Stick, tablet, liquid, automated — what commercial feeders have to offer
With the siren call over public pool water safety with regulations from various state health departments, automated chemical feeders have spiked in popularity. But what do the pool pros prefer?
Troy McGinty, Hayward Pool’s global commercial product manager, says there’s strong demand for sodium hypochlorite and liquid chlorine. “That said, peristaltic pumps are the primary choice for commercial pools, followed by calcium hypochlorite erosion feeders with a solenoid valve, operated by a controller,” McGinty says. “Salt chlorine generation with secondary sanitization, meaning UV or ozone, is on the rise.” Why the combination? McGinty says salt chlorine generators are very difficult to size. “It might be able to meet the demands of the commercial pool 75 or 80 percent of the time,” he says, “but in cases where you have direct sunlight, or a very hot day when the entire football or soccer team are in the pool at the same time, the salt chlorine generator can’t make more than it was specified to make. Supplementary chlorination essentially fills the void created by that extra demand.”
McGinty says stick and tablet feeders are still in demand, but that there are issues with them. “It has inherent issues like tablet storage,” McGinty says. “Feeders get clogged, and there’s a lot more maintenance than liquid feeders.”
“Chemical automation is really becoming a legal requirement in many places,” says Lance Fitzsimmons of saltwater chlorination company ControlOMatic. Fitzsimmons admits he sees some confusion in the marketplace about this. “The stumbling block is most controllers run on ORP technology; it’s more of a qualitative, opposed to quantitative, measurement of water quality. ORP is also affected by a few variables. For example, the health department is concerned with how many parts per million of chlorine is in the water. The variables which affect pool water ORP are pH, alkalinity, combined chlorine or cyanuric acid.”
With all of these variables, how can you best level the chemical playing field in pool water? Fitzsimmons strongly advises proper controller setup. “Our programming allows the user to really fine-tune things, so you can have very tight pH measurements,” Fitzsimmons says. “Typically, you can get it set to maintain a plus or minus 10mV on your ORP and plus or minus 0.1 pH factor.”
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State and municipal health agencies pay close attention to these measurements. California’s Title 22 requires specific water-quality measurements be taken daily. One of those is ppm of chlorine, measured with bpd (backflow protection device). California is one of many states that requires manual readings of water quality from public pools.
While health regulations demand frequent monitoring and testing, choosing a system — liquid or tablet — depends on the size of the pool being treated, says Mike Fowler, Pentair’s commercial marketing manager. “As far as which system is best,” he says, “my subdivision has a slightly older neighborhood pool and they use a chlorine tablet feeder; it helps to maintain that pool just fine. Larger facilities like to have the liquid automation systems, so they don’t have to have someone there all the time adding tablets.”
Fowler also points to potential savings with automated feeders. “There are potential savings on chemical usage,” he says. “With automated controllers you’re setting certain parameters of how you want your chlorine or pH levels. With the automated controller, you’re not overusing or wasting chemicals.”
Gary Gripp is the commercial service manager at Anderson Pool Works in Portland, Oregon. He routinely services HOA and hotel pools, and even water parks. Gripp cautions that while there are savings to be had with automated feeders, the water quality still requires human attention.
“Whatever you do, the pool must be balanced 100 percent before turning it on,” Gripp says. “Once on, do your settings. Remember, this is not a ‘set it and forget it’ situation. The first month alone requires a great deal of testing.” As a commercial pool service tech, Gripp advises his clients to be realistic. “Automated feeders will save time and money, just know that there are certain things you must pay attention to, both initially and for years to come.”