December 1, 2013
By Troy McGinty
Would it be possible for a seasoned pool operator to accurately monitor chlorine (Cl) and pH (potential hydrogen) readings every minute of every day, precisely dispense the proper amount of balancing chemicals, and maintain perfectly balanced water chemistry at all times? The answer is no. However, if the facility was equipped with an automated pH and oxidation reduction potential (ORP) controller(s), the answer would be yes.
Since their introduction to the pool and spa industry more than 40 years ago, automated chemical controllers have been assisting aquatic facility operators in everyday pool/spa operation by accurately maintaining water chemistry and increasing the facility’s efficiency.
In fact, these controllers are mandated in 11 health departments in the U.S., while all other states and Canada recommend their use. The forthcoming Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) will place even greater focus on water quality management, thus the universal adoption of controllers seems inevitable.
In a survey conducted in 2009, more than 80 per cent of swimming pool and spa/hot tub owners, service companies, and builders cited water chemistry management as the single most important component to successfully operating a swimming pool. With the potential for protozoa (Cryptosporidium and Giardia), bacteria (E. coli) and viruses (Norovirus) to be introduced into swimming pools and spa/hot tubs every day, operators must be extremely diligent in managing the sanitary state of the water to keep it safe.
In this regards, the evolution of the chemical controller has advanced rapidly in the past decade. Micro-processor-based digital electronics have improved accuracy of measurement, while new communications technology have allowed mass data transfer and web-based ‘cloud’ storage. Facility operators, service professionals, pool/spa management companies, and others can access data 24-7 for multiple aquatic facilities from any location. Further, remote monitoring and control enables rapid diagnosis and interpretation of status readings and alarms, which then allows issues to be resolved proactively before they become apparent to anyone at the facility.
Automated pH and ORP controllers use sensors (probes) to continually measure two parameters.
The dynamic measuring and controlled dispensing of chemicals (e.g. acid or carbon dioxide [CO2] to control pH and chlorine in a variety of forms) have provided operators and service professionals with assistance in maintaining proper water chemistry to ensure pool and spa/hot tub water is clean and safe.
The benefits of using an automated chemical controller fall into five categories: bather experience (safety and comfort), operational efficiency, facility maintenance, environmental benefit, and regulatory compliance.
An automatic chemical controller makes intelligent chemical feed decisions based on demand rather than a scheduled or timed dispersal via standalone feed systems. Change in demand can happen through a variety of ways: fluctuating bather loads, rain water, insufficient filtration, the addition of other balancing chemicals, the addition of fill water, and so on. By relying solely on a standalone feeder or an operator who takes manual tests based on a schedule, bather safety and comfort can be at risk.
The responsibility of a facility operator is to ensure pool and spa/hot tub water is safe for bathers. This translates into making sure the water chemistry is balanced and meets health code requirements.
Without the presence of an automated chemical controller, it is estimated that an operator spends 40 per cent of his/her time attempting to maintain the proper water chemistry balance. In this regard, the operator is tasked with constant manual testing, analyzing, and documenting the results (a common source of error), referring to chemical data sheets, making chemical change calculations, and, finally, manually introducing the chemicals into the pool (which poses the risk of handling aggressive chemicals) or by turning on and off feed equipment. While some operators may think of the controller as an adversary, others think of this equipment as one of their favourite tools in their arsenal.
The swimming pool and/or spa/hot tub’s lifespan (e.g. finish, surface, structure, etc.), circulation equipment, along with the facility’s indoor applications, can be lengthened via the use of an automatic chemical controller. Chloramines are a common byproduct of poor water management, which are not only harmful to bathers and operators, but also destructive to an indoor facility. Chloramine gasses have been known to contribute to the corrosion of metal components in and around the pool area (e.g. ladders, diving boards, lifeguard chairs, lights, and even the building’s structural stature and heating, venting and air conditioning [HVAC] equipment).
Swimming pool and spa/hot tub surfaces are also in jeopardy with improperly balanced water. Surface staining is thought of as an inevitable process that occurs over the lifespan of a swimming pool or spa/hot tub; however, this does not need to hold true as consistently monitoring and managing pH will reduce—possibly even eliminate—surface staining.
Maintenance, annual operating costs, and facility depreciation are all positively impacted through automated chemical management simply by the reduction of manual testing, the increased lifespan of the pool surfaces and accessories, and the reduction in the amount of chemicals being used. Through a process termed ‘proportional feed,’ controllers are able to make many-minute feed decisions; therefore, eliminating the unnecessary addition of excess chemicals.
By reducing the amount of chemicals through demand-based feeding, fewer products are consumed and less chemical deliveries are needed, all of which reduce the facility’s carbon footprint.
With more effective sanitizer conditions, aquatic facilities can also reduce backwash frequency, which results in wastewater and energy savings. Every time a facility backwashes its filters, it loses valuable heated and chemically balanced water. These facilities then require new fill water, which then needs to be chemically treated and heated.
Health authorities require the maintenance records of water chemistry. That said, advanced chemical controllers with onboard measurement capability eliminates the time required and the potential for human error associated with taking and recording water parameter measurements manually. Onboard communication systems automatically populate the data to off-site ‘cloud’ storage devices where it can be retrieved and viewed online. The data stored includes water chemistry measurements as well as any alarms or notifications.
The future of pH/ORP controller technology will evolve around wider expanded sensing capabilities encompassing water chemistry management, as well as full intelligent control of the pool equipment to further advance automation for safety and energy efficiency.
Communications will also continue to advance. First generation communicating controllers were limited to data ports with telephone or local area network (LAN) lines that had direct communication with a computer using designated software. Today, however, controllers can communicate various readings and reports via a number of different wireless communication devices, including cellular, reflex, Wi-Fi, and satellite. When combined with web-based software applications, data from modern day automatic chemical controllers can also be accessed and operated remotely by end users, property/facility operators, as well as swimming pool and spa/hot tub service/management professionals from any web-enabled device with a simple username and password.
Further, alarms and notifications can be sent to any e-mail address and/or short message service (SMS) (i.e. text message) to provide an instant alert, which further drives efficiency.
From the beginning, automated pH and ORP controllers have been assisting swimming pool and spa/hot tub professionals to maintain safe water. Now, with the addition of the microprocessor, water can not only be kept safe, but it can also be done more accurately with increased programmability and sensing/monitoring options. Controllers serve a positive purpose and provide the industry with many important, yet neglected benefits. By helping all facilities maintain safe, comfortable water, with a minimal cost of ownership, chemical automation and the incorporation of pump room control is the wave of the future.
M. Troy McGinty is the global product manager for commercial products for Hayward Commercial Pools a division of Hayward Industries, a pool equipment manufacturer. He first became involved in the pool and spa industry in 2003 and has developed and commercialized a number of swimming pool and spa products. He is a Certified Pool Operator/Instructor (CPOI), Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) and has led numerous seminars and training sessions across North America on the topic of pH and ORP automation, communication, and business development. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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