Automation - just what does it mean?

oakrunfarm

Member
Nov 1, 2007
11
NC
I am getting ready to sign the contract for a new pool to be installed along with a new build. (I know. As if I did not already have enough to keep me busy! :roll: )

Anyway, I am flummoxed as to what options exist for automation of pool chemical dispersal, pool cleaning, heating, etc. exist, and what of those is worth their cost.

I'd like to be able to keep the pool clean and heated properly and chemically balanced, but I also don't mind caring for it to some extent either.

What autoflow, heating, and chemical read-out or treatment options exist, about how much do they cost, and which ones (brands too, please) are recommended for being dependable, useful and worth the expenditure? Does it take all of the work out of the pool, or does it just give me a prompt to make a change to the temps or water balance?

My PB keeps saying the autofill is tied to the plumbing and is not electronic. How does that work?

THANKS!
 

JasonLion

TFP Expert
Platinum Supporter
LifeTime Supporter
May 7, 2007
37,879
Silver Spring, MD
Autofill is just like a toilet tank fill valve, a simple float valve. The other half of auto leveling is simply a drain at the height you don't want the water to go above. Autofill can sometimes hide leaks if you are not attentive, using a great deal of water before you notice that the chemistry is off and you have spend way too much on water. Still leaks tend to be rare and many people love autofill.

Many people here have a SWG (salt water chlorine generator) and love it. A SWG reduces the amount of work you need to do noticeably. Many different brands are all fine. The AutoPilot Digital system seems to be the best unit at the slightly more expensive end of the spectrum, with a couple of features not available elsewhere (large easily read text display, temperature compensation). There is some risk to natural stone work, particularly softer kinds of stone, from the salt used with a SWG, though most people never have any problems.

Heating has a lot of tradeoffs. Solar is the least expensive by far but requires space for the panels and doesn't provide any guaranties it won't be cloudy some particular time you want to swim. Heat pumps cost quite a bit but save money in the long run over gas heat in most parts of the country. A gas heater is the most reliable way to make large temperature changes quickly, but the cost of gas can really add up to dramatic numbers.

For chemical testing I recommend a good quality liquid drop based kit with the FAS-DPD chlorine test, such as the one from Trouble Free Test Kits, see the link in my signature. The ColorQ is a nice digital unit, but you need to be aware of it's limitations or you can get mislead in some situations. Most of the other digital chemistry testers are unreliable without constant calibration, which is more trouble than simply doing the liquid drop based test in the first place.

If you have anything beyond a simple pool, ie a spa or waterfall, a control/automation system with a remote control is a very nice feature to have. There are several brands that are all good. Most people go with whatever their builder is familiar with. Chemical automation, beyond a SWG is hardly ever worth it, though a few people have had some luck with acid feed systems.

For cleaning there doesn't seem to be much agreement on which way to go. Manual, pressure side, suction side, and robots all have their adherents.
 

Titanium

LifeTime Supporter
Jun 26, 2007
441
SF Bay Area
oakrunfarm,

I am getting ready to sign the contract for a new pool to be installed along with a new build.
Is your home builder also building your pool?

If you are so inclined, you could post the proposed pool contract language here at TFP. Perhaps the collective wisdom of TFP members might have some beneficial ideas and suggestions so you could end up with a better contract and pool build.

Expanding just a little on JasonLion's comments on heaters. Many people only try and heat the pool with solar heating and don't even try and heat the pool by natural gas heater. Or if they do decide to heat the pool itself and extend the season by a month or so at either end of the swim season, they might try and put in a heat pump. It all depends on the climate (heat pumps don't work well in cold temperatures) and your specific costs for electricity and natural gas. For us in California, for example, electricity is more than $0.30 cents per kwh, so we don't even try and heat the pool; even with a heat pump it is just too expensive. We do use solar heating to extend the season as much as possible. We do have a natural gas heater (which is literally 4 times larger than the furnace for our house), but it is used to quickly heat the spa to the desired temperature, and we don't use it for the pool, although it is plumbed so we could do that if we temporarily lost our minds.

Automation, at least for us, isn't so much CHEMICAL automation as it is VALVE automation. We found it exceedingly unpleasant to change the valve positions from pool mode to spa mode and back again because it entailed getting out of the nice toasty spa, trudging over in the cold air to the dark equipment pad. Same thing if we wanted to change the temperature setting for the spa. Same thing when we were done with the spa and all the valving had to readjusted, which again was back at the cold, dark equipment pad. Automation involved placing motor actuators on the return and suction valves, which could then be put in either POOL mode or SPA mode via a wireless, waterproof remote that could be operated in the spa with one hand while the other hand is holding the margarita glass. 8)

Hope this helps.

Titanium
 

DLSDO

LifeTime Supporter
Sep 27, 2007
330
Midwest
I have the Pentair easy touch 4 automated controller. I have a simple free form gunite pool without any special water features but the automated system is great. From anywhere...inside the house, in the pool, on the patio....I can control....when the automatic cleaner, pool lights, pump, filter and heater run. If its a little chilly out I can warm up the pool from INSIDE the house. If its night time I can turn on the pool lights so I can find my way to the pool....you get the idea. As far as I am concerned automation is very nice. The system I have was very reasonably priced.

Also....I considered a salt system but held off. I figured I could add it later. I primarily utilize BBB but will add the Liquidator (see below). I have a chlorine feeder that is used judiciously. It takes the trichlor pucks and feeds chlorine automatically. As a sole source of chlorine its NOT a good choice in that excess stabilizer (CYA) begins to accumulate and this will eventually be problematic...see the stickies. BUT....manual addition of bleach liquid (BBB) works great. If you do not want to add liquid bleach manually frequently then consider the Liquidator. It is a very cost effective alternative. It will automatically feed liquid chlorine into your pool and you can avoid the problems with accumulating excess CYA. It costs considerably less than a salt system. Its easy to install. You only have to add liquid bleach every week or so depending on usage and your pool size.

Just another thought,
 

hypratt

Member
Dec 22, 2007
10
Las Vegas, NV
My only automation is for the solar...

My only automation is for the solar but would certainly like to upgrade my entire system so that I could use one of the newer varible speed pumps and cut down on energy costs. When I first moved in I was attempting to heat up our spa but had not figured out which valve did what and heated the pool for about 4 hours before I went back and corrected my problem. Cost a fortune to use my gas heater for that long. My spa heats up in about 15 minutes even in the winter. Yes, even here in Vegas it does get down to freezing, too.
 

cliff_s

Well-known member
Mar 28, 2007
93
It all depends on how your pool is plumbed. Mine I only change valve setting twice a
year. Once in the spring to heat the pool and once in the fall to heat the Spa.


Cliff s