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.
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.