Enhancing the outdoor living experience with automation systems

by Sally Bouorm | October 1, 2011 8:45 am

Introducing homeowners to automation equipment allows them to optimize their pool or spa experience, while also reduce energy consumption.

By John Antretter

Working and living smarter is no longer an option; it is a necessity. The great advances in technology over the past several decades, including pool/spa automation devices, have changed the way people live to help them eliminate chaos by harmonizing, organizing and automating daily tasks.

In the 1970s, consumers could ‘pre-set’ five-to-six radio stations in their car. Remember those days? What about having seven TV channels (not including UHF, but then, who actually installed that weird antenna onto the back of their TV?). When there are only seven channels to choose from, how long did it take to pick a program to watch, or to just shut the TV off and go to bed? Today, one will scroll through more than 100 channels (sometimes more than once) to find something of interest. Some may think life is easier today, when in fact, it is more complicated due to information or opportunity overload.

In order to handle all these possibilities people need more than their home computers to fix themselves, they need every device in their lives to diagnose, communicate and take corrective action. Today’s pool/spa automation systems are close to meeting this need.

A little history

Peter Bajka, the founder of Compool, is considered to be the ‘father of pool automation.’ In the 1970s, he introduced motorized pool/spa valves at a National Swimming Pool Institute (NSPI, now known as the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals [APSP]) show in 1977. As an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of California (San Jose), it was only natural for him to think of ways to improve the efficiencies of a pool’s filtration system in the hopes of reducing energy consumption and increasing the flexibility of what were virtually ‘static’ systems.

“Rather than having a separate pump for a pool and a spa, I thought we could use one pump and manage the necessary water flow for both with an automatic valve,” said Bajka in a recent conversation about the development of pool/spa automation products.

“I’m proud of all the automation advancements and I am glad to have been a part of leading the developments in this product category,” added Bajka, who sold Compool to Pentair Water Pool and Spa in 1995 and remained an employee until 2005. “I continue to follow the latest advancements and I like the direction the industry is taking.”

Present day

Entry-level automation systems provide a stepping stone for homeowners to graduate from the ‘old’ way of doing things to a more elegant solution.

OnCommandhr[3]All major pool equipment manufacturers now carry a diverse line of automation products for pools and spas. Some of the more simple systems are easy to install and operate. The latest controls such as Pentair’s ‘Easy Touch’ or Hayward Pool Product’s ‘OnCommand’ systems give homeowners an entry level system at an affordable price. These systems enable homeowners to control their pump, lighting or other water features. The beauty of these entry level systems is they provide a stepping stone for homeowners to graduate from the ‘old’ way of doing things to a more elegant solution. By introducing them to a less expensive automation system, they will become accustomed to using these devices and expect such automation with their next pool or spa purchase. Further, by introducing homeowners to these accessories, they will learn to optimize their pool or spa experience while reducing energy consumption. Plus, once people get hooked on having a remote control for their pool, they will expect such conveniences in the future.

The more advanced systems such as Zodiac Pool Systems’ ‘AquaLink Touch,’ Pentair’s ‘IntelliTouch’ with ‘ScreenLogic,’ or Hayward’s ‘Pro Logic’ enable homeowners to manage their entire backyard environment not just at home but remotely as well. Advanced automation systems enable pool owners to automate functions such as sanitization, balancing pH, cleaning, filtration, lighting, water features and even sprinkler systems. These systems enable homeowners and pool/spa service technicians to monitor the entire pool environment from the home, office or shop.ALT_Hands[4]

For instance, a homeowner on vacation might have forgotten to turn off some lights or maybe a violent storm has passed through. From their BlackBerry or iPhone, the homeowner can turn off the lights or adjust the speed on a variable speed pump (VSP) to enhance filtration for a few days.

For the professional pool/spa service technician, automatic reporting can enhance service dramatically. Often, problems go undetected for several days. From the office or even on the road, a technician can check salt levels, water temperature, or other water parameters. Some of the latest installations even have cameras enabling a technician or homeowner to see what is happening poolside—not a bad feature to have after a major storm. A technician can review the status of their customers’ pools/spas and make informed decisions about which areas need to be serviced immediately.

Why the sudden popularity

Many builders and service technicians explain the significant popularity of saltwater pools and the advantages of having an automated salt system as being a big driver in the increasing popularity of pool automation.

According to Brian Van Bower and Skip Phillips, two of the three founders of Genesis 3 Design Group, virtually every new pool they design and build have an automation system.

“Over 90 per cent of our pool designs incorporate a chlorine generation salt conversion system,” said Van Bower. “The ability to read the salt content and control the pool via the automated system is very important for service technicians.

“What clients truly appreciate is the ability to control the backyard environment via an iPad or another hand-held device. Plus, the idea of being able to monitor and adjust the pool and related components from anywhere is very appealing.”

Sabrina Clonts with Kenco Pools, a pool builder in Nacogdoches, Tex., concurs, as more than 75 per cent of the pool/spa combination installations they install require automation.

“The ability to conserve energy with a VSP is enhanced when the pump is combined with automation,” Clonts said.

Another factor driving the need for pool and spa automation is the specific enactment of government regulations aimed to reduce energy consumption. Therefore, the need to manage water flow, pump speed, and how long the pump operates must be controlled more efficiently. Automation systems make it easier to comply with these regulations. In fact, all too often, many VSPs are operated as single-speed pumps due to a lack of knowledge in how to program them properly to take advantage of their flexibility.

What is holding some people back?

Unfortunately, too many pool professionals are set in their older ways, and a large percentage of homeowners simply do not know the right questions to ask. Plus, many of the legacy devices installed in a homeowner’s pool or backyard are not easily compatible with current control systems. To make a significant upgrade in pool/spa automation equipment, older systems must be replaced or substantial electrical work is needed, which can make installation cost prohibitive.

Muskoka Cottage 006[5]
The long-term benefits of having a centralized wiring scheme can save homeowners money. Once the control panel is wired to the house, everything that requires electricity and control in the backyard can be connected to one place.

The industry is overcoming these hurdles. Although wiring all the various devices in a homeowner’s backyard to a central control panel may require a significant up-front expense, the long-term benefits of having a centralized wiring scheme can save money. Once the control panel is wired to the house, everything that requires electricity and control in the backyard can be connected to one place, which helps to avoid the maze of conduit and wires crisscrossing in the backyard.

Consumers armed with information acquired over the Internet or simply via word-of-mouth, are demanding the most cost-effective automation systems and maintenance plans for their pool/spa. Rising energy costs motivates people to research the right solutions that will save them the most money. People love their pools and spass and given the hard economic environment, people need to reduce their cost of ownership. If their service technician does not have a satisfactory plan to save money, another pool professional will.

What does the future hold?

By ensuring operational efficiencies are in place, consumers gain increased productivity and reduced operating costs. Automation systems and peripheral equipment which record operating history as well as other key variables will enable service technicians to quickly and easily diagnose problems and maximize system designs. Manufacturers also benefit from virtually infinite information about the performance of their products in the field. Further, products designed with self-diagnosis capabilities will reduce warranty claims and reduce the cost of service dramatically. All of these benefits lead to a measurable and quick return on investment (ROI) and most importantly, an enhanced consumer experience.

Over the next few years, all pool/spa equipment manufacturers will build every device with industry standard interfaces to enable all products to synchronize with the control panel like a laptop computer does with a broadband modem, or as a wireless keyboard does with a computer. This will make integration less costly and almost instantaneous. As the industry’s automation controls continue to advance, homeowners and pool/spa professionals will be able to accomplish even more with just a few clicks of a button.

Depending on the automation device installed, it will enable the homeowner to control a vast number of features in the backyard including:

A lounge area in a new luxury backyard[6]
Automation systems can control more than just the pool or spa. Fire pits, outdoor house and landscape lighting and even backyard entertainment systems can be efficiently operated.

• Pool, spa and pond pumps
• Pool, spa and landscape lighting
• Outdoor house lighting
• Filters
• Heaters
• Automatic pool cleaners
• Music
• Chlorinators
• Water features, non-attached
• Chemistry automation
• Fire pits
• Ultraviolet (UV) systems
• Misters/foggers
• Spa jets/blowers
• Sprinklers
• Actuated valves
• Automatic pool covers




Antretter_HeadshotJohn Antretter is the chief operating officer (COO) of Pleatco LLC, a manufacturer of filter cartridges and grids for diatomaceous earth (DE) filters in Glen Cove, N.Y. He has led the development of innovative products for over 20 years. His most notable success came as the chief executive officer (CEO) of Plasmaco, a leader in Plasma TV technology, which he sold to Panasonic. Antretter has been an adjunct professor of finance at Fordham University’s business school since 1991 and is a retired army captain. He can be reached at jantretter@pleatco.com[7].

  1. [Image]: http://poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Pro_Pool__Spa.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/EasyTouchRemote.jpg
  3. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/OnCommandhr.jpg
  4. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ALT_Hands.jpg
  5. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Muskoka-Cottage-006.jpg
  6. [Image]: http://www.poolspas.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/dreamstime_m_5479569.jpg
  7. jantretter@pleatco.com: mailto:jantretter@pleatco.com

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