Since we're having a real slow day here at work, I figured I'd write up a review of my in-floor cleaning system. Every now and then TFP gets a new member who is building a pool and asking about these systems, so maybe this will be some help, both how the system is designed to function and how well it actually works.
We have a 6-zone system manufactured by A & A Manufacturing, out of Phoenix. It's essentially a copy of Paramount's design (or perhaps it's the other way around ). Here's a picture of the control valve; it's the short one in the bottom of the picture with the big yellow warning sticker:
Water enters through the visible pipe in the side. Inside, there is a set of gears that slowly rotates and directs the water to one of six pipes that exit the bottom of the unit; these aren't visible in the picture. I have 5 zones of pop-up heads in the floor of the pool; the sixth zone goes to three wall returns. My pool is rectangular; 3.5' on each side and 5.5' in the middle, with dual main drains at the deepest point. The pop-ups are supposed to kick up the light stuff so it will get sucked into the skimmer, and push the heavy stuff toward the drains.
As for debris environment, I live in the desert, with very little debris getting in the pool. The closest tree is three houses over, and we've gotten about ten leaves in the pool in the 10 months we've lived here. Here's a picture:
Most of the debris we get is dead grass and assorted garbage that is blown in by the wind, and a decent amount of sand and dust (and flakes of my disintegrating Kool deck, but that's another story ).
Things I Like:
1. It keeps the floor clean of lightweight debris. Always. Not that there is very much to start with, but I have never seen any leaves or grass on the bottom after it runs. I don't think it would cut it for sticks, acorns, or anything else non-fluttery. When the pump is not running, grass stems and the like will settle down to the bottom, but once it starts up they get kicked up and sucked into the skimmer.
2. It's fun to play with when we're swimming.
Things I Don't Like:
1. There's no way to turn it off. The control valve has a lever on the top of the lid that is supposed to allow me to stop the cycling and have it stay on one zone (the wall returns), but it does not work. The peg that is designed to stop the gears from turning is too short. I had to replace the lid last fall, and both had this problem. Dumb.
2. It does not do a great job with sand and dirt, of which I get plenty. The middle of the pool is clear, but all around the edges there are little piles of sand, where the jets push it up against the walls. I guess that most of the sand ends up in the drains, as it's supposed to, but there's enough that's pushed into piles that it is annoying.
3. It requires a decent-size pump, which can be expensive to run. 60 gpm/zone is generally what is recommended. This means if you run it on low speed (relying on testimony of others here; my pump is 1-speed), it won't clean anything. The heads still pop up, but there's not enough oomph to clean. The system has high head loss as well. When my wall return zone is running, my filter pressure runs about 15; when the cleaner zones are running it is anywhere from 20-23 depending on the zone. I'm guessing that using the cleaner heads adds about 10 psi, over what it would be if my returns were directly plumbed.
My Thoughts (as if I haven't rambled enough already ):
I think these systems are OK. If I were building, I would most certainly not install one. For a very low-debris pool such as mine, they work acceptably, but not anywhere near as well as a decent "mobile" automatic cleaner. For the price (generally around 5K, from what I've heard; I didn't install this pool), you could buy a whole army of robots that would do a better job in less time, with less energy use.
On the other hand, it sure is easy to use. It is always on, never has to be pulled out of the pool, etc. If simplicity is really important to you, it may satisfy you.
In my opinion, EVERY TIME these systems are installed, they should be plumbed separately from a set of normal wall returns, such that you can turn a 3-way valve to direct water to them when the pool needs cleaning. That way, most of the time you could run your system much more efficiently by just using the regular wall returns. One of these days I'm going to dig up all my pipes and fix that...
Oh, and by the way, it will not pick up drowned lizards, snakes, spiders, or scorpions . These sink to the bottom and stay there until my wife steps on them and screams.
Hope that helps somebody!