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Systems Thinking
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Systems Thinking

Generating quality water conditions should be a primary objective in all watershape designs, asserts Steve Kenny. Raising the bar, he says, means turning to a systems-based approach to water treatment that involves all aspects and components of watershape systems that move, filter, test, heat, balance, sanitize and contain water.  

By Steve Kenny

When I first came into the watershaping industry more 30 years ago, I relied heavily on vendors for information. They would tell me what to install and would often send their reps out to sell me on the latest and greatest in pool water technology and chemical treatment products.

Everybody had a slick line. Whether it was an aqua pill or a DE filter or a salt system, there was always something that would change the course of my pool services’ business and career – if I only just started using their products.

We’ve all heard those grand proclamations: “If you just put this in the skimmer basket all your worries are over and your profits will skyrocket,” or so the sales patter goes, and goes, and goes. The problem was that when I was new to the pool industry, I had no idea what was true and what was, shall we say, purely market-driven messaging. Put another way, you have to wade through a lot of slanted information to figure out the best path and getting to that point is not easy or clear-cut.

So, I tried it all, over and over; sometimes things worked, but often they didn’t. I freely admit that those trials and errors unfolded in my clients’ pools and, by way of following the vendor-driven course, I did not always best serve my customers. Of course, I’ve always wanted to do the right thing — as most of us do — but back then, and for several years, I just didn’t have the knowledge that I do now to recognize the difference between vendor fact and fiction.

To be fair, I don’t mean to impugn all pool industry manufacturers and distributors. Many are tremendous sources of useful information. I’ve written before about how much of my early pool water chemistry education came from Taylor Technologies’ test-kit manual. For a long time that was one of, if not the, best sources for pool water chemistry education. There are certainly others who have been helpful to varying degrees.

The Water Quality Professional

I’ve always liked the old saying, “free your mind and your [feet] will follow.” It’s a noble truth: the more you know about something, the freer you inevitably become.

The problem is that for every pool manufacturer that is sharing solid information, there’s another that is using what on the surface seems like product training as a marketing wedge. In my case, I could tell very early on that I had to apply my own critical thinking to advance my own pool services business because what I was hearing often did not line up with what I was seeing in the field.

There was a great deal of trial and error and I voraciously consumed information from a range of people in all different walks of the pool industry. As is often the case when you go on that kind of journey, you quickly learn how much you don’t know, which either pulls you in deeper and deeper or prompts you to just take the easy path and accept what you’re being told as the gospel truth.

Even though it wasn’t always smooth or pretty, I’m proud of the road I’ve traveled and the investment I made in understanding how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to create the highest quality pool experience possible. Now I’m able to provide a perspective on pool system design that most other people don’t have in their tool belt.

This is the concept at the core of the Water Quality Professional. It is about understanding both the details of all the water and pool technologies in play and how they work to create synergies that result in superior pool water quality. It applies to service professionals, and to builders who are tasked with establishing how water is treated by way of the equipment they choose, and the technologies they avoid.  

It’s an almost never-ending flow of technical specifics and idiosyncrasies. There are nuances of pool water filtration, flow rates, heating, oxidation, sanitization, water balance, skimming, automation, how to configure an ozone loop, how to use UV, CO2 gas feeds, the type of chlorine we use, where we place skimmers and returns, and countless other system elements – all of that stuff has a profound impact on the pool water quality and ultimately the swimming experience.

That’s why I believe the “systems” approach is the big evolutionary step that’s yet to happen in the pool industry, and those who do embrace it sooner rather than later will be far ahead of the curve. It’s certainly the biggest competitive advantage I see in our own business. Fact is, all of our customers, be they pool service, renovation, or new construction, all benefit from those 30 years of exploration and unconventional thinking, as do the pool industry professionals we partner with.

We’ve learned the best ways to apply available pool technology precisely because that is what we’ve deliberately set out to do. Sure, we still listen to vendors, but that’s only part of a much bigger set of references and ideas, and no longer the primary driver by any means.


I frequently talk to experienced pool builders who will still say they basically stick with what the vendors tell them, and some will even admit they don’t look at pool water systems design from a systems perspective. The Water Quality Professional is the anecdote for that kind of habituated thinking.

When we dive into all those nuances and technical specifics of why you do some things and leave other measures aside, we immediately see how dynamic the process of creating quality pools and spas becomes, and so do those who work with us. And when you do have that intrinsic understanding of the “system,” it can be frustrating to see others relying on the familiar ways of doing things because you know how much more effective and successful, we all could be by advancing our thinking and knowledge.

There’s really no need to stay so stuck. Yes, we can all still factor in what pool vendors tell us but do so from a more informed basis where we put the product messaging in a proper and more useful context.

I’ve found that when you balance detailed technical pool knowledge with the big picture and primary objective – in our case quality pool water and a superior consumer experience – there truly is no limit to what we can achieve in creating the highest quality pool experience. When it comes to pool water quality, there is no question: the more you know, the freer and better able you become.

Steve Kenny is an aquatic designer, builder and technician with more than 30 years of industry experience. He lives and works on Long Island, New York, with his wife and three children and consults on projects near and far.

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