June 14, 2017
By Greg Keller
Technology continues to advance in the commercial and residential pool markets, as there are always new products, technologies, and design methods being introduced. This article will look at what is trending for 2017. Some of the design options and products that are discussed are not necessarily new to the industry, but thanks to new technologies and innovations, they continue to make an impression on clients who realize they need to have them in their aquatic facilities.
Further, as many of these items become more refined and more clients buy them, costs have come down over the years, allowing more designers/builders to incorporate them in any new and/or renovation projects.
One of the hottest features of late is climbing walls. These apparatus are increasingly being added to existing pools, as well as included on many new pool installations. They are a relatively new option for pools even though people have been climbing on artificial rock walls for years. It was not until recently that designers started placing these climbing walls along the edge of the pool.
These products provide another option for bathers to enjoy the pool, while getting in some exercise as well. There are a few manufacturers offering these products, which are available in several colours, as well as clear panel configurations, and in heights of up to 3.6 m (12 ft). The required minimum water depth is typically 2.4 m for a 3.6-m (12-ft) wall. Shorter walls are available for shallower pools. Climbing walls should always be installed according to manufacturer recommendations.
Tanning ledges are also becoming quite popular, as they expand the use of the pool. Typically, these areas have 305 mm (12 in.) of water or less, which makes them perfect for setting up a lounge chair or a place where bathers can simply lay in the shallow water to soak up the sun.
They are also great for young children and the family dog. They are commonly found on today’s prefabricated fibreglass pool options, and can be easily incorporated into concrete pool designs.
In fact, most concrete pools can be easily renovated to include a tanning ledge and many clients are now doing this.
LED lighting technology has become much more affordable and refined in the last five years and, in fact, is now the standard. The colour and operational options available are quite expansive, including the ability to control the lights using a smartphone app.
There are also removable battery-powered options available that are good for smaller pool applications. LED lights last longer than incandescent bulbs and will save an aquatic facility on hydro costs.
Fire bowls are now more affordable than in the past and are being included in new construction designs more than ever. Fire features are available in a wide range of configurations and work well to enhance the pool’s surrounding environment. They make for an exhilarating bathing experience, especially when swimming at night.
Movable pool floors are not necessarily new, but are still gaining traction in new residential and commercial construction projects. These floors allow program offerings at aquatic facilities to be much more flexible as the pool depth can be adjusted accordingly.
For instance, programs for new parents and their tots are now possible, as the floor can be raised to any depth instead of the standard 1-m (3-ft) shallow end. Then, it can be moved back down to a 0.6-m (2-ft) depth for youngsters aged four to six who are learning to swim, but still want to be able to touch the floor and stand.
For residential applications, the same benefits apply, including the ability to fully raise the floor to eliminate the chance of anyone falling into the pool while the homeowner is away or when the pool is not being used. The pool floor can be raised to create more useable space as well.
Beach-entry pools are now the standard in commercial construction. This design comprises a sloped entry that allows accessibility for everyone, a necessity on public pools for several reasons. Having an accessibility lift is also an option; however, a beach entry allows someone in a wheelchair, the elderly, or small children to enter the pool effortlessly.
Similar to movable floors, beach-entry pools offer more options for young children learning to swim or those who just want to cool off on a hot summer day.
Splash pads are all the rage, with new toys and accessories becoming available all the time. Municipalities and campgrounds—not to mention kids—love them as they provide a great option for people to cool off without the need for a lifeguard. As there is no standing water, the risk of drowning is essentially eliminated. However, parental supervision is still a must. With drain away and recirculation options available, splash pads can almost be installed anywhere.
A drain-away design typically makes use of low-flow water features at a location where low- to medium-usage is expected. Water simply drains into the municipal sewage system, or into an underground holding tank where it is used for grey water purposes, typically lawn watering, with an overflow to sanitary built into the system.
A recirculating system also uses an underground holding tank where water is pumped through the filtration and sanitizing system to the water features. The water then drains back into the holding tank to be circulated again all-season long.
Automatic pool covers are also gaining ground in the commercial and residential market. Similar to other products of late, these too can be controlled by the owner and/or facility manager via smartphone. This controllability is not only convenient, but also offers many safety and time-saving benefits.
There are some restrictions with respect to shapes, however. If the pool is a freeform design, it needs to be sunken down to allow the cover track to be installed above the top of the pool wall. Essentially, a freeform pool still has to have a rectangular cover, if it is automatic.
There are also constant improvements being made behind the scenes of a commercial pool in the mechanical room.
Ultraviolet (UV) light water treatment is now the standard on municipal/public pools in most areas. Further, an increasing number of residential pools are now using them as well.
UV water treatment eliminates micro-bacteria that are not eradicated by other sanitizing agents and works to improve the performance of chlorine or bromine. The latter are still required to be used in residential and public pools as the primary sanitizing system, while UV complements them. Together, they create a safe environment for swimmers, which is the first priority.
As pool water circulates through the UV system’s plastic or stainless steel casing, which contains a quartz tube that houses the UV lights (sometimes only one depending on the size and design of the system), dangerous bacteria in the water is destroyed.
The UV lights and quartz tubes do need to be replaced at various intervals depending on the system. Most will last at least a year, and the benefits far outweigh the cost, which again has come down in recent years.
Saltwater systems are not new, either; however, demand is still increasing. They do have their drawbacks, but if saltwater is what the client wants (because it does feel better on the skin), then many options are available.
Problems arise when the complete pool system is not designed for salt, and the system is added later as a retrofit. Anyone living in an area with winter knows salt corrodes metal. Most have also seen what it does to cars and infrastructure. The pool is no different; therefore, all pumps, filters, and other equipment must be selected appropriately.
It is a myth that pools using a salt system contain no chlorine. The owners/operators must also understand that a saltwater pool does not mean they will be swimming in ocean water. (These pools contain approximately 3000 to 6000 parts per million [ppm] of salt, while the ocean is about 35,000 ppm). The salt cells in these systems generate chlorine to sanitize the pool water. Salt can also be added to a pool (without a generator) to get up to 3000 ppm to make the water feel softer; however, chlorine or bromine will still be required for sanitization.
Heat exchangers are another item that is increasing in popularity in the residential and commercial pool markets. This is because they reduce energy costs dramatically, pay for themselves quickly, and are long-lasting.
When used in conjunction with a boiler, heat exchangers offer a great way to heat a pool. A typical boiler is gas-fired and used to heat an entire building; therefore, tying it into a heat exchanger to heat the pool is a great idea. The location of the boiler and the availability and cost of fuel (either natural gas or propane) affects whether this option is viable. Further, the boiler must also be sized properly; therefore, consulting with a professional pool designer, not just at the start, but throughout the project, is always a good idea to make sure there are no problems when the facility is constructed.
Heat pumps are an environmentally friendly option for heating pools, but similar to a heat exchanger, the effectiveness of this equipment depends on the location of the pool. Heat pumps will only work well in an environment that has warm air from which to draw from. Operating much more efficiently than a natural gas, oil, or electric pool heater, a heat pump can provide an aquatic facility huge savings in areas where natural or propane gas costs are high.
To run this efficiently, the heat pump extracts heat from the air, intensifies it via compressor, and delivers it to the water while cooler air is exhausted from the top of the unit. Since the system uses warm ambient air temperature to do the work, it is an efficient way to heat pool water.
While also not a new invention, VFDs are frequently added to existing pools and have become standard on new pool construction. A VFD is essentially a computer system which acts as a transmission for the pump motor and allows it to run smoother, in a correct ‘gear,’ for its current task, all while conserving energy when full power is not required. Most VFDs installed today also allow for remote operation via smartphone.
In the past, pumps were one-speed and were either on or off. In the on position, these pumps constantly operate at full speed using much more energy than necessary.
Epoxy grouts are still trending in 2017 and should be considered for anyone tiling a pool. One reason for this is because most epoxy grouts available today are extremely durable and have been refined over the years to make them easy to apply.
Made from epoxy resins and a filler powder, this grouting material will last much longer than a sanded cement-based grout, which is why it has a higher upfront cost. The warranties offered by product manufacturers reflect this, so designers/builders should be sure to check with their pool tile installer to ensure they are using the finest product with the best warranty.
Last but not least, are smartphone apps designed specifically for pools. For example, one equipment manufacturer has unveiled an automation interface to make controlling pool and spa operation easier and more convenient for facility managers/operators. This app is available for Apple and Android smartphones, as well as the Apple Watch, making it the first wearable tech option for the pool industry. Users can also activate various pool functions or learn the status of the pool with simple voice commands using voice-powered devices such as Alexa™ or Amazon Echo.™
Using any one of these devices, the system allows users to control the water temperature, lighting, fountains, waterfalls, and other pool features, while pools equipped with water chemistry controllers can also monitor sanitizer levels.
Greg Keller is a service and sales representative at Acapulco Pools Ltd., a commercial pool builder and service provider based in Kitchener, Ont. He graduated from Conestoga College’s architecture-project and facility management program in 2011 and was hired by Acapulco upon graduation. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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