Tpg says so!

And once again, I did not "swore never to write to me again". My closing e-mail to you said: "So while you're now on a stray voltage, electrolysis and shocking effects of a dissolved bonding lug, you also say, well not ALL salt pools are shocking the swimmers....well, why not? If this was experienced by one builder researching salt installations that they've done, why not more pools experiencing the same effects? But here again, you choose to ignore the many other salt pools that do not experience these conditions. This is not a nasty e-mail. It's a fair evaluation to your blog.
TPG, you will not be receiving any more e-mails from me, so that should free your time from "just another salt peddler" as you have categorized me.


Hopefully you can stop deceiving your readers and stop using that old trick of picking and choosing quotes to make a point.

The Pool Guy said...

You see, folks? Sean just can't stay away. He makes some interesting points in here, if you can separate the wheat from the chaff. If you kinda squint your eyes and remember that he won't be able to make his mortgage payment if salt system sales go through the floor, then you'll be able to put his drivel in proper context. I said it a few posts ago, and I say it again; I'm not here to debate, especially with salt peddlers. This is my blog. If Sean and the rest of his wrecking crew want to get their word out, they can get their own blog. They tried it once, and here's what they had to say:

On the subject of my denigrating pool men. Yes, I said that. Sean and I are on the same page there. I constantly bemoan the fact that my industry is hopelessly devoid of well trained technicians. But then, I'm not trying to sell them salt systems to install. Sean's attitude reminds me so much of the Jack Abramoff's "effing trogoldytes" attitude toward the clients that he's skinning with his smoke and mirrors of what a great deal salt is going to be for them and their customers. If you listen closely and read between the lines, you can hear Sean's real message. It goes something like this:

"$Blah$, $blah$, $blah$..."

But they must be feeling the pinch. Otherwise, why would they even be writing to me?

Sean Assam said...

Tpg, you "called me out" by name and dedicating a whole blog to my previous communications with you. You've selectively quoted me, out of context in most of your points, and you want me to not respond? "You see, folks? Sean just can't stay away."
Interesting viewpoint, and to use your often used response to me, "duh".
I am surprised though as I didn't think you would leave my comment intact.

So here we go again, it's your blog site and again with the "selective comprehension". I did not denigrading pool men. Tpg, we are not on the same page.
I denigraded the ignorant pool salesman telling a homeowner that once they buy a salt system, they never have to buy chemicals again. This statement is not true and is ignorant of the salesman to do so. It IS a shame.

By the way, your link to "Anotherview..." didn't have anything to view. Can you post a corrected link, or explain what your point is to bringing up that site.

Finally, you said that I "...made some interesting points...if you can separate the wheat from the chaff." Yet you still do not respond to simple questions like, are you experiencing these problems with all your salt pools? Or, do your customers on sodium hypochlorite experience these same deck and coping; rail and light rings; electrolysis issues?

Does ANYONE besides tpg see my comments as $blahS, $blah$, $blah$? Or does anyone think tpg should honestly reply to questions he's refused to answer?

Kinda like the kid who says, "It's my ball so I get to make the rules, or I'm taking my ball home."

I owned a Jaguar XJ6 once, before my salt sales days, and was told before I bought it, "Don't get it. You're either going to have a good one or a lifetime lemon. It'll spend more time in the shop than on the road."
Well I got the good one. But what a shame to categorize ALL Jaguars in the "Don't get it." category.

Tpg, this is what you're doing with pools. We have seen these same issues with pools NOT on salt, yet, salt gets the blame? Poor quality deck materials, improper mixing of poured decks and coping, cheap limestone, salty soil base, high TDS, high salt levels, high chlorine levels, low pH, improper water chemistry, improper electrical installations can all produce the same effects you're describing. But again, let's blame salt.
I don't honestly believe ALL your 40 plus salt customers have these issues you've dedicated alot of time blogging. I don't even believe HALF of your salt customers experience these issues. And as such, you've categorized the small percent of problem pools to the fault of all salt systems. Now THATS fair and balanced... but it's your ball.

Here's my advice, seeing that more than 50% of new pools over the last 2 or 3 years have gone in with salt systems, if you were smart, you would get out of "pool clean up guy" business and start a repair and renovation company.
Then you can sit back, rake in the big bucks and say, SEE? I TOLD YOU SO. I'd probably go towards a Prius than an Jag these days though.

Have a nice day.

The Pool Guy said...

I'm assuming by the flavor and character of your responses that you're going with the "there's no such thing as bad publicity" approach to marketing?

Good luck with that.