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“Readiness” To Meet Water Quality Challenges – A History

There’s a saying in French cooking that I’ve always loved: mise en place.

Translated it means, “everything in its place,” or as I was taught in culinary school, “the state of readiness.” In practice, mise en place simply means being prepared to cook; having the kitchen set with all cookware, accouterments, and ingredients ready to rock-n-roll.

I contend there’s a direct parallel in creating and maintaining top-shelf bodies of water, a mise en place aquatique. That might sound fancy, as many French phrases do, but it’s really just commonsense. When all the pieces in an aquatic system complement and support each other—hydraulics, chemical treatment, control technology, filtration, heating and, often, automatic pool covers—the water stays clean and safe, is far more easily maintained, and is usually so at reduced costs.

Having been indoctrinated by my culinary instructors to the concept of readiness, I’ve come to approach aquatic design, construction, and maintenance the same way. I believe the best way to ensure a pool system is synergistic is to design and build it yourself so that you know it’s in a state of readiness. That’s why my favorite design / construction projects are those I know we’ll service later on, and likewise my preferred service accounts are for pools we’ve built.

As a result, the pools we design and construct are not only beautiful but also remarkably easy to maintain, and it’s all because we’ve made sure everything is in its place.

The Idea House Water Quality Challenge

In all, I worked for just shy of 20 years in service before moving into design and construction. We had become proficient in repairs, minor to major, but it wasn’t until 2007 I designed and built our first original project. It all started when Hamptons Cottage and Gardens magazine contacted us with an offer to participate in an “Idea House” project, which the publication was sponsoring.

The concept was to create a home that maximized energy efficiency, embodied environmental stewardship and reflected state-of-the-art design and construction.

For our part, the magazine challenged us to create a pool with beautiful water quality that didn’t use any chlorine. As unconventional as that idea has traditionally been, my experience in service had led me to believe that with the right system in place, eliminating chlorine altogether was, indeed, possible.

I learned a lot on that project, to say the least. Among the most important revelations was my belief in the power of the ozone / UV combination, which I’ll detail in an upcoming blog. I also developed the approach of running the sanitizing and oxidizing systems on separate sets of returns on opposite sides of the pool, with two sets of three skimmers maximizing cleaning and creating circulation through the vessel.

The Idea House was open with daily tours throughout the summer of 2008. The pool was a terrific success and our work designing and building bodies of water had begun. It was an exciting time to say the least.

Design, Build, Maintain

In the years since, we’ve continued to learn how the decisions builders make have an almost incalculable combined impact on the way a pool operates and the level of maintenance it requires.

In one of the more obvious examples, the builder chooses the chemical treatment system. For numerous reasons, that decision alone stands as one of the most pivotal of all. It influences everything else that happens in the water. In our practice, we turn to differing versions of ozone / UV and small amounts of chlorine on the vast majority of projects.

Although a number of factors influence the design of each system—source water, anticipated bather load, indoor versus outdoor, dirt and debris, even the presence of birds—the objective of readiness always remains the same. The conditions surrounding and impacting each body of water similarly dictate the type of filtration, pump selection, turnover rate, the number and placement of skimmers, the interior finish, hardscape materials, the plumbing layout, heating, and the control system.

There are countless examples of how everything works together; consider the synergies of using an automatic pool cover, as one. A cover prevents dirt and debris from entering the pool and retains heat by reducing evaporation. An automatic safety cover also prevents accidents. It saves money, reduces chemical demand, and extends the swim season by making heating more cost effective. That’s quite a list stemming from one lone decision of whether or not to cover the pool.

The same kind of benefit can be found in a properly designed plumbing layout. If cherry trees surround a pool, common in much of the Northeast, we’ll increase the number of skimmers. Service techs all know how valuable adequate skimming action is, especially when something like cherry blossoms fall into the water in large quantities. In all pools, we work to create complete circulation distribution, which dramatically increases the effectiveness of most any type of chemical treatment. Likewise, even distribution increases heating efficiency. It all works together.

Control systems offer a different type of synergistic benefits. Not only does chemical control work wonders to maintain ongoing water quality, which dramatically reduces maintenance and extends the life of pool equipment and surfaces, today’s systems also communicate. Being able to see what’s going on with a pool operation on a smartphone or other device saves time and travel distance. When problems arise, it’s usually as simple as the power had been turned off, but we know how frustrating it is to travel miles to flip a switch. And when there’s a serious issue, we can respond before the water quality degrades.

In these ways, design decisions directly influence the experience and expense of maintaining pools and spas of all types. When you stop and think about it, there’s a beautiful power found in embracing mise en place!

the Water Geek


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A blog about all things water, written by SRK's founder Steve Kenny.