March 1, 2014
By Tiffany Nagy
Today’s pool professional has learned to incorporate automatic swimming pool cleaners into their service routine and retailers are frequently selling these maintenance accessories to their customers. With a vast number of automatic swimming pool cleaners in the market, industry professionals must now be well-versed in troubleshooting common problems as well as successfully correcting user-error issues. Like any robotic product, there are common user errors and sometimes faulty parts that can cause an automatic swimming pool cleaner to malfunction. This article provides a number of troubleshooting techniques for service and retail professionals when automatic swimming pool cleaners are not working properly.
The swimming pool’s water level is one of the most common reasons for automatic swimming pool cleaners to flip over. When the water level on the pool’s skimmer is too high, the water line is too close to the coping. Therefore, when the automatic cleaner starts to climb the pool wall, it hits the coping and flips onto its back. When this happens, it is detrimental to the cleaner’s motor(s) because it is no longer in the water, but rather exposed above the water. When in operation, the motor is actually cooled by the water; therefore, when it runs out of water, the motor will quickly become hot and potentially fail. Further, depending on the temperature, the motor could fail within an hour of being out of the water. If it is really hot, e.g. 32 C (90 F), it may only take a matter of minutes.
Another common problem is when the homeowner first uses their automatic cleaner they often forget to remove all of the air in the unit before starting the machine. Not only can this cause flips and wheelies, but it can also prevent the cleaner from performing correctly. If the unit still contains air, it tends to ‘float,’ sometimes just 2.5 cm (1 in.) above the floor—so it looks like it might be working as it moves forward, however, the cleaner is not touching the floor to actually pickup any debris. Therefore, service and retail professionals should remind their customers that it can take up to 30 minutes to remove all of the air from the unit.
To do this, one must hold the pool cleaner under the water and shake it left to right as well as up and down while watching the air bubbles release. Once the air has been removed, it is important to watch the automatic swimming pool cleaner carefully to ensure it actually hits the shallow end floor.
Finally, it is also good to remember there is the possibility the pump motor may be weak or is turning to slow. In this case, the only solution might be replacing the motor.
The following are some similar, specific calls/complaints experienced by automatic swimming pool cleaner service/retail professionals:
Most likely the poly vinyl alcohol (PVA) brushes have not absorbed the water. This is a common call and easy fix. Simply let the automatic pool cleaner sit in the pool for at least 30 minutes or until the brushes are soft. Once the brushes are soft, the unit will lay flat on the pool floor.
Fixing this problem can sometimes be as simple as ensuring the pool water is not too cold. In order for the robotic cleaner to operate correctly, the water needs to be at least 15.5 C (60 F).
Water can also get into the system’s handle, which may cause the unit to lift brushes from the wall and break the suction, thus the unit will not climb the wall. In these cases, users should try placing the handle on an angle to remove the water, or in worst cases scenarios, replace the handle altogether.
If the temperature is above 15.5 C (60 F) and the handle does not have water in it, then there is also the possibility the pump motor or propeller is defective. If this is the case, service/retail professionals will likely see the unit shut down early and the pump motor will need to be replaced.
Should the cleaner start climbing the pool wall but fall backwards, once again, it is likely water has collected in the pool cleaner’s handle. Further, if the handle is cracked, water will leak in and disrupt normal operation.
To determine if there is water in the handle, simply remove the unit from the pool and place it on the pool deck. Then, move the handle back and forth and listen for sloshing water.
First, check the power supply to make sure it is connected properly to the electrical outlet. If the unit moves in short, jerky motions it could have a deteriorated drive belt, which can be simply replaced to solve the problem.
Debris stuck in the drive pulleys can also cause this problem; therefore, it is important to inspect for and remove any debris, then retry the unit. If the pulley teeth are filled or missing, replacing the pulley is another simple fix. It is also important to check for any wear and tear of brushes and drive tracks, which can also become worn with use and need to be replaced.
Finally, check the bottom lid assembly to ensure it is secured as it could be dragging on the pool floor, causing the cleaner to make irregular movements. To do this, simply turn the system over and secure the lid. Worst case, the unit may need new lock tabs.
Overheating of the cleaner’s motor is one of the biggest problems experienced by swimming pool owners. And, unfortunately, this problem can be caused by several factors.
For instance, swimming pools with beach entries should use an automatic cleaner with a pump motor equipped with a sensor used to detect zero-depth water levels to prevent the cleaner from exiting the water. Without this feature, an automatic pool cleaner can simply travel out of the pool and across the deck or down the street. In this case, the motor is sure to fail as it will overheat.
Some units feature ‘air sensors,’ which tend to fail because they use additional wiring that will corrode from moisture exposure or the mechanical parts get clogged and stuck. Instead, try selecting a pool cleaner with a drive motor that senses voltage draw from the pump; when the voltage draw drops, the drive motor assumes the machine is out of the water and reverses its direction. This prevents the cleaner from travelling out of the pool, thus keeping the motor in the water and lessening the chance of it overheating.
Using a pool cleaner equipped with a guidance system to target areas of the swimming pool that requires the most cleaning also minimizes wear and tear on the cleaner’s motor, gears, belts, and tracks, simply because it can complete each pool cleaning faster—so it is not operating unnecessarily, or as long.
Further, most automatic cleaners need to be serviced after every season; however, units with a guidance system only need tune-ups every two years. Tune-ups are important to ensuring a longer motor life.
Automatic swimming pool cleaners with ‘guidance’ features use a smart mathematical algorithm to systematically cover every square centimetre of the swimming pool—eliminating the additional hours required by other robotic swimming pool cleaners, which use conventional, random patterns.
By placing the unit in the centre of the shallow end, at the back wall facing the deep end, the automatic swimming pool cleaner will measure the distance from end to end as well as from left to right and then ‘choose’ the most efficient pattern in which to clean the pool. By using a microprocessor, it measures the swimming pool as it travels until it reaches the deep-end wall. Most systems will re-measure the swimming pool each time it is placed into the water.
However, many people make the mistake of dropping the pool cleaner anywhere in the shallow end (or similar as indicated in the installation/start up instructions). If the pool cleaner does not start in the correct location, it cannot gauge the pool size or the best cleaning pattern. This results in longer cleaning times as well as the possibility of missing areas of the pool.
Some robotic swimming pool cleaners use an infrared obstacle detection system and have a remote control device which is ideal for quick spot cleaning. In most cases, it operates independently of the swimming pool’s filter system and has a sensor for beach-entry pools and ramps.
In the case of commercial swimming pools, the cleaning of the walls is typically done manually, while the automatic cleaner is added simply to clean the pool floor. Therefore, service professionals should look for an automatic cleaner that can be changed via touch of a button from ‘floor/wall’ to ‘floor only’ mode.
Sometimes, commercial swimming pools can become so dirty they require more than one full cleaning. A nice option to look for is a ‘time delay’ feature, which allows the cleaner to be set to re-start three-to-five hours after it completes the first cleaning. This allows any dirt that has been lifted to settle back down onto the pool floor and picked up on the second round.
Finally, a service light is another key feature for automatic commercial pool cleaners as it shows the operator when the unit needs to be serviced, ensuring the cleaner operates correctly and lasts up to its full potential.
If any of these problems turn out to be issues that fall under warranty or require repair, be sure to check with the product manufacturer as they likely will have a ‘certified service centre’ where the cleaner can be sent in for repair.
Automatic robotic swimming pool cleaners are a boon to the aquatics service industry. Service professionals who integrate them into their maintenance programs will spend less time cleaning the pool and more time performing profitable service repair work, or simply cleaning more pools per hour. Selling automatic swimming pool cleaners is also a good way to ensure clients are spending more time enjoying their pools rather than maintaining them.
Tiffany Nagy is the customer care manager at Water Tech Corp., a manufacturer of swimming pool and hot tub cleaners in East Brunswick, N.J. She has been with the company for more than three years, starting as a customer care agent handling service repairs and customer support. Nagy was promoted to her current position in 2013 for Water Tech’s domestic and international market support. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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