Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Tide Has Turned

I was in two backyards these last few weeks, bidding weekly cleaning service for brand new pools, and in both instances the owners asked me whatever happened to salt systems? Said they were surprised when they found out that the builders they got bids from weren’t offering it any more, and when they asked around the office, they were surprised to find that they had tapped into a real vein of anger from folks they knew who had salt systems and last year were talking about how great they were and this year were beginning to suffer the consequences that are normal with a salt pool a couple of years down the road. They felt lucky they had dodged the bullet and wanted to know what I thought of salt.

Try to guess what I told them.

Then, I ran into another relatively new pool owner – her pool is four months old. I was there to bid weekly cleaning service because she was ready to fire her present pool service company. The reason she was upset is that she’d watched her beautiful dark green plaster turn to chalky white all across the bottom of her pool in the four months since startup. The pool service company owner is telling her that’s “normal mottling”. I call it scaling. She showed me one of the cards they left after the last cleaning service. It detailed what they’d done to clean the pool, the water conditions they’d observed and the chemicals they’d used to balance the pool. Right there on the card, it said that the pH was 7.8, and that they’d added 3 lbs. of cal hypo to shock her pool. They added no acid to balance the pH or counteract the effect of 3 lbs. of 11.8 pH cal hypo. Do that every other week for four months on a salt pool with new plaster and tell me what you get.

There was a symmetry to her initial selection of the pool service company that she was about to fire. They came recommended by the pool builder. Now, this builder sold her about 110 feet of beautiful travertine coping, a diving board with a metal stand, and a salt system to go with all that. And, before you ask; no, he’s not retarded. The proof is he didn’t sell her a stainless steel filter tank. But that’s the only proof I could find.

The oddest thing is this builder recently went out on his own after many years as a project manager for a very large area builder. That very large area builder had even stopped selling salt for awhile, and only went back to selling it on those jobs where they couldn’t talk the customer out of it and only after the customer signed a damage waiver. So, it’s not like this guys could have missed the memo.

The diving board stand has been replaced once already. The second one is already beginning to rust. The travertine coping around the spa is already starting to pit from the bubbler water feature in the center of the spa creating the standard circular splash zone around the edges.

What’s happened to that pool is a travesty. I gave her the number of a pool inspector I know and told her she needs to get a written report with photos of the damage thus far. I hate to rat out fellow Pool Guys, but when their answer to the problem of rapid scaling is that its “normal mottling”, and the diving board issue will go away once the one year warranty expires (the workman they sent to replace the stand actually said that to the customer), and the travertine will get through the same warranty period before it really starts to resemble the surface of the moon… well, they need to be ratted out. And maybe when they’ve had to pay for new coping and at least an acid wash on a few pools, they’ll stop listening to the sales hype and start considering what even the salt system manufacturers are reluctantly admitting; that you need to THINK before you install a salt system about the environment you’re placing it in. All materials are NOT compatible with salt. Further, you need to QUESTION whether you’re going to have personnel sufficiently trained in water chemistry to maintain these pools without turning the pools into basket cases in four months.

Oh, and last but not least, they put a DE filter on this pool, which made it nearly as environmentally unfriendly as possible, since they’ll be backwashing 3500 ppm brackish water into the sewer system, as required by code. The only way it could have been any more environmentally unfriendly is if they’d put a sand filter on it. Then, you’d be backwashing nearly every week instead of every six to eight weeks.

But the moral of this story is that The Tide Has Turned. Two years ago, chances are all three of those brand new pools would have been salt pools. Last year, probably two of them would have been. Now, we’re down to one in three, and four months in, the one is already crying Uncle on salt.

And the underlying moral of this story is that the Salt Manufacturers and the Salt Reps have done this to themselves. Their irresponsible introduction of these systems without any guidelines or restrictions, their lack of support for their dealers and their builders when the problems started to surface, their now transparent efforts to delay and obfuscate when it all started going south, and their lack of accountability for the damages their ill-introduced gadget has caused is YET ANOTHER Black Eye for an industry sorely in need of a moral compass to begin with. I mean, it’s hard enough to lace up my flip flops and go into backyards and say, “Yes, I know there’s better than a 90% chance that you’ve had a bad experience with somebody in the pool business… but trust me.”

It’s like the old joke, “I’m from the Government. I’m here to help.” That’s it. That’s the joke.

Of course, the Salt Guy’s Spinmeisters will blame the demise of salt on Guys Like Me. They’ll accuse us of being the Nattering Nabobs of Negatism that destroyed a Great, Yet Sadly Misunderstood Product. You know, Spiro Agnew was the first to use the Nattering Nabobs line, and he repeated it often, until we trundled him out of Washington and banished him to some nameless golf course in Maryland for taking cash bribes across his desk in the office of The Vice President of the United States.

But the truth is that it’s hardly Guys Like Me who did it. Salt did it. The damage finally arrived. The Bill finally came and it was marked Past Due. I mean, it is such a stretch to think that this blog did anything more than report a phenomena as it grew and then collapsed. To date, I’ve had a total of 13,000 visitors in nearly a year. And about 12,000 of those were probably PoolSean. So, let’s face it; real world experiences and word of mouth are what killed the Goose that Laid those Golden – albeit Salty – Eggs.

And That’s That.


Anonymous said...

Hi ya..
well to be honest I set out to find swimming pool related blogs to post my link and a hello.
I did not expect to be re-educated on salt systems.
I also am a swimming pool service guy. I resisted salt systems until last year, I simply did not like them overall, although I had no real reason's for this attitude.
I see now my first thoughts to resist were correct.
I let a longtime customer talk me into installing a salt unit for him... I wouldn't sell it to him, he found one on his own and I put it in.
Since then I have had conversations with customers where I said I could take it or leave it.
I want to thank you for giving me the words and reasons I needed to "just say no" to salt.
If you don't mind I would like to post parts of your "rant" to my sites with a link to your blog of course.
Thanks again!
Swimming Pool Service Directory
oh yeah... those site meters are very cool HUH?

The Pool Guy said...

Thanks for your comments. Please feel free to link to anything here, to copy and paste, etc. The more places it gets posted, the sooner we'll get rid of salt systems.

I'll post a link to your blog the next time I'm in the
Setup mode. Good luck.


Sweet-ums said...

I am glad to have read your pages. I own an inground pool in FL which was constructed in 1968. It has been refinished, most recently 4 years ago. It has no plumbing problems. I was seriously considering a change to a Salt system. I maintain the pool myself. After reading the basic science you have pointed out, I believe I'll save my money and keep using chlorine. In Coastal areas of FL, salt = rust & corrosion. Thank you for your insight.