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Feeling the pressure: an automatic cleaner can be a pool tech's best friend or worst enemy. Here are some tips on how to keep pressure-side cleaners operating at peak performance.

Pressure-side automatic pool cleaners have gained popularity in recent years, becoming an industry unto themselves. They fall into two basic categories: one utilizes an auxiliary booster pump; the other relies on the pool's circulation pump.

Here's a look at how they work and some tips to keep them operating at peak efficiency.

Pump it up

The system that utilizes the booster pump has proven over time to be quite reliable. One advantage is that these cleaners can be used with a pump made by a different manufacturer. For example, if the pool was originally built with a booster pump from manufacturer "A," a cleaner from manufacturer "B" will hook up into the same wall fitting. The auxiliary pump--typically 3/4hp--boosts the pressure and sends the water through a dedicated pipe to the wall of the pool where the cleaner is attached.

The booster pump is controlled by its own switch, time clock or relay. It usually only needs to run a few hours per day to keep up with normal debris loads, thus limiting wear and tear on the cleaner itself.

The type of pressure-side cleaner that uses the main pool pump also is attached to a dedicated pipe. However, it is fed only by the water from the circulation pump, which often needs to be upsized and then controlled by some type of valve. It can be a three-way valve between the pump and filter or a three-way valve on the outlet side of the filter, which sends water to the cleaner and some to the return fittings. These cleaners are subject to more wear and tear because they're in operation whenever the pool pump is running, which can be up to as many as 12 hours per day.

The hose

The cleaner's feed or supply hose comes in many configurations and needs to be cut to the proper length. Large pools may require extra length. This is true of either type of pressure-side cleaner.

How long should the hoses be? On most pressure cleaners, you'll want just enough hose to reach the farthest point from where the fitting attaches at the wall. In some cases, you may have to cut the hose. Remember to leave enough floats on the hose so that it stays near the surface, allowing the cleaner head to perform properly. If the hose has too much length and/or not enough floats, the assembly may get tangled. In addition, it's important to add another 12 inches to the equation to account for the area where you attach the cleaner head to the hose assembly.

Hoses should be replaced whenever they become stiff, which is about every three to five years.

Bags and tires

Both types of pressure cleaners put the debris from the pool into some type of bag or compartment. Water must flow freely through these bags, so keeping them clean is important, especially in the fall. If the compartment becomes full, the cleaner will no longer pick up debris and thus wastes electricity.

You also need to check the screen located in the wall fitting where the cleaner hooks up. If there is more than one-half teaspoon of debris in the screen, you probably have a problem with the pool filter. In the case of sand filters, it could be cracked or have broken laterals. A DE filter might be suffering from tom grids or a cracked manifold. Finally, ripped or broken elements may have occurred inside cartridge filters.

Most pressure-side cleaners have some sort of tire, track or round soft surface that gains traction on the pool surface. These need to be checked on a regular basis. The soft material will wear out faster on a rougher surface--such as pebble aggregates--but may last significantly longer on smoother surfaces such as vinyl or fiberglass. These "tires" can be rotated (just like a car) and replaced as needed. They are fairly inexpensive and improve the performance of any cleaner.

Prime time

The booster pump on automatic cleaners is usually referred to as a "flooded suction" pump. These are not self-priming and thus need to be flooded on the suction side. I recommend installing a 2-inch piece of pipe on a vertical drop from the outlet of the filter and then a 90-degree elbow over and down to 3/4-inch plumbing right at the front of the pump, creating a reservoir of water in front of the booster pump. This will make the booster pump quieter as well, and unless your circulation pump and/or filter are completely plugged up, you won't run the risk of a meltdown situation.

The booster pump needs its own electrical control, which comes in the form of a switch, time clock or relay. It must be wired or programmed in such a way that the booster pump can only come on if the circulation pump is already working. That will help avoid meltdowns, too. If the booster is on a manual switch or time clock, you can wire it so that it gets its power from the circulation pump only when it's on.

With today's computer controlled automation, there is usually a program or feature with a built-in delay--a great addition to this type of system.

With proper care of the belts, hoses, bearings and filters, pressure-side automatic cleaners will give you years of reliable performance.

Hose Assembly

1 Clear hose and walk the perimeter of the pool to locate the farthest point on the wall fitting without stretching the hose assembly.

2 Measure the distance that the hose assembly extends beyond the pool perimeter's farthest point located in Step 1 (7 1/2 feet in this example).

3 Cut half of the length obtained from Step 2 (3 3/4 feet in this example) equally from each of the long lengths of white hose on either side of the marked swivel.

4 Remove and reattach with one swivel and two nuts.


Christiansen is a territory sales manager for Peetair Water Pool and Spa in Moorpark, Calif. A 30-year industry veteran and cleaner specialist, he also serves on Pentair's Design Review Cleaner Committee.
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Author:Christiansen, Eric
Publication:Pool & Spa News
Date:Jan 9, 2006
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