Upgrades For For New Pool Installations
When I cut my teeth in the pool and spa industry swimming pools were a much simpler process. Every pool was either a rectangle or a kidney, and each pool had a main drain, a skimmer, and two returns. Pump and filter installations could be done in under an hour since every system was so simple - every pool had a sand filter and a 1.5 HP single speed pump. Even an erosion feeder for chlorine or a two speed circulation pump would have been considered fancy back then. In the modern era of swimming pools it is an entirely different animal. If you want to be able to control fire-shooting water fountains from your iPhone that is not even a problem...you can also have a laser light show in your pool while a series of illuminated deck jets chase each other around your pool set to the surround sound rhythm of O Fortuna by Carl Orff. But is this how you want to spend every Thursday evening? Your neighbors are going to think that you are some kind of maniac.
Aside from the rare occasion where you re-enact some sort of discount fantasia with your ridiculous pool options and automation, the vast majority of the time you will not be using the fancy upgrades that you paid handsomely for. Things like waterfalls and water features cost an arm and a leg to add to your pool system, and yet how often do you really use one? Most of the time the waterfall is turned off for long periods of time. This results in the water sitting stagnant in these pipes where the fresh chlorinated water can not reach. Eventually the water will turn green and develop slime and bio film...and then you turn the waterfall on for a random party and it starts up by shooting gallons of green sludge into your pool. Awesome. And do not even get me started on slides! They cost a fortune, look obtuse, and only get used for a season or two when the kids are young. After this they just sit idle and deteriorate from year to year. Worst of all they are one of the single most dangerous items you can have on a swimming pool. So now that I have put the kibosh on all of the great ideas you were considering for your pool, maybe you would like to hear a little about what I would add to my pool if I were having one installed.
Variable Speed Pumps
This is a subject that I have written about extensively before so if you read my blog then you already know about the massive financial advantages of variable speed pumps over single speed pumps. If you are not familiar with this then you can read this article that explains in detail exactly how much you can save with a variable speed pump for your pool. In short, it's thousands of dollars over the service life of the pump. This means that the pump will cost around $1000 but put about $3000 to $7000 back into your pocket over the next seven to 10 years. You do not need to be a mathematician to see that those numbers really work out in your favor if you buy a variable speed pump.
At this stage in the modern pool era it simply does not make sense to use single speed pumps for circulation and filtration. In fact very soon (by 2020) you will no longer be allowed to use a single speed pump for filtration of your pool. Variable speed pumps are such a vast improvement over the previous design that they are being mandated by law in place of their single speed counterparts. There are a lot of rebates being awarded for pool owners who switch to variable speed pumps so be sure to check with your local hydro supplier to see if you can get some money back for your new energy efficient purchase. If you are interested in knowing more about VS pumps then check out these pump reviews.
The conventional argument against variable speed pumps is to simply turn off your pump for half of the day. This reduces the amount of electricity you use by 50% and you still circulate and filter the pool water enough in most residential pools that you always have clear water. The problem with this is that you are thinking about linear savings - turn the pump off 50% of the time and save 50% of the electricity. A variable speed pump does not work like this. When you reduce the RPM of an electric motor by half it only consumes 1/8th of the amount of electricity it does at full speed. Cut the RPM's by half again and now you are circulating your pool water using only 1/64th the amount of electricity that your single speed pump uses to run. So which is better for cost savings - a single speed pump running for an hour, or a variable speed pump running on low speed for 64 hours?
AOP Systems For Pools
Advanced oxidation potential (AOP) is the number one method to reduce the amount of chlorine and other chemicals that you use in your pool. The only problem is that hardly any pool owners have ever heard about AOP. Even amongst swimming pool technicians AOP is so new that most people are simply not familiar with it or how it can benefit pools. Most specifically it is a hot topic for pool owners to want to get away from chlorine. This is a topic that I have written about before with this article about chlorine free pools and why they are not such a great idea after all.
Advanced oxidation potential combines both germicidal UV light as well as ozone generation in order to force a chemical reaction that creates hydroxyl radicals. Hydroxyl radicals are the natural process for how the atmosphere cleans itself as hydroxyl radicals oxidize impurities up to 1,000,000 times faster than UV or ozone alone. This is extremely significant when it comes to how effective a supplemental pool sanitizing system is. While chlorine is required in order to maintain a residual protective value in pool water, the use of an AOP system will dramatically reduce the amount of chlorine that your pool needs to stay safe and clean. For more information you can read this article about how AOP works in swimming pools as well as these AOP system reviews.
When salt water first became popular (and even still to this day) it was marketed as "maintenance free" and the next best thing since sliced bread. The truth is that salt is not maintenance free, and in fact sometimes can cause a host of problems with pool chemistry and deterioration of different parts of your pool. AOP is still new, and relatively unknown as of right now, but eventually AOP should replace salt water as the most popular add-on item for swimming pool systems.
Swimming Pool Automation Systems
Swimming pool automation systems are more useful, available and affordable than they have ever been before. Automation systems used to be rare other than with high end installations, but modern day swimming pools can almost all benefit from a relatively small investment in an automation panel. Shared pool and spa systems used to be the only pools that used automation and this was simply because it was confusing for pool owners to know how to switch between pool and spa mode manually. With an automation system you could switch the pool over to spa mode and the pool heater would automatically know to ramp the temperature up to 104 degrees. Of course you would still need to walk over to the pool equipment to control this "automation" between pool and spa mode.
We are entering the golden age for swimming pool automation where the cost of automation controls are falling, and the capability and controllability are at an all time high. Basic automation systems quickly progressed from control panels near the equipment to WIFI connected systems that would allow you to make changes to your pool system through an online portal. Current era swimming pool automation systems allow you to control your equipment via smart phone apps. Remotely with your phone you can now adjust your water temperature, pump speed, pool lights, water features, salt chlorinator settings and much more. This is the ultimate level of control that most pool owners want from an automation system and the costs and reliability of the components continue to improve.
You also have the option with automation systems to monitor chlorine and pH levels as well as make automatic adjustments to these with stenner pumps feeding chlorine or acid directly into your pool. No pool system is 100% hands-off in terms of automation since someone still needs to manually monitor the water chemistry levels and refill the chlorine and acid tanks however automation systems like these can get your pretty close. A good choice for entry level automation is to combine a salt system along with pH monitoring and acid injection. Salt pools always make the pH rise, and the easy fix to this is to add acid to the pool. Instead of manually adding acid to the pool this process can be simplified by using an acid feed system and then your job simply becomes to monitor the water and oversee the equipment and replenish with acid as needed.
Robotic Pool Vacuums
A robotic pool vacuum is one of the single best purchases that a swimming pool owner can make. You can now own a literal robot that lives exclusively to swim around your pool while cleaning and vacuuming debris...the future is here my friends. Modern robotic vacuum cleaners are extremely energy efficient and use timers and internal programming to clean the pool in an efficient method that produces reasonably good results. It is normal that your robotic vacuum may miss a spot or two, but a 95% reduction in the amount of vacuuming that you need to do still sounds pretty good!
Automatic in-floor cleaning systems are a fairly popular add-on item for high end swimming pool installations. Concrete pools in particular are the most common to have this expensive upgrade added to them. I have personally built a few dozen automatic in-floor cleaning systems and I would much prefer to skip on this costly addition to your pool and go with a high quality robotic vacuum instead. The in-floor cleaning systems can cost in the range of $10,000 to add them to a pool installation and they require a very powerful pump to operate which means even more ongoing electricity costs. Worst of all any leaks on an in-floor cleaning system for a pool is essentially the worst case scenario when it comes to leaks. Finding and repairing leaks in an in-floor cleaning system can be disastrously expensive and hard to repair.
If you are considering an in-floor cleaning system for your pool I would encourage you to instead save 90% of this cost and buy a high quality robotic cleaner. You can run a robotic vacuum every single day in your pool, and factor in replacing it a few times over, and it still would only cost a fraction of what an in-floor cleaning system would cost you. In my mind it is a slam dunk to choose the robotic cleaner. If you would like to learn more about pool robots you can read this article on robotic pool vacuum reviews.
Automatic Pool Covers
There is only one disadvantage to automatic pool safety covers as far as I am concerned and that is the cost. Automatic covers are complicated and expensive, but can substantially increase the safety of your pool area, as well as improve your heat and chemical efficiency in your pool by as much as 90%. I like to think that there is no price that is too much for safety. Installing a pool safety cover will keep your pool area secure (which is especially important if you have kids or pets) but it will also help you to sell your home one day in the future. The number one reason why people are hesitant to buy a house with a pool is safety, and cost is secondary. Having an automatic safety cover increases the actual safety, but also the perceived safety and perceived value for your home.
Automatic safety covers are expensive and they are best when incorporated into the initial design of the pool. You can install an automatic cover on an existing pool but the rails that the cover runs on will be surface mounted on the deck as opposed to mounted on the underside of the coping cantilever where you can't see it. Even more importantly the cover pit can be recessed below ground on pools designed with an auto-cover. Existing pool installations will need to have an above ground motor and roller assembly for the cover located at the end of the pool.
Automatic safety covers come in a few different styles however any pool that is not rectangular will cost substantially more to fit with a slatted-style cover (versus the roller and lead bar style popular with rectangle pools). In my opinion a rectangle pool is the single best option from a design perspective as well as a cost perspective. Not to mention that a rectangle pool allows for the maximum amount of space for swimming as well as for playing games in the pool.
Pool Upgrade Options To Skip
As someone who has spent their entire adult life working in and around swimming pools I can say with certainty that most of the traditional pool upgrade items are not worth the money. I certainly understand why pool owners might want these items, or at least think they want them, but the reality is that these items are usually only used for a few years at most. After the novelty has worn off, and the children have grown up a little bit, these expensive upgrades tend to sit unused year after year.
Diving boards - Diving boards are the very first option pool upgrade that I would veto when designing my pool. People tend to consider a diving board as standard equipment however the truth is that almost all residential pools are too small and too shallow for a diving board to be used safely. Diving boards are easily one of the most dangerous items you can have installed on a pool and they are not cheap to say the least. A diving board has more longevity than some other options in terms of how much it will get used year after year but still can easily be removed from a pool design to save money, make the pool safer, and eliminate the eyesore of having a diving board on the pool deck.
Pool slides - Swimming pool slides are the next most dangerous option for a pool next to a diving board. If you are interested in making your pool as safe as possible then this is enough reason alone to pass on the slide installation. Add to this the fact that pool slides are very expensive and you have a strong argument against them. In my experience pool slides are amazing the first summer or two, but as soon as your kids start to get a little older, the slide will end up going the entire season without ever being used. I would much prefer to see any budget for a slide reallocated to something that will give you more use long term.
Pool waterfalls - A waterfall is the quintessential upgrade for a swimming pool. The problem is that waterfalls do not actually tend to get used very often and they cost an arm and a leg to have them installed. First, depending on the material that your waterfall is made from, using your waterfall will negatively impact the water chemistry of the pool. In addition to breaking water being bad for heat and chemical efficiency, it can also affect the pH of your water. If you have a concrete or natural stone waterfall this can even further impact your water chemistry. Sure when you have a big party a waterfall is nice but the other 99.99% of the time you will not use it. Save your money on pool waterfalls and water features and instead add something that will actually benefit you day to day.
Don't let me spoil your fun times! If you are big into sliding, or diving, then by all means build the pool that suits your needs the best. This information is more intended to encourage pool owners to really consider what is worth paying to upgrade and what is not. It is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment when you are building a pool...money gets tossed around pretty casually when talking about pool upgrades. Make sure that any item you add to your purchase of a new pool will reward you with more than one or two seasons of use to get the maximum value for your dollar.
Variable Speed Pool Pump Reviews
How Much Can You Save With A Variable Speed Pump
AOP System Reviews
Pool Vacuum Reviews
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