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Options / Decision Points

When building a pool, there are naturally a lot of decisions that need to be made concerning various aspects of the maintenance, aesthetics, equipment, etc.  I'll try to cover the thought process of some of the bigger decisions that had to be made:

  1. Filtration System - Sand vs. DE vs. Cartridge:  The first pool builder that I talked to was a huge cartridge fan.  The first thing the salesperson tried to do when I walked into their showroom was to sell me on the virtues of the cartridge filtration system.  He showed me charts about how much better they are at filtering out smaller particles over sand and how close they are to almost matching the cleaning powers of DE.  He then showed me articles about how inhaling DE was a health hazzard and how I didn't want to be messing stuff that can get lodged in your lungs.  I told him that I'm not big into spending a lot of time on maintenance and wanted something that I didn't have to futz around with a lot on the weekends.  He immediately mentioned how little maintenance it was (e.g. spray it off every couple of months, no backwashing ever) and how it much better it filters water than sand.  After about a half hour spiel, I was sold on the cartridge systems.  Months had gone by and I was still convinced I wanted to go with a cartridge system until I started reading postings in poolforum.com.  DE filters, while they were hands down the best for water quality, still seemed to require the most maintenance time.  People seemed to be forever messing with their filters, changing stuff out, backwashing, breathing the stuff in.  Since low-maintenance was a key issue for me, I knew DE wasn't for me.  As far as Cartridge systems, I found that while it was true there was no backwashing involved, there seemed to be a lot of people who had huge problems trying to get the cartridges clean without tearing the filter.  Some spent upwards of an hour trying to get it clean enough to be able to put it back into the housing.  My mind immediately went back to an experience I had with the A/C filters for our house ...

    Since time began, we've always went with those cheap-o 0.99 cents A/C filters from Home Depot.  One day I saw this new fangled A/C filter for $30 that stated that it would forever eliminate the need to buy any more filters.  It was one of those 3M plastic frame deals with special grilles that had a multi-layer micro-fiber core that would eliminate microscopic allergens, reduce maintenance, solve world hunger, etc.  It said that every few months all I had to do was spray it off, let it dry, then pop it back in.  I ended up buying one.  After about a year, I had enough.  Even though it was every few months, it was such a pain having to take it out to back, remove the grills, spray it off, then notice that it wasn't quite clean, then doing it over and over until I had spent close to hour trying to get the darn thing clean.  Then I had to dry it off before bringing it back in.  The maintenance was driving me crazy.  After dumping it in favor of the 0.99 Home Depot specials once again, I came to a realization that Simple is often times better than New and Improved.

    Initially, the idea of having to clean the cartridge filters every few months over backwashing weekly had huge appeal to me.  I'm not a maintenance kind of a guy.  My wife will be the first to tell you that.  But after reading about people's negative experiences,  I pictured myself sitting in the backyard, spraying the snot out of these cartridge filters, then tearing it in my impatience, then having to spend a hundred bucks or so getting it replaced.  Moreover, I started to talk to people with Sand filters.  I asked them what is really involved with backwashing:  I wanted to know how hard it really wasTheir response was somewhat of a surprise to me.  Very few of them said they actually backwashed weekly.  It was like twice a month, depending on how heavy pool usage is.  Then they said that backwashing was nothing more than flipping a valve and turning on the water for a couple of minutes.  Thats it? You mean you don't have to scrub anything or change out anything weekly?  Nope.  Some said they considered bringing out a newspaper to read while doing it but changed their mind because it would probably be done before they finished the first article.  "Yeah, but what about the water quality?  I heard that cartridge systems filter out twice as fine particles as sand."  People started to tell me that its all relative.  It may be true that they are better, but if sand already produces crystal clear water in the first place, what's the real advantage?  I read of how some people could read a date off a coin in 8ft of water filtered by sand using a scope.  Wow.  One pool maintenance guy put it all in perspective for me.  He said that about the only time he can notice a difference is at night when you look at the water through the pool light.  You will tend to see more fine-grained particles floating in the water with a sand filter vs. a cartridge filter or DE.  That's it?  Only noticeable under that condition?  That was it for me.  I had converted from cartridge to sand.

  2. Cleaning System  - In-Floor System vs. Pool Vac - Because I was expecting to save thousands by GC'ing this pool myself, I figured that I could afford to spend more on better quality components on the pool.  I had found out about in-floor cleaners from friends who had their pools done with them and they absolutely loved it.  The in-floor systems basically comprise of a series of nozzles that pop-up in different zones of the pool and propel water in a sweeping, 360 degree circular motion parallel to the pool floor.  Other "directional nozzles" which remain in a fixed position then pop-up and influence the movement of dirt and debris (being blown around by the other nozzles) toward an active main drain that sucks it all up.  The basic idea is that it "pushes" debris towards the drain, while the standard pool vac is like a little underwater vaccum cleaner that walks the pool and "pulls" or sucks debris into it.  The in-ground nozzles can be installed on benches, love seats, steps, spas so most everything is kept clean. 

    The difference between the two systems as I started getting quotes back from the plumbing subs was approximately $2000.  Part of the reason is from all the extra plumbing that's required.  Also, there are only a few places that are authorized to design the placement of the nozzles for your specific pool.  They put your pool through a computer program that determines the optimal number of zones for your pool, the number of nozzles per zone, and the placement of each of the nozzles in each zone.  The thing that still bothered me about in-floors was that you still needed to brush the sides of the pool.  the in-floors work by sweeping water in a horizontal motion so that means that pool walls are excluded.  What a bummer.  I spent a lot of time debating whether $2000 was worth it if I still had to brush the sides every week.  I also found out later that standard pool vacs like the Hayward Navigator or Ultra can be configured to actually climb up walls to some extent.  I'm sure its probably true of most if not all pool vacs.  At that point, I decided that $2000 would be better spent getting some sorely needed furniture for our house.

  3. Chlorination System - Ozone vs. Salt Water vs. Standard Chlorinator - You've probably noticed that all my choices so far have been back-to-basics.  Given that, you would think that this decision would be a no-brainer.  I probably would have been totally happy going with the standard chlorine tablets that have done people just fine for so long.  I decided instead to go with a salt-water chlorinator.  A salt-water chlorinator works by taking slight salted (have to add salt to your pool water) water and passing it through a housing unit that contains a series of metallic plates that a current runs through. Chlorine is produced when the electrical field between adjacent plates separates the sodium from the chloride. The separated chlorine is then used to disinfect your pool water. What this means is that all your chlorine is automatically produced and replenished each and every night when your filtration system turns on - i.e. no more addition of chlorine tablets and chlorine maintenance. The unit that was recommended to me (Zodiac Clearwater LM-24) also has a super-chlorinate option which performs the same function as shocking a pool. This can be achieved by pressing a button on the unit, which will increase the amount of chlorine produced during that cycle to 'shock' levels. From what I've read about Ozonators, ozone acts as a powerful oxidizer and reacts with organic and nitrogen containing compounds much faster. It does not combine with other compounds but instead causes these compounds to break apart. Thus, through the use of an ozone system the need for chlorine is reduced by a significant amount. However, my understanding is that you *still* have to add chlorine tablets to supplement the system. If that's the case, then why not just go with chlorine tablets from the get go?

  4. Interior - Plaster vs. Pebble-Tec - This was probably the easiest of all the decisions.  Being from the Hawaiian Islands, I wanted to get a taste of that back here in the desert.  Going with pebble would help to achieve that tropical lagoon look that I'm after.  When researching the differences between the two surfaces, I found out that plaster is much more smooth and gentle on the feet than a pebble surface.  I heard a lot of horror stories from people who went with pebble interiors whose kid's feet were ravaged by the pebble surface after a couple of hours in the pool.  Even though the pebbles themselves are smooth, they are slightly elevated/raised from the bonding material on the pool.  This causes an abrasive action to the feet especially given how water softens skin after hours of being submerged in water.  This was definitely a consideration since I've got kids myself.

    During my research, I found out that while plaster interiors are much smoother and easier on the feet than pebble, plaster typically starts to deteriorate much sooner than a pebble surface and usually needs to be repaired or replaced in less than 10 years.  This was a huge consideration. Pebble-Tec is actually a trade-mark brand of Pebble pool interior products.  It happens to be the first pebble product that came out on the market and they responsible for popularizing pebble pool interiors, but they are certainly not the only brand of Pebble out there.  Its kind of like Band-Aid, Xerox, Jell-O, or Kleenex - very well-known brands whose names are often confused with the generic products (of bandages, photocopying, gelatin, and facial tissue, respectively), but certainly not the only brands out there.  The reason I mention this is because while getting bids from interior subs, I noticed that the way that competing off-brand pebble products are marketed, they seem to always have a selling point on why their brand is better than Pebble-Tec.  One brand was Baja Pebble.  They advertise that their application process of the pebble onto the bonding material forces the pebbles to be more flush with the surface, thereby creating a smoother surface, and less abrasion to the feet.  On top of that, I discovered that the difference of using real Pebble-Tec as opposed to a competing off-brand pebble product is close to $2000 in my case.  I think that was enough to sway me from going with real Pebble-Tec.  Shucks - I can't technically tell people I have a Pebble-Tec pool.  I have to say its just a pebble-interior pool. :) 

    The same company that does Pebble-Tec also came out with a product in recent years called Pebble-Sheen.  Its supposed to be a higher-end form of Pebble-Tec that uses smaller pebbles and doesn't cause the same kind of abrasiveness as Pebble-Tec.  I've talked extensively to pool builders, Pool Contractors, and subs alike about this.  They all tell me unanimously that the jury is still out on this product.  Most say that only about 5%-10% of their customers request it. They say that they are still perfecting the technology.  The biggest complaint I've heard about it is that because the pebbles are smaller, the product give it a very unappealing look from far away.  It has a "shattered" look to it, looking very similar to regular concrete from far away.  They say that no one wants to pay the exorbitant premium for this and have their pool look like concrete.  Anyways, I didn't pursue this heavily.  I heard so many negatives about this product that I figured it wasn't even worthwhile to do research into it. 


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