Dec 03

Are you thinking of buying a robotic pool cleaner?

In the past, almost everyone used a suction cleaner or pool vaccuum, and we all became accustomed to swimming around the hose, and listening to that ‘tick tick tick’ sound whenever we were near the pool!vacuum hose

However, in the last few years, robotic cleaners have become quite affordable, so are gaining popularity with pool owners. But while it is true that a robotic cleaner can be used in any pool, not every robotic cleaner is suitable for every pool.

If you have an abrasive pool surface such as pebble, you’ll need a cleaner that is strong enough to scrub the surface clean, and durable enough to tolerate any wear against the cleaner skirting.

On the other hand, if you have a soft and flexible surface finish such as vinyl, you need to ensure a robotic cleaner has no sharp edges, and that the tracks and rollers are gentle enough to not cause wear on the pool finish. With all pool finishes, it is also important to ensure there is enough clearance on the underside of the robot to avoid rubbing and scraping against the surface.

So which is better to use? Robotic or suction? It really is a matter of opinion. Suction cleaners have been the norm for many years in Australia, and they generally do a pretty good job, for a very reasonable price. But all pools are different, and no cleaner is perfect (there is usually a corner or step, or some other spot in every pool where the suction cleaner always seems to miss!)

Plus you have to wrestle with the cleaner and hose when you want a quick swim as most pool owners just don’t bother to remove the vacuum from the pool. And when you do finally take the vacuum out, no one ever lays the hose out nice and straight, to minimise any effects of hose kinks on the cleaner’s performance. (Suction cleaners rely on the hose to help control the area they cover and the direction they take).

I’ve personally owned a number of suction cleaners over the years, and a couple of robots, so I thought I’d put together some of my thoughts, to help anyone who is tossing up between a suction cleaner and a robotic cleaner.

Robotic cleaners are designed to be put in the pool once or twice a week for up to 2 hours to roam around the pool in a random pattern and vacuum all the dirt and leaves from the floor and walls. The biggest issue I have with robots is the cleaning! That’s right – you need to clean the cleaner! They need to be cleaned every time they do a full pool clean.

I liked my suction cleaner’s handling of the dirt and leaves, it just sends it all to the pool filtration system. I found my sand filter much easier to clean than the cartridges of the robot – it was just a matter of switching off the pump, turning the valve, then running the pump until the waste water was clear, selecting rinse for a minute and then back to normal filtration. Quite easy really, and only takes about 7 minutes.

The robot takes about 7 minutes each time I clean it – and I have to do this at least every week – whereas I only backwash my sand filter every 4-6 weeks. However, I love the fact that my pool has NO cleaner in the water most of the time and no annoying “tick”, “tick” sound or the surface of the water rippled all the time.

And, when I go for a swim, I jump straight in and don’t have to remove the suction cleaner and store it alongside the pool edge. Now putting the robot in the pool and getting it back out requires a bit of strength, especially getting it out when as you have to wait for the water to drain out before lifting it otherwise it is quite heavy.

Now – the effect of the cleaners on your pool finish. The suction cleaners are often left in the pool all the time as some people choose to swim with them as it is easier. The problem is, for 8 or more hours a day in summer, the suction cleaner is rubbing over the pool surface. If you have an abrasive surface, this will wear the cleaner skirt and some other parts. If you have a soft surface such as PVC, the suction cleaner can rub and wear the surface over time, and if it doesn’t move evenly over all parts of the pool, you may see its common path in form of a wear track, usually around the wall to floor junction.

The concept of a robot being more compatible with all pool surfaces comes from the fact they are only used for a short period of time – BUT you need to make sure you have the correct tracks and rollers for your pool surface finish.

If your pool surface is quite abrasive, then the robot will have less wear on its tracks and rollers as it is only used for relative small amounts of time, but the wearing parts need to be compatible otherwise you will need to replace them quite quickly. If your pool has a soft finish, the robot makes sense as again it is only used for small amount of time, but you need to make sure the areas of contact with your pool finish are compatible so as not to create wear spots.

One of the considerations for your pool before you purchase a robot if you have a softer finish is to ensure the shape of the surface is free of sharp edges, and that there is enough clearance of the underside of the robot to avoid rubbing and scraping these edges, as the hard plastic of the robot body can cause abrasions.

If you ever suspect your robot has caused abrasion to your pool finish, just check the tracks and the underside of the unit – you will likely see some of the pool surface colour on it and maybe some worn plastic parts.robotic cleaner print rub off on tracks

So in my opinion, if you are on a budget or don’t mind swimming with the hose and cleaner, or removing it every time you swim, a suction cleaner will work for you.

If you want the clean look of a pool without a hose and cleaner 99% of the time and happy to rinse off the cartridges after every clean, then a robot will suit you.

Remember, no cleaner is perfect, but they sure beat having to set up the vacuum hose, handle and brush and cleaning the pool manually yourself!

 

Nov 04

Pool Shops: 5 ways to compete with online sales

Whatever products you are selling, odds are, someone can find it cheaper online. While instinct may be to ‘fight fire with fire’, the overheads attached to running a bricks and mortar pool shop means that price matching to online competitors is just not viable.  So what can you do?

1. Value Add. Yes, you can buy a solar pool cover online on ebay and a whole host of pop up discount stores. While many of them are cheap imported covers that will only last one season, some of the covers will be of comparable quality (sometimes even the same brand) as you are selling.  If you can’t afford to price match, you can always add more value. Adding value doesn’t have to mean giving away another $10 worth of product with every purchase – it can be extra service (such as free water testing or troubleshooting), specialist advice, a loyalty program, or even upselling with an installation service. What about a free loan trailer to take home large items that don’t fit in their car? By offering more than just a ‘product in a box’, you are adding value – and giving your customer more than they would get online.

2. Build a Relationship. Be their local pool shop. Be their ‘go to guy’ for anything related to their pool. Don’t be there for the quick buck and sell them stuff they don’t need – while it might work in the short term, they’ll wise up to it eventually, and will never trust you again. Ideally, you want every pool owner within a 15 minute drive to your shop to know who you are. They should know your face, and your name. When they buy on line, they buy from a faceless, nameless stranger, who may well be operating out of his mother’s basement (and probably doesn’t even own a pool!) When they buy from you, they are dealing with someone they know and trust, and are supporting a local business as well. Most people are happy to pay a little extra when it comes to buying Australian, and supporting local business.

3. Online Presence. While you may not be able to compete with them online pricewise, you do still need to be there. Social media such as Facebook and Google+ – and your own website.  There are plenty of free do-it-yourself online options these days. You can even set up your own ecommerce website. It doesn’t have to be expensive – with platforms like wordpress and shopify, you can have your pool shop online, with checkout facilities for less than $50 a month. While you are not likely to make millions, at least you are there, as a valid alternative. And if you don’t want to be posting parcels out, consider a ‘click and collect’ type option. Buy online then hop in the car and pick it up next time you’re driving past? Why not? Beats sitting around for days or even weeks, wondering when your parcel might be delivered!

4. Convenience. Above all, a local pool shop is convenient. You’re generally there 7 days a week, you can talk to them and offer advice, and you are just a short drive away. If they have a problem with their item, they can go and talk to you about it. This is an extra service – another value add – something they can’t get online.

 

Apr 22

Is there a special type of liner for an indoor pool?

 If you are renovating or installing a new PVC lined indoor pool, consider the type of PVC liner you are using.

Some people say all liners are the same, with the only difference being thickness, but that’s just not true. Most liners are made from a PVC film. This flexible, stretch fabric relies on the structure of the pool, and the weight of the water to maintain its shape. This works well in most situations, and with high quality options available, it’s an excellent surface finish for both above ground and inground swimming pools that are outdoor.

However, under certain environmental conditions (likely to be found in an indoor pool) the fabric of a standard PVC liner can sometimes start to ‘absorb’ water.

PH, total chlorine levels, ventilation and bathing load are all thought to be contributing factors. If the liner fabric begins to absorb water, it eventually expands the PVC, which then causes wrinkles to form in the pool. The wrinkles usually start on the floor of the pool, but can be all over the whole liner. If you look closely at a section of affected PVC, you can see the surface is weakened, and prone to forming tiny cracks that can develop into larger tears.

If this happens, there is no reversing of the process, and the life span of the liner is greatly reduced.

While many indoor pools are surfaced with standard PVC liners without any problems, there is always a risk of it occurring in the right (or wrong) conditions, and it is best to avoid the risk completely in indoor pools, by using a reinforced liner.

AquaForce is a specialist reinforced PVC fabric which is suitable for use in indoor pools. AquaForce features an internal reinforcing layer that keeps the fabric stable in indoor pools, and virtually eliminates the risk of wrinkling.

With a three layer design, AquaForce has a PVC base ply, a layer of reinforced polyester mesh, then topped with another ply of PVC. All three layers are homogeneously bonded together during the manufacturing process to be permanently fused. The mesh reinforcing layer stabilises the fabric and stops it from shrinking or expanding. 

Traditional PVC liners can be delivered to site fully welded in one piece, but AquaForce reinforced PVC liners are always fabricated on site, as they do not stretch or form to the pool shape.

The rolls of the AquaForce fabric are laid in the pool and overlapped to form seams that are welded on site. Edges are then sealed, to stop water absorption through the fabric itself. AquaForce liners can be fitted to any pool shape, as the liner is cut and shaped in the pool on site, allowing it to be fitted over steps and benches and down into deep ends of all style of pools.

 So if you are looking to install a PVC liner in an indoor pool, we recommend the use of a reinforced PVC such as AquaForce, to reduce the risk of wrinkling. AquaForce is also recommended for use on Commercial PoolsIndoor commercial pool, bunbury WA AquaForce liner.

Jun 22

Is your pool ready to swim?

Spring is here and, as the warmer weather coaxes us into the outdoors more, it’s time to get your pool ready to swim.

Is your pool too cold? Green and neglected? Full of leaves and debris? Or, all of the above? The solution is easy…

A cold pool is easily transformed into an oasis with a solar pool blanket. They raise your pool water temperature by up to 8 degrees C and can extend your swimming season by up to 3 months a year, so you can start swimming sooner.

A green pool usually means algae has started to grow in the water, due to lack of maintenance. Super chlorination is the quick fix, backed up with regular testing and adjusting to get the chemical balance just right for swimming again. Remember to remove your pool cover when super chlorinating!

If a pool full of leaves is getting you down, simply cover up with a fitted pool cover. There are many different styles available for both inground and above ground pools, salt water and chlorinated, specifically for keeping your pool leaf-free. They are cost effective and can pay for themselves in the first year, due to how much money you’ll save on chemicals and water. Plus, you’ll have more free time to swim in your crystal clear pool.

 

Jun 22

How long should a pool liner last?

Have you noticed in recent years the trend here in Australia and New Zealand toward an increased life span of (locally made) inground and above ground pool liners?

Does it make you also wonder, “How long should they last”?

In the past few years, large numbers of medium and large sized above ground liners have been imported from China and sold into our local market. And, it shouldn’t be too long now till we see how well they really perform in our harsh climate! As an educated guess, it’s likely they won’t last anywhere near as long as the Australian made liners.

I’m sure consumers are happy with many, many years of use from a locally made liner, but does this limit the opportunity for pool owners to update their pool look because the liner lasts so long? If my car exterior and interior looked as good after 10 years as it did the day I purchased it, I would be less likely to update it every 4 years. But as I drive it each day, the carpet looks a bit worn and the door trims have those scuff marks from the bottom of my shoes. You get the little dents and scratches on the doors from parking at the shopping centre and so you decide its time to upgrade.

This poses the question, “Would a pool owner be happier with a “new look” to their pool more often”?

Would they like to update the look of their pool to match current trends, as often as they change their furniture or paint their house? Or are pool owners deterred from updating their pool because there is plenty of life left in their pool liner and so they opt out because the current one is still doing the job?

My view is that you should expect a pool liner to last around 8-10 years for an Above Ground pool and 12-15 years for an Inground Pool Liner – but I know from experience that many last much longer. What do you think? How long should an Above Ground Liner last? How long should an Inground Pool Liner last?

Message me your thoughts…

Feb 05

Water balance and Vinyl Liners

Recently, one of my colleagues suggested I review an article about water chemistry and testing which focused on the effect of un-balanced pool water on vinyl liners. It concluded that balanced pool water has a major effect on the longevity of a vinyl liner in a swimming pool. I thought it important to pass on a summary of what was learned through the testing process.

We all know that water balance is important to the performance of the sanitising chemicals used in a pool, as well as for water clarity and comfort of the swimmers. However, water balance is equally as important for the life of your pool liner.

Using standard parameters of total alkalinity of 150ppm, calcium hardness at 100ppm and the starting concentration of cyanuric acid at 100ppm, a series of tests were conducted with different types of chlorine and PH levels ranging from 2.0 up to 10.0. Here is what was discovered…….

Samples with free chlorine at 1.5ppm where the PH was maintained between 7.0 and 7.5 (the Aust Std is 7.2 – 7.6) showed no adverse effects. The lower the PH dropped below 7.0, the greater the fading, wrinkling and loss of strength in the vinyl liner, plus it increased in weight (likely from water absorption which is what causes the wrinkling). As PH increased above 7.6 the vinyl lost weight and expanded. Samples with free chlorine at 20ppm where the PH was maintained between 7.0 and 7.5 showed colour change where white turned yellow and blue faded and became dull in colour. This high chlorine concentration caused wrinkling as well.

What this tells us is, it is important to maintain water balance to maximise the life of your pool liner. However, the study also revealed that even though the look of the liner changed with exposure to extremely bad chemical levels, the vinyl still remained functional as a pool liner!

Dec 03

My backyard, is it indoors or outdoors?

The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP) annual trade show in Las Vegas last month was focused on Swimming Pools, Spas and Backyard Living. It was obvious to me, when looking through the exhibitors’ booths, that the line between the backyard and the house is not as defined as it used to be. We are now seeing outdoor kitchens as part of our BBQ areas and back doors have been replaced with folding walls in many new home designs so the outdoor entertainment area becomes part of the house. The question this raises for me is, how too will the Australian Pool & Spa industry bridge this line between the house and backyard?

Some innovators have already started…. One thing I noticed was the number of pool and spa accessories that were available, to make the time a pool owner spends in and around their pool more pleasurable. Some of these items included light shows – not just for the pool, but for other water features. Even illuminated floating lights as part of your outdoor table display, fountain or pond. There were Plasma TV units that were in waterproof housings so they could be installed adjacent to the pool without the worry of getting splashed and damaged. Designer spa covers in fabrics that would match patio awnings and outdoor furniture cushions also caught my eye. One top of the range Spa was set up like a “home theatre” with six reclined moulded seats that were covered with jets to pamper you while you listened to music through waterproof surround sound speakers that extended from the spa deck – all this while watching a large screen plasma TV that magically elevated from within the Spa at one end. How great does that sound? The challenge for our industry is to ensure that all these accessories are functional, so they become more widely used and therefore more affordable.

I will admit upfront that I am not a great fan of automated pool covers, due to the fact that the most successful of these covers need to be incorporated into the pool design before the pool is built. I find that new pool owners often don’t plan that far ahead and therefore many of these automated covers are not an option once the pool is built, without major construction work on the pool surround. However, I did see one cover at the show which I thought was fantastic. It was a load-bearing aluminium cover in sections sized between 1200mm and 2400 mm wide. It looked like timber decking and it automatically rolled off the pool using a remote control and stacked the panels below or above the ground. The example shown had a pool with a false wall at one end and the cover magically slid underneath the wall while the pool was in use. When the pool was covered, you had a great deck area that could be used for all types of activities. How fantastic is that?

Nov 12

How lucky are pool owners in Australia?

Last week I was in the U.S. at the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals annual pool show in Las Vegas. While visiting a lot of booths of vinyl liner suppliers, something became very obvious to me, Australian pool owners are lucky. I knew that installers of Inground Pool Liners in Australia were innovative and offered their customers more options than their counter parts in the U.S. & Europe, but being at the show and talking to liner manufacturing companies really highlighted some of the things we do differently (and better) here. That is fastening liners under water.

One company at the show was touting their “new” under water extrusion for liners where you can now have ceramic tiles around the water line of the pool, with the benefits of a vinyl finish over the rest of the pool. For some panel pool systems, this is an attractive option, but I have been in this industry over 30 years and I know vinyl liners have been installed in Australia under water in pools with a ceramic waterline for over twenty years.

Another company was telling me how they were trying to design a suitable measuring system to fit liners into old concrete and fibreglass pools. I developed a successful system back in 1993 to measure these complex shaped pools and then turn the measurements into CAD data to create the patterns and pieces for manufacturing the liner. This is another example where a pool owner in Australia has more options for renovation or repair.

So I have come to the conclusion that pool owners in Australia are lucky. They are lucky to have access to the best technology and systems for measuring, making and installing pool liners to their Inground swimming pools. The Australian pool owner more importantly has available the necessary skills of the installers who then fit the liner to these difficult pools. I take my hat off to the innovators and pioneers of these installation methods. They are true craftsmen that have developed their skills by tackling difficult installations and developing methods and processes to make it work.

Going forward for our industry, I believe it is important we foster these skills and take the time and effort to train newcomers to our industry so we can ensure our customers can enjoy the ease of maintenance and soft to touch finish of vinyl, no matter what the age or construction of their pool.