Meet industry expert Rudy Stankowitz, President of Aquatic Facility Training and Consultants, author, retired pool service owner, U.S. Army Veteran and so much more.
Like most, Stankowitz fell into the pool and spa industry – it wasn’t the original plan.
Trained to leap and rappel from helicopters as an infantry soldier, Stankowitz earned his Air Assault wings in 1988, which he says is one of his proudest moments.
But leaving the Army, he found he didn’t know how to transition these skills into the real world. So, in 1991 he filled out an application at Leslie’s Pool Supplies.
“I swore up and down I’d keep looking for another job, but I ended up working there for 10 years,” Stankowitz said.
Since those days, Stankowitz has worn numerous hats within the industry, working for Meyco Pool Covers and equipment manufacturer, Fluidra, before starting his own pool service company, Aqua-Caribbean in Gainesville, Florida. He serviced pools for close to eight years.
But when mysterious health problems began causing him severe pain and trouble walking, he knew he’d have to transition again; in 2014, he sold his pool company.
“I was diagnosed with MS, and then ALS, and then Demyelinating Polyneuropathy –autoimmune diseases. Then they said it was all in my head. Meanwhile, I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t walk at all,” Stankowitz said.
Ultimately it was discovered that the problem was peripheral neuropathy. An MRI revealed his spine was crushed, which was compressing his nerves. Surgery and physical therapy were the solutions, and he has made a near complete recovery.
During this time, he began his current work as a pool industry instructor and consultant, and he started independent field research on topics that interested him and that he funds himself.
His bread and butter is in the teaching. He teaches a CPO class, a pool inspector course and an Aquatic Facility Operator Certification course. He also has his own class: Advanced Pool Water Chemistry.
Stankowitz says the pool industry has been very good to him.
“When you are teaching, you get the feeling you are giving back in a way. Being able to share your experiences – it’s wonderful to be able to pay it forward,” Stankowitz said.
His independent swimming pool research projects – which focused largely on discoveries made about black algae, became the basis for his new book, “How to Get Rid of Swimming Pool Algae.”
“The swimming pool industry is the only place where black algae exists – that’s one of the things that we found in our research. Aquarium and water treatment industries don’t have black algae – they have cyanobacteria. When we took black algae treatment from swimming pools, they turned out to be cyanobacteria too, living in biofilms,” Stankowitz said.
To get to the bottom of this, he collected samples of the “black algae” and hand-delivered them to laboratories specializing in aquatic invasive plants, ecology and algae. The labs were able to identify several different genera of cyanobacteria; they also performed toxicity studies, where they found that some, but not all pool cyanobacteria do indeed produce toxins.
They also found that different conditions unique to each pool, such as bathers and bather load, and environmental conditions – even down to a specific kind of tree – can result in different kinds of cyanobacteria.
“They vary so much from location to location. The different kinds of cyanobacteria that can live in the biofilm can vary in pools as close as a mile away from each other. From one pool to the next you can have ‘black algae’ in both but it is two completely different types of ‘black algae’,” Stankowitz said.
A big focus of Stankowitz’s book is looking at the different circumstances that can lead to algae gaining a foothold.
“There are a lot of different things you can do so that the water isn’t as appealing to certain types of algae. And looking at the water and the conditions around, you can predict the types of algae the pool would be more likely to have,” Stankowitz said.
Stankowitz says if you know exactly what you are trying to prevent, instead of trying to prevent every type of algae that could grow in a pool, the treatment becomes a lot less expensive.
Around this time, Stankowitz made another interesting discovery. He noticed when he added the common flocculant, Alum, or aluminum sulfate to pools, it seemed to lower cyanuric acid levels.
Alum, a natural salt compound and a great water clarifier, is one of the oldest flocculants still in use today. Added to a pool, it forms aluminum hydroxide, which traps small dirt particles and then sinks to the floor.
But why would it reduce cyanuric acid levels, Stankowitz wondered? He began speculating about a different problem swimming pools sometimes encounter – purple stains.
Reddish-purple blotchy staining occurs when water contains a high amount of both copper and cyanuric acid. Basically, a reaction occurs between the two forming an insoluble precipitate called copper cyanurate.
Stankowitz theorizes something analogous could be occurring between aluminum and cyanuric acid.
While he has yet to test this theory in a lab with spectrometry for the presence of aluminum cyanurate, he has invited other service technicians to try his novel method of reducing cyanuric acid, and he says over a hundred pool pros have reported success.
And they’ve narrowed down the conditions that seem to maximize cyanuric acid reduction.
“Ultimately the dose that works best is 8.33 pounds per 10,000 gallons, which works out to 100 ppm aluminum sulfate. This is equal to what municipalities use when they first pull water from reservoirs. It also works at greater than 70°F but less than 90°F and a pH of 7.0. We’ve been dropping significant amounts of cyanuric acid,” Stankowitz said.
The Alum-CYA removal method is gaining traction among service professionals through Stankowitz’s Facebook Group pages, Talking Pools and 14 PSI, which he helps moderate.
Sharing knowledge and ideas like this is the reason he started Talking Pools, because Stankowitz says there’s an incredible wealth of knowledge and talent in the industry.
Recently, however, these groups found that they could serve a fundamentally different purpose: ensuring that pool service professionals be defined as essential workers during the pandemic.
As a CPO instructor, Stankowitz understood that he himself was not essential. But through information sharing on these Facebook Group pages, he became aware that the jobs of pool service companies, retail stores and builders were in danger.
“When the pandemic hit, I spent that first month on the phone with legislators, calling in different states to ensure that the pool companies and builders could get back and finish their jobs; that the pool stores could stay open; that the service techs be considered essential. It wasn’t a given,” Stankowitz said.
But even after everyone was back at work, along with the rest of the country, the pool industry has faced one challenge after the next.
Hurricane Laura knocked out a third of the country’s trichlor supply. With so many Americans working from home, there was an unprecedented demand on new pools and renovations, putting an impossible strain on pool equipment manufacturers, who are still struggling to keep up. And then this year’s February’s freeze destroyed as yet unknown numbers of pumps, filters, heaters and underground plumbing, with supply already struggling.
“I think the biggest challenge the industry will be facing is the chlorine shortage and the increase in pricing. People are reporting over 30% increases and also bucket quantity limits. So not only are they paying a lot more but they aren’t able to pick up as much as they used to. And this is all happening in a time when half of the country’s pools are still buttoned up for the winter, so we’re going to get to Memorial Day weekend, and we’re really going to face the full brunt of this,” Stankowitz said.
He's expecting tablet hoarding, and when those supplies run low, a spike in the prices for Cal hypo and liquid chlorine.
“If no one is properly prepared, then chlorine tablets are going to be like toilet paper was last March. Instead of having enough rationed, so people can make it through, you are going to have some folks run out while others have 100 buckets in their garages for their one, 10,000-gallon pool.
Stankowitz says he doesn’t think pool owners are aware of the shortage, and when they find out, it is going to be tough on pool service professionals.
“If customers are not aware of the problem, they aren’t going to believe us, so it’s going to a lot harder to sell the alternatives when the shortage becomes a huge problem,” Stankowitz said.
To prepare for the shortage, Stankowitz’s advice is to educate pool owners by telling them about possible replacement products, such as salt systems, AOP, UV, ozone or chemical alternatives.
Going forward, Stankowitz intends to continue his teaching, and will soon be offering an Algae Prevention and Eradication Specialist Certification, based off of his book, “How to Get Rid of Swimming Pool Algae.”
He also plans to continue his pool research endeavors.
“I think I might try nitrate removal next – I have an idea about that,” Stankowitz said.
He wants to encourage other pool industry professionals to think outside of the box – and not be afraid to try new things. His own work with “black algae” and alum are evidence that the pool industry still has more to learn.
“If you try it and it doesn’t work, the worst thing is that nothing changes. But if you try it and it does work, you might be helping the industry.”