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Cordless, solar or suction side cleaners?

No one likes electrical cords. They are unsightly, cumbersome, and tend to get tangled. When it comes to robotic pool cleaners, that electrical cord is one of their only shortcomings.

Robotic pool cleaners offer all kinds of benefits and many users prefer them to others kinds of automatic cleaners. The most modern robotic cleaners are energy efficient, programable to operate on a desired schedule and to perform specific tasks, but until very recently, they all relied on that pesky tangling electrical cord to get them moving. Certainly, manufacturers have been aware of the tangle problem, and some have developed a tangle free swivel so that the robot doesn’t get held up somewhere for the duration of its cleaning cycle, unable to perform an adequate cleaning job. But wouldn’t it be better if we could just dispense with the cord altogether?

Now, cordless technologies have finally come to automatic cleaners, and there are a few different types.

Standard 110 volt wall outlet Rechargeable

Several companies make rechargeable robotic cleaners that operate off of rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Some are programable to operate on a fixed schedule, either daily or weekly with varying recharging time requirements. When the cleaning cycle is completed, it can be lifted out, cleaned of debris, and plugged into the wall for charging. Most are relatively light at 15 to 20 pounds for ease of removal. They can scrub the floors, walls and steps, and some can filter down to 2 microns which is great for suspended algae. They are generally not cheap – depending on the manufacturer, they can run up to about $1,500 - but the quality robotic cleaners receive great reviews and offer extended warrantees on the motors and batteries.

Underwater Induction Rechargeable

The newest cordless robotic cleaners have incorporated induction technology to charge the unit.

Rather than having electrical power transmitted over a copper wire, induction is a physical phenomenon where an electrical current is produced across a conductor exposed to a varying magnetic field. The magnetic field is created by the flow of an alternate current through a coil.

There is no wire connection but electrons are moving and current is being generated. While it is not a new scientific discovery, it has only recently been put to use in modern day appliances, from cell phone chargers to cook tops to lighting, and now, robotic pool cleaners. The phenomenon was first observed in the 1800’s by the English scientist Michael Faraday, who discovered that if one creates a moving magnetic field and uses an alternate electric current, they could ‘induce’ current in a proximate coil of wire.

Today, this concept is widely known as ‘Faraday’s law of induction.’ For induction to work, the moving magnetic field must be physically close to the device as the magnetic field becomes exponentially weaker with distance.

Induction charged robotic pool cleaners are still relatively rare, and there are few manufacturers of commercially available units. NemH20 and Marlin, both made by the Italian manufacturer ZCS, feature underwater cordless induction charging, and they can stay in the water 100 percent of the time. They are equipped with lithium ion batteries and they safely and autonomously charge themselves (once the charging base is installed in the pool) even when bathers are present. Installation of the charging base is simple – it is simply dropped down the pool wall side until the base touches an even portion of the floor and the power cord is fastened to the coping. It has two debris storage compartments that are simple to remove and dump out. Downsides include the hefty sticker price as well as weight ($3,500, 46lbs). However, the weight may not be much of an issue as they are designed to stay in the water at all times, except to clean the debris storage containers.

Solar Powered Skimmer Robots

There are several manufacturers of solar skimmer robots of similar design that receive positive reviews. These eco-friendly units work on solar energy in combination with lithium ion batteries with paddles that propel them around the pool to pick up floating debris. If the weather is cloudy, the units will either go into standby mode or some are equipped with 110v adaptors for rapid charging even when it is dark.

There are units with built-in ionizers that release mineral ions to help with algae and other microoraganisms, and some with chemical dispenser trays that can accommodate trichlor tablets.

As external skimmers, they can help reduce pump run cycles by automatically collecting leaves, insects and pollen from the pool’s surface, and are particularly useful for pools surrounded by trees. Some contain infrared sensors to allow them to detect walls, have adjustable cleaning programs, or simply turn themselves around every few minutes to prevent them from getting trapped.

Many of these units have bluetooth capabilities and can be controlled manually using an android or iOS device. This capability also can allow operators to check pool temperature, battery status, or change settings with the use of a smartphone.

Solar pool skimmers work by using photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity to charge the integrated DC battery that powers the paddles allowing it to “swim” about the pool. Runtime is an important consideration, particularly with larger pools, so be sure that the unit can operate for the required time on a fully charged battery. Also, not all solar powered skimmers can be used on both aboveground and inground pools, so ensure that the model is appropriate for the pool in question. Finally, solar powered skimmers tend to be expensive, often costing $600 or more, but operating the pump is also costly, so for users concerned with consuming the bare minimum of energy, solar power is the way to go.

Suction-side

As the name implies, it is the suction made available by the pool’s skimmer or dedicated cleaner lines that provides the power to vacuum up dirt and debris with a suction-side automatic cleaner.

That is why maintaining the system’s pump and filter is important for the optimum performance on these types of cleaners.

Prior to installing or re-installing the cleaner for the season, manufacturers recommend that the circulation be thoroughly cleaned to make sure there is uninterrupted flow through the system.

When suction-side cleaners are placed into a dirty pool environment, the flow through the system of the pool will quickly decline. This will cause the machine to either stop operating altogether, or at least operate intermittently.

Once the pool environment itself is clean, the system flow can be kept working optimally by routine filter cleaning.

Suction-side cleaners are propelled in one of three ways: disk, wheel or foot. Most of them have a fairly small opening - about 1 inch or smaller that is ideal for trapping small debris rather than large sticks, leaves or rocks.

Because suction-side cleaners simulate the cleaning process performed manually, the main drain needs to be closed to increase suction through the skimmer.

Routine checkups should include inspection of the unit’s throat and hoses for obstructions, as well as checking all sections of the hose for rips or holes.

At the equipment pad, the filter should be inspected for broken or missing baskets as well as damaged filter grids or cartridges. Sand filters should be treated with a backwash aid to increase the filter capacity and flow rates.

Proper flow is a necessity for suctionside cleaners. Service professionals should make it routine to check the baskets for debris buildup.

Most swimming pool return lines are set up to flow current in a circular fashion, allowing the debris on the surface to move around to the skimmer. This can hamper the cleaner’s operation and is an inefficient means of turning over the pool.

Pool returns should be diverted down toward the bottom of the pool. In addition to creating a better environment for the cleaner, this increases the efficiency of the system because the filtered water is pointed down into the body of the pool, not on the surface, where it will be drawn back into the skimmer needlessly.

A ladder guard should be installed to keep the cleaner units from getting hung up. This is especially true for vinyl-lined pools, where the unit could tear the liner. When installing or reinstalling any unit, service professionals should always pay special attention to the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer. In general, however, typical installation proceeds as follows: Allow a day for hoses to relax in the sun if they are curved.

Assemble the components. Then prime the hose, submerge the cleaner and install it into the suction port of the skimmer. Most suction-side cleaners come with either a manual regulator valve or an automatic system, which allows the user to adjust the cleaner into the optimum operating range suggested by the manufacturer. This allows for skimming action as well. The manual regulator valve and a flow meter correctly set the cleaner to the right flow. Any “excess” flow remaining after the cleaner is dialed in is diverted back to skimming.

Cleaners must be properly balanced to do their job efficiently. For the machine to travel the pool properly, the foot pad must sit square against the surface of the pool when the machine is in the deepest portion of the pool.

Only when the unit is properly balanced will the foot pad’s adhesion allow the cleaner to climb the vertical walls and travel the pool from deep to shallow end. An inline leaf canister is helpful to keep the pump and skimmer baskets free of debris. Other accessories are available that can remove leaves from the surface of the pool before they enter the system and cause a restriction to water flow. This is especially important in highwind areas.

Service personnel should periodically monitor the pool returns to be sure they have not been altered by swimmers playing with the fittings. Also, check the balance of the machine periodically to ensure that it has not been altered.

If the cleaner needs to be removed from the pool, be sure to store the hose straight, preferably in its original container. The pool hoses have a tendency to retain a memory of coiling and want to return to the coiled position, which will lead to inadequate coverage.

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