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Prevention Is Better Than Cure

The beauty about working in the aquatic industry is learning about all of the information and various components involved in the operation of a pool. It is a natural assumption that there is a hole in the ground and this perfect, pristine body of water is waiting to cool swimmers on a hot day. In actual fact, pool operation can be likened to learning a new language when it comes to the complexity of properly servicing and maintaining this water for people to enjoy.

 

For instance, there are hundreds of variables that differ for each application and need to be closely supervised to ensure there is no interruption in the pool’s operation, while at the same time safeguarding patrons. The most important component, which can be easily overlooked and can have the biggest impact on the longevity of the pool’s lifecycle, is the basic preventive maintenance practices that need to be policed and properly scheduled.

 

A small leak, for example, that is not attended to could result in a major leak only hours or days after it starts. If it is not repaired properly, it can result in pool closures and a hefty bill for the owner. It is important every aquatic facility has a schedule of daily, weekly, and monthly preventive maintenance practices in place to ensure the most optimal pool operation for years to come.

 

WHAT IS PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE?

Preventive maintenance refers to routine upkeep to ensure pool equipment continues to operate efficiently, whereby preventing any unanticipated downtime and the associated costs from equipment failure. It requires vigilant planning and scheduling of maintenance for equipment before there is an actual problem, as well as keeping accurate records of past inspections and servicing reports. Maintenance includes parts replacement, cleaning, tests, and chemical adjustments.

 

WHAT SHOULD A PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?

Preventive maintenance involves the regular inspection of equipment where potential problems are detected and corrected before it fails. In practice, a preventive maintenance schedule may include things such as cleaning, water testing and chemical adjustments, repairs, inspections, replacing parts, and overhauls that are regularly scheduled, such as filter sand changes. This is why it is imperative that daily, weekly, and monthly checks are completed and recorded.

 

These inspections should involve much more than simply performing routine maintenance on the pool’s mechanical equipment and water chemistry. It should also entail keeping accurate records of every inspection, water test, and repair, as well as knowing the life expectancy of each part to understand the replacement and maintenance requirements. These records can help technicians anticipate a suitable time to change parts and can also help them to diagnose problems when they occur. If this due diligence is not followed, service interruptions will happen, resulting in downtime to resolve the problem at hand.

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Aside from protecting the owner’s investment, and ensuring their pool is operating to the best of its ability, preventive maintenance offers a number of other benefits, including:

  • Prolonged life of pool and spa equipment;
  • Minimal unplanned downtime caused by equipment failure;
  • Less unnecessary maintenance and inspections;
  • Fewer errors in day-to-day operations;
  • Improved reliability of equipment;
  • Fewer expensive repairs caused by unexpected equipment failure that must be fixed quickly; and
  • Reduced risk of injury.

In addition to being diligent with maintenance, there are also health and building codes that provide a guide for proper daily operation. These are enforced by inspectors to ensure the pool and spa environment is safe for bathers and the laws are being followed.

 

There are several simple maintenance procedures that can be easily overlooked, but without the proper attention, it can lead to major complications down the road if they are not completed.

 

PRIORITY MAINTENANCE PLAN

The heart of the pool is the filtration pump—without it the water would not be circulated through the filter, heater, or sanitization system, creating a potential health hazard for bathers. It is critical that regular checks and maintenance are completed on the pumps to avoid cloudy water, or even prevent an unexpected closure due to mechanical failure.

 

Simple things like cleaning the strainer basket (daily for an outdoor application and weekly for an indoor application) can have a drastic impact on the overall efficiency of the mechanical system. If the strainer basket is not cleaned regularly, a ‘load’ is put on the pump, forcing it to work harder to circulate the water that needs to be filtered, heated, and chemically treated before it is sent back to the pool. The harder the pump has to work, the more wear-and-tear is put on it. As a result, this can lead to mechanical seal failure, water clarity issues, as well as impact the overall performance of the entire system.

 

If maintenance is not completed regularly, the pump will fail and force a closure until it can be repaired or replaced. The water can become cloudy, increasing the amount of additional labour and chemicals required to get the pool back up and running. By completing simple pool maintenance, owners can improve the overall longevity of their investment.

 

DO NOT SKIMP ON SKIMMING

In a pool, the first 152 mm (6 in.) of water is the most contaminated. This makes the skimmer or surface water circulation (if applicable) an essential component to preventive maintenance. The powerful pull of the pump leads water into the filter; once dirt has been removed, it is heated, chemically treated, and returned to the pool through the returns.

 

Pool owners/operators should ensure the baskets inside the skimmers are cleaned regularly as part of a daily routine maintenance program. These baskets are used to catch debris on the surface while also protecting the pump. If the baskets are not cleaned regularly, they will become clogged with debris such as leaves, band aids, and other common waste found in pools.

 

This blockage will result in an additional ‘load’ being placed on the pump, forcing it to work harder to circulate the pool water and increasing the stress on the equipment.

 

CHECKS AND BALANCES

Physical pool care is integral to a maintenance program, but one should not discount the importance of water chemistry. Although it is not visible to the eye (in some cases), water care is a priority in any maintenance plan.

 

If there is an inconsistency in water treatment, there can be considerable consequences. When it comes to the chemical parameters that need to be monitored, they all have an impact; however, one of the most important and commonly neglected is calcium hardness. This water parameter measures the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the pool to determine how hard or soft the water is. It is important to keep the calcium hardness balanced to prevent the water from becoming corrosive or cause scaling.

 

The nature of calcium hardness has massive ramifications if it is neglected, as the acidic component can impact the longevity of a pool’s structure and mechanical system. All municipalities have a different measure of source water, and because freshwater needs to be added daily, a good preventive maintenance program should include logs of routine water test results.

 

When the calcium hardness is low, it has an acidic effect on the system. Simply put, it is a form of acid that slowly eats away at the pool finish causing it to slowly deteriorate. This acidity can sometimes become lost in other chemical parameters, but can easily become the culprit if not checked and balanced regularly.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, when calcium hardness is high, scaling can occur and will be visible along the waterline tile. Behind the scenes, the calcium build-up will also be present in the plumbing. If the calcium hardness remains high for too long, it will eventually cause obstructions in the pool piping. This will cause closures and require costly mechanical retrofits to resolve the problem. This additional cost and inconvenience can be avoided by simply adding a calcium hardness check to the pool’s regular maintenance routine.

 

LEAVE IT TO THE EXPERTS

There are several components that impact the overall longevity of a pool and its operation; however, an experienced, knowledgeable technician will know the proper preventive measures required to ensure the pool system is running at peak performance.

 

Neglecting these well-known measures will inevitably impact the pool’s function; therefore, it is of utmost importance for an aquatic facility to not only have a preventative maintenance plan in place, but also ensure it is policed regularly to guarantee a safe and comfortable swimming experience for patrons

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Benefits of Commissioning & Training

Following construction, the commissioning of the pool system is critical to ensure that it is working properly and as it was designed, before handing over the operation of the pool to its Owner. These are the people who will be operating and maintaining their body of water on a daily basis.

 

COMMISSIONING

During commissioning, all pieces of equipment are started-up, run, and programmed. I have learned first-hand how important it is to allow for the proper amount of time for this to occur. Allowing a few weeks to complete the commissioning ensures that each piece of equipment has enough time to operate as designed. If anything goes wrong it can be rectified immediately.

 

The set-up of the system begins when the water is introduced into the pool. Once the water starts to run through the piping, it is also running through each piece of equipment that is required to operate the system. Here are a few examples of equipment that requires set up;

 

CHEMICAL CONTROLLER

The chemical controller, which monitors and reads the pools chemistry, requires some initial set up. The controllers parameters are set to ensure that if the chemistry is not within those parameters, the controller alarms to alert the operator that the water chemistry requires attention. This can take time to complete to ensure accuracy.

 

POOL PUMP

After the pump is started up, it should be allowed to run for a period of time to ensure that there are no leaks. Seals in a pump can be dry and cracked before the pump is even installed. You won’t be able to physically see this issue until the water is running through the system.

 

Those are just two examples of the numerous pieces of equipment that are involved in pool systems, most of which require set up. There is always a possibility that equipment can fail, so ensuring everything is commissioned by the time the system is fully operational means less chance of equipment or system failure. When there is a failure after the pool is fully operational, it could mean that the pool would have to be shut down and closed to its patrons. This is something that all Owners want to avoid at all costs.

 

TRAINING

Once the pool is completely commissioned, it is now the perfect time to train those individuals who will be operating the pool on a daily basis. Every pool system is different, so even if a person has experience with pool systems, the new system could be slightly different. A controller could be updated from the previous version, or the system could include a UV system that the Operator has no previous experience with.

 

Training sessions cover many techniques including:

  • How the piping system flows
  • How to operate the controller
  • Understanding what can go wrong
  • What to do if the pool overflows
  • How to adjust chemistry of the pool
  • What to do if the system equipment is in alarm

Allowing those people the opportunity to watch and learn through a hands-on training session has amazing benefits for them in the future operation of the pool. When Operators have the understanding and knowledge that they need, their confidence level is increased, allowing them to maintain the system properly, and promptly deal with any issues that may arise, shortening their down time.

 

As you can see, commissioning and training benefits all parties involved in the operation of the pool system. The time for this to occur should be considered in every construction schedule.

 

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Chemical Controllers: What's the Big Deal?

Today, technology is all around us. It makes our lives easier and allows us to connect to anything from anywhere at anytime. Having a smart phone, access to the internet, and heck - even a personal computer, is a staple in this day and age. The internet is about to become classified as a utility because we are so dependent on it for our everyday life. When I was growing up, technology was nowhere near where it is today. There was no such thing as an iPhone, an Android phone, or a Blackberry. I remember the days when a telephone was attached to the wall, it had a rotary dial and a cord, and it meant running half way across the house to answer it when someone called! The extent of modern technology in my house as a kid was a microwave, a television, a VCR and an Atari game system. If I wanted to communicate with friends I had to either call them on the old rotary phone or walk down the street to their house.

 

Fast forward to 2016 and just imagine your life without technology. With app’s like Twitter, all of the day’s news is waiting for us in the palm of our hand each morning. With Facebook and Instagram, we don’t even need to call our friends to know what’s happening in their lives. Technology has so much to offer and it has reached out into most areas of our everyday lives making completing daunting tasks more efficient and less time consuming. If you look around, how many people do you see without a form of technology, whether it be a mobile phone, a tablet or a personal computer?

 

Well the modern day swimming pool is no different. Technology, automation, and computer controls play a very important role in today’s pools. Gone are the days of having to manually adjust the chemistry in a swimming pool by hand on a regular basis. Swings and spikes in pool chemistry were difficult to control when adjusting manually, but with the help of technology, computer controls keep the chemistry in check and allow your pool to virtually run on auto pilot.

 

These improved chemical controllers also add an additional level of safety to the modern pool. Given that the chemical controller controls the feed of chemicals into the system, it also has the ability to lock out the feed if chemical levels get to high or too low. For example, if the PH level in a pool drops too low, the water will become very acidic and can cause damage to the pool/spa, and can also cause irritation to a swimmers body. If the body of water is very small, such as in a spa, and PH levels are drastically low, it can even cause acid burns. When the controller sees a low PH condition it will put the controller into alarm and prevent additional feeding of muriatic acid, keeping bathers safe and alerting the operator through on screen displays, texts or email notifications. The controller can also do the same thing when it comes to chlorine levels. If the chlorine levels in a pool or spa become too high, it can lock out the chlorine feed until the levels come within an acceptable range. The controllers can be set to a proportional feed, pumping in smaller amounts of chemicals to prevent “over shooting” or “spiking” chemical feed.

 

Behind the scenes of every swimming pool is a mechanical room; the mission control of a pool. The mechanical room is full of pumps, filters, piping, heaters, controls, UV’s, and a small computer control center called the chemical controller. The chemical controller is the brain of the entire operation, but what does it do and what are the differences between the different manufacturers?

 

The chemical controller constantly monitors the water through a sample line and sample cell which is fed water via the filter pump. The basic controller is checking the chlorine or bromine levels and PH with ORP and PH probes. Higher end controllers also have the ability to check free chlorine, total chlorine and stabilizer levels. What’s more, they can also connect to and control UV units, start and stop filtration systems, automatically control backwashing of the filters and they can even communicate with variable frequency drives (VFD’s) and building automation systems.

 

The days of worrying about your pool while you’re off duty or away from your facility are long gone. With new technology, most chemical controllers now have the ability to send a text or email notification directly to your smart phone if the controller senses a problem! You can even connect to them over the internet through HTML or smart phone apps to monitor and control the complete system from anywhere in the world. Talk about a technological advancement for a swimming pool!

 

Imagine being a pool operator of a commercial facility and having an issue with the pool in the middle of the night, or worse, while you are away on vacation. You could come back to a real mess, and the pool chemistry could be completely out of balance. Depending on the size of the pool, this mess could take a couple of days to get back inline. A pool with a modern chemical controller will notify you of the problem and then automatically start to chemically treat the water to keep it in balance, before you come back to a big mess.

 

But what are the big differences between different manufacturers? Is one better than the other? In my opinion, there really aren’t any “big” differences; they all come down to budget, options, and operator preference. All name brand controllers come with the basic ORP and PH monitors and controls, and just like a new car you can get them with options. For example; if monitoring the chlorine levels and bromine levels by ORP is not your thing, add on a PPM probe. Some operators are not familiar with ORP levels, but they are very familiar with PPM levels because this is what they commonly record in their books. Is the ability to log in and control your pool using your smart phone from anywhere in the world important to you? No problem! Just add an HTML interface. Today, most chemical controller manufacturers are seeing the importance of being connected all the time and this option is now becoming a standard hardware option and just requires setup at the time of commissioning. Are you looking to monitor the cyanuric acid level of your outdoor pool? No problem! Simply add on the probe. Free chlorine and total chlorine are an easy add-on to any system with the simple addition of monitor probes. All of these options can be added to any chemical controller.

 

No matter what brand you choose, at the end of the day all will ultimately do the same thing. How much it will do depends on how much you want to invest and what options you want to include. 

 

So next time you are staying up to date with your friends on Twitter and Facebook, or checking the news on your CNN app, take a few minutes to click the pool app on your phone and see how things are operating on your swimming pool.

 

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