Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unbridled Competition Meets Lack of Oversight

I think that sums up what is going on with salt systems. Think about it. Who would tell the salt system manufacturers to stop selling their products if those systems were found to be causing collateral damage to your pool in dollar amounts up to ten times the cost of the salt system? Who has Authority and Oversight in that situation?

Nobody. That’s who.

I do a lot of running off at the mouth, inventing cute little constructs to drive home the point that you ought not to be using salt, and along the way I try to throw a little home grown research into it. And maybe it’s doing some good. Maybe it’s not. I thought it might help though, if I started posting more pictures of the tragedies I run into out there when I go to these pools.

Like last week, I got a call from a guy who wanted pool service. So, I went to take a look and give him a bid. The pool was remodeled in 2002. New plaster, coping and tile. The equipment remained the same. This is what I saw.

1951 - The Walk - Note the swimout step in the pool. You dive off the diving board, swim over to the step, step up out of the pool and walk back over to the board for another dive. I had a similar series to this last winter in another post. But that pool was using limestone. This is Pennsylvania Blue, baby. It don’t get no harder than that. You can literally see where they get out of the pool, walk over to the board, dribbling salty water along the way.

The Corner at the Swimout - This is a closeup of the corner where they get out of the pool. You can see the discoloration and the spalling.

Diving Board Enclosure - I’m not sure how great an idea it was to build a stone box around a diving board, especially around a diving board whose stand is rusting out at warp speed. But it sure is pretty, and makes a nice place to stand around and wait your turn to dive off the board. And you can see exactly where they stand, can’t you?

Upper Left Corner of Enclosure - The damage is most prevalent in the corner and on the stone directly behind the board. The swimmers would naturally spend the most time standing there, dipping salty water.

These are closeups of those two stones. Notice how the damage, the spalling, is dramatically reduced halfway across the stone. That’s because that’s where the swimmers make their turn to walk onto the board, so the concentration of salty drippings would be so much less.

If you’re sitting there saying, “Well, I’m alright. My pool doesn’t have a diving board”, get a load of this. This is the skimmer at the other end of the pool. Five years of emptying the skimmer basket, dribbling the salty water onto the stone, caused it to spall.

This is a closeup of the same stone.

This is on the side of the pool closest to the house. I think that someone in the family likes to sit here. I see this a lot, especially in families with little ones, where the folks sit and tend to their toddlers in the shallow end of the pool and their wet bathing suit super saturates the stone with salt.

This is where you would logically bend down to grab the Polaris hose and haul it out of the pool to get the bag off for cleaning. You’d only do it about once a week, though. As you see, the stone is delaminating right above the Polaris, and the grout is dissolved; another collateral damage issue of owning a salt water pool.

Strange Stains. I’ve seen stains like this on salt pools with dark plaster and also on salt pools with pebble finishes. I don’t know where it comes from. But I do know that this pool owner just replaced his heater because the heat exchanger sprang about a dozen leaks. It would be easy to blame it on bad water chemistry.

But this time, I got my hands on the thermostat from that heater. This is what I saw:

It’s not a crystal clear photo, I know. But the fact that those two dissimilar metals that make up that thermostat are galvanically corroding is obvious. The color of the stains is the same as the color of the corrosion on the thermostat. Gee, I wonder if they’re related?

This is the salt system that’s been on this pool since before the remodel. Note how the top of the unit has caved in, exposing the backplate. All of the electronics and the power supply are attached to that backplate. So much for a raintight enclosure. This system was bought by Jandy and is now called the Jandy AquaPure. It’s now in a gray box. But it still does the same thing.

Here’s a closeup of that failed enclosure top. It’s easier to see the gap here and how the way that it droops down will actually funnel the rain right down into that backplate. Also, read the “INFORMATION The Chlormatic must read 00 for 24 hours after the salt has been added and circulated in the pool! FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL VOID THE WARRANTY ON THE UNIT”

I talked to a friend of mine who does warranty work on these systems and he told me you stand a very good chance of frying the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) that reads the salt level if you dump a bunch of salt in your pool without turning the system down to 0% output. It’s something about the salt melting and settling to the bottom of the pool, where the main drain sucks up the super concentrated salty water and when it gets to the in line sensor, the signal that it sends to the PCB so overloads it that it burns it up.

Which, if you think about it, is a unique approach to engineering. Instead of re-engineering the PCB to sense a high salt condition and shutting down to protect it’s own circuits, just put an INFORMATION label on top of the unit and make it the homeowner’s fault. Don't call it a CAUTION or a WARNING. Just INFORMATION. It sounds so much friendlier, and so much less of a Sales Killer and so much less likely to raise questions. Besides, you save all that money on re-engineering costs and sell a lot more PCB’s to boot.

So, as you can see, I’m not just making this stuff up. I have pictures, too. And I have the addresses of the pools where all the pictures are taken. So, if push comes to shove, and I had to prove that it’s the super saturation of the Pennsylvania Blue with sodium chloride that causes it to spall and delaminate, I’ll talk that pool owner out of a chunk of his coping and we can have it analyzed. If just one of the Salt System manufacturers would pony up a few thousand dollars, we could do a microscopic analysis and prove once and for all whether it really is salt that’s destroying every type of coping out there.

What say you, Salt Guys? How about while you Group of Seven are doing your Independent Research you take a look at some of these heater parts and evaluate them for galvanic, stray current and impingement corrosion? I have the heat exchanger in my garage. Just drop me a line. Let me know....

Just like I thought. Talking to myself.


Dan - Tuc. AZ said...

Well, I am listening/reading! What I am getting is, stray current is a problem as well as any salt in the water. I wonder, this would mean that bleach fed pools would also suffer some of the problems you mention. (I have always liked bleach automated injection systems, except for when they spring leaks!!)

I am getting more involved with a friend of mine who has a salt pool, indoor. If I come up with any fun pics, I will forward them to you.

The Pool Guy said...

You need to caution your friend with the salt water indoor pool. Go here:

and scroll down to comment number 26. This guy, Waterworks, talks about an indoor pool that experienced significant corrosion because of very high chlorine levels and an absence of stabilizer. Stabilizer is not normally added to an indoor pool. Then, after you've read that post, go back and read posts 12, 18 & 22 on the same thread. They all deal with chlorine corrosion in the face of low or zero stabilizer. Another one of the Gotcha's of owning a salt pool. And thanks, I'll take all the pics you can send me.

The Pool Guy said...

I got sidetracked on warning you about the salt indoor pool thing and forgot to address your question about the chloride buildup in all cholrinated pools. It's true. Whenever you use chlorine, you end up with chloride ions in the water. I've tested non-salt pools with sky high stabilizer (an indication of very old water) and have seen them as high as 800 ppm. I think with backwashing, splashout, rain dilution, etc., you could probably count on a non-salt pool on dry, stabilized chlorinators having about a 500 ppm level. Liquid chlorine pools might be as high as 1,000 ppm. But this is given old water. On day one of a fresh fill, the chloride level is going to be almost nil, and over years, build up to those levels. With a salt pool, you're starting off your fresh fill with 3,500 ppm sodium chloride. That's where all the damage to stone is coming from. Water is the Universal Solvent. And 3,500 ppm water accelerates the process of super saturating the stone unitl it get to the recrystallization level of 360,000 ppm. We see it on limestone and Oklahoma flagstone in as little as one year. We see it on some Pennsylvania Blue in a couple of years. Now, if it took 3,500 ppm water 2 or 3 years to damage Pennsylvania Blue, how many years would 500 ppm water take to get you to the same point? 14 to 21 years, if you kept the same water all that time. That's my point and always has been about these salt pools. It doesn't matter that we have chloride levels in our other pools with different sanitizers, because we usually dillute or drain/refill before they get to the point that they can do any of the damage we see almost instantly with salt. And as far as galvanic corrosion or stray currents corrosion on non-salt pools; even though you may have 1,000 ppm chloride ions in the water, that's still a very weak electrolyte. Nowhere near as effective as 3,500 ppm. And with a salt cell you're bridging as much as 8 DC Amps through the water, from cell plate to cell plate. People keep telling me that it's impossible for any of that current to "leak out" as stray currents, and I just keep pointing to the deteriorated heater cores and metal parts and corroded light rings and ladders and handrails and ask, "if not salt, then what?"