Saturday, October 06, 2007

There Is No Free Lunch

I received an e-mail this week. I thought I would share it and my response with you. I changed his name for reasons of privacy.

You seem extremely knowledgeable and have extensive experience with pools. I’m building a pool here in Austin (bad soils – I’m nuts!) and I’d like to talk to you for 5 minutes if you could please make the time. I’ve narrowed my selection to two bids. One with Salt Water and one with Ozone (Delzone) and chlorine. I’d like to discuss your experience with salt water and get some feedback on Sand Versus Cartridge filters. I have a lot of trees in my yard and I’ll be hammered with leaves and debris. I love the idea of cartridge but everyone says I need DE or sand. Thoughts…

FYI: I’ve owned a pool before, I hate DE, I love the salt water concept but I keep hearing the horror stories, the salt water guy has installed 30+ salt water pools and swears that by selecting the right materials (no limestone) and properly sealing those materials I should be fine (His customers love him – hard to argue) and I have no idea which filter I should choose. I think I love Jandy but I’m not sure. I’ve owned a Polaris but this Hayward Phantom looks interesting. Is it any good? Trying to decide the Jandy PDA is worth the expense…

Sorry to ramble but I’ve spent the past 6 hours researching pool stuff and I’m about to have a brain freeze. I found it interesting that your blog had more data than any of the previous 50+ sites I visited before I reached yours. NICE! At the end of the day, NO ONE knows more about stuff than the people who service and maintain that stuff.

Lastly I’d like to get some feedback on what you think about the expansive soils in Dallas. I’m building in the same crappy Del Rio clay that you guys suffer in North and Central Dallas. Do you have any advice? Pray…

Would you be open to a quick phone call?

Thanks in advance for ANY and ALL help!!!!!!!! Your website alone is a great service!!!!

John from Austin!


Thanks for the Kudos. I like you already. Your e-mail touched on so many of my favorite subjects, I couldn’t wait to sit down and write back to you.

First and foremost, I’d like to point out that a guy who’s installed “30+” salt pools isn’t a guy who’s installed A LOT of salt pools. Granted, one is too many, but with the average custom builder building anywhere from 30 to 150 pools a year and still being able to work out of his home – if he prefers – and given that salt’s been selling like hotcakes for the last five or so years, then this guy’s only selling about six salt pools a year, or he’s only been building pools for a couple of years. Neither situation is a rousing endorsement for salt. Either he’s not really seeing enough salt pools (six a year) for his phone to be ringing off the hook with disgruntled customers complaining about their pool deterioration issues in the harsh salt environment, or if it’s the latter and he’s only been out there on his own for a few years, then it hasn’t been long enough for his customers to be calling with the salt related complaints that start about midway through year two. You see, he’s avoiding the use of limestone and he probably learned not to sell diving boards with his salt pools, so the complaints typical of the first six months to a year aren’t happening to him. You need to factor in, too, that those customers he’s introduced you to who “just love him” may not represent 100% of his customer base. I know of builders who pay people to call their customers, pretending to be a prospective client, to hear what kind of referrals his customers give. The Good Ones go on the Referral List. The Not So Good Ones never see the light of day. It is, after all, Sales & Marketing.

But the point about the salt is that it will eventually damage all stone and concrete. Sooner or later. It’s just science. Higher chloride levels in the water result in supersaturation of the stone or cementious material and eventually the re-crystallization of the salt inside the stone will cause accelerated deterioration. People who argue that that’s not true are just Fast Buck Artists who want to ignore science so they can screw you out of the money you’re going to spend on their salt system. You can get into the loop of sealing and resealing your stone and concrete to try to prevent this from occurring, but why spend that money?

You also have all the metals to think about. Every metal in your pool that touches the electrolyte that you’ve turned your pool water into will deteriorate faster than it would if the salt weren’t present. Once again, it’s just science. To argue otherwise is just to argue for the sake of making a sale. Your heater, the metal parts of your auto cleaner – which should be a Polaris, by the way. The only thing intriguing about the Phantom is that there are still people who buy it - are all going to deteriorate on a much faster track than if your water had much, much lower choride levels (i.e., no salt). Period. It’s not a topic that needs further discussion. It Is Simply The Way Things Are.

You see, what you have to do is take a step back from the whole situation and take another perspective. And here is that perspective that’s vitally important that you see. About five or so years ago, the Manufacturer Reps came to the builders and told them, “I’ve got a New Gadget for your Sales Wheel. It’s going to put anywhere from $500 to an extra $1,000 in your pocket – that’s net, mind you, on the $1,500 to $2,000 Salt System sale – on every pool you build. And that’s going to boost your annual sales with us and you’re going to get even more money back at the end of the year because you spent an extra $1,000 with us on each pool you built. You’re going to love it.”

And they did, until the complaints started rolling in. So, now, they’re backing away from salt because they’re tired of paying for all that stone and concrete work. But they got used to that extra spot on the Sales Wheel, and without Salt, it’s empty. So, up jumps Ozone to fill the void. Why? Because the builders got used to the extra $1,000 a pool. If a guy’s doing a hundred pools a year, that’s a lot of profit to just walk away from.

So now, everybody’s selling Ozone. One little problem. In the Friday, September 28th issue of the Los Angeles Times, Section B, page B1, there was this little headline that read, “State bans home Ozone air purifiers”. The first paragraph of the article says, “The California Air Resources Board on Thursday banned popular in-home ozone air-purifiers, saying studies have found that they can worsen conditions such as asthma that marketers claim they help to prevent.”

Now, when I read that, it occurred to me how many times I’ve had my breath taken away when I popped the lid off a portable spa that was on and filtering and had an ozone generator – usually a UV ozonator. I had always attributed it to the chlorine or bromine. But California’s action here in dealing a blow to the Air Purifier industry makes me wonder if Ozonators for pools and especially for spas isn’t going to be next. I bring this up to point out that if you’re building a pool/spa combo, you’re going to be sitting in your spa with the ozonator running at max output, breathing the ozone (O3) that bubbles to the surface of the water. Don’t get me wrong; ozone is a great sanitizer. It is also an air pollutant. With the in-home air purifiers that California is banning, there “are reports of ozone being generated in someone’s living room… at levels equivalent to having a stage one smog alert right in your own house” (from the LA Times article) How is the ozone that bubbles up and is concentrated at the surface of your spa any different?

Google ozone and asthma and see how many and what quality of hits you get.

Like this:

Or this:

Now, those links represent the EPA and the Mayo Clinic, who both say that ozone exacerbates asthma, but I’m sure your pool builder will tell you “don’t worry, I’m sure they’re wrong”. That’s what they said about salt.

The bottom line is they were just looking for something to plug into the sales wheel where salt used to be, and ozone was standing there looking harmless and without any of the damaging structural side effects of salt, and so they’ve started selling it. They would no more take five minutes to Google any potential health risks associated with ozone exposure than they would fly to the moon.

So, once you’ve ungadgetized their bids, what you have left is running your pool on chlorine. Which will be just fine. We’ve been doing it for centuries. And granted, even chlorine comes with baggage. Google trihalomethanes and read up on their now proven link to cancer.

Like this:

Read the definition and then click on “3 Water Pollutants” in the Contents box.

Moving On… You should love DE. It’s the best filter media. But if you’re not willing to give DE another shot, then go with the cartridge filter. Get a big one, over 500 square feet. You’ll be cleaning it less often. And the cartridges are probably down around 20 microns, although they claim that they’ll filter down to 10 microns. For comparison, a DE is as low as 5 microns when properly coated. A sand filter is a waste of money. A properly laid sand bed is about a 30 to 50 micron filter. Algae particles can be a lot smaller than that and blow right through a sand filter.

Another problem with sand; to keep up with summer water temps and debris here in Texas, you pretty much have to run a sand filter 24 hours a day. Cartridges and DE, about half that much time or even less. That's at least a 50% energy savings on running that filter pump, which if it's a single speed, high horsepower pump to filter the water AND run those spa jets, is probably costing you about $120.00 a month with DE or cartridge filters. Double that for sand. Every month. Forever. If you bring this up with your builder, he'll take that opportunity to sell you on the new variable speed pumps that are out. They're brand new. The only thing I know after twenty-five years in the Pool Biz is; Never Be The Guinea Pig. You buy it, you own it, whether it works out or not.

All of the current crop of cartridge filters have their drawbacks. Jandy is famous for cracked manifolds and flaky, special order – read expensive - air relief assemblies. Lots of Haywards blow through the little equalization screen attached to the manifold and blow debris back into the pool. And you need to wear long sleeves when dealing with a Pentair tank after the first couple of years. It seems to decompose a bit and flake off fiberglass – or whatever it is – all over you. And their drain plugs tend to crack and weep, too.

I don’t know a lot about the Jandy PDA’s. I like wireless better than wired, but I don’t see the installation savings in not having to wire all the way from the equipment pad to the house and to the spa side being passed on to the homeowner. They just tend to charge more for the wireless systems, which honestly cost more, but they make even more with the reduced installation costs.

As far as the soil… Just try to keep the ground around your pool irrigated so that it doesn’t have a chance to dry out and contract away from the structure. Water more often during droughts and less often when it rains, and choose a builder who guarantees his structure against leaking for as long as you own the pool. That’s pretty standard stuff.

As far as the Horns, most of my friends are Horns fans, so I’m happy to see them happy when the Horns win. But me, I'm an NFL guy. A Raider Fan lost in Cowboy Country. It's a vile habit I picked up when I lived Out West, harder to kick than black tar heroin, but RIGHT NOW and until the end of the day Sunday, the Raiders are in first place in their Division, which is so NOT what all the experts predicted just a few short weeks ago, now is it? If you remember, it was supposed to be the Chargers. Objectively speaking, the Chargers had a good team and they had Marty Schottenheimer, who has very few shortcomings and was getting them closer and closer. But they fired him and hired Norv Turner, who is 59 and 85 as a head coach. He's had four winning seasons in his 9 going on 10 years of coaching, and 3 of those 4 were nothing more than one or two games above .500 ball. His worst seasons have been split equally among the Redskins and the Raiders, posting records like 3 & 13 and 4 & 12. And the guy the Chargers fired, Marty, was 14 & 2 last year with a 200 & 126 lifetime coaching record. Hell, even Art Shell has a better record than Norv Turner (56 & 52).God-That-Was-Such-A-Stupid-Move-I-Cant-Believe-It...

But what’s that got to do with pools, huh? Last but not least, if after all my heartfelt advise to STAY AWAY FROM SALT, you choose it anyway, make sure you bank every penny you’re supposedly saving on chlorine, because three years of running your pump like you’re going to run it to keep up with all those leaves and debris, you’re going to be popping for a new Salt Cell, which can cost as much as $600.

Because no matter what They say, There Is No Free Lunch.

Good Luck With Your Pool.


KWillyFly said...

Thank you so much for your website. I'm having my first pool built and nearly made the mistake of going with a SWG. I have a couple of questions related to this article.
From the research I've done it seems that ozone is a very good option for my inground vinyl pool. Have you done any more research on ozone since you wrote this article?
I believe a degas column would eliminate any gaseous ozone (bubbles) from entering the pipes, eliminating the health concerns related to breathing it. An eyeball or "salt and pepper" fitting on the dedicated return line from the ozone generator to the bottom of the pool should minimize any chance of ozone fading my liner (may not be an issue at all if a degas column is used). Ozone breaks down chloramines and allows a reduced level of residual chlorine in the pool. It also serves as a great flocculant - I might have to backwash my filter more often but only becuase I'm getting rid of more garbage from my pool.
I can't find any reliable information on serious drawbacks of ozone and I believe the benefits are proven and worth the up-front investment. I'm looking at a corona discharge unit from DEL and I realize I'll have to replace some parts every few years, so it won't be any cheaper than using just chlorine, but it shouldn't be much more since I'll be saving half or more of my chlorine expense each year versus using chlorine alone.
On a non-ozone note, what can you tell me about the Pentair Legend pressure-side auto cleaners compared to the Polaris you recommend? Should I have a dedicated booster pump installed?
How do I determine what size of DE filter I need? My pool will be in the 25,000 gal range. My builder installs a 300 pound sand filter as his standard filter.
How many skimmers and return inlets do I need? The perimeter will be a modified L shape with about 120 feet of perimeter and 800 square feet of surface area. My builder quoted me for one skimmer and two returns, but from my research it sounds like two skimmers and three returns would be better?
I really appreciate your help and I think many folks would benefit from the answers to these questions. It's so difficult to find unbiased info. Thanks in advance!

The Pool Guy said...


This is what I know about ozone. It is O3 (oxygen 3) as opposed to O2 (regular old oxygen). As O3, it is highly unstable, and will revert back to O2 within fifteen minutes. So, you can't create an ozone residual like you can a chlorine residual. This means that in order for you to have any real impact on 24 hour a day sanitation of your pool water, you'll have to run your pump 24 hours a day. So, how much more electricity will it cost you to do that? My customers (mostly 2 horsepower pumps on pool/spa combos) tell me their electrical costs is about $120 a month for the 10 hr a day runs we require here in Texas during the summer. That would be nearly $290 a month if they decided to run the pumps 24 hrs a day. Not only is it a waste of money, but it creates even more greenhouse gases, making your pool more environmentally unfriendly than it already is.

They always say that with an ozonator, you can run significantly lower chlorine levels, and while that might work WHILE YOUR PUMP IS RUNNING and you're actually creating ozone, what about 15 minutes after your pump turns off and all the ozone is gone, and you have 0.5 ppm free available chlorine and 10 neighbor kids in the pool?

I like Polaris over Letro. I like booster pump cleaners over non-booster assisted cleaners. Period. Hands Down. Every Time. There is no application where a cleaner without a booster pump is better IN MY MARKET, where return side booster driven cleaners in gunite pools rule. Not so much in other markets with less trees and more dust (think the desert southwest or Florida pools with an enclosure). In those places, it's suction side cleaner, which work great THERE and don't require a booster pump.

Polaris 280's clean my route pools better than Letros or Haywards or The-Also-Rans (which should rightfully include Hayward's cleaners). Maybe that's why Polaris has about 90% of the market and Letro has something less than 10.

Size your DE filter to your pump size. Your builder should take care of that detail. Without an attached spa, there's no need for you to have a huge pump (1 or 1.5 hp will be fine. Some foks even say 3/4 hp will get you by), so you don't need a huge filter. There are charts you can ask your builder to show you that size the pumps to the filters. Go with the middle of the envelope though, and not the smallest filter for the size pump your builder recommends. Think too about filter cycles. A larger filter won't hurt. It will present less back pressure, need less backwashing and less frequent filter teardowns and of all the options, it's one of the best places to spend a few extra bucks when building your pool.

You're right that 2 skimmers are better than one. More returns are better than less. But once again, it depends on your debris load. One skimmer is fine someplace like San Diego. Not so much in North Dallas.

Good luck with your pool.