I'll huff, and I'll puff... August 20 2014, 0 Comments


My memory wandered further writing the blog this week about ‘safety practices in soap making’. The explanation of how caustic soda is produced, with the comparison to a salt water chlorinator, took me on a journey through past experience…and how I learnt about the process.

We have a 60’s designed house with the first experimental free-form, natural look pool- which received many awards…many years ago. It also had a very antiquated, experimental salt chlorinator…that looked like you were at risk of electrocution if you touched it. I decided it was time for a bit of an upgrade for safety, and invested through a new local pool shop.

They came and installed the new cell unit- but we retained the antiquated power unit. The old salt cell used to have a plastic tube connected to the power unit. This tube, I was told, was not required with the new cell- so the technician cut the tube, bent the end upon itself and wrapped a rubber-band around it. I was told that sometimes the tube might lose pressure, and that the salt cell then wouldn’t operate. When that happened, I should undo the end, blow into the tube and reseal it quickly…and all would be fine.

Our natural looking pool was surrounded by some 57 large gum trees on our average suburban block, so it faced a daily deluge of oily gum leaves. If you have a pool, you’ll know that we fought an uphill battle in keeping the pool clear, as the copious amount of leaves placed a high demand on chlorine levels.

So every second day, the pool would start to turn green. I’d check on the salt cell- not engaging- so I’d blow in the tube as instructed. It became a daily task for a few months. If we went away for the weekend, the pool went green. So I complained, and was told to have silicon sealant at the ready- blow in the tube, and fill the end with the sealant quickly…and the problem would be resolved. The pool continued to turn green every other day.

Fed up, I pulled the power unit and salt cell down- jumped in the car, and headed off to the manufacturer…demanding a solution. The manager listened intently to my complaint, then asked who the pool business was…and picked up the phone.

Every expletive imaginable was YELLED as I listened to the conversation.

It turns out that the ‘redundant’ plastic tube that they’d cut off was a safety device, and not redundant at all. It was designed to detect the pressure within the salt cell chamber, and to cut off the power supply should the level of hydrogen gas build-up become too high. With a salt cell, hydrogen is generated at the cathode, and chlorine at the anode…which is fine, as long as the unit is pressurised with the required water flow.

I heard that what they’d created was an active hydrogen bomb in our backyard…one spark and the whole thing could have blown me, the pool shed and the attached brick building (now the soap workshop)…sky high! If the unit was turned on and for some reason the water hadn’t flowed to the salt cell unit (which happens frequently here), the electrical charge passing between the plates would have provided the spark to the hydrogen filled chamber.

KABOOM…made all the more frightening because I usually blew away into the tube with a cigarette in one hand- whilst constantly turning the power on and off to see if the salt cell had engaged after blowing…frequently, and daily!

I was extremely lucky that the bomb never went off. Yes- accidents happen…usually when not anticipated, or because we don’t have an understanding of what we are doing.

So my memory wandered further…searching for relevance, and I found myself hearing the fabled “The Three Little Pigs” from childhood…with the big bad wolf exclaiming, “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”