Electronic Testing in Water Analysis

Electronic-testing devices for water analysis seem to be everywhere these days. You can’t pick up a trade publication without running into an advertisement or two. Some pool professionals are using them and love them.

Others have purchased sophisticated pool and spa meters, and just allow them to collect dust in a box. So how do you know if an electronic-testing tool is right for you? After all, aren’t all the electronic testers faster, easier to use and more precise? The answer is yes … and no. Unfortunately, there is no one electronic tester that measures 25 parameters, costs less than $50, and has no limitations. Maybe someday such an instrument will be available, but for now let’s take a look at what is available, and what to consider if you are planning to make the switch.

Before discussing all of the instruments available to measure the quality of pool and spa water, let’s talk about some of the important factors to consider when purchasing an electronic-testing tool.

Cost

There is no doubt every organization is watching its dollars closely in the current economy. When evaluating a new electronic-testing solution for water-analysis needs, know that the upfront cost will be considerably more than a couple of bottles of reagent, or a new reagent test kit, for that matter. The price of single-parameter meters start at around $75; multi-parameter instruments will set you back around $150 or more, with some instruments costing close to $1,000. And those are just the portable instruments. If you are considering continuous online monitoring, the cost increases. For the purpose of this article, I will deal with the portable testing variety.

When considering the investment, also look at the cost of additional reagents, including calibration standards. It is often helpful to calculate the costs on a per-test basis, which will allow you to make a comparison to other testing methods or a competitive unit. For example, a single unit may be capable of measuring five different parameters. Each parameter may only require one reagent. In comparison, a liquid test used to test the same five parameters likely will require more than one reagent per test (some require as many as three). Therefore, the cost of operating the electronic meter may be better than you might expect by only comparing the costs of the reagents.

Ease Of Use

How easily does the instrument appear to operate? Review the activation and technique required to complete a test, and consider how error may be introduced. This is an especially important question if you are performing many tests in a day, or you share the testing responsibility with someone who may have difficulty using the instrument regularly. Also, consider the speed at which the testing is completed. Does it take more or less time than your existing method, and what does that mean to you? Many manufacturers will have operating instructions online. They may even have the complete manual available for free download. It can be helpful to review this documentation prior to purchasing a new unit.

Accuracy/Precision

This is always a big factor when looking to upgrade to electronic testing. It might seem that because you are using electronic tests, you are able to obtain more accurate results. That may not always be the case. Fortunately, this should be easy to investigate. Most manufacturers provide this information in some form. You should be able to determine the expected accuracy (how close to the actual value) and precision (repeatability) by reviewing the sales materials for a particular unit. If this information is not available, you may want to ask, “Why not?”

Calibration

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