Feature Article - April 2018
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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."