In the 1970s, Harry Last built an indoor pool for his British Columbia home. But the humidity of the room, the result of the warm indoor temperature from the pool and the cold weather outside, caused molding and other problems as the room sweat.
Last installed a dehumidification system in the room, which was only partially successful in eliminating the problem. So he cut out a piece of plastic and laid it on top of his pool.
It worked, but was a chore to take off every time someone wanted to take a quick swim.
Last at the time was working in automation and was also an avid sailor. He saw a correlation between the two, and began forming plans on how a pool cover could be unfurled like a sail.
He ended up writing his MBA thesis on automatic pool covers. His professor was so impressed with his work that the two went into business together.
From that solution to a nagging problem came Aquamatic Cover Systems, a Gilroy-based company that now manufactures 1,500 automatic pool covers annually and ships to 60 countries, and is set to mark 40 years in 2020.
“There was no commercial endeavor, it was just to serve his own home,” said Tom Dankel, vice president of Aquamatic. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Last holds more than 35 patents, including for the dual-motor hydraulic cover system known as Hydramatic that is one of Aquamatic’s top sellers. Dankel said Aquamatic is the only company that produces hydraulic cover systems, which are more reliable than the traditional electric cover systems with a quarter of the moving parts.
The Hydramatic operates with two hydraulic torque motors: one that is connected to the cover drum to open the cover, and another that drives the rope reel to close it. The direction of the cover is controlled by a key, which sends hydraulic fluid to the corresponding motor, and travels about a foot per second.
Dankel said the system eliminates the clutch system found on other covers, which can frequently need repairs. Aquamatic’s confidence in its hydraulic system is apparent with its 20-year mechanism warranty.
The covers, which are certified to exceed the safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, were once primarily purchased just for the safety aspect, Dankel said. But now, cost-savvy and environmentally-conscious customers are eyeing them for their other benefits.
A typical Hydramatic cover system is offered roughly in the $8,000-$12,000 range. But it pays for itself in the long run, with Aquamatic estimating that the cover reduces pool operating costs by nearly 70 percent through reduced chemical use and energy consumption, while nearly eliminating water evaporation.
“There is a quantifiable return on investment with this product,” Dankel said.
Dankel said he and other automatic pool cover businesses have been lobbying in Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow pool covers to achieve a WaterSense designation. According to the EPA, WaterSense-labeled products and services are certified to use at least 20 percent less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than regular models.
Although fall is approaching and dead leaves tend to find their way to pools, Dankel said the covers are meant as a year-round system not contingent on a certain season.
“The people that have an automatic cover never have their pool uncovered, because there’s no reason not to,” he said. “Manual covers aren’t as easy. Some will say ‘I’ll get to that later,’ but sometimes later becomes never. With this, you turn a key and the cover goes.
“You spend less time skimming and more time swimming.”
Aquamatic followed Last’s move from Canada to the United States in 1980, when the company opened a facility in Concord. The business moved to various locations in the South Bay before moving to its current Mayock Road location in Gilroy in 1997, where it operates out of two buildings totaling 45,000 square feet. It expanded in December to add a 25,000-square-foot design and fabrication center.
It boasts about 50 employees, with more than half working there for 20 years or more.
“We’re a family-first organization,” Dankel said. “We’ve been very open-door, and try to create within these walls a family atmosphere. But if you need to take care of something out there, don’t worry about it. This place isn’t going anywhere. That to me is very important.”
For information on Hydramatic and Aquamatic’s other products, visit aquamatic.com.