Enjoy The Last Throes of Summer With a Nice Pool Automation Project

[Ken Rumer] bought a new house. It came with a troublingly complex pool system. It had solar heating. It had gas heating. Electricity was involved somehow. It had timers and gadgets. Sand could be fed into one end and clean water came out the other. There was even a spa thrown into the mix.

Needless to say, within the first few months of owning their very own chemical plant they ran into some near meltdowns. They managed to heat the pool with 250 dollars of gas in a day. They managed to drain the spa entirely into the pool, but thankfully never managed the reverse. [Ken] knew something had to change. It didn’t hurt that it seemed like a fun challenge.

The first step was to tear out as much of the old control system as could be spared. An old synchronous motor timer’s chlorine rusted guts were ripped out. The solar controler was next to be sent to its final resting place. The manual valves were all replaced with fancy new ones.

Rather than risk his fallible human state draining the pool into the downstairs toilet, he’d add a robot’s cold logical gatekeeping in order to protect house and home. It was a simple matter of involving the usual suspects. Raspberry Pi and Arduino Man collaborated on the controls. Import relay boards danced to their commands. A small suite of sensors lent their aid.

Now as the soon-to-be autumn sun sets, the pool begins to cool and the spa begins to heat automatically. The children are put to bed, tired from a fun day at the pool, and [Ken] gets to lounge in his spa; watching the distant twinkling of lights on his backyard industrial complex.

12 thoughts on “Enjoy The Last Throes of Summer With a Nice Pool Automation Project

  1. ​Cool! Built one of my own a few years ago out of frustration with the system I had. I have a simpler setup, but automation helped immensely. The one thing I did run into though is the the little blue relays usually used for arduino projects tend to melt when running an 1.5hp motor. I melted a few successively larger relays until I finally installed one that can probably switch Zeus’ lightning bolt. No problems since then. You are welcome to take a look here: https://eositis.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/pool-pump

  2. Fun fact: My real estate agent coincidentally told me buyers typically hate pools. They demo the cement enough to let water through and remove the border. Then they fill them with enough dirt to merge the backyards into a seamless mass.

      1. If you swim a lot, pools can be cheap, If you swim once a year it can be cheaper (and more fun) to get a helicopter to pick you up and take you to the local communal pool once a year. Pools also take up space and your time.
        Personally I have a pool, but my brother in law has bought houses, filled the pool in and sold it for a profit. Just remember to punch a big hole in the bottom before filling it in.

    1. A little story.

      We had a 25′ round 58″ deep and 6′ in the center. Last year about half way threw. I had cleaned the pool before bed. I had to leave before I finished and left the vacuum hose in the pool. I got up the next morning and to my horror the pool had about 1′ of water left. And flooded the back yard and the neighbors back yard and into there house.
      My wife and 2nd wife (Sister in law that moved in.) decided we no longer needed the pool. To my horror I was voted out.
      Now If I had a alarm non of this would not of happened. I had solor heaters and all sorts of control but no water level.
      But I think Pools are great. and my pool was super easy to take care of.

      1. You should have told here, that she can only decide, that SHE does not need the pool, but she can not/must not/ has not to decide, that YOU do not need it. Except perhaps if she pays all the bills and you don’t have any money, because normally the one who pays also says.

  3. I like the build, but there really should be an acrylic or plastic cover over the incoming 115VAC terminal block. In one of your photos it looks to be missing, but it looks like it _might_ be there on a more distant shot. I would also separate out your lower voltage components from your 115VAC components.

    Also, your experience echoes mine. New home with a 10 year old pool. Was losing plaster, had failing pumps, electronics, etc. After fixing all of the other issues, the best thing I did was put in a salt water chlorinator…

    1. There are multiple code violations in the images – will probably contact the author for permission to use in a presentation for an IEEE safety symposium.

      The author’s insurance company will probably be able to abandon the client and underwriting in case of incident because non-compliant materials and equipment were installed into an existing non-conforming construction that is connected to ac mains voltages.

      1. Yes, this. So much hazardous hackery.

        Posting such presentations here would be an excellent thing to do – it doesn’t seem possible to tell people not to f**k with mains power so the second-best option is to try to reduce the number of people killed by stupid electrical.

        In fact. Mods! You paying attention? How about a nice big article that summarizes the major safety codes that are relevant and/or that people are habitually ignorant of?

        1. RealBrain and W, please be so kind and let us know the infractions either for my build or Ken’s. You mention that the pre-existing install was already non-compliant. Can you (politely) list those, and comment on how to mitigate? Second are the infractions from the new build, what are the mistakes and what can be done to mitigate. Your input will be welcome.

          For those of you who don’t have a pool… getting pool companies to come and service the equipment is _very_ difficult. In Ohio, where I live, unless you are under an annual contract for pool maintenance, the earliest they will come is about 3 weeks out. If your pump or heater fails… your season is over. 3 weeks for them to come and take a look, another 3-4 weeks to order and replace the part. Unless you can fix it yourself, you either fill the pool with dirt or pay serious money for the maintenance contract – and the season is only 10-12 weeks. Electrical companies will not touch pool equipment, and neither will HVAC companies. No point in yelling at Ken about the initial install, he inherited that from the previous owner, and I am 99% sure it was installed by a licensed pool contractor exactly as you see it. Would you ask that same idiot to come back and fix it?

          The automation systems available for residential pools are of rather poor quality and functionality with premium prices. Most of the automation systems are nothing more than an AVR with some (crappy) relays in a fancy plastic box, with prices starting at about $400 and to the moon. Great money, if you can get it! Even the standard electrical components are overpriced. The pump motors are usually by AO Smith, but once they get that Hayward label, they double in price – and Hayward brands the old motors, not the newer ones that consume ~20% less power for the same performance rating.

          I can keep bringing up more examples, but I think the point should be already clear as to why this ‘hackery’ is taking place. What would be much appreciated is constructive, positive commentary on the issues observed and how they can be resolved, so we can improve the status quo.

    2. Yes, I did cover the 110VAC block with a plastic cover. :) Thank you for checking it out, I have integrated the entire project with Amazon Echo and I can just say things like Alexa turn on spa, or Alexa turn on pool light. I’ve also built a new outdoor patio/bar with entertainment and everything can be controlled by voice command. No more walking in the house dripping wet… My family and I still use the pool 4-5 times a week (the instructables post was from my original build in 2014).

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