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Ozone (03) Technology – Underused and Misunderstood

If you look at the original plans for many commercial aquatic facilities, it’s surprising the number of them that were designed with plumbing and electrical systems meant to accommodate ozone systems. Yet, many never had the systems installed. Likewise, when I talk to facility managers and pool operators, they may know some things about ozone but are simply not interested.

That’s all part of why, for years now, I’ve believed that ozone, the almighty O3, one of the most powerful oxidizers known to science, has been one of our most underused and misunderstood methods of water treatment.

Ozone systems designed for treating recreational water have been around for decades. We all know about the technology; in fact, most of us in the industry could probably even recite a familiar litany of benefits. Yet, the technology has always had trouble breaking through both with professionals and our clients. The reasons vary; for some it’s the cost of the system and a lack of understanding of the return on investment. For others, there’s a fear factor because they don’t truly understand how ozone systems work, and then there are those who do not appreciate the power these systems offer us in our efforts to ensure superior water quality to our clients.

Truth be told, these systems are expensive, they can be tricky to use correctly, and earlier versions of the systems, such as those available back in the 90s, were temperamental and prone to a handful of common problems. Today’s systems, such as those using relatively new “plasma-gap” ozone generation are far superior, but they are still expensive. Still, I contend that once you really delve into the technology, it’s easy to see how useful it can be and how ozone might even completely change the way you think about water treatment.

The O3 Revelation

My own journey with ozone technology began about 20 years ago. I was working mostly in service at the time and was in the early stages of my understanding of water chemistry. Similar to others in the profession, I spent many frustrating days chasing changes in chemistry in what often felt like a futile attempt to stabilize my pools in terms of all the issues that go along with what I now view as unstable or non-resilient water treatment. It was like constantly chasing a yo-yo.

That all changed when Del Ozone offered me a free system if I agreed to provide them with three months of daily water test readings as part of a beta testing program. I found a client who liked the idea of getting a system at a dramatically reduced price and he agreed to let me have at it with the daily monitoring routine. In a very short time, I became a true believer. As I recall, it was a five-gram per hour system, which has a relatively low output by today’s standards, but, nonetheless, I was blown away by the results.

Almost from day one, the water quality, clarity, look, and feel was nothing like I had ever seen. It was amazing just from a purely subjective view. More impressive still was what I found with the testing. Ozone effectively reduced chlorine consumption by 75 percent, which means you’re not forming disinfection by-products at nearly the rate typically associated with traditional halogen disinfection. It didn’t impact water balance because ozone has no effect on pH, calcium hardness, or total alkalinity. It doesn’t add to the total dissolved solids (TDS) because, ultimately, it’s really just an unstable form of oxygen that turns into O2 after it does its work. And best of all, it was always there to oxidize organic compounds.

An Elegant Solution

Overall, it just seemed like a more elegant solution to a range of water treatment challenges. And all of those early observations have been reinforced time and time again over the years, especially as I’ve grown in my understanding of how it’s used. I’ve found that a properly functioning system — meaning you have it installed correctly and the flow rates and dosages are dialed in — will always be there to oxidize all the organic matter that enters the water via bathers or environmental conditions. It consumes the bad stuff and leaves you with beautiful water quality.

There are nuances that I’m still figuring out to this day. For example, there’s a balance between contact time and dosage. Is it better to use a lower dosage with longer contact times or vice versa? Nowadays, we set up our contact tanks so the flow rate can be adjusted (always keeping in mind we’re shooting for treating 25 percent of the overall flow in the ozone bypass) and the output of many of today’s systems are self-adjusting. If, for example, the oxidation reduction potential (ORP) drops below 300 millivolts, the system will ramp up to bring the level back to the desired level of 750 or greater.

Seeing and Believing

What we’ve found is that if clients see what kind of water quality they can have, most of them go for it. These days, 90 percent of our new construction projects include ozone (along with UV, explained here). As for service clients, a majority will also opt for the system once they’ve tried it on a trial basis. Even if they don’t completely understand how it works, the water speaks for itself.

Over and over again, I’ve seen ozone installed on existing pools, and within 12 hours of turning on the system, the water takes on a distinctly improved quality. It sparkles, there’s a shimmer and clarity that impresses most anyone who sees the improvement. It’s particularly great in indoor pools, both residential and commercial, where the pungent odor of chloramines, the infamous “chlorine smell,” is replaced by a fresh scent in the air. The entire environment just feels cleaner.

Much of all that is very hard to quantify, which I’m sure is also part of why this wonderful technology has been slow in acceptance, at least in our industry. Ozone has been successfully adopted by agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, laboratory settings, and municipal water treatment among other places, and in many cases for much the same set of reasons that I became an ozone advocate over two decades ago.

To be clear, I do not see ozone as the only solution to all water chemistry challenges because there are so many other components, for example, water balance, filtration, circulation, and sanitization. Also, because it’s such a powerful tool, it’s crucial that the professionals who specify ozone as well as install and maintain the systems know what they’re doing. As the old saying goes, “It’s not the tool, it’s the mechanic.”

Indeed, the most important variable in the entire water treatment equation is the know-how of the professionals. To that final and most important point, the main reason I’m so in favor of ozone technology is precisely because I took the time to learn about it. If you stay on the sidelines and only ever learn the most basic aspects of ozone, it will always remain somewhat mysterious. Once you pull back the curtain, however, you will find a number of reasons why ozone might just be right for you and your clients.

the Water Geek


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