Friday, March 13, 2009

The Trouble With Heaters, Take III (Updated 5/15/10)

I don’t know if many of you watched The Daily Show last night. Jim Cramer, that bald headed liar from Mad Money went on Jon Stewart’s show and did everything but crawl across hot coals on his hands and knees to plead his mea culpa for all the years he spent manipulating markets for a Fast Buck as a hedge fund manager, followed by his recent stint on TV where he and his ilk have led the Average Investor to the Slaughter for Big Business.

Stewart gave him Hell, and all Cramer did was sit there and grin like an idiot and take it, nod and shrug his agreement with everything Jon said, which included that some of Cramer’s pronouncements of how to manipulate stock prices bordered on the criminal.

It was Great! And it dovetails nicely with another bit of news I came across this past week. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE and world renowned Corporate Cutthroat has repented. Here’s a link to a
recent Financial Times article where the managerial guru now says, “"On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world… Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy . . . Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.

You see, there’s been a culture for many years in this country, a global culture, actually, a culture that was lionized by the success of Jack Welch in particular, to drive shareholder value as your only guiding principal. Everything was subordinate to that. Everything was based on how it affected shareholder value, which was a combination of stock price and dividends returned to the shareholder.

Now, the Man Who Made It Famous has recanted. He has seen the errors of his way and prostrated himself before the international financial press and acknowledged his errors.

You know, you can see the ripple effect of that philosophy in our industry, especially with our swimming pool heaters. A quick study of heater warranties over the last 8 or so years yields all you need to know of how our manufacturers were infected by the Shareholder Value phenomenon. You see, since the advent of salt systems, heater warranties have plummeted from a typical 5 years for most everything in the box, except for a 2 year warranty on a short list of items that included the heat exchangers, to a one year limited warranty. Under the old warranty, the headers, the devices on either end of the heat exchanger that hold it together, were traditionally warranted for 5 years.

It’s a Cause and Effect kind of a thing. Salt comes along, heater problems skyrocket – I’ll cite particulars to back up that claim in a minute – and the result is a scramble to protect shareholder value by paring down the warranty to an innocuous one year, leaving their customers twisting in the wind.

That’s been our culture for many years. You Go Along to Get Along. If Hayward dumps a dog of a cleaner on the market - and they did - the worst thing anybody says is Nothing. If Jandy marries up a heater to a salt system on a pool and the salt causes the heater to have a failure mode that is absolutely beyond doubt the problem of the salt, unless Jandy makes note of it in a tech bulletin, you Say Nothing.

Until recently, all of this has been a successful model for driving shareholder value. Let’s look at the effects of this by taking a closer look at heater warranties.

The standard warranty on, for example, the Jandy LT/LX heater is one year, and when you read the warranty on the last page of the Owner’s Manual, it lists several exclusions, and #3 on that list of exclusions is:

“Not maintaining a proper chemical balance in your pool and/or spa [pH level between 7.2 and 7.8, Total Alkalinity (TA) between 80 to 120 ppm, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) less than 2000].”

With Hayward, their warranty is also one year, and as restrictive as Jandy's (see Hayward Onwer's Manual page 14). Under Exceptions, they state: Leakage substantially contributed to by sediment, lime precipitate and/or higher than normal dissolved solids (pH above 7.8) in the tank, copper tubes or waterways".

Higher than normal dissolved solids (pH above 7.8) leaves a lot to the interpretation of whoever shows up to field your complaint. Most salt pools will have constant excursions into the range of 7.8 and above. That's the nature of the beast. So, it's hard to say what they intend with this exclusion.

In their warranty information, Raypak provides a one year warranty, and excludes the situation of "not maintaining a proper chemical balance (PH level must be between 7.4 and 7.8 and total alkalinity between 100 and 150 PPM. Total dissolved solids (TDS) must be no greater than 3000 PPM)".

Pentair has the worst availability for warranty information. They don't post any warranty information anywhere in the public domain. They just say that the warranty info is included on a card that's inside the box when you buy the heater. I don't particularly feel like buying a heater to complete this blog piece.

I have several Pentair and Teledyne Laars (now Jandy) heater Owner’s Manual from as recently as 2003 and in it they specified the industry standard, at the time, 5 year/2 year warranty that I discussed earlier.

What’s particularly tricky here is navigating the water chemistry parameters in light of the addition of salt to as much as 35% of the pools out there. They’ve stuck with their pre-salt water chemistry parameters for TDS. Jandy is less than 2,000 ppm, Raypak is less than 3,000 ppm, Hayward is “higher than normal” and Pentair is unknown. In fact, Jandy makes a point in there 2003/04 LX/LT Owner’s Manual of pointing out that their water chemistry concentration levels are taken from Basic Pool & Spa Technology published by NSPI. NSPI doesn’t exist today. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) has taken their place as the industry recognized advisors on water chemistry standards.

APSP’s thinking on TDS has evolved quite a bit since salt came along. They used to say 3,000 ppm was the upper limit for TDS. Then, they decided that didn’t give enough allowance for the minimum 3,500 ppm salt (TDS) required for those systems. So they amended it to be 1,500 ppm above Start Up level. In other words, if you had 400 ppm TDS tap water, and you added 3,500 ppm salt (more TDS) to it, then your Start UP level would be 3,900 ppm. So your upper limit for that pool would be 5,400 ppm TDS. That’s what APSP and RWQ (Recreational Water Quality) folks say. And they are the industry recognized experts.

Read all about
APSP's take on TDS & salty water HERE

But swimming pool heater manufacturers have stuck with 2,000 and 3,000 ppm TDS limits. Salt is definitely part of TDS, so it's hard to imagine that any of these heaters would be covered for any warranty issues related to high TDS. But that’s okay, because they’ve reduced the length of the warranty from the old 5/2 year warranty to one year only.

Do you see the pattern emerging here? They’ve done a brilliant job of protecting shareholder value at the expense of the reputation of their products and at the expense of their customers.

The thing that feeds into this, the Smoking Gun, as it were, comes from the heater manufacturers themselves, when they started offering cupro nickel heat exchanger upgrades on some of their swimming pool heaters right in the middle of the Salt Storm. You see, heat exchangers have turned out to be the most expensive failure items with salt. That and a few other components I’ll talk about later. The heat exchangers fail mainly through the mechanisms of impingement corrosion and erosion corrosion.

I would say that in Texas – at least in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – more than 90% of the pools are built with a heater. Mostly those heaters are 400,000 BTU gas fired heaters. They last anywhere from 7 to 10 years – unless of course it’s a Hayward H400 or a Pentair Mini Max Lo NOX TSI. If you have one of those, your mileage will definitely vary, if-ya-know-what-I-mean. But then, after many years of faithful, or not so faithful service, your heater breaks and the Repair Pool Guy tells you it’s going to be “about $1,000” to get it back in shape. That’s when you have to decide whether you want to be the proud owner of a well maintained Classic Heater, or you buy a new one or – and we hate it when you go this way – you decide you can live without a heater.

If it’s a pool only, then it’s usually live without. If it’s a pool/spa with a computer, then you might be the kind of folks who use your spa enough to cough up the $3,000 for a new heater, installed.

I wrote a
blog piece back HERE about a pool owner who uses his pool every day, and that means that with our Dallas weather, he’s using his heater about 6 months of the year. Since he has a salt system, he goes through heaters about every three years, instead of the 7 to 10 years that non-salt pool owners get out of theirs. But he loves that salt. And we love selling him heaters, and we did advise him that he could make them last longer if he just got rid of that salt – commonly referred to as Due Diligence, something often lacking in this, and most other industries – but, like I said, he loves that salt. So, it’s a match made in heaven.

So, three of the heater manufacturers (Raypak, Hayward & Pentair) have added the option to upgrade to a cupro nickel heat exchanger to combat the Impingement/Erosion Corrosion. The heat exchanger is the part of the heater that the water actually flows through. You heat up the finned metal tubing that constitutes the heat exchanger with an open flame, and that makes the water hot. Used to be they were all made of copper. Inexpensive, long lasting copper. Not so much any more.

The reason they’re offering cupro nickel is that a standard copper heat exchanger isn’t designed to stand up to the flow rate of water that has 3,500 ppm salt plus background TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). By that, I mean everything else that’s in the water; calcium, manganese, stabilizer, etc. That’s what I was saying earlier about how the heater manufacturers haven’t amended their position on TDS, even though all of those manufacturers except Raypak also sell a line of salt chlorine generators.

About a year ago, I was communicating with someone who has been a frequent contributor - on background – to this blog. I asked him what he knew about Impingement/Erosion corrosion, the type of corrosion your heater suffers from when the TDS of the water goes too high for your flow rate. And this is what he said then, quoting from the text of a water chemistry seminar he had attended:

“The actual text… is ‘Erosion itself is not corrosion. However, even mildly abrasive conditions may remove a corrosion film from a surface which is protective of a substrate, thus exposing a fresh metal to corrode and thereby accelerate damage. In fresh water pools it is known that flow-rates above 7 to 8 ft/sec will erode copper piping and may remove a protective film from the substrate's surface exposing fresh metal to corrode, accelerating the damage… TDS will accelerate both the galvanic and erosion deterioration processes. High TDS will allow more electric currents to be conducted and will cause copper piping to erode at flow rates in excess of 2.3 ft/sec.’ ”

You see, a certain amount of corrosion can be a good thing. Take copper, for instance. We’ve all seen how a copper portico will weather and turn green with age. That green is a form of corrosion, a tarnish that develops and seals the surface, protecting the underlying strata from any further corrosion. Or like the black tarnish that shows up on silver. That’s oxidation. And what are other names for oxidation? Rust. Corrosion. That’s why ships at sea will use a lot of brass. Because the brass will get that same green tarnish that copper gets – because brass is mostly copper – and that tarnish protects it. On commercial vessels, that’s why they don’t polish their brass. I remember in the Navy we used to polish the brass all the time. “Work it May, Shine it Must” was what they used to tell us. All that effort defeated the purpose of why brass was chosen in the first place. Yet another reason why the term Naval Intelligence in an oxymoron.

So, when you’ve got a 2 horsepower pump pushing 5,000 ppm TDS water through a copper heat exchanger at velocities in excess of 2.3 ft/sec, you start stripping off that protective coating. The result, over time, is a failed copper heat exchanger.

The other thing that is going on is Galvanic Corrosion, also known as Stray Current Corrosion, which I’ve talked about ad nauseam elsewhere in this blog (see the Label Stray Current Corrosion to your right).

So, it’s better for your salt pool if you make sure that the next heater you buy has a cupro nickel heat exchanger. That will make it more resistant to the effects of impingement, or erosion, corrosion.

Another factor, and in fact A Very Big Factor, is your style of heat exchanger. There are two types out there.

The first, and most common type is where a bundle of parallel tubes sits over the burner tray. The water shoots straight down the first tube, makes a 180 degree turn and shoots straight back up the next tube, another 180 degree turn and etc, usually for nine tubes.

The second type is where a coil of copper or cupro nickel tubing is wrapped around a burner tray, with the water navigating a constant curve through the heat exchanger.

The second type is better. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a link to the
ASM Handbook where they talk about these forms of corrosion.

In here they say that most impingement or erosion corrosion damage “occurs first at locations where directions of flow changes, such as elbows or U-bends. Large radius bends are less susceptible to such damage”.

So, here are the heaters that offer the second type of heat exchanger, the one without the 180 degree U-bends, the ones with the coiled tubing around the burner tray, also known as the “large radius bends”:

Sta Rite Max E Therm & Pentair Master Temp.

That’s it. They are, in fact, the same heater. I’m not saying that Pentair bought Sta Rite just so they could get their hands on the Sta Rite heater and put it in a crème colored box, but Pentair bought Sta Rite just so they could get their hands on the Sta Rite heater and put it in a crème colored box.

A Very Good Move.

They’re both great heaters. I have heard of heat exchanger failures with these heaters at the inlet/outlet plate with salt pools, and I heard that from someone who's reputation is sterling in relating data to me about frequent and common failures in pool equipment, but that’s not been my direct experience with the heater.

But, once again, referring to the ASM Handbook, page 999: "When impingement attack occurs in heat exchangers... it is usually confined to a short distance on the inlet end of the tube where the fluid flow is turbulent". That's exactly what my source with the sterling reputation has been telling me.

And now this heater comes with a cupro-nickel upgrade. Your pool professional may not even know about it yet. It's not yet stocked at the wholesale distributors. It's the Catch-22 of distribution; in order for them to regularly stock something, they have to have a history of orders for it. But for you to get something they don't normally stock you have to pay freight from the manufacturer. Add the extra cost of the cupro-nickel heat exchanger and you are probably talking several hundred dollars more. But it's worth every penny.

The Sta Rite Max E Therm & Pentair Master Temp heaters are the best, most reliable heaters on the market. Hands down. And now, with the cupro-nickel heat exchanger upgrade, they earn the first ever Pool Guy Seal of Approval.

Anybody who reads this blog regularly knows that I've never said many nice things about any pool equipment manufacturer's stuff, so this really is a big deal.

I love this heater. And with cupro-nickel, I recommend it.

EDIT 5/15/10: Since I wrote this, yet another Master Temp has failed on one of my salt pools. First the thermostat failed, then the heat exchanger. All within the first year. They had a salt system that required 3,000 ppm. So, then, I took a hard look at everything we were doing on this pool to see what it could be that was contributing to the problem. The local Pentair guy told my heater repairman that he had seen that a lot of companies were running chlorine tabs in the skimmers during the winter and he thought it was probably this. But I take the tablets away from my guys in the winter. It's a real easy way for me to get the stabilizer level down to normal on my tab pools. The guys don't have tabs to use anywhere, so the result is that by spring, after the rains, I have pretty normal stabilizer levels going into summer. During the winter we just add a little cal hypo each week. Our water here is soft (120 ppm calcium from the tap on average), so the extra calcium is usually not an issue.

The reason the Rep thought that guys might be using tabs in the winter is that, when the pool water gets down to 50 or 55 degrees, the systems stop making chlorine. You see, they measure the conductivity of the water to determine the salinity level of the pool, and when the water gets cold, it changes that value enough that at 55 and below, the conductivity measurement is so far out of bed that it can't be used. And the water's so cold that the pool hardly needs chlorine anyway, so it's not a bad thing that it shuts off. But since it does, it requires that small amounts of any other chlorine product be used to keep the chlorine level up. I guess some guys out there drop a tab in the skimmer. But we don't, for the reason I stated.

Then, I got a call from a friend of mine asking me to talk with another pool service company owner here in Dallas about a Master Temp that he's put several heat exchangers on, the last one the cupro nickel that I was so high on last year. The cupro nickel lasted two years. All of the copper ones before that (four in all) lasted a year or less - just like what I saw. I talked to the pool company owner for awhile and we kicked around the idea that the only thing we didn't know in these situations and the only part of all of this that was really out of our control was stray current corrosion.

It reminded me of something I'd read online at an APSP forum, a post by Rod Ogilve:

"...I have an interesting story. First let me tell you a little back ground, we have a water table average of 4' to 5' deep. Virtually every pool has well points. OK, this problem started 9 or so months ago. A customer called to tell me their salt pool has a problem with stray voltage. Whenever they touch the hand rail, they get a little shock. I did not build the pool, but I know the electrician and know the bonding was done correctly. I first checked the obvious to no avail. Eventually, I took up the deck and found the bonding wire to be OK. I installed a copper mat under the deck to increase the grid. This did not help. I had the power company come out and tested everything. They could not find a problem. We drained the pool to get rid of the salt, and the problem was reduced 90% but not perfect. The owners gave up and decided that is life. I have always ran this through my head as to why we could not find the cause. Two weeks ago I drove by just to check, and while I was there, a man drove up and asked if I knew anything about submersible well pumps. I asked him where he lived, and he was about 1/2 mile away. I went over to his house and pulled the pump out of the well casing and noticed the wires at the pump were exposed to the water. I told him to call and get another pump and have it installed. The pool customer called the next day to ask how I fixed the problem on the pool. Would you believe the stray voltage was traveling 1/2 mile and manifesting itself at the pool. I found out today the power company had a faulty ground on a pole, so the voltage was going the pool because it was the best ground in the area due to the faulty power company ground. Well, the pool now is full of salt again, and the customer is happy (at least for now :) "

Rod Ogilve is a very well respected pool builder. He's APSP CPB (Association of Pool & Spa Professionals Certified Pool Builder) and so, as far as pool experts go, he's about as good as it gets.

Here's a link to the whole thread. It's mostly pool builders like Rod who have posted to it. The majority consensus is that salt sucks. There are some great horror show photos of salt damage to stone and slate that rival anything I ever posted in this blog. You ought to take a look:

So, getting back to the Master Temp heaters. I still like the Master Temp for any application but salt. I no longer have a recommendation for a heater with a salt system. I strongly believe that there are too many other variables - like the bonding grid throughout a neighborhood and the opportunity for stray currents to be amplified by the more conductive salt water - that you can't control.

Another Flash Bulletin: All of Hayward's heaters now have a Cupro Nickel heat exchanger. You can no longer buy a Hayward heater with a copper heat exchanger. But still, if you ask any Big 3 Rep if salt has an adverse effect on heat exchangers, they will tell you no. And if you come to a Rep with a heat exchanger problem due to salt, he'll tell you he doesn't have this problem with any other installer, it's all your fault, something you're doing or something your guys are doing, like putting tabs in the skimmers.

And the most incredible thing to me is that they do all of this with a straight face. They tell us there's no problem with salt WHILE THEY UPGRADE THEIR HEATERS TO A MORE SALT RESISTANT METAL.

Okay, fine... Back to the blog post:

A new heat exchanger installed is over $1,000.00, and I’ve been noticing a lot of people that got to this blog by Googling for “damaged heat exchanger salt pool”, or variations on that theme. So, it is a worthy investment.

And here’s the Smoking Gun I was talking about. In December, 2006, Hayward had a brochure on their H400 heaters that read: “Cupro nickel is a supremely resilient material that provides product durability and longevity. Cupro nickel aligns well with today’s popular salt -based systems and offers outstanding corrosion resistance".

Yet their warranty as of today is that “higher than normal dissolved solids (pH above 7.8)” will void your one year limited warranty.

These are all things that, once again, dovetail nicely into protecting shareholder value. But over time, as all major corporations are learning the shortcomings of shareholder values as a strategy, it has adversely affected the reputation of their products and the patience of their customers.

Here are some of the real tragedies that have arisen out of Heaters with Salt:

The Jandy LT & LX heaters have a dry well for the high limit switches. The way it works is that these brass dry wells are set into the plastic inlet/outlet header and the high limit switches are pressed against that brass surface. That way, as the water rushes through the header, it’s heat will be transferred to these switches via the brass dry well. That keeps the high limit switch dry so that it won’t become corroded while still allowing it to accurately sense the water temperature. This is how we avoid a runaway heater. If the temperature of the water gets up to 135 degrees, then the first switch will turn off the heater. And if that part fails, then the second high limit will turn it off when it reaches 150 degrees. It’s a great system and all heaters have similar safety devices.

If you look in the Jandy LX/LT Owner’s Manual, you won’t find any mention of the brass wells. On the parts diagram, they show an exploded view of the inlet/outlet header, and they picture the high limit switch assembly. But no brass wells. So, why is all this important?

Because if you put this heater on a pool with a salt system, especially the salt system that Zodiac makes because it uses 4,000 ppm salt, which is even more corrosive than the 3,500 ppm that most of the others use, my experience is that within a year or two, you’ll have your first high limit failure. The threads of the brass well fail and allow water, salty water, to enter into the dry well and corrode the high limit switches. Not a big deal, right? Just replace the high limits and you’re back in business. Problem is, the next time it happens is sooner than the last time. And the next time is sooner than that, etc. You see, the corrosion on the threads gets worse and worse.

So, what’s a mother to do? Well, if you talk to Jandy, at first they tell you to replace the header. But when you price it out and figure that with labor you’re looking at somewhere near $1,000.00 for the job, you call them back and tell them that you’ll recommend your customer buy a different heater before you do that. Then they tell you about this little kit they have, called the LX/LT Sensor Stud Assembly Replacement Kit, Part Number R0383200. It’s carded for easy display. How funny is that? A part that’s not even detailed in the Owner’s Manual, but they had enough call for it that they carded it for wall display.

You order the kit and go take the heater apart, and I mean take it completely apart to get to this thing, and you put the new brass dry well in and you replace the corroded high limits, too, and you’re done for around $350 to $450, depending on how fast you work and what your labor rates are.

Then, in a year or two you get to do it again.

That’s why I strongly recommend against installing a Jandy LT or LX heater anywhere you have a salt system installed.

Now, people will say, “Hey, Pool Guy. Where do you get off badmouthing a perfectly good heater because someone told you they saw something happen on a pool somewhere?”

Allow me to retort: I have 16 pools on service with LT heaters. 13 of them have salt systems and the other three have tablet feeders. I got all those pools on service when they were brand new. Since I put them on service, 11 of the salt pools have had high limit failures, most of them numerous times. None of the pools with tablet feeders have had high limit failures. Fortunately, most of the failures occurred during the three year extended warranty that comes with a new pool when all the equipment is from a single manufacturer. But now they’re all out of warranty and the homeowners are facing these annual repair bills, with no end in sight. Their options are about $150 to $185 per occurrence for high limit switch failures, $350 to $450 per occurrence for dry well & high limit switch replacement, or about $1,000 for inlet/outlet header replacement, or about $3,000 to buy a new heater that doesn’t have this problem.

Now, I’m just a pool cleaner. And my ethic has always been to never sell anything to a customer that isn’t going to work out for them, and if I inadvertently do, go back and clean up my mess. Because just as Jack Welch and Jim Cramer and all the guys at Bear Stearns and AIG et al are finally starting to understand, your main constituencies are your customers and your products.

You see, these are the things that irritated me the most about the Salt Revolution; how cavalierly they threw salt water at pool heaters. It was good for quarterly profitability and for Hitting the Numbers. But, it turns out, not good for much else.


newbie101 said...

Interesting article, thanks. However I do notice in the Jandy Manual under Spring Start-up Maintenenace you must add 5cc of SAE50 non-detergetn oil to the copper line before you attach it to the pressure switch. This would in fact prevent salt water from reaching the pressure switch and thus prevent corrosion of it. How often is this being done?

The Pool Guy said...

An excellent point, newbie, and one I've never considered.

Here in Texas, we don't winterize our pools or our heaters and so there is no Spring Start-up, per se, and we never get to that chapter.

I can honestly say that I don't know a single service or repairman that does that.

I will, however, poll people I know who attend the Jandy heater school each year - considered the best and most thorough pool heater school out there - and see if that's being taught. It was never mentioned back In The Day when I was a full time repairman and attended the school each year.

Too, I will go back and look at my old Teledyne Laars (now Jandy) heater books and see if that was recommended in the days before salt systems were everywhere.

The Pool Guy said...

Hey, newbie! Nice work. You fooled The Pool Guy. But only for a minute. So, where at Zodiac/Jandy do you work?

How did I guess?

First; I never mentioned pressure switches in this post. Only an insider would know that salt is eating them up too.

Second; I just downloaded the LXI and LX/LT owner's manuals and searched for Spring Startup and nowhere in the spring startup procedures do they mention anything about 5cc's of oil in the copper line. Nice idea though. Is that coming out as a tech bulletin soon?

Being a Zodiac/Jandy shill, I figure you'd know.

newbie101 said...

Hey, no need for attacks here. I'm just a first time pool owner who has taken on the care and maintenance myself. I find that by actually reading manuals I have learned more than some pool builders. You will find the part about Spring Start-up in the Low NOx manual page 31 sec 8.2.3.
Hope this helps...

The Pool Guy said...

I think it's still even money that you're in the industry, probably working at or for Zodiac. Like I said, I never mentioned pressure switches in my blog piece about heaters. And the manual doesn't say to add the oil as a preventative to salt attack. That's a big leap for a homeowner to make. Almost like you've seen those corroded pressure switches, or at least read the warranty reports.

You're either the smartest consumer I've ever chatted with, or you're a Zodiac/Jandy shill.

Either way, it's good information and it's welcome here. I will point it out to the people I know selling Jandy heaters.

Too bad they still have those pesky header failures due to the dry well corrosion, and too bad Jandy is still the only mfg that doesn't provide a cupro-nickel upgrade heat exchanger for salt pools.

newbie101 said...

I have a degree in Medical Technology and I repair hospital laboratory instruments for a living. Most of which are 10 times more complicated than any of my pool equipment. In my field you learn to read the manuals:)

The Pool Guy said...

So, why does a guy who lives in CT, a state that doesn't mandate Low NOx heaters, read manuals for heaters only required in California and, up until last year, Texas?

Oh, and thanks for the mini-drama today. It's all about the page views. Know what I mean?

Pool Centre said...

Congratulations on an excellent blog site. To the casual observer this site may seem like one man's rant against chlorine generation using salt. I see it more as a presentation of the facts, and offering some balance against the marketing hype and BS that comes from the G7.

However,if after all the evidence is presented and this blog is considered "one man's rant" then count me in and make it two.

As an industry professional for over 25 years, I can only concur with much of what is written on this site. In our business way up in Canada, we are one of the few retail and service stores that have NEVER sold a SWG or 1 bag salt. EVER...

But we deal with the lost souls who have purchased these systems from builders and Big Boxes all year long. Now the spa manufacturer's are getting into the game. Yikes..

Anyways...years ago all manuals for the Teledyne heaters, indicated that when the pressure switch was disconnected, for any reason,some oil needed to be inserted in the copper tube,as most likely some or all oil would leak out from the disconnecting of the pressure switch.

I used to carry a sewing machine oiler and recharge the tubes with oil and reconnect the switch during the spring start up, or when I R/R'd the pressure switch.

Nothing new here,just one of the G7boilerplating their warranty from salt. Newbie101 is worried about oil, what about the heat exchanger???

The Pool Guy said...

Thank you, Pool Centre, for your encouragement and validation.

It's funny, when I'm visiting with other poolguys waiting their turn at the suppliers, and the subject of salt comes up, I ask them if they've read the blog, and often the answer is yes, and often their sentiments about salt mirrors what I say here. Those of us on the working end of these systems still wish they'd kept this "revolutionary technology" Down Under.

Thanks again for your kind words.

Good insight about the oil. Like I said in an earlier post, the only time we disconnect a pressure switch down here in Texas is when we're going to replace it. Very few pools winterize in the sunbelt. So, it's not something that is common knowledge down here.

And a very good point about the heat exchanger. That's why I recommend to all my customers contemplating salt to get a heater with a cupro nickel heat exchanger. It costs more initially, but ought to save a bundle over time.

The craziest part is that no matter how many times I have that conversation, and tell them about decks and coping and rail and ladder and light damage, they still want a salt system. Usually because their neighbor, or the guy at work, has it.

Talk about Lemmings.

PawsForThought said...

Thanks for your article. Very interesting! Just curious, but if SWG's are so bad, then why don't you hear about more heaters constantly breaking down in systems with SWG's? I think the PH balance is more important, and also if you have the SWG after the heater, have a backflow switch (I think that's what it's called) then it will be fine.

You mentioned Starite and Pentair heaters but don't really say anything about the Raypak with a cupro nickel exchanger. Are the Raypak as good?

The Pool Guy said...

Paws asks, "if SWG's are so bad, then why don't you hear about more heaters constantly breaking down in systems with SWG's?"

We do, Paws. We do. Those of us in the business do anyway. If you're not someone who routinely takes heater repair calls, how would you know whether salt systems result in more damage to heaters?

You wouldn't. But that doesn't stop you from coming to the brilliant conclusion that it must be the pH and not the salt, even though everyone with a salt system in their pool can attest to the fact that the last thing you ever experience with a salt system is low pH. Salt systems result in generally higher pH water, and the only thing that higher pH water does is scale. It doesn't burn through heat exchangers. It scales them.

But like I said in the article, if you'd bothered to read it all the way through and click on the references, the main component of damage from sat systems is due to impingement corrosion, a result of the higher TDS water, and something that the cupro nickel headers help to stave off.

It is always amazing to me how people can read an article, click on references to things like the ASM handbook and the APSP's technical data on high TDS water, and then decide that because they haven't seen headlines shouting, "US Economy Reels Under Strain of Salt Damage to Pool Heaters", and because all the fools who inhabit the pool forums aren't talking about it, then it must be the pH.

You need to stop listening to the Gurus who hold forth from the comfort of the Sales Office or the Pool Store and start listening to people who work in the field with these salt boxes if you want to know anything about what's really happening out there.

PawsForThought said...

Ok, well sorry to upset you. That was not my intent. But I do post in a lot of pool forums (which are comprised of both industry and pool owners) and I don't see a lot of heater problems in people with SWG's. In fact, I rarely see them. Yes, I know forums aren't the same as the industry, but I still think it's a valid point. Who knows, I could be completely wrong.

But anyway, you never did answer my question of the Raypak digital heater with a cupro nickel exchanger. Any thoughts on it? I'm trying to decide between that one and either the Mastertemp or the MaxETherm. The only problem I have though is I can only go 200k btu without upgrading my meter. I don't use the heater that much so I think 200k btu would be okay for a 20k gallon inground pool, yes? I hear the MaxETherm does have a cupro nickel exchanger in their 200k btu size. But I understand with the fan, that they can be rather loud. True?

Anyway, sorry again, I'm just a pool owner looking for a good affordable heater. Our heater just died but it's 19 years old and not worth it to fix.

The Pool Guy said...

Yes, Paws, I knew you posted on pool forums. Not because I read them any more. It's your terminology. You people call them SWG's, which, I assume, stands for Salt Water Generator. It doesn't generate salt water. It generates chlorine from salty water. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of misinformation available at the online forums.

Another distinction for you is that the forums are made up primarily of industry sales people and pool owners. Basically, the salesmen and their target market.

I'm not surprised you haven't heard any bad things about heaters coming from them. The forums are just another gimmicky way for people to get sold stuff. That's what makes them work and that's what makes all those sales people so helpful and friendly when you come to them with questions.

I don't have any recent experience with the Raypak heater with the cupro nickel upgrade. I recommend the Master Temp or Maxi Therm with cupro nickel when my salt pool customers ask. Re-read this blog piece and you'll see why I recommend that style heater over the others.

Here in Texas, the gas company will upgrade your meter for free. All we have to do is call them and explain that we now have larger appliances and we need a larger meter to flow more gas. Try it.

I wouldn't let the meter size determine what size heater I'm buying. Even if there's a nominal fee for upgrading the meter, it's worth it in the faster rise times you'll enjoy.


dnm said...

I'm a salt pool owner, do my own maintenance, and came here after ordering new high limit switches. LX400 is 4 years old. Corrosion on both switches. Hi Limit light coming on. Not a happy Jandy customer. Under warranty, the entire burner assembly was replaced (Jandy tech, the install company couldn't figure out that it needed to be replaced, but they did manage to mis-install the igniter and it blew up the burner assembly when they touched) and the ignition control. Out of warranty, I replaced the fan motor ($275 IIRC), now the high limit switches ($70). Neither thermostat works properly anymore (pool side doesn't see temp reached, spa side reaches temp 10 degrees too low). That's another $509 plus shipping for the temp control panel. I'm really struggling with weather to spend that, or just bite the bullet and get a new heater.

BTW, I do add my 5cc of oil every spring. It's in the user manual. I have a buddy that's an HVAC specialist that walks me through anything I can't figure out on my own, but continuity testing is pretty easy and diagnoses everything I've run into so far.

Thanks for the blog post. Educational. Any recommendations on a heater that plays nicely with 3300 PPM salt?


The Pool Guy said...

DNM - Yes. I recommend the Master Temp or Maxi Therm with cupro nickel when my salt pool customers ask. Re-read this blog piece and you'll see why I recommend that style heater over the others.

Your problem with the hi limits will continue forever because the dry well they mount in is what's causing the problem. This blog piece also gives the part number for the dry well kit if you want to disassemble your heater in/out header to that level to replace it. It's not that expensive. It's just a labor intensive endeavor.

My experience with the cupro nickel Maxi Therm and Master Temp is that it doesn't have that issue. They are honestly pretty fail safe and the Maxi Therm in it's black R2D2-looking shell has been around for a long, long time. The Master Temp is the same heater in a different shell.

George said...

Thanks for the great info. I also live in the Dallas area and I have a complete Jandy salt water system and Jandy LXTX heater that was installed in 2005 by Riverbend/Sandler pools. My original set of hi-limit switches corroded this last winter and I replaced them myself in January of 2009. Now, only 8 months later, this replacement set has corroded. I am still studying your blog to decide what action I will take next and for the long term.

George said...

Thanks for the great info. I also live in the Dallas area and I have a complete Jandy salt water system and Jandy LXTX heater that was installed in 2005 by Riverbend/Sandler pools. My original set of hi-limit switches corroded this last winter and I replaced them myself in January of 2009. Now, only 8 months later, this replacement set has corroded. I am still studying your blog to decide what action I will take next and for the long term.

The Pool Guy said...

George - Go back and re-read the post. The reason the hi limits are failing is because the LX/LT Sensor Stud Assembly Replacement Kit, Part Number R0383200, has failed and it is allowing salty, corrosive moisture to seep into the dry well where the hi limits are located and corrode your hi limit switches.

The proof is in the failure mode of your heater: It was installed in '05 and it took until the winter of '08 for the first hi limit failure to show up. But here it is less than a year later and it's happened again.

It took about two years for the sensor stud assembly to deteriorate to the point that it began letting the corrosive water into the dry well. Now, you're just sticking new hi limits into a failed dry well.

Order the Sensor Stud Assembly Replacement Kit and do that before you install new hi limits again. If that's more than you want to tackle (because it is a big, big job for a homeowner) then start calling the Jandy support line and raising hell about this problem. It's my experience that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and they may "extend" your warranty to include installation of the sensor stud or a new in/out header.

It's worth a try because your problem is never going away.

Pistol Works Pool Supply says they have the kit for $3.91. But I'd call them before I ordered it. I had to order a dozen from my supplier to get them because they're not normally stocked items. You might be able to get it special order from your local pool store for $10 or $20.

Here's a link to the kit:

I don't know these people at pistol works. Order at your own risk.

aggie pools said...

Agree with you 100% about salt's effect. Have you heard anything about exchanger leaks due to "chemical errosion" on a non-salt, chlorine pool where the Ph is normal? The heater is less than two years old....

The Pool Guy said...

If it is a Pentair heater, the Master Temp, what used to be the Sta Rite MaxE Therm, we have had problems with what we assume to be impingement corrosion on salt pools. The failure occurs at the in/out header, where the water is most turbulent. As I said in the blog piece. Impingement corrosion is "a form of erosion-corrosion generally associated with the impingement of a high velocity, flowing liquid". One of the factors in determining allowable flow rate in a pipe is the TDS. The higher it is, the slower the water must flow in order not to suffer from this type of corrosion. Pentair recommends a max flow rate of 150 gpm, but they fail to state what the TDS is for that flow rate. Here's a quote from this blog on the subject:

"About a year ago, I was communicating with someone who has been a frequent contributor - on background – to this blog. I asked him what he knew about Impingement/Erosion corrosion, the type of corrosion your heater suffers from when the TDS of the water goes too high for your flow rate. And this is what he said then, quoting from the text of a water chemistry seminar he had attended:

'The actual text… is ‘Erosion itself is not corrosion. However, even mildly abrasive conditions may remove a corrosion film from a surface which is protective of a substrate, thus exposing a fresh metal to corrode and thereby accelerate damage. In fresh water pools it is known that flow-rates above 7 to 8 ft/sec will erode copper piping and may remove a protective film from the substrate's surface exposing fresh metal to corrode, accelerating the damage… TDS will accelerate both the galvanic and erosion deterioration processes. High TDS will allow more electric currents to be conducted and will cause copper piping to erode at flow rates in excess of 2.3 ft/sec.’ ' "

if you have particularly hard water for any other reason (high mineral content well water, for example) you may be suffering from that.

Another way that I have seen service folks screw up a heat exchanger is if they're using bromine on a pool or spa and don't remember that their phenol red for pH testing will turn to bromphenol blue when testing a body of water with bromine as the sanitizer. This results in an off color, bluish pH reading, often mistaken for high pH (8.2+). So they add lots of acid to bring down that high pH, come back the next week, find the same bluish reading, add more acid, etc., when in fact they may have normal to low pH, and with the addition of acid each week, they're driving a normal pH reading through the floor, eventually resulting in damage to the heat exchanger. The solution here is to add lots of chlorine neutralizer to your pH water sample prior to the addition of the phenol red so that you can get an accurate, on-scale pH reading.

Hope this all helps.

G.M.Heller said...

Hi Pool Guy:
Great blog; highly informative!
We've got a Raypack RP2100 Digital P-R265A-EN in Northern Virginia.
Bought used on Craigslist.
Worked pretty well for about three years until finally the all-copper tube bundle sprung a leak.
Fixed that by inserting lengths of slightly smaller diameter copper pipe (slathered with JB Weld Epoxy) into each of the tube bundle's nine tubes.
Worked pretty well as a cheap fix.
Now it's three-and-a-half years later and the tube bundle has once again sprung a leak.
Figuring it's finally time to replace with a brand new tube bundle.
Question 1: Does Raypak sell a Cupro-Nickel tube bundle upgrade that will fit its copper systems or am I stuck with copper-only as a replacement on this model?
Question 2: A few years back I gave my Sears hot-water heater a new lease on life by replacing that unit's two anodes. In so doing I learned from the water heater guy's Web site the importance of grounding the water heater by attaching a dedicated wire (heavy gauge copper #8 or larger) to the inlet and outlet and thence to a separate ground post in order to help prevent electrical corrosion inside the heater brought about by stray voltage (though one would think that the hot water heater's copper pipe connections would already suffice electrically as a ground, but apparently it does not).
I bring this up because although the Raypak pool heater's steel cabinetry already provides a ground (and is required to be grounded per electrical code), the heat exchanger itself is nonetheless electrically insulated from that cabinet ground.
Raypak's tube bundle's stainless steel frame rests on fiberglass insulation placed atop cabinet supports made of sheet steel.
What's more, that steel supporting structure loads up with dirt and rust and becomes less than suitable as a conductor.
Therefore, would it not be advisable, in order to forestall electrical corrosion to the Raypak copper tube bundle, to attach a heavy gauge ground wire directly to the stainless steel frame of the copper tube bundle?
This extra ground (using #8 wire or larger) would of course be in addition to the ground wire already attached to the pool heater cabinetry per local electrical code.
By addition of this extra ground wire would it not help to disperse stray low voltage on the heat exchanger itself however it came to be (static electricity, movement of water, etc.)?

Steven Riley said...

Hi GM,

I wouldn't do what you've done myself. I understand that I get a break on parts pricing that you don't. But I still wouldn't rebuild a heat exchanger the way you have. There are tube bundles that you can buy and there are procedures for rebuilding heat exchangers. It's pretty much a lost art these days. The price of labor has forced it by the wayside the same way that no one rebuilds motors any more; it's just not cost effective.

I'd buy another heat exchanger if I was you. You should be able to order one up from one of the internet sellers who are intent on stripping all the profit out of this business until knowledgable guys like me don't exist any more. They'll save you a few bucks and you'll only slightly advance the cause of no one knowing anything about everything, until everything is just a DIY procedure on the internet riddled with inaccuracies because nobody has any in depth knowledge.

It's funny; when I started writing this blog I never thought about the fact that it would become a haven for people who are just trying to find a way around paying retail. Because the truth is, my business wouldn't exist if everybody thought that way. And I never would have known about salt systems or been close enough to Ground Zero to see firsthand AND HAVE THE RELEVANT EXPERIENCE TO WRITE AN INFORMATIONAL BLOG TO WARN PEOPLE ABOUT IT if nobody paid retail.

Anyway, based on what you've done so far, I can tell that you're a highly ingenious person and I'm sure you'll figure out what to do with your heater. But the real question is, why is your heat exchanger failing? I think the reason it failed the second time is because of your DIY repair job.

But the first failure was either just due to age or due to the environment it operated in. How closely do you monitor and adjust your pH? I've seen "knowledgable" pool guys burn out a heat exchanger in six months because they were sloppy with their pH control. Nine times out of ten, that's the problem. Or was it stray current corrosion? Or high TDS water (like with salt) causing erosion corrosion?

It's hard to say. Usually stray currents aren't an issue except where there's high TDS (read highly conductive) water. And erosion corrosion results from the same thing; high TDS water.

But changing the equipment manufacturer's grounding recommendations isn't a good idea in my book. Mainly just from the liability aspect. Say you change it and then your house burns down and they trace it back to a malfunction in your old heater. When you changed that grounding you took all the responsibility for everything that can go wrong with that heater. It's a move I wouldn't make. Sure, I'm probably really dreaming that anything you might do to the grounding could result in your house burning down. But I've seen some pretty wild stuff.

I've seen a faulty gas valve on a heater (a brand new one right out of the box, bad from the mfg), cause the heater to fire without any water moving through the heater. The result was that the heat transferred through the plumbing over to the old stainless steel filter, causing the water in that tank to boil for so long that it melted the plastic skeleton of the filter grids inside the tank, allowing all the DE powder in that tank to seep back into the pool.

Continued in next comment...

Steven Riley said...

Continued from last comment...

In fact, that's how we found out; the customer called and said, "Hey! My pool just turned white for no reason", and when I got there I found that heater that we'd just fixed the day before fired and running without water flow.

The other thing that happened is that the heat scorched the wood planks of the back of the pool house adjacent to the equipment. That pool house was connected by a wooden awning to the two story home where the Mrs, a bedridden invalid, could have been burned to death in her second story bedroom if the situation had gone on the rest of the day.

So, like I say, anything's possible, and there's no reason to take chances with your safety or your neighbor's safety to save a few bucks. Look to better pH control. And if you have a salt system, remove it. And have an electrician check your existing heater bonding connection for stray currents. Look a marine electrician if you can. They deal with a lot more stray current problems than residential electricians.

Too, there's the aspect that if stray currents exist on your bonding grid from some source outside your pool, you'll actually induce the stray currents your trying to avoid.

I'm not sure if they make a cupro nickel heat exchanger for your model. Many of the other RP2100's have cupro nickel as an option. You'll have to check with those online retailers on that. They probably won't know enough to tell you, though; the lower the price goes, the less knowledge you'll usually find on the other end. said...

Interesting information. It is understandable that the new salt systems might cause new problems in heaters but it is a shame that heater manufacturers use that as an excuse not to cover their equipment for everyone else. As for the cupro nickel heat exchanger, only history can prove whether it is just another way to increase revenue and provide nothing in return. I bought a new Raypak 406K for one of our three hotels simply because they offered the extra cost cupro nickel heat exchanger which was supposed to last longer. We don't use salt in any of our pools, have digital controllers and manually monitor pool chemistry 4 times a day. Most of our pool and spa heaters last 10-15 years going 24/7 with occasional minor repairs. This new Raypak lasted 15 months and sprung a leak in the new state of the art heat exchanger. Although the warranty was only 12 months we called Raypak to find out why the extra cost heat exchanger lasted far less than any we have ever had and they just hung up on us. So much for quality, new technology and reputation building! said...

Interesting information on why manufacturers can get by offering only a one year warranty on such expensive equipment. It is certainly understandable that salt could cause premature failure of heat exchangers made to handle fresh water and could be reasonably excluded in a warranty without reducing the warranty for everyone. Unfortunately it offers them a very broad excuse to reduce warranties and refuse to cover poor design or quality control issues for everyone who does not use a salt system. Your recommendation for the cupro nickel heat exchanger may be premature. I was also a cheer leader for the past 14 months but history has a way of exposing snake oil and hype. Unfortunately good intentions don't always result in good inventions.

We have three hotels, each with an indoor pool and spa that run 24/7, with a history of heaters lasting 10-15 years with minor maintenance and repairs. We do not use salt, have digital controllers and also manually monitor water chemistry 4 times per day. Last February we upgraded one pool heater to a Raypak 406K high altitude model simply because they offered the new state of the art cupro nickel heat exchanger which was supposed to last far longer than any other. The rationale was that the extra cost of several hundred dollars would pay for itself in time by not having to replace the most expensive part for many more years. It was expensive but touted as the best heater on the market by many suppliers and reviewers.

After installation I was very pleased and recommended this heater to everyone I spoke with... for 14 months. I never even realized that the warranty was only 12 months but on the 15th month the new cupro nickel heat exchabger sprung a leak right in the middle of one tube and started a steady drip. We used a remote camera to verify that it was really coming from the heat exchanger because I refused to believe it. This thing was made to work with salt water. How could it fail in only 15 months in fresh water with good water chemisty indoors? We then called the manufacturer to find out why this new state of the art heat exchanger gave out sooner than any we have ever had experience with. We wondered if it could be soldered or welded to fix rather than have to replace at great cost. Surely they would show concern and offer suggestions. They just said it was out of warranty and hung up on us.

So much for American made quality, new technology and brand reputation building! Snake oil, poor quality contol or just bad luck? Only history can provide the proof. All I know for sure is the replacement part will not be the higher cost cupro nickel version and I won't be leading the cheer any more.

Don Hill said...

Follow up to the cupro nickel heat exchanger. We ordered a copper replacement and pulled the top. To our surprise one of the tubes has a short bend and pulled away from the side like it either melted and collapsed on one end which is highly unlikely or it was crushed before being installed in the heater and put in anyway to hide a bad part by whoever did it at Raypak. It was covered by flame guards over the top with plenty of air space and a blower exhaust above so it couldn't have been damaged in shipment without obvious outside damage. I've never seen anything like this in a metal pipe but I'll be sending pictures to Raypak and posting them all over the internet so others don't get ripped buying such poor quality. It's just a shame American workmanship gets a bad rap from one stupid employees cover your butt attitude. If you can't manage your quality I guess you are forced to reduce your warranty or go broke.