Pools built 20 or more years ago still number in the millions and many, if not most, still rely on the most elementary systems — a pump and filter, perhaps a heater and a light. There might be an automatic pool cleaner for convenience or deck-mounted slide for panache, but the simple pool remains the foundation of the industry.
The prevalence and importance of the "simple system" is not lost on service professionals who tend to the needs of aging systems. As an example, Steven Ward of Ward's Pool Service and Supply in Gilbert, Ariz., sees pools with minimal systems as an important part of the market albeit a segment that receives little attention.
"I've been in this market for almost 20 years and we have a broad spread of pools that are 20 to 25 years old or older," he says, "and for many of those pools the only things we've updated is changing pumps to variable speed technology. We do have a wide range of complicated pools too, but there are many with just the very simple system."
As Ward points out, the impact of variable-speed technology has had a significant impact across the spectrum, including pools where the pump doesn't necessarily need to function on more than one or two settings. The impact of the technology has been further bolstered in the Arizona market by Title 44, the 2012 law requiring all new pumps 1-hp or greater to be dual or variable speed.
These changes in law and technology have changed the way pumps are controlled, even in very simple pool systems.
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For decades, single speed pumps on middle class pools have been turned on and off by traditional mechanical time clocks, the enduring precursor of aquatic control systems. To this day, the mechanical time clock and simple on/off switch remain in widespread use, in rare instances merging with the new multi-speed pump technology.
"You can still install a two-speed pump with a dual time clock," Ward says, "but when you do a cost comparison, that gets very close to going to a variable speed pump with its integrated controls. The ROI for moving to variable speed will quickly cover the added cost."
But in general, VSD technology and advanced control offers the simple pool numerous advantages. In considering the impact VSD technology on the operation of simple pools, fellow Arizona service tech Steve Martin of Arrow Pool and Spa in Mesa, Ariz., says his most basic pools benefit from being able to adjust speeds to lower RPMs when running the filter and/or an automatic pool cleaner. "I can run a cleaner at 2,800 rpm, and I can drop it down to 1,700 when the cleaner's not running. I run my own pool usually no more than eight hours a day total, on high speed for two hours and the rest of the time on low speed for filtration. When I slow it down, you can barely hear it running and the pool always looks great."
Similar in some respects, the encompassing trend toward LED lights has also changed the control picture for simple pool systems. Just as a mechanical time clock doesn't suit the needs of a variable speed pump, colored LED lights require programmable sequencing to activate a desired color, which requires some type of automation beyond an on/off switch.
According to techs such as Ward and Martin, the presence of simple systems in the market, combined with technical VSD and LED innovations, altogether points to a need for a control system that's both simple but entirely modern in operational efficiency and smart phone convenience.
"A majority of our pools are still fairly simple, but I estimate that probably 90 percent of those people would want to be able control their system with their phones," Martin says, "but there's not that kind of consensus with our clientele when it comes to spending the money for a system that is more complicated than what they need."
In addition to the cost of control systems capable of handling chemical treatment, landscape lighting, combined spa functions, multiple water features and interface with sophisticated home control system, the sheer complexity intimidates many clients. Even though user interface and set up has become far easier as control system architecture has become more sophisticated, using a complex system will always challenge some homeowners.
Seeking a solution that offers ease of use combined with modern digital efficiencies, Hayward Pool Products recently introduced a system aimed squarely at needs of simple pools: the VS Omni, a simplified offshoot of the company's OmniLogic series of controllers.
In a small nutshell, the system provides control of four features, including integrated VSD pump and LED controls with a simplified smart app user interface. Available in 2018, the company hopes to provide a simple (but functionally advanced) control system for simple pools.
"It's about creating a solution for a large percentage of the market that never had the opportunity to have controls for their pool," explains Greg Fournier, a senior product manager for Hayward. "There are millions of pool owners out there who never thought they would have controls for their pool."
How many millions? According to Fournier, somewhere north of half the market — perhaps more than five million.
Knowing that by its very nature a simplified control system will be used primarily to retrofit existing pools that were not originally built with digital control in mind, Hayward designed the system to be neatly installed in existing junction boxes, replacing time clocks and on off switches with "smart relays." As part of the system's field-testing, both Ward and Martin installed the VS Omni on one of their client's pools. Both techs said the installation and set up was appropriately simple and functional.
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"When you get to the point when somebody wants to use a colored light, for example, which has become very big over the last 10 years, or maybe it's just a simple water feature, then the control technology becomes more and more important," Ward says. "It becomes a different sales point when you can describe how you can do those simple things from your phone."
"The concept should always be that you're controlling what you need to control, the most important things on a pool," Martin adds. "There's no reason someone shouldn't have the same capabilities that you have with elaborate pools with all the different features that are possible. I have a simple pool, but in my case, I love turning the slide off and on with my smartphone. It's a dad thing.
"Maybe it's as simple as that," he says.