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Expanding Pools of Knowledge

Control Maintenance Costs Without Sacrificing Safety

By Rick Dandes

Science and technology are providing aquatic facility operators cutting-edge advances that keep pools safer, keep pool facilities open, and ultimately save money.

"But we cannot expect an operator nor a manager to know every possible tool to keep a facility running and safe with cleaner water and air," said Tom Lachocki, CEO, National Swimming Pool Foundation, Colorado Springs, Colo. "It is important that facility operators and personnel supplement their experience with formal education."

Agreeing with Lachocki is Shawn P. DeRosa, senior associate director of campus recreation, business and administrative services, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa. "Education is critical," he said. "Those responsible for managing an aquatic facility should, at a minimum, become certified and maintain certification in a pool operator training program that meets the requirements outlined for operator training in the Model Aquatic Health Code."

While this is not always required by state health codes, DeRosa noted, "it most certainly is an industry standard."

The industry standard has long been the National Swimming Pool Foundation's (NSPF's) Certified Pool and Spa Operator course. Additional recognized certification programs include the Aquatic Facility Operator, Practical Pool Management PLUS, Licensed Aquatic Facility Technician, and the Professional Pool & Spa Operator courses, among others. A list of pool operator certification programs may be found online at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/aquatics-professionals/pool-operator-training.html.

Maintaining certification helps demonstrate that the operator possesses a basic level of understanding of pool operations, DeRosa said. "Beyond a basic pool operator certification program, it is important to stay abreast of developments in the field, such as by attending workshops and training opportunities that will expose the operator-manager to advances in science and technologies. The NSPF World Aquatic Health Conference, the Association of Aquatic Professionals Annual Conference and other industry events all provide specialized educational programs and opportunities to meet and speak with manufacturer representatives about new technologies that help keep pools clean, clear and safe."

There are several other things an aquatic facility operator can do that will help with maintaining clear, clean water and healthy air at aquatic venues.

Invest in Automation

Science and technology are providing aquatic facility operators cutting-edge advances that keep pools safer, keep pool facilities open, and ultimately save money.

Chemical controllers allow for regular monitoring of sanitation chemicals, typically chlorine and a pH-adjusting chemical such as muriatic acid or carbon dioxide, DeRosa said. "Through a constant monitoring of a sample stream of pool water, including overnight, when staff are not available to adjust chemicals, these controllers will turn on chemical feed pumps as needed to ensure only enough chemical is added to the water to keep the chemicals within the setpoints defined by the operator. For many aquatic facilities, a pH setpoint of 7.4 allows for efficient use of an oxidizer. Operators should find a setpoint that works for their facilities."

Modern controllers have over-feed alarms and timeout features that prevent overapplication of chemicals, which can be costly and can also lead to injury, DeRosa said. Moreover, newer controllers allow for web-based monitoring and adjustment, so an operator can "check in" on the pool and, depending on the model, make adjustments to setpoint without being physically present.

Automatic controllers and feeders with remote monitoring are common tools to reduce manual operation cost and errors, Lachocki added. More and more, he said, "especially in high-risk environments, in public spas or hot tubs or in little kids' pools, it is required. I'd install automatic controllers, especially in some recreational facilities where you might not have operators on staff on the weekends or at night, when the facility still might be open."

Cole Lathrop manages three swimming pools at his athletic club, the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Ore., and he swears by automation. "Automate functions wherever you can," he said, when offering advice on how operators can save money. "If you don't have some of those automated systems, you are looking at racking up your labor costs. And we found that wherever we can automate, it has lowered our cost overall in maintaining our pools.

"We have three pools, and our chlorine, chemical feed is all done electronically, it is automated," Lathrop added. "We have to check the system, which does tend to add quite a bit of labor, and we are looking to automate that, which will largely pay for itself in less than a year. So, we'll only have to check at the minimum of what the health department requires of us. As far as the air goes, it's the same thing. We have one system that has air quality monitoring, and it is automated. We save quite a bit of energy doing that, versus our other two pools that are not automated, and they run based on what the fans are doing."

Consider a Variable Speed Pump

The relationship between how fast a pump is pumping water and how much energy it takes relates to how much friction it is pumping against, Lachocki said. "When you reduce the flow of a pump by half, you reduce energy required by the pump by four-fold. In the olden days pumps generally had only one speed: on or off. If you install a variable speed pump, in the evening when the pool is closed and if the water quality is satisfactory, you can slow the pump down a little bit and you'll save a tremendous amount of energy. And you're still getting circulation throughout your system. Money is saved. It goes right to the bottom line."

"To reduce costs associated with water circulation and filtration," added Mike Fowler, commercial marketing/sales manager, of a Sanford, N.C., aquatic facility equipment manufacturer, "it is important to understand why pumps and filters consume large amounts of energy and what options are available to lower consumption. Replacing single-speed pumps to newer variable speed pumps is the perfect way to reduce energy consumption and thus operating costs. Another option is to add a variable frequency drive (VFD) to your existing pumps to increase pool pump efficiencies."

When it comes to commercial pools, Fowler explained, a three-phase pump can save an aquatic facility approximately 35 to 60 percent on its energy bills when compared with a one- or two-speed model. Further, when combined with a VFD, it increases the pump's efficiencies, as well as provides better energy savings. Even with a single-phase application, a VFD can be used with a three-phase pump to bring savings to those aquatic facilities.

Technological advancements in today's pool equipment, Fowler continued, "make it imperative for industry professionals to take the time to sit with facility managers to ensure they are achieving the water quality, parameter reporting and cost controls necessary to keep their facilities operating efficiently."

During the pump selection phase for an aquatic facility, the auxiliary features, such as spray pads, fountains and waterfalls, should also be considered, as it is common for them to use the pool's main pump. Some building codes require the use of a multi-speed pump, or in some cases, a separate pump for each auxiliary pool load, Fowler said. "Pumps for aquatic facilities are oversized by design—sometimes more than 20 to 40 percent bigger than they need to be. This is because many architects and engineers look at what is required, then pick the next size up to be sure the pump can handle the job."

Fowler offered a checklist of items to consider before opening your pool for the summer. Every one of these items, he said, can considerably help reduce your aquatic facility maintenance costs:

  • Replace pool pump with a newer, energy-efficient unit.
  • Consider a variable speed pump. VSPs with permanent magnet motors and digital controls can save up to 90 percent in utility costs compared to one- or two-speed pumps with induction motors.
  • If using an energy-efficient one- or two-speed pump, make sure it is sized to the pool's requirements. Affinity laws indicate the power demanded by a pump is proportional to the cube of the flow rate. "For example," Fowler said, "if the pump's flow rate is doubled, then its power demand is increased by a factor of eight. Therefore, it is important to utilize the smallest pump that is capable of completely turning over the pool water in an acceptable amount of time."
  • Reduce run time or speed on your pumps to lower energy use.
  • If using a one-speed pump, reduce filtration run time. In general, water needs to be circulated through the filter once every six hours for most commercial applications.
  • If using a two-speed or VSP, use the lowest speed to appropriately circulate the water. Reducing speed saves more energy than reducing run time.
  • Run the pool's filtration system during off-peak hours when electricity demand is lower (generally between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.). Install a timer or control system to automate hours of operation.
  • Keep intake grates clear of debris. Clogged drains require the pump to work harder.
  • To obtain maximum filtration and energy efficiency, backwash or clean the filter regularly, as required.

Supplemental Sanitation

While there is no silver bullet with regard to managing indoor air quality, ultraviolet light or ozone disinfection systems can significantly improve water quality by helping oxidize organic compounds, DeRosa said. "This, in turn, minimizes the introduction of disinfection byproducts into the air. Secondary disinfection system have become standards in new pool and spa construction and, if properly used, may help to lower overall chemical use, resulting in financial savings in addition to the environmental health benefits."

DeRosa also suggested exhausting indoor air frequently and replacing it with "fresh" outdoor air when possible. "While use of outside air can be a controversial topic in cold climates where there can be substantial savings by recirculating indoor air," he explained, "the challenge faced by pool operators is that recirculating pool air also recirculates the unhealthy chemicals that have evaporated into the air. This can lead to a buildup of DBPs (disinfection byproducts) and that telltale pool smell. A well-maintained and properly ventilated natatorium should not have a pool smell. Customers should not experience eye burn simply by standing on the pool deck or sitting in the stands. Swimmers should not be coughing during their workouts and complaining of asthma-like symptoms."

Improving air circulation and utilizing more source air rather than recirculated pool air laden with chemicals can help address indoor air quality, DeRosa said. "The ability to fully exhaust the air handling system and utilize source air may be especially important following large indoor swim meets or at aquatic venues with spraying or splashing elements."

Ongoing Maintenance Requirements

The best maintenance plan is one that follows the manufacturer's and pool designer-engineer's recommendations for all equipment.

A preventive maintenance plan is a necessary and important part of any aquatic facility operation based on data showing 22.8 percent of pool chemical-related events were due to equipment failure—indicating they could have been prevented, noted Douglas Sackett, executive director, Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code, Decatur, Ga.

The best maintenance plan is one that follows the manufacturer's and pool designer-engineer's recommendations for all equipment. A pool maintenance plan is similar in many ways to the purchase of a new vehicle, Sackett explained. With the purchase of a new vehicle, a manufacturer's maintenance schedule is included. The schedule lists the maintenance items that should be followed such as rotating tires and performing major tune-ups. Likewise, the qualified operator should perform an inventory of all equipment used in the aquatic facility operation. For each piece of equipment, the operator should develop a list and schedule of maintenance items. By following this maintenance schedule, the operator can help prevent costly repairs and breakdowns in the future. Replacing items before they break down may prevent system breakdowns that could lead to outbreaks or injuries. For example, a common breakdown leading to loss of disinfection is a break in the tubing leading from feed pumps to the recirculation system. Although inexpensive, lack of replacement has been implicated in outbreaks.

"We do a round of maintenance every day," said Lathrop. "Yes, it is highly standardized for pools. Having a preventive maintenance check list is a good idea. There is a lot that can go wrong with a pool system, and having that list for a technician is a good way of having them look at everything, even if they are not an expert on everything."

DeRosa suggested some specific maintenance requirements, all of which he deemed "critical." Maintain sanitizer levels (chlorine and pH) at all times, he said. "Lack of sanitizer levels is the number one reason that health departments will shut down a swimming pool. Also, maintain water balance.

"Balanced water contributes to water clarity, as well as longevity of equipment," DeRosa said. "Operators should test pH, total alkalinity, calcium hardness and temperature levels and make adjustments as needed. While certain states have established acceptable ranges for balance chemicals, operators should strive to be within the ideal ranges whenever possible."

For those states that do not have state-specific pool regulations, he continued, operators should refer to the MAHC for guidance. Typically, most pool operators will find that at normal water temperatures, 78 to 84 degrees, water will be balanced when pH is maintained at 7.2 to 7.4, alkalinity is maintained at about 100ppm and calcium hardness is maintained at about three times total alkalinity levels, about 300ppm.

Avoid backwashing sand filters too frequently, DeRosa advised. "Backwashing, the process of cleaning sand filters by reversing the flow of water, can discharge to waste a large volume of water. This increases water replacement costs and necessitates adding additional sanitizing chemicals to adequately treat the newly added water. In pools that are heated, the addition of cold water will also increase heating expenses. Moreover, sand filters become more effective at capturing fine particulate matter after a period of use rather than immediately upon backwashing."

Stainless-steel surfaces should be cleaned daily by wiping the surface down with a clean, wet cloth, not pool water, followed by a wipe-down with a clean, dry cloth. This helps wash off any chemicals that may contribute to surface corrosion. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for daily or weekly cleaning. If using UV disinfection, DeRosa said, monitor dosage levels and schedule maintenance when dosage levels approach lower limits of desired dosages.

Problem Indicators

Smell: Have you ever walked into a hotel, and after you sniff the air a few times you conclude they must have a pool? The bulk of that smell, Lachocki said, " is the result of chlorine reacting with contaminants in the water. We can't prevent perspiration from getting into the water because a human being sweats. But we can reduce the amount of skin cells and cosmetics that come off a person by asking them to take a shower before they get into the water."

Lack of sanitizer levels is the number one reason that health departments will shut down a swimming pool.

The one thing that is the biggest contributor to that smell is contaminants from urine, Lachocki said. "And that is absolutely preventable. The NSPF has created inexpensive posters that operators can post on entranceways to the pool, just to remind people that by using the restroom, they are helping improve the water and air quality.

Now, what happens if you don't do that? he asked. You have customers getting that noxious smell, you have kids' eyes getting red in the pool, and you create a negative experience. Ultimately, it leads to reduced revenue. Why would someone come back to such a facility?

"The question then is what can you do to help reduce that? I'm an idealist," Lachocki said, "but I don't think by putting in signage you'll eliminate everyone from peeing in the pool. Still, the treatment systems in there will reduce those noxious elements in the water that goes into the air. If you can decrease the number of people peeing in the pool, you improve water quality and air quality, and why wouldn't you do that? Spending $20 on some signs to post them just seems like a no-brainer."

Surface corrosion: Rust on stainless-steel elements may be associated with corrosive properties of water or from chemicals in the air that may attach to the metal and accelerate corrosion, DeRosa said.

Eye burn: Eye burn is often a result of elevated combined chlorine (chloramine) levels. Combined chlorine can result from insufficient free chlorine levels to support oxidation of organic matter, including urine and sweat from swimmers.

Swimmer cough: When swimmers routinely complain of difficulty breathing or coughing during their workouts, DeRosa said, "this can be attributed in part to poor air handling. It may be necessary to examine how off-gassed chemicals are removed from the surface of the water. Gentle ceiling-mount fan systems may help move air to the sides of the pool where it can be exhausted through the building's air handling system or similar gutter or deck-based system designed to exhaust pool air from the surface of the water.

Turbidity: Pool water should be clear, DeRosa said. When the surface is not disrupted by swimmers, it should be easy to see the bottom outlet or a marker tile on the bottom of the deepest section of the pool from a distance of no more than 10 yards. Haziness is the first indicator that water clarity is compromised, whether by inadequate sanitizer levels, elevated pH levels, or unbalanced water. Take corrective action immediately to prevent water from becoming cloudy. Turbid pool water is a major safety concern. The entire pool should be closed whenever a portion of the pool water becomes cloudy. The pool should not be reopened until the cloudiness has been resolved and chemicals are within acceptable ranges.

One of the primary causes of cloudy pool water is due to an overload of swimmers in a short period. Clean as we may think we are, the human body carries many contaminants.

There are hundreds of reasons for a pool to go cloudy, explained Terry Arko, a Certified Pool Operator and Instructor and a water specialist, with a Norwalk, Conn., company specializing in products for aquatic facilities. "The cause could be anything from improper water balance to an undersized filter," Arko said. "Surprisingly, many aquatic facility managers immediately treat a cloudy pool with chemicals to clear the water. Many times, it is assumed that the cloudiness in a pool is from a lack of chlorine sanitizer. In response, an aquatic facility manager may throw a chlorine shock in to clear up the pool. However, sometimes the pool does not clear. Next, they will try a clarifier. Again, the pool does not clear. Many chemicals are tried but to no avail. The pool remains cloudy. What is the answer?"

Arko suggested the cloudiness might not be a chemical problem but rather a physical problem. "Most likely, it is a filter problem," he said. "Therefore, when a pool goes cloudy the first thing to check before adding chemicals is the filter. It should be clean. Check the flow rate and make sure the filter is the proper size."

Arko advised taking other steps, including:

  • Checking the pump strainer and impeller.
  • Checking the system for air leaks and clogs.
  • Super-chlorinate or oxidize.
  • Add a chitosan-based clarifer immediately after shocking.

If the filter and pump are working properly but the pool stays cloudy, it is then time for chemical treatment, Arko said. "First, shock oxidize the pool to break up and reduce organic particulate material that is present. One of the primary causes of cloudy pool water is due to an overload of swimmers in a short period. Clean as we may think we are, the human body carries many contaminants, such as bacteria and organisms from our skin, hair and saliva. An active swimmer can release up to two pints of perspiration per hour that contains hundreds of different organic contaminants. This does not include the lotions, deodorants, hair care items and soaps on our skin that are released into the pool water. Summer storms that bring heavy rain or wind can also introduce debris and contaminants."

Oxidation can be accomplished by super-chlorination or using a non-chlorine oxidizer, Arko said. "While oxidation is effective, it can still leave behind remnants of organic contamination that now will be too small for the filter to catch, and this could lead to lingering cloudiness. The answer now would be to add a clarifier. A clarifier is a long chain polymer molecule that works by introducing positive charges into the pool water. Most particulate material that is in suspension in pool water has a strong negative charge. This small micron negative material is attracted to the large positive molecules of the clarifier. The material becomes filterable and is easily removed."



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