Swimming Pool and/or Spa automation


Senior Member
I recently purchased a house with a swimming pool/spa combo and am wondering what to do with it (automation wise). The pool has a solar heater, the spa has an LP gas heater, the plumbing is combined through one pump/filter system. The setup is about 12 years old and has an almost dead re-branded Jandy JI2000 control system. The only thing that still works is the timer for running the pump every day and the 2 actual valve actuators. Jandy tech support and I agree that the brain is dead. Repairing the brain or upgrading to a newer brain are both pretty expensive.

The whole system seems pretty simple to me and very overpriced. Am I underestimating what a current pool control system could do for me? Between HomeSeer, X-10 and an Elk M1G, I think I already have almost everything I need.

I would like to monitor:
  • pump on/off status
  • water pressure
  • water actually flowing yes/no
  • gas heater on/off
  • solar heater on/off
  • water temperature
  • water level
What is a good way to verify a minimum water flow rate in 1.5 or 2 inch PVC? Pressure isn't really proof of flow, is it?

What is a good way to monitor water level? I don't just want to auto fill based on a float switch, I would like to actually read the water level to 0.25 inch or so.
I have a flow sensor on my geothermal heat pump for house heating. It is used for the domestic hot water heating loop to make sure that water is flowing. It is only 3/4 inch diameter though. It might work in parallel to the larger PVC line you are trying to monitor. It's nothing more than a switch that conducts when water is flowing inside of it. I am not at home or I would get you a model number.

I have wanted to automate my hot tub, and ran enough Cat5 to it to do the job. Ideally I would connect just like the existing simple control panel is, which is a RJ45 plug. I think there is even a second RJ45 connect. I'm going to have to monitor it to see what info is being sent. it controls Temp (rotary knob), has a Heat status light and with a push of a button cycles through Off / Light / Pump / Pump and Light / Off again. All that on a 4 wire system. Wonder if it's a serial messenging...
Here is one possible way your four wire system could work:
  • thermostat closure (output)
  • Heat status light (input)
  • pushbutton (output)
  • common
This assumes a thermostat like a spa I had many years ago that also had a mercury (?) bulb below the waterline that controlled a typical bimetallic strip. Otherwise your temperature setting knob could be a simple variable resistor and the control unit is smart enough to interpret what a change of resistance implies, even if it is uncalibrated.

The flow rate in your geothermal is probably WAY lower than whatever GPM my pool pump is putting out, but I might be able to try your parallel pipe idea. Is your sensor some electronic gadget or a vane that deflects from water movement?
Actually, within a system such as a pool or spa which has a closed loop and relatively low pressures when the pump is on, a pressure switch or two could be used to determine that water was flowing. An air-bound pump (ie. water not flowing) would show significantly lower pressure, and a dirty or clogged filter much higher back-pressure, if measured between the pump output and the filter input (assuming the pump is in front relative to water flow of the filtering system).

In my pool system here, I have a back-pressure guage on the filter which climbs up to 20-25 lbs when the filter needs cleaning, but is only 7-10 lbs when the filter is clean and water is flowing. With the pump off, pressure is 0. When the pump is air-bound, it shows almost no pressure. Likewise, a closed or clogged system would show even higher pressures and you could use that to indicate an improperly closed valve or problem obstructing the flow. I could easily use the ranges above to indicate various possible issues if I use a pressure sensor instead of a switch.

The rest of your dead control system is probably easily replaced using your gear and a few extra parts. Keep us posted on your progress and findings, please!
I've added some automation to my above ground pool. The first project was to add a temperature sensor to have the all imporant water temperature available in the automation system for display, etc. I used a DS1820 sensor connect to a "Peter Anderson" kit. The sensor is mounted in a closed-end brass tube that protrudes slightly into the water flow just before it enters the pump. Then I added a heavy duty X10 outlet to turn the pump on and off at different times depending on the month.

My latest addition is automatic maintenance of water level by using one of the LM1830 water sensor chips I bought on Ebay a few months ago. I have two stainless steel screw heads inside the skimmer that detect the presence of water (going to a SECU16 input) and every day at 4:00 AM, the Ocelot looks for a low water signal (stable for 60 seconds to avoid false detection by any waves caused by wind) and then turn on an irrigation valve for up to two hours, or until a stable high level is detected. I also store the actual run time in a variable so that any new trend (such as a leak) can be detected.

Automating a pool can be a very fun project and I'd like to automate a 3 way valve for the solar heating if I could find such an electrically operated valve that doesn't cost a fortune. It would need to be 1.5 inches and use low voltage, obviously.
I maintain my water level the same way Guy does, except I use a retro-reflective laser-sensor, wired in series with a sprinkler valve hooked up to my RainBird. The pool is filled as the last zone on the RainBird's daily schedule, running until the laser-sensor turns off the valve, or until the zone times-out 20 minutes later.
I have a problem that screams for an automated solution. My cleaner and circulating pump appear to get water from the same source and when the cleaner line is connected there is enough back pressure to allow both pumps enough water to work fine. If the cleaner line becomes disconnected for whatever reason there isn't enough back pressure and the cleaner pump robs all the water thereby causing the circulating pump to run dry.

It would seem like I need something to measure pressure in the circulating pump system to shut down the cleaner if the circ pump is running dry. Any one ever attempted anything like this?

Dale, When my circulating pump goes dry, the pressure in the filter goes near zero. That could tell you what you need to know.

However, for me, that would be too late. At that point I would need to manually bleed the air out of the system.

Do you need the cleaner and circulating pump to run at the same time? You could easily wire an interlock to not allow the cleaner pump to run when the circulating pump is running (or vise-versa).
Is there anything special about pool lighting? I believe I have a 120V light behind a GFI protector. Any reason this couldn't be dimmed?
I don't see why pool lighting couldn't be dimmed. The only thing really special about pool lighting (and other devices regarding pools) is the special grounding requirements. You sometimes need to install something like a 8 AWG "ground plane" that connects all metallic objects around the pool to avoid voltage gradients across the water. As long as your module is installed in conformity to all that, it should be doable.
rocco said:
Do you need the cleaner and circulating pump to run at the same time? You could easily wire an interlock to not allow the cleaner pump to run when the circulating pump is running (or vise-versa).
They must both be running at the same time and there is an interlock in the panel which makes sure this happens. However, with the cleaner line disconnected and sucking all the water they are both still running but one is destroying itself. Seems like a poor design or perhaps a poor installation to me. I've got a pressure guage on the filter and should probably check it to see what happens when the line is disconnected. Should be pretty easy to add a pressure sensor to the filter and shut down everything if an error condition exists. I've already got the wiring in place and I can run the sensor to my Stargate which can communicate with the pool panel to shut anything down.

dgeffs, it seems to me an easier solution would be a variable restrictor (a valve) in the cleaner line, set so that it cannot draw too much water from the system when the cleaner is disconnected. The problem with this would be, of course, the possibility of a clog if the cleaner picked up something larger than the restriction size. You might want to experiment with it.

In most cases pool lighting can be dimmed unless the lamp is fed by a transformer or electronic ballast. My 110v pool light dims fine, but I don't dim it because I think it's great at full bright.
I thought instead of creating a whole new thread, I would resuscitate this one. First,
Automating a pool can be a very fun project and I'd like to automate a 3 way valve for the solar heating if I could find such an electrically operated valve that doesn't cost a fortune. It would need to be 1.5 inches and use low voltage, obviously.
Have you looked at the Jandy Valve actuators like this? They are around $200 and work great with a standard 3 way valve.

Ok, for my question... I already have some control boxes for chlorine generation, solar control, etc. that I am not looking to mess with now. The solar controller measures temperatures in several places with these sensors. All I really want to do now is have the temp available inside the house so I don't have to go out and check it on the control. For starters I would probably just like to display it on a keypad on the M1, either automatically, or I could create a rule to display it by button push, etc.

Anyway, would it be possible to use one of these sensors (the PC in link above) with the M1. I see they work by resistance - is there a way to put that in the M1 and calculate the temp, or would I need SW like HS, HAL, CQC, etc. to do this? I don't currently have an Ocelot and while I may wind up with one in the future, I don't want to introduce that now. On top of that, would it be possible to do this wireless since I have no wiring out to the pool pad now? I know there are wireless sensors with remote probes, but I'm not sure how I would get the probe nicely into the water. The PC probes mentioned above go nicely in the piping anywhere I want to insert it - b4 or after solar, etc. Any suggestions? Thanks!
Yes, you should be able to use those PC probes, but it will take some work and it will probably take something external to the Elk to do the math conversions. I would suspect it will be easier for you to use an Elk temp probe with the 7' lead and mount that in a PVC pipe. But that is not wireless. The only wireless temperature stuff that I know of would require a PC to feed it to the Elk.

From a earlier question, when ELKRP is online to the M1XEP, the M1XEP does not communicate to the outside world including emails. The reason is that settings could be in the process of being changed and the M1XEP could send bad information during the changing process. For that reason we chose not to allow the M1XEP to communicate to the outside world except for a command that says it is in programming mode. When the programming mode is completed and ELKRP signs off, a command is broadcast that says it is back online.

I recommend you put a piece of sealed heat shrink tubing on the temperature probe to insure water will not enter it.

I am working on a Oregon Scientific wireless interface for temperature probes and a floating temperture transmitter for pools and hot tubs. I do not have a time table of when it will be ready.

I need to add a command so that an external device can set the temperature probe information. That way a PC could set the temperature and you could display it on keypads or write rules using that information.

The current temperature probe is a 0 to 5V signal proportional to the temperature and calibrated for -60 deg F to 140 deg F.