26 March, 2017

Finally! A Heater For the Pool

You know there's times when it's just too cold to get into your pool. I'm talking wintertime, folks. Frigid temperatures, like when the pool goes down below 80℉, like down to the mid-seventies.

Such was our case. A pool heater seemed like a mighty fine idea. One problem, though, was that I didn't want to spend a fortune on a heater, nor did I want to make it any more complex that necessary.

I did quite a bit of research over the past three years or so. Not continuously, but every now and then. Kind of a casual, laid-back sort of research. Anyway, it seems that most of the heating systems out there, at least for in-ground pools, want several things.

One, spend lots of money. Two, use your main pump so you can move massive amounts of water. Three, it needs to be complex. Adding a system to the pool after it's up and running is hard.

Those three caused me pause. That's why research went on for so long. Well, one of the reasons anyway.

I began to think about the cost. Was there a way that I could install a pool heater without breaking the bank, and that wasn't overly complex and didn't require me to modify the existing plumbing unnecessarily?

I noticed in my research, that there was a wide difference in heater system prices for above-ground pools, compared to in-ground systems.

Little by little, I began to wonder why I couldn't adapt elements of an above-ground pool to my in-ground pool. I realized that there was no reason I couldn't do just that. The pool doesn't know if it's above-ground or not.

I was taken with the idea of using an above-ground heater, especially the long strip types, with narrow little tubes for the water to run through. I had the roof space available, so why not?

I had thought of using large vinyl tubing to heat the water, but putting it into coils, for some reason, seemed like a lot of work to me. I have a roll of about 200-feet of 3/4" black tubing, so that wasn't the problem. For some reason, I just couldn't get motivated to do my heater that way.

The more I thought about the issue, the more the strip appealed to me. The one that captivated my attention was twenty foot long by about two or three feet, and it only cost around $150.00 US.

Some time ago, David Wright and I went together on an order for a solar system. This consisted of a two-foot by four-foot solar panel, metal support frame, to attach it to a pole, and a small, low-volume 12-V d.c. pump. That was a good setup to order. The boxes containing the ordered bits sat in my workshop for several months.

The other thing I had done to get ready was a bit of pool modification. I didn't do it, but I had asked our contractor, Mario, to include two ports in the pool for a heater system, They did just that and ran it to the pump house. That was all. You can see in the photo below, the little holes I'm talking about.
Little Holes

Not those on the left. That's some troubleshooting that was going on to track down an internal leak connected with the waterfall. The ones I'm talking about are on the right side just left of the black power panel box. See those two little holes? That's it. That was the extent of the prebuilt for the heater.

So, when I finally did get serious about the pool heater, I bit the bullet and ordered a twenty-foot heater strip. I was concerned because a couple of the reviews of it had stated that the 'non-standard' fittings created major problems, and the people couldn't understand why they used such oddball fittings. I figured that I could cobble something together that would work. Half of what we work on down here is cobbled together.

Shift forward a couple of weeks and Easy Shipping to Belize shows up at our gate with the rolled-up heater and some other stuff. Wow. Time to get serious. Especially since I had the help of Denis Patterson, our neighbor from across the street.

Denis and Vivien, his wife, were staying in our Mennonite house since their house was rented long-term and they didn't want to disturb their tenants. Denis and Vivien are from Alberta, Canada, and are nice people (aren't all Canadians?).
The Repair Shop

Denis and I took a break from the project to take care of a project of Denis'. His on-demand heater at his house had stopped working. We needed to get it running in short order so his tenants didn't rebel.

It may not look like it, but this is the best TV, stereo, and water heater repair place in town. When Denis first took his heater there, they said, "No. We don't fix them things no more." Ok. So, Denis and I went on an adventure to find who could.

We tried Nairobi Rancharan's place. Nope, He doesn't do heaters, only refrigerators and auto A/C units. I've taken my Isuzu there. He thought there was a guy down the street by a vacant lot, and to the left, who did that. On we went.

Turns out after a couple wrong turns, that you had to go through the vacant lot to find this guy. Nope. This heater has electronics in it. He only repairs the kind with a pilot light. He thought there was another shop down by the little park near Memo's Auto Repair (who I've never used). Memo's looks more like a bar than an auto shop, but what do I know? A couple of guys sitting on a bench out front thought that this guy was a little past the park and to the left.

Turns out he was. He was upset that we got there early. He didn't open till 9:00 AM. But, to our benefit, (he was talking to us through his bedroom window), he put on some shorts and came out to talk with us. From the way he talked, he seemed more educated than some. He repaired all sorts of electronics and computers, but not heaters. He even had a website (E & L Electronics) and has a small e-store for parts. Who knew?

When he turned us down, we were at a loss. Denis decided to go back to the first place, with hat in hand and beg them to look at it. So, that's what we did.
The TV Technician
Back at the shop, we went inside to find the TV technician busy modifying his hoodie to hold some small speakers. I can't imagine wearing a hoodie in this environment, but whatever. He hollered for the water heater technician, "Hey, Water Heater!" The water heater technician just happened to be coming through the door with a cup of coffee. "Yup, we can fix it," he said.

Now, keep in mind, this was the same guy who, the day before, had told Denis, that they no longer worked on heaters. It was like that conversation had never occurred.
Here's the Stereo Lab
Just before we left, I snapped a shot of the Stereo technician's workspace or lab. Ain't it wonderful?

The great end of the story is that the water heater guy called Denis the very next day and told him the heater was ready to go. Turns out the Solenoid had gone bad. Miracles do happen.

Now, on with the main story. Denis and I went up to Lano's Hardware and picked up several lengths of PVC tubing, fittings, glue, brackets and all that sort of stuff. I had also brought along one of the key fittings from the heater, expecting to spend some quality time figuring out how to cobble together something that would join the heater to my ½" PVC tubing.

I showed Vien (Mr. Lan's nephew, who runs the sales counter at the store) the fitting. He took one look at it after I briefly described what I wanted to do, and said, "I know what will work," and quickly disappeared into the back of the store. He returned with two fittings. One, a coupling, slid snugly over the fitting of the heater, and the other, a ¾" to ½" reducer. That was it. A perfect solution. A little epoxy, to ensure that it doesn't separate and we'd be good to go.

I had expected to spend at least an hour rummaging around trying to find something that would solve our problem. Sometimes, things just work out right, you know? Denis and I took our purchases and headed back to Casa Winjama and our project.
Where the Heater is Going
Here's the area of the roof where I thought of placing the heater. It's on the order of being 30-feet long so there should be no problem placing the heater there.

Proposed Track for the Tubing
I thought that with the heater strip laid out on the roof, that I'd be able to run the tubing over the roof parapet and along the top of the frame for the pool shade enclosure, over to the pump house and in through a hole somewhere to the inside of the pump house.

Over the parapet
In fact, the parapet is where we started the tubing work. You can see we're getting it assembled in good fashion. We have three tubes, one for incoming cold water, one for outgoing hot water, and one to hold the wires from the solar panel to the pump motor that we're locating in the pump house.

Running Down the Roof
The PVC tubing is now running down the length of the roof of the pool enclosure. Good progress.

The Heater Laid Down
Here's the heater in it's position on the roof. It works fine right there. I might add a framework to support the heater and the solar panel at the proper 15° for our latitude, but I'm not sure that it's really going to be necessary.

Looking the Other Direction
You can see we also have the solar panel more or less in place. Nothing is crowded and everything is in place with plenty of unimpeded sunlight for most of the day.

The solar panel is in shade in the morning till about 8:00 AM. So, the pump doesn't start till then, but that delay allows the water remaining in the tubes to heat up so that when the pump does start, it's moving hot water to the pool.
Add caption
Here you can see everything in more or less it's final places. You can also see the join between the PVC tubing and the heater fitting. There's also a union fitting on each leg to make separation of the heater from the PVC tubing easier, because when the pool warms up enough that the heater is no longer needed, it will be rolled up and both it and the solar panel will be lowered off the roof and put in storage in the pool utility room till the succeeding winter when it's needed again.
The Pump In Place
This is a view inside the pump house again. It's showing the pump on a shelf I installed, all hooked up. The black line has the wires coming from the solar panel through the roof and through the power panel to the motor.

Pump Detail

There's also a controller circuit in the little black box,since removed. It didn't work right and proved to not be necessary. The tube sticking up from the pump with a blue-handled valve on it, allows us, as needed, to prime the pump (brings to mind an old Kingston Trio song - Desert Pete). We even have a funnel on hand just for that purpose.

I also installed a switch (the old-school looking round thing), in case we need to shut the pump off during the day. I also will be adding a 15-amp fuse to protect the pump motor, just in case.

Final words on the project. Yesterday was its first full day of work. For a couple of weeks now, the pool temperature has been hovering around 79℉, barely able to make it 80℉ during the day. Well, yesterday, the temp was up to 81℉. Not bad for one day's work. We think it will take two to three days to get the temp from 79℉ all the way up to 84℉. Perfect till summer kicks in.

Pardon me. I've got my trunks on, a cold beer, and I'm headed to the warm pool. life is grand!

11 February, 2017

In the Pool Again

It's still cool, even brisk, getting into the pool. But after you freeze the nerve endings, it seems to be quite comfortable.

The hardest part of getting in the pool at this time of year is, as you might expect, getting in. Yesterday, the temperature in the pool made it up to a bit more than 80° (f).

Denis and I Breaking It In
You might say, what' to complain about? And, you'd be right. We ain't complaining, we're enjoying. But keep in mind, we're used to daytime temps being in the low nineties, even in winter, so to get into the pool, is a breath-taking experience.

After you've been in for a minute or so, it becomes a very comfortable experience.

Construction work for the pool is all done. That doesn't mean that all 'work' is done. For example, I still have to install the solar heating system. I already have the pump and the solar panel for that. Just yesterday I ordered the heating collector - a plastic panel, 2' x 20', that is filled with little tubes, that heat the water as it passes through them.

It's been tempting to over-engineer the heater bit. Everyone wants to sell you a heating system that will make hot water. I don't want to make hot water. I just want it to be warm. At the most, I want the water to go up eight degrees. Eighty-four degrees is about optimum for us. that's quite comfortable.

Thanks to Denis, who found a website that talked about determining BTU's (British Thermal Units), which in turn, led to me finding a website that gave a good method of determining what size heating system we need. I'm not saying this is absolutely the most correct way to do things, but it is the most logical-seeming to me, and that's what I'm going by. And, it's relatively cheap and easy to do to.

Here's the nitty gritty on what we found.


Serious Mathematics Ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

First, you have to know (or calculate) how many gallons of water your pool contains.

We did that. It's 9,000 gallons.

Then you have to determine how long it takes to increase your pool water temperature by 1° (f).

To do that, multiply the total gallons of water in the pool by 8.3 (One gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds). This will give you the total weight of the water in your pool.
(9,000 gals. x 8.3 lbs = 74,700 lbs)

Then, divide the total weight of the pool water by your heater's or collector's BTU rating. Finding the BTU for some of these heating systems can be a challenge. I stumbled on one that was similar in size to the collector I was thinking about buying. It was rated at 40,000 BTU. That seemed reasonable, so I used that as my BTU rating figure (hey, it's not an exact science here. We're talking ballpark guestimation all the way around). Call it an experiment.
(74,700 lbs. / 40,000 BTU = 1.87 hours)

Now, determine the total time required to increase the pool water temperature the desired amount.

I used 76° (f) as my current water temp (which seems that ours is most of the time during the winter here, as long as we keep the pool covered at night and when we're not using it).

I want to raise that temp to 84° (f) for a total of eight degrees.
Multiply eight degrees by the time it takes to raise the temperature 1 degree (f)
(8 degrees x 1.87 hours = 14.96 hours)

So, the best minds in the business (Denis and me) think this is acceptable. Roughly 15 hours of heating to get the pool up to the 84° (f) threshold. Since we really didn't get into the pool until it was 79° (f), we should be able to shorten the time. But we really don't care. It can take two or three days to heat up. That's fine. Again, we're not creating hot water for household use, just warming the pool.

Once I get the solar panel and the pump installed, it's simply a matter of waiting till the collector arrives, and hooking it up. Then we can begin keeping track of pool temps and how fast/slow things heat up. Till then, it's all guesswork, which is our forte anyway. I'll let you know how things progress.

We'll probably get it hooked up in time to shut it down for the summer season anyway. But, if that's the case, we'll be ready for the cooling days of next fall and winter.

Serious Math Warning Terminated. Relax and have a beer

 I don't remember if these shots were taken before or after the math workout. In either case, we have safety Belikins in hand.

Very Comfortable Dry Run
 The pool is functioning superbly. The waterfall (the stone area in the background) also works great. We don't have it turned on in these photos for some unknown reason.

Even Maggie Gets In the Act
Thanks to Vivien for taking these photos for us. I wanted to show folks that, yes, the pool is back functioning. She did a nice job of it too.

Their little dog, Maggie even helped.

06 February, 2017

Waiting For the Warm

Thanks for the prod, Julian. I appreciate it. It's always amazing just how quickly time slips away here in paradise. Especially watching the developments up north. My jaw is still agape. Well, that's enough of the political doody here. I'll save that for Facebook or heaven forbid, Twitter.

Here we are, the pool project is all done. Everything works better than expected. Everything, that is except for the warm weather and water.

It really isn't all that bad. Yesterday, I was in the pool for a good hour. The temperature was a brisk 78°(f). Now, I know for you folks up north (like Billy Waldon in Oregon) 78 would be great, but for us down here in paradise, 78 is just a hair above freezing.

I do have the beginning of a solar pool heater (the pump, solar panel to power the pump, and the frame to hold the panel). What I don't have yet is the actual heating stuff.

Originally, I was planning to use ½" black vinyl tubing. My friend, David Wright, has tried that and was able to raise his pool temp by only one- or two-degrees. Close, but not quite enough. So, I've been looking at other alternatives.

Neither one of us needs to make 'hot' water like you would want for washing dishes. We just need to raise the water temp about five or six degrees to get it up to about 84°(f). We both have solar powered pump and panel. What I'm thinking of using is a set up similar to the photo below.

Changes For the Pool?
Only, not on the ground. I have the room up on our flat roof over the kitchen to run a twenty-foot length of this system. I'd have to get some sort of frame constructed to hold it at the proper angle (roughly 12-13° from horizontal), but everything else is ready to go. Inlet and outlet from the pool are already in place to the pump house, where the pump will be installed, I'd only have to run piping to the kitchen roof. I think that would supply enough warm water for my purposes.

It would also be fairly economical to do. After all, it is still experimental at this stage. Stay tuned.

Little Noel Growing Up
On to other subjects, like our new little kitty, Noel. She's really not so little anymore. As you can see from this photo, she and Nelson have pretty much completed her training to be a grown up kitty. Just a few days ago, she finally figured out how to use the kitty and doggy doors (we have five, believe it or not). Once that happened, she's been unstoppable.

In fact, this morning, Carlos, our caretaker, told Dianna that he saw her catch and kill a fairly good-sized bird. No longer a kitten, I guess.

Further evidence that she's growing up is that she weighs a bit more than five pounds, so we made an appointment with Dr. Sheila for tomorrow to get her spayed.

Another small project I've got going on is our circular staircase steps. For whatever reason, the angle iron of the steps is actually upside down. It's uncomfortable enough to climb up the stairs, but it's really uncomfortable to come back down.

I was looking for a solution, thinking about using one-inch thick wood inserted. That would look really cool for a while, but it would also require frequent varnishing, and would probably be slick, not the most desirable feature in stairs.

Denis and I had gone to Contour Concrete Products the other day to pick up some pots for plants, That got me to thinking after I got home. I wonder if I could get something cast in concrete that would work, and that was affordable.

Next time I went to Contour, I asked Ruel Hall, the proprietor, if that was something he might be able to do. I had come up with a template in plywood to give him an example. Below, is what he came up with a couple of days later.

Changes For the Steps
It's only ¾" thick with some chicken wire embedded for strength. It might work, but I decided thicker would be better. I've asked him to make them about 1½" thick, and resize them to better fit the space. Ruel also suggested that he might try ¼" rebar for additional strength. I'm hoping to get a sample done this afternoon or tomorrow.

If that is a go, however long it takes Ruel to make eleven more inserts and that project will be done. I think that's a great solution. It also won't be a problem in hurricane season like wood potentially could be.

One last thing, before I forget. Colleen and Bruce have started construction (using Mario, who was our contractor) of their new house in Ranchito. Colleen has also started a new blog, at long last, titled Rent They Said (http://renttheysaid.blogspot.mx/2017/02/but-did-we-listen-part-1.html). She's doing some looking back in time, but plans to chronical their construction experience. Should be fun to follow.