Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great Thing About History...

I  love history. I read all the time, and four out of five times, the book you'll catch me reading is a history book. I think history is important. I think history teaches us all we need to know about the present. It's like the old saying, "those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it".

And, yes, I'm talking about Salt. You knew it was coming, right? Well, this blog - and my customer base -  are now old enough to start making some cyclic observations about Salt Damage.

I posted a photo a long time ago, when I first started talking about salt damage to the automatic cleaners - Polaris in particular, because that's what most of my customers have. The picture showed a rusty, chewed to the nub drive shaft on a Polaris 280 Black Max. Here it is again.

Polaris 280 drive shaft damage submitted by Park Cities Pools
Here's what I said the first time I posted about it:
"I pulled this Polaris 280 out of a pool on 2/11/06. It came out of a 30,000 gallon pebble finish pool with Oklahoma flagstone coping and decks and waterfall. This pool was brand new and fresh filled on 02/16/04. This pool also has a Zodiac Clearwater LM2-40 salt system. I had to replace the wheel bearings and the wheels when I replaced that drive shaft. At the time, this wasn’t happening to my other two year old Polaris cleaners, so I figured it was a combination of the bumpiness of the pebble finish, in conjunction with the salt, that caused that Stainless Steel Drive Shaft to last about as long as the plastic teeth on the wheel it was meshing with."

So now, just nearly three years later, I had to rebuild that cleaner again, and, you guessed it, the drive shaft was worn down. Here's the photo:

Polaris cleaner drive shaft submitted by Park Cities Pools
You can see how, once again, the teeth on the drive shaft are worn down to nubs. But notice anything different? Right. There's no rust. Now, the history of this part is that when it failed, I called Polaris and told them the story, how it was only a two year old cleaner and what a bone job it was that my customer was going to have to pay for that part. So, Polaris took a look at the photo I e-mailed them and put a part in the mail to me, even though it was a full year past the one year warranty on parts other than the frame. And I'm assuming that between the time that Polaris 280 was manufactured in the early part of 2004 and when they shipped that replacement drive shaft to me in 2006, they spec'd a higher grade stainless for their drive shaft.

Golly, I wonder why they would do that? I wonder, what was going on about that time that might have prompted them to go out looking for a higher grade stainless for their drive shafts? Oh, yeah, I remember! Salt! It was making a big splash - pun intended - back about that time.

Funny thing is, in 2006 all of the salt system manufacturers were telling you that guys like me were crazy and that what we were seeing we weren't really seeing, and if we were seeing it, it Wasn't Their Fault, or it was God's Will (commonly known as the Bible Belt Defense).

So, bottom line is that the higher grade stainless steel lasted almost exactly a year longer than the first drive shaft. But in the end, the chattering ass-whipping it took from the pebble finish on this pool did it in. But that's not bad. A 50% increase in the life of the part, in probably the most adverse conditions a pool cleaner can be put in; salt, a rough, bumpy surface, and water temps that range from 90 in the summer down to about 45 in the winter.

But notice in that picture there is still a patina of rust back toward the plastic turbine. Here's a picture of the other side of the drive shaft turbine:

Polaris drive shaft rusty pin submitted by Park Cities Pools
You can see that all the rust is emanating from the pin in the drive shaft turbine assembly. I showed a lot of pics of that back in the first post I did about rust damage to auto cleaners. And Polaris paid attention to history there, too. Here's a pic of side by side drive shafts from that post in April 2007, a year after they sent me that first warranty drive shaft:

side by side comparison of old and new style drive shafts submitted by Park Cities Pools

Conspicuous by it's absence is the pin in the turbine. Polaris gave up on the galvanic cell dissimilar metals thing and just started molding the turbine to the drive shaft, somewhere around the time that this picture was taken.

So, see? Here's a pool manufacturer doing what it can to re-engineer it's product to meet the demands of the harsher salt environment.

Now, if they could just figure out a way to get rid of the brass frame inserts that the stainless axle screws thread into, we'd be all set. Here's a repost of the pics I took back in April 2007 when I first started seeing frame insert failures:

Polaris 280 Black Max frame insert failures submitted by Park Cities Pools

Polaris 280 Black Max frame failure submitted by Park Cities Pools
You can see in the top pic how the inserts are just shards. The bottom pic shows where those shards came from. They just pulled right out of the frame, and the wheel - axle and all - came off. But, to their credit, Polaris has a 5 year frame warranty and every time I've called them with a frame failure they've stood behind their frame and sent me a new one, with exchange, free of charge.

Even outside of the five year warranty, the frame price is under $100.00 retail.

In sharp contrast, Letro cleaners have a 1 year warranty on every part, including the frame. Which isn't a big deal until the brass frame inserts pull out, which recently (October 2008) happened to one of my customer's Letro Legend Platinum Grey models. We've been taking care of that pool since it was new, too. It filled in June 2005. So, the frame inserts lasted 3 years and 4 months on a smooth plaster surface. Imagine my surprise when I looked up the cost of a new frame for that cleaner and found that it was 140% of the cost of a whole new Letro Legend Platinum Grey cleaner with hose. That's right; 140% of the cost of a whole cleaner.

Letro is owned by Pentair, and Pentair makes a salt system, too. So, you'd think they would know there are issues with these brass inserts and stainless steel screws. And you'd think that, like Polaris, they'd step up and take care of frame failures due to deterioration of the brass inserts. I mean, the brass inserts are the only way I can imagine the frame failing, short of stripping the cleaner down and taking a ball peen hammer to it. So, you'd think they'd be extending a little more of a helping hand than, in essence, saying, "Sorry about that, but thank you for playing Beat The One Year Warranty".

On the other hand, there's lots of things about Pentair that I like. When I have to replace a pump, most times I'll sell my customers the Pentair Challenger. It's been around forever, and except for those darned tabs on the pump basket handle, it's the best, longest lasting, easiest to fix pump on the market. And I could rave all day about the Sta Rite Max-E-Therm & Pentair Master Temp heaters. If you have a heater, it ought to be one of those.

But that's why - in my continuing series of Making Salt Work for your pool - I recommend that if you have a return side cleaner, you're WAY better off, and will receive a whole lot more support from the manufacturer, if that cleaner is a Polaris.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Making Salt Work

Did I say that? No, it can't be. Can it? 

Has the Pool Guy flipped his lid? Has he gone over to the Dark Side? The truth is, neither. But, contrary to industry opinion, I am a realist. And after all these years of fighting the Good Fight, I think it's time to admit that Salt Is Here To Stay.

I didn't say that was a Good Thing. I said it was A Reality. A Sad Reality. But A Reality nonetheless.

So, after a long hiatus, I'm back with suggestions on how to make your salt system work for you. I still think you ought to remove it from your pool. But if you're sold on your salt system and you just Gotta Have It, then stay tuned to The Pool Biz for articles on how to make it's integration work for you.

In that vein, some time ago, I wrote to the folks at the one of the Diving Board manufacturers - Interfab - and asked them if, in light of all that's gone down with salt over these last several years, they had developed any products that would be more salt compatible. Diving Board folks in general took about the biggest hit on any of the manufacturers that were affected by the salt craze. Imagine being them; three or four years of covering warranty in an environment you never foresaw - the 3500 ppm salt environment - and just when you're getting your feet back under you from that, with a new line of products designed to weather the salt storm, you wake up to the worst economy since 1932. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed.

But, when I asked them, toward the end of last summer, which were definitely rosier times, this is what they said:

"We DO in fact have products that are more salt friendly than others and would certainly mitigate rust in a salt pool environment. Products that we would promote for use in a salt pool environment include the following products:

Edge Diving System (NEW)
T7 Diving System
X-Stream Slide
G-Force Slide
Sacrificial Zinc Anode (NEW)
Powder Coated Rail Goods

As always, we’d have to stress to customers that there is no guarantee against rust or corrosion in a salt pool environment. By taking steps to ensure proper pool water/salt chemistry, that any return jets are pointed away from any in-pool rail goods, and that any necessary product maintenance is performed, you can certainly help diminish the risk of rust.

The diving set up that you saw in our counter brochure is called the Edge Diving System™. [Ed. note: I had written and asked about that system in particular. You should take a look at it. It's a unique approach to keeping the salt from corroding the diving board base]  It was specifically designed to replace all of the rusting steel Techni-Spring diving bases, and our competitor’s product equal, that are out in the field. The Edge Diving System is comprised of composite materials and fits the same 12” on center jig as the steel Techni-Spring base. I have attached both a photo of a rusty steel Techni-Spring base and an Edge Diving System for reference."

Salt Damaged Interfab Techni-Spring base. Photo supplied by Interfab

Interfab Edge Diving System. Photo supplied by Interfab

Now, take a look at the second photo, of the Techni-Spring base. It beats the salt by not attaching the base fasteners where the salt water can pool and lay and work it's corrosive magic on the threads. I mean, let's face it, if your jig is buried in the cement of your deck, with the fastening studs projecting up out of that, and the threads of those fastening studs are down at deck level where they can be compromised by the corrosion wrought by salty water, then you're looking at breaking up that deck to replace that jig. So, if you attach the base to those fastening studs about 10 or 12 inches above deck level, then you've put those threads somewhere that it's impossible for the salty water to pool around. It's hard to see where those bolts attach in that photo, you can click on it to enlarge it. Then, look where the spring is attached to the composite base. You'll see the rubber nut caps. That's where it fastens.

Here's a link to the T7 install PDF. Page 9 shows a very good photo of a cutaway of the base and the fasteners. See how they've moved all the attaching hardware off of deck level? Brilliant in it's simplicity.

They go on to say: "The T7 Diving System, X-Stream Slide and G-Force Slide are all upgraded products that are comprised of composite materials and very suitable for salt pools.... This year [2008], we started offering a sacrificial zinc anode, which we designed specifically to fit most residential pool ladders and rails. (1.90” OD) We recommend the use of the anode on any pool rail that comes in contact with the pool water. (Deck to stair rails, pool ladders, etc.) The anode is installed below the waterline and is in direct contact with the metal that it will protect. Generally, only one anode is required, however, if a pool ladder has plastic treads, you will need an anode for each 'arm' of the ladder since the plastic tread will not maintain the current flow. I have attached a PDF copy of the bag card that comes with the anode, along with a couple of photos of an actual anode."

Interfab zinc anode. Submitted by Interfab

Interfab zinc anode. Submitted by Interfab

They make a very important point there; if a pool ladder has plastic treads, you will need an anode for each arm of the ladder since the plastic tread will not maintain the current flow. What's interesting about this is how much we've all had to learn in order to deal with adding salt to pool water. These are engineering concerns that didn't need to be addressed before salt came along. Now they're part of ladder design, for example. Each action like this drives the cost of engineering, of the end product and, in the end, the final price tag for the whole pool. And we haven't even talked yet about maintenance, which will be in upcoming blog pieces.

Still think your salt system is cheaper than conventional chlorine? Read on:

"Lastly, powder coated rails offer yet another layer of protection against rust and corrosion for pool rails. The layer of powder coat paint acts as a barrier between the elements and the stainless steel rail. One thing to mention is that if a powder coated pool rail is winterized and continually pulled in and out of the anchor sockets, the risk of paint chips and scratches increases which expands the risk of rust at those damaged paint areas. For optimum rail protection, a powder coated rail in conjunction with a sacrificial zinc anode is the best way to go."

Powder coated rails. They're very effective, and they're beautiful, too. But they are not inexpensive, and you need to consider those costs as part of the price of maintaining your pool when a salt system is installed.

So, as you can see, I'm not selling out here. I'm not saying Salt's Great and I'm not shilling for a ladder manufacturer - although I think these folks have the best idea so far about how to keep that salty water away from their hardware.

Bottom line is I'm still against the idea of you putting salt in your pool. But if you do, do it right, and spend the money you need to spend so that a year from now you don't have a rusty mess on your hands.