Ahhhh, digital automation and sophisticated electronics listening to everything you say and tracking everywhere you go with “smart home” technology…so you might as well take advantage of it to control your swimming pool and assist with pool maintenance, right?! It’s definitely possible with a swimming pool automation system, luxuriously useful, and expandable to other features beyond just your pool pump equipment (landscape/hardscape lighting, water features, pool covers, firepits, sprinkler systems, etc.) The more features you have to control remotely from an app, the more you can justify the need for an automation system. Additionally, if you have a rental property or a vacation home with a swimming pool (or if you just travel away from home often), an automation system is highly recommended to be able to control your system from anywhere (assuming the property has an internet connection). “Hey Siri/Alexa/Google, heat the spa to 100 degrees, please!”
Pool automation control systems connect to your home’s Internet Wifi router (either wired or wirelessly) and allow you to control everything from the iPhone/iPad/Android app on your smart device from anywhere. The leading manufactures for swimming pool automation systems are Jandy, Hayward, and Pentair. All three have well-designed apps for mobile phones and tablets to control your pool equipment. These allow pool owners (as well as pool builders/contractors for remote assistance) to control the system remotely. Here at Solid Structures, we install Jandy, which utilizes the iAqualink automation system. Each pool builder will have their partnering pool equipment manufacturer, so don’t stress about that too much.
Automation systems are highly recommended for pool owners who have or desire the following features in their pool and landscape design:
Additionally, if you are not home often, have rental properties, or vacation homes, automation systems are a significant advantage to ensure everything is operating correctly and also having the ability to shut things down, if needed. Automation systems are always best to add when you first install the pool. Ask your pool builder to quote you with and without the system while covering the pros of having one and the cons of not relative to the type of pool and features you are incorporating into the overall design. However, automation systems can be installed after the fact if you determine the features are desired. A proper swimming pool and landscape design service will help ensure you are making the best investment into your home with aesthetics and functionality…think of it as “curb appeal” for your backyard.
Let’s cover some of the primary reasons to consider an automation system for your pool.
Remotely controlled automation systems are especially useful when you have a heater for your pool, spa or hot tub, or pool/spa combo. Here in the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Virginia area, heaters significantly extend the pool season, so combining a pool heater with an automation system adds a lot of value and increases overall pool usage. You could be driving home saying to yourself, “Self! I need a good hot soak when I get home!” Then, with the touch of a button on your phone app, you have the ability to get things cooking remotely. With a pool/spa combo, the automation system actuates the water plumbing valves to isolate the spa filtration, kicks the heater on to your desired temperature setting, engages the proper speed on the pool pump, and even adjusts the salt system chlorination rate. When you get home, all you need to do is get in without any waiting for water to heat. This is an extremely beneficial reason to have an automation system.
Overall, being able to control a pool heater through an app from anywhere beats having to physically go to the side of your house to turn things on, adjust temperature, and then turn off. We’ll be happy to talk to you personally about many other hypothetical usage scenarios.
Speaking of automated valve actuators, here’s a pro tip to ask your pool contractor or pool builder about. You can also use automation systems to drain your pool of rainwater, sending the excess water to a drainage area or the street. Then, shut it off when your pool reaches the correct water level. Forget about that flexible blue hose and manually turning valves at the equipment pad! You’re welcome. Okay…back to the main points.
Automation systems make it simple to control the schedule of your light relay switches (pool and landscaping lights). Not only that, but they will automatically adjust to the season and the time when it turns to dusk and account for daylight savings time. Additionally, if you have color changing LED lights, you can select your desired color, color theme specific parties (e.g., red/white/blue for 4th of July), and also completely turn the lights off to engage “stealth mode” for skinny dipping without worrying about popping up on your peeping neighbor’s radar.
If you have front or backyard landscape accent lighting. or lighting within your deck or hardscape, you can also have those lights wired into the the same low voltage transformer/relay as your pool (so when your pool lights come on your landscape lights also turn on) or on a completely separate automated relay to control everything separately from within the app. Consider this when selecting your automation system because the amount of available relays typically changes the automation system model number.
There’re a few things to think about to help justify the cost of an automation system. Otherwise, you may find yourself messing with timers/switches and transformer relay switches within the control panel on the side of your house beside the pool equipment pad.
Fire features, such as gas fire pits, tiki torches, and fire bowls can be incorporated into your design for a true resort-like atmosphere. Being able to have these ignite (and extinguish) on a set schedule without the need for you to light them by hand is a nice upgrade. Our design consultants can walk you through which fire features are compatible with automation systems.
Being able to remotely monitor your chlorination system to assist with pool maintenance, water chemistry, and sanitation is another practical use for automation systems. For example, you’ll be able to observe the salinity levels to ensure your chlorination system is able to produce the correct amount chlorine to properly sanitize your pool water. Also, if you have a pool/spa combo, you could automatically configure spa mode to turn down or turn off the chlorination level to accommodate the smaller body of water so you don’t inadvertently super-chlorinate your spa participants.
Remotely controlling the chlorination system is another great feature for those who may have a vacation home or a home that is rented to people who are not able or willing to maintain the pool system for the time they are staying there. You can remotely “shock” your pool by boosting the chlorine output to 100% for 12-24 hours after a hard rainstorm or heavy guest use to ensure the pool water stays as clear and sanitized as possible…you know…after the kids who said they didn’t pee in the pool actually did…more than once.
An important point to get out of the way…Stagnant water in your pool plumbing is not good. A 2-inch length of PVC piping underground can hold many of gallons of water. If you aren’t using the water feature consistently, that water is not circulating. Therefore, the automation system can be programmed to schedule your water features on for short periods of time daily to ensure the water in the pipes circulates through the system. Additionally, if you have a pool/spa combo (we specialize in fiberglass pool installations), you’d want to schedule spa mode (or spillover where applicable) at least once per day to sufficiently filter and chlorinate that body of water. Would you want to manually turn valves on the side of your house daily to do this? Will you be there to turn them? Will an animal scare you at night sending you into a panic?!…Maybe! Automation systems really help you maintain your entire system on a set schedule or with the push of a button.
With that said, automation systems allow you to turn on that water feature when the kids are begging for it and then turn it off when the kids are splashing the water feature water out of the pool before you lose too much water! Schedule the features to activate on specific days, times, or on-demand in sync with the proper flow of water from the pump. More on pump flow below…
Automation systems paired with multi-speed or variable speed pool pumps allow you to set, maintain, monitor, and schedule your pool pump without having to go on the side of the house. Recall that automation systems allow you to engage water features with auto-actuating valves in your pool plumbing…but are you aware those water features may not operate correctly without a specific RPM from your variable speed pump? Automation systems allow you to calibrate each water feature to the best RPM for optimal water flow. So, if your deck jets, laminars, or cascade waterfalls work best with a specific amount of water being pushed to them, a single click within the automation system simultaneously sets the correct RPM of the pump, opens the correct actuating valve to the correct percentage, and activates any applicable light transformers for the nighttime aesthetics and ambiance. Imagine trying to do all that manually with valves, settings, and switches…not fun or convenient!
For those living in applicable regions, automation systems also allow you to set freeze protection automation on your system to prevent frozen pipes. As long as water is moving/circulating, the risk of freezing water is minimal. For example, you can set your pump to engage automatically if the ambient air temperature drops below 34 degrees F, accounting for any minimal inaccuracies of temperature calibration. You can also set your automated valves to actuate which circulates water through a spa, water features, etc. Lastly, you can set your pool heater to automatically start heating water once it drops below a set minimum limit.
If something is wrong with your system, most automation systems will provide you with error codes for the specific device. For example, maybe the remote wire to your pump has been disconnected, maybe your pool heater has had an ignition sequence fault, etc. Think of it like having the computer plugged into your car when the Check Engine light comes on. The automation system will clue you into what’s going on.
In the end, automation systems for an automated pool are not absolutely necessary, but most homeowners can find multiple advantages of having one to justify the cost. As backyard designers in Virginia Beach, Cheasapeake, Norfolk, and other parts of the Coastal Virginia area, what’s most important to us is you maximize your swimming pool satisfaction and spend as little time as possible tinkering with “analog” switches and valves. Consider some of the scenarios mentioned in this article and make an informed decision based on what features you’d take advantage of most. When you are ready for a professional pool and landscape design, and if you are located in this Virginia area, please contact Solid Structures.
Scott Prunty is the president of Solid Structures. Throughout his 15 active years in the Design-Build Outdoor Living industry, he has earned various certifications in the areas of ICPI Residential, ICPI Advanced Residential, ICPI Commercial, PCIP, and is an ICPI certified instructor.