Building out the Backyard 02

The bobcat came in and regraded the backyard. That plus clearing out a bunch of the debris sets the stage for finessing the terraces.

It was too wet and sloppy today for me to want to trek up to the end of the yard for an overview shot but you’ll see in the next batch the difference.

The irrigation system piping is now buried except where final connections need to be made.

 

Looking closely you can see that the yard immediately behind the lenai is now level and there are two terraces taking shape beyond that to the left

 

 

 

The side yard is prepped. There will eventually be a fence and some nice space for the bird bath and a new bird feeder.

 

 

As viewed from the side of the above shed. It’s a bit hard to get a sense of the angles from this perspective.

Building out the Backyard 01

 

Building out the Backyard 01

On the heels of last years epic renovations – Pool, Lenai, Driveway, Retaining Walls and Front Lawn and Irrigation system, we’ve embarked upon a less ambitious project  to address the area behind the Lenai which comprises the bulk of our back yard.

This time we’re working with Brian Plett of Blaydes Landscaping. He is local here to my subdivision. No web page I’m afraid so I can’t link you to him.

I took a few before pictures to get a sense of how things look as viewed from the house:

 

Work began in a relatively small way, the bobcat will be here tomorrow and that’s when the work can begin in earnest. Today was mostly some cleanup and roughing in the irrigation system.

 

 

Lights installed on far side of Lanai

Building out the Backyard 02

Fastlane Stained Stainless Steel handle – a small miracle

After a few months of going around with Endless Pools and the folks at DesJoyaux, the DesJoyaux folks hit upon a workaround if not a solution for my issue with the handle on my Fastlane turning a black color.

As you can see from this “Before” picture the handle (and portions of the stainless steel cage below that protects the impeller) was a murky black color. I was unable to wipe it off to any meaningful degree yet enough would come off if you touched it to get on your hands or your bathing suit.

Several weeks ago, Billy Fowler from DesJoyaux said he thought he had hit upon something that might be of use and suggested two cleaning agents to try. He very generously offered to take back any chemical left if I found them to be ineffective which tells me that he is standing behind his research.

Basically I dumped some of this “StainFree” product from “Natural Chemistry” into a bucket with about a quart of water, donned some rubber gloves and used a rag to wipe the handle. After two or three swipes I saw the stainless steel shining through! It’s much more of a chemical reaction than an elbow grease effort. If I soaked the rag and basically squeezed it around a discolored portion of the handle the improvement was immediate. A bit of rubbing helped a bit but as soon as the chemical was spent there was no amount of rubbing that would improve it any more.

 

Here is the after picture. I cleaned the handle, pulled the top off the unit and replaced the sacrificial anode (which was designed for  outboard engines) with a much smaller one but which was purchased from Endless Pools.

Now the question remains: Is this a permanent fix that resolves a one-off issue or will I need to periodically revisit my stainless steel pieces?

Installed “The Nest” today…

I’ve named it “HAL”.

Nest Learning Thermostat – 2nd Generation T200577

It can definitely beat out regular thermostats and I’m pretty sure it can outdo your programmable thermostat if you’re relatively active (in and out, temperature up and down a lot) or even if your schedule varies day by day.

Between the “airwave” technology that should maximize cooling dollars and its built in intelligence to figure out how long it takes to heat/cool your place, I’m expecting HAL will be able to cut our costs a little bit (I had my previous thermostat fully programmed) and maximize comfort by tracking our real use patterns and setting itself accordingly rather than the broad patterns that I set on the previous thermostat.

Oh, and did I mention, there’s an app for that? You can check out and control your house HVAC from your smartphone or anywhere with web access.

If you’re looking for an otherwise excellent thermostat, I’ve got an American Standard Gold XM Control 803 thermostat that  I’m willing to let go cheap…

2012 Home Renovations – Part 33 – Landscaping

It took a while to decide what we wanted to do with our lawn after the pool / patio project. The original lawn had heave issues, scarring from a water main replacement and was generally a mish-mash of unhappy fescue, crab crass, creeping Charlie and dead spots. Having a mini mountain of earth piled on it for a few weeks did nothing to improve the situation.

We got several estimates to:
1) Put in new grass
2) install an irrigation system (was an afterthought but became important when we realized how much it would protect our investment)
3) re-countour our front lawn tree/garden area
4) come up with something attractive for the strip on the right side of our driveway
5) re-invent our front walkway garden area
6) come up with transitions for our back patio and the lawn and our house and the lawn in pretty shaded area
7) address the stepping stones that we had installed but with which we were not really happy

Mardi Grass landscaping has been doing our lawn for a little over a year now and they came in with what seems like a reasonable quote when blended with all the facets I wanted covered.

Having them performing ongoing maintenance also gives me a comfort level that they will be available to stand by their work should anything go awry.

The first step was to scrape off the remnants of the old lawn, plus remove any new growth that had accumulated after the major construction of this summer ended.

Then the lawn needed to be leveled and *some* topsoil applied. I have heard wildly varying versions of how much topsoil the Emerald Zoysia grass needs when it is installed on dirt such as mine. Mardi Grass’ take on it was somewhere in the middle. Some, but not a lot.

Above is the remains of our front entry garden area after the driveway and walkway work. Note the brownish bolder in the foreground. This was the only really big boulder that was dug up while excavating for the pool. This is to be moved into the other garden area on the front lawn. Also note “The Yucca Plant that will not die”. We have removed that plant twice. Each time it comes back.. a little closer to the walkway… presumably with malevolent intent. You can’t get anywhere near that thing without it piercing you regardless of clothing or other precautions. Maybe third time’s a charm?

This strip along the side of the driveway has always been an issue for us. There is a lot of shade from the neighbor’s tree and it’s in an awkward spot to water manually. Note the truck with our grass on pallets on the street.

The front garden area is being recontoured with a border of  monkey grass (liriope) separating it from the lawn and visually separating it from the driveway.

Most of the workers are preparing the garden area while one person begins laying the grass.

Unfortunately I had to get to work so I was not able to capture the whole process. I saw the start of the use of the ditch witch as they laid the irrigation plumbing. Here they are relocating one of the sprinkler heads at the entry way garden to better cover the area near the garage. Notice that the boulder that was in the foreground in the picture above has been removed.

The grass has been laid. The little pink flags represent locations of sprinkler heads. The strip to the right of the driveway is still outstanding at this point

Here is the back yard. One of the new catch basins shows up clearly now in contrast to the grass.  Still outstanding back  here is the replacement flagstones by the door and gravel in the “splash area” next to the enclosure (rain dripping off of the lexan roof hits the dirt and splashes mud against the lower portion of the screen) and a kind of no mans land next to the house where we decided we don’t really want grass growing.

The total for all this? About $11,200. Of that about $2,600 was for the irrigation system.

I keep trying to capture how beautiful rain looks when it’s on the screening.  This is my best attempt to date. It looks like so many sparkling facets. Especially when the sun comes out after a shower…

2012 Home Renovations – Part 32 – Usable, final punch lists outstanding

Lights installed on far side of Lanai

Endless Pool Fastlane in a Salt Water Pool – Issue

So I had a pool installed this year. The pool opened on Memorial day and all was good.

Included in the pool was something I’ve been working toward for about 10 years, an Endless Pool system.

This particular system is called a “Fastlane” and it’s intended to be installed in a normal pool. i.e. the original endless pool was a self contained unit that has water return conduits and is focused on being essentially a “water treadmill”.

My system has brackets that fasten to the pool wall and the Fastlane is attached to those brackets with hydraulic hoses leading out to a pump that powers the unit from a safe distance away (keeping the electrics and the pool apart).

Note the Stainless Steel handle showing just above the water level.

Overall I’m really happy with the unit. I’m a reasonably aggressive swimmer and this unit is easily able to meet and exceed my capabilities.

I’m finding out now that Endless Pools is not really happy having their units in a salt water environment. The unit comes with a sacrificial anode (basically a hunk of zinc that you attach to the unit to attract electrons that would otherwise corrode the unit). Anybody who maintains a boat in a salt water environment will know what this is. When I tried to sign up for their “Sacrificial Anode Club” a few months ago I found that they’d already given up on that idea as they were encountering problems due to the vastly different rates at which the anodes are consumed for different pools. Temperature and pool chemistry varies a lot between pools and it was just too much of a hassle trying to work it out.

My first anode actually looked fine for about 3 months and then I began noticing some rust around some of the screws on the bottom cage (water input for the unit), on touching the anode it just crumbled immediately. Which meant it had been spent for probably at least a week or so. I immediately picked up a honking big anode from a motorboat supply house and ordered 3 more “official” units from Endless Pools to have on hand.

New here’s where my mystery comes in.

The stainless steel handle of the unit has pretty rapidly turned black. It’s some kind of corrosion but I have not been able to figure out what it is. If you touch it with your hand some will rub off on you and it’s a bit messy that way. So it’s not just a cosmetic thing, I don’t really want guests touching it and possibly messing up their swim suits.

In retrospect we are VERY lucky that we ordered the blue colored unit rather than the entirely stainless steel one, I shudder to think how awful it would look with the entire unit turning a coal black color like the handle.

I contacted Endless Pools and the first thing the rep offered to me was to change to a chlorine based pool system.

I told him to take that off the table since it was not really an option. He explained that they’ve been encountering issues with Salt water systems lately and he didn’t really know what to say. Apparently the adoption of salt water by individual consumers such as myself has caught them off guard.

Of course I had checked this before I ever determined my pool chemistry solution, their own website FAQ says use of a Fastlane with a salt system is A-OK so I was not expecting any issues:

Although as I search today I see this somewhat light warning out there, I would not have noticed this in my initial research in any case.

So I asked him to get my request for assistance in front of one of their techs and to please contact me by next Wednesday. If I don’t hear back I’ll be following up with them anyway.

I am posting this as a warning to other Fastlane owners that have or are considering a salt water system so that they can be informed. I will post any solution I find here as an update to this blog entry.

 

Lights installed on far side of Lanai

It took us a long time to find something we were going to be satisfied with for the far side of the pool enclosure. We wanted something that would accent the rock wall face without glaring back at the house where we would be sitting most of the time.

Some challenges included the fact that each light *had* to be at least 7.5 feet above the deck due to electric code restrictions and, since the enclosure posts were mounted on the far side of the retaining wall (about 10 inches from the near edge), the light needed to extend far enough over the deck so that it cast its light back on the wall rather than casting a shadow.

We ended up choosing a gooseneck design that was also “Dark Sky” certified. This would minimize stray light that would only reflect back on the screening which would take away from our desired effect.

We ended up choosing the World Imports 9004-89 Dark Sky Essen Collection Wall Light from Amazon. There are three sizes and we gambled on the largest one (with a 28 inch length) as being the most suitable for our purposes. We needed 3 of them. Two of which now sport 40 watt equivalent CF bulbs and the rightmost fixture sports a 60 watt equivalent to balance out the light.

Here we see them along the back of the enclosure right after I installed them.

They look exactly as we had hoped.

This slightly blurry picture shows the reach and how the larger shade does an excellent job of hiding the bare bulb

It was VERY difficult to get a shot that properly represents the lights at night. My camera and my software both want to make proper sense of the light and try to make every shot like it’s daylight. I did a bit of fussing with the images in post production and this was as close as I can get to how it really looks. The pool water *is* violet in this shot and looks great on its own. The new lights are there only for accent.

Here, with the lights off, the pool light is more obvious. Again the camera tried to make sense of things so both the sky in the background and the pool lights are showing MUCH brighter than reality.

One of the other things we need to deal with is how to gracefully handle the wet swim suits and towels that accumulate during the day. We wanted them to be handily available throughout the day and for re-use as needed.

Instead of having a hamper or leaving them hanging over chair backs on the deck we opted to pick up this “CORDAY ACCORDIAN DRYING RACK” from Ballard Designs and install it over the utility sink in our laundry room (which is just off the pool deck). That way really wet items can drip while the other items can take advantage of the ceiling fan breeze and air conditioning to quickly dry out of reach of Georgia’s humidity-filled days.

We just popped out the existing shelves to install this so we still have a bit of work to remove the remaining shelf supports and finish painting the already patched support holes.

That’s Phoebe (one of our cats) casually observing the scene on the dryer.

The rack can extend out as far as is needed and is much more attractive than a clothes line or one of those portable drying racks.

2012 Home Renovations – Part 33 – Landscaping

Building out the Backyard 01

 

Zodiac iAqualink items – Response from Zodiac

As a follow on to this, Mat at Pool Tech let me know that Zodiac has since released a fix to correct the concern above so that you are able to trust “Service Mode”. I do not know if they received any other notifications other than mine (via Pool Tech and via my own mailing to Zodiac) but I’m pleased that a potential safety concern was addressed so rapidly.

Now if they could direct some effort toward my lighting issue.

I *did* receive a response from Zodiac’s customer service almost immediately that indicated they’d cursorily scanned the email and did not really take my point:

Thank you for your suggestions. Your comments have been forwarded to our engineering department.

As far as the lighting goes, we don’t have the logic for your specific lights included with our system. Unfortunately, we can’t provide functionality for every light on the market. We only have the most popular programmed in our firmware.

The reason the water temperature isn’t shown at all times is because the reading won’t be accurate. The temperature in your plumbing is going to change more quickly than the temperature in your pool water. This is why the temperature is only shown when the pump is on and the water is circulating.

Thanks again for your suggestions.

So I clarified for them:

I’m working with my suppliers to see about swapping out the lights for another one but it’s looking like the holes in my pool are not going to be compatible.

With respect to the temperature suggestion. I am not suggesting ongoing temperature readings while the pump is off, but only reporting the last accurate reading (pump was on for at least 3 minutes). For myself, knowing what the accurate water temperature was 2 hours ago is sufficient for me to make decisions about what I want or need to do. If I see it was at 76 degrees and I’m going to swim when I get home I know I’m going to activate the heater. If I see it was at 84 degrees I know immediately that I won’t be needing the heat the pool just doesn’t cool down that much over a few hours and so the readings. This ballpark just saves me the 3-5 minutes waiting for the temperature to settle down.

Thank you for responding,

 

Marc

Unfortunately I don’t know that it will go much further than this. I’ll post if I’m able to achieve any progress / satisfaction.

Zodiac iAqualink Concern, Issues and Suggestions

It’s pretty difficult to find a contact email address for Zodiac USA. All I can find on their site is one of those moderately useful forms. So I’m going to post this message here on my blog and then send them a link.

 

Dear Zodiac,

As the new owner of an iAqualink I have come across a few items that I felt should be brought to your attention.

Concern:

Android Application does not reflect current conditions and ignores Service mode
The Android version of the iAqualink application does not refresh at reasonable intervals. If I log into the application hours or days after my last logon, the information from the previous login is still being displayed. Information such as which devices are on and what the temperatures are should be refreshed, certainly after a new login, but they should also be refreshed with much greater regularity than is happening now.
There is a dangerous side effect to this. Since the device does not check the current system status at reasonable intervals, it is possible to be logged into the Android iAqualink application, manually put your system into “Service” mode and continue to start and stop pumps and manipulate the system as if it was still in “Auto” mode. I recently demonstrated this to Adam of “Pool Tech” (6/5/2012) and he indicated he was going to bring this to your attention due to obvious safety concerns.

 

My Issues:

Can you program my lights for me?

On 5/29/2012 I spoke with Denise in your customer support area. My iAqualink was installed as part of a new pool installation and the lights that had been installed are Fiberstar’s “Pal Treo” LED lights. Unfortunately these are not among the 4 lighting systems already supported by iAqualink. I am able to get some use of my lights by selecting “Jandy LED Watercolors” which will change my lights to something other than the default color, but of course the colors in the PAL Treo system do not line up at all with the Jandy LED Watercolor system. This is something that would require a programming change on the Zodiac side to implement (or my suggestion below). Denise was to check with your developers and get back to me. It’s now 6/15/2012 and I’ve not heard back from her. I would like an answer on this.

You can choose your light color when explicitly turning on the lights but not for any programmed mode.

If you select Lights (at least as it’s set up on my system and verified by Pool Tech) as part of a “One Touch Setting” you do not have the option to select the color that comes up. Certainly for different “moods” one would like to have the option to choose a color other than the initial start up color.
Similarly, when setting the “Dusk” settings for the lights there are no provisions to select a color when choosing your light device. This needs to be corrected.

 

Suggestions:

Allow a DIY lighting setting so that consumers can set up their lights themselves

My experience here is somewhat limited, but a common theme among light systems seems to be that you turn on your light switch and then you flick the switch off then on again to cycle through the offered lighting options. An interface that allows you to specify how many of these options there are, plus the colors that result from these off/on cycles might make the iAqualink system compatible with more lighting systems while reducing the overhead for keeping up with them.

Retain Pool Temperature information when the filter pump is not on

Just like on a weather page, provided you indicate the time for which the reading is current, it would be very useful to me to be able to see my temperature at a glance without needing to turn on my pump system and wait for the water to cycle long enough to get an accurate reading. The temperature will not be exact but since you can see how old it is you can decide for yourself if you need to force a more accurate reading. Since the system is on at least once a day I will always be somewhat in the ballpark and to me this is much more useful than a BLANK reading.

Allow me to change labels for Temp1 and Temp2

It took me a while to figure out that Temp2 was my pool temperature. I’d like to be able to just change the label so that this is obvious to my wife.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Marc Bourassa

2012 Home Renovations – Part 32 – Usable, final punch lists outstanding

We are down to a couple of punch lists. I need to sit down and do a final reckoning and accounting for this project. Hopefully that will be of use to anybody else thinking of embarking on a similar voyage.

Our salt system is not yet functioning – this should be rectified on Monday as well our iAqualink system is not able to do its job properly as it was not configured correctly. I’ll be working with the pool guy (Dwight) to get these items sorted out and some issues with our Fastlane. Hopefully I can get everything set up for virtually hand’s off functioning after that.

But we shocked the pool with some chlorine to make sure it is OK after sitting for a week plus with tap water in it. After that we were able to go in and try it out. The heater was able to do its job and pulled the pool up the last couple of degrees to make it really comfortable. I figure about 80 is going to be good for daytime jumping about and being refreshed and I’m guessing that 83 – 86 will be needed to make it comfortable for night use.

I’m reading through all the manuals to make sure that I understand everything there is to know about my system. I’m finding that asking questions about specifics concerning most of my equipment yield only general, and often incorrect, answers. So, as in anything else, you are your own advocate and you really want to be as expert as possible so your investment doesn’t go South on you. The information that I’m finding valuable has to do with the anecdotes and overall approaches to pool maintenance.

Our next mini-project is to pick up the furniture that we want for the new area. Then to build an area within which to perform maintenance tasks (cleaning filters, mixing chemicals, etc). This was never considered in our original planning.

Finally we’ll move on to some basic landscaping and then settle down for a while as we absorb where we are and what we think is important for our next step.

If anybody has suggestions for fun / practical purchases for a small swimming pool (12 by 28 feet) let me know…

2012 Home Renovations – Part 31 – The Pool Liner is In

2012 Home Renovations – Part 33 – Landscaping