What is the best pool cover?
If you are searching for an answer to the question "what is the best pool cover?" then you are in luck...the answer is easy - pool safety covers are undoubtedly the best way to cover your swimming pool. Tarp and water bag covers were the industry standard for many decades but safety covers (of both the mesh or solid variety) have been slowly taking over for some time now.
The earliest generation of safety covers as we know them today came in 1957 from Fred J. Meyer, Jr. however the transition from tarp cover systems to mesh safety covers is something that caught on slowly. When I installed a 20' x 40' mesh safety cover on my family pool in 1994 we were still one of the only houses in our area to have one. Early adapters to safety covers are out there but it was not until the 2000's that the popularity of these covers exploded. Now pool safety covers are the most popular winter cover system in use on inground pools and most likely will one day be the only cover system used. Seldom is a product so superior to previous options that it takes over and dominates the market - and that is precisely what has happened with safety covers.
There are some geographic areas where safety covers are not as popular as other cover systems however these areas are getting smaller and smaller. Affluent areas and new pool installations almost exclusively utilize a mesh (or solid) safety cover for covering the pool during the winter months.
Are Pool Safety Covers Good?
If you are on the fence about buying a new safety cover for your pool but are struggling to justify the costs associated with this type of cover then you will be happy to know there are actually a number of advantages of using this type of pool cover system. It is with good reason that safety covers have become so popular and they go above and beyond simply covering your pool.
Enhanced safety - The first and most obvious advantage to a safety cover is, obviously, safety. Other forms of pool cover systems all lack the same feature which is the ability to restrict access to the body of water. In fact, not only do tarp covers lack the ability to restrict access to the pool...they are deviously designed to actually be extra dangerous to anyone or anything that falls in. Any person who has fallen onto a tarp pool cover (or foolishly tried to walk across) quickly learned that the tarp instantly envelops you as you are dragged below the surface of the water. The other most common style of pool cover, a bead lock cover, will most likely not envelop you if you were to fall in but the water on top of the cover can still be a few feet deep with snow melt and rain. A pool safety cover, either mesh or solid material, physically limits the access to the water itself. No system is 100% bullet proof and "safe" for unsupervised children to be around but there is most certainly an increased security in having a safety cover versus any other of pool cover system.
Long term savings - Anyone who owns a tarp cover for their pool knows how cheap (and thin) these covers are manufactured these days. Sure the cost of the cover itself is not too much money, but you almost need to buy a new one every year or two as they rip from branches, animals and debris that falls into the pool. Even dragging your cover off your pool to the driveway to clean it is more likely to rip the cover than anything else. Often people do not consider that with a tarp cover you must also buy water bags which also suffer from being too cheaply manufactured. As soon as a squirrel with sharp nails walks over your water bag you are likely to develop a leak. A 20' x 40' pool would need close to 150' of water bags to cover properly (including overlap) which is going to cost you more than the cover itself. Every year you will need to buy a few more to replace the ones that develop leaks over the season. If too many water bags develop a leak then your cover will end up blowing into the pool one windy day which will drag the cover into the pool and dump all the debris from the cover into the pool. With a pool safety cover you will certainly save over the long term. Pool safety covers (in general) are built to last and made from very durable materials. Barring any specific damage from insects or environmental factors you can get 10 to 20 years or more out of your safety cover. The one that I installed in 1994 on our demo pool is still in use yearly, other than a repair that was made to two square segments after a tree fell onto the pool. If you maintain these covers well, and buy from a reputable manufacturer of safety covers, then you can also get many, many years of trouble free service. When you factor in the longevity of these covers they are actually substantially less expensive than any other pool cover system.
Cosmetic value - The cosmetic value of a safety cover versus any other pool cover (other than a very expensive automatic pool cover) is a huge step up. Every safety cover owner comments about how much better a safety cover looks when compared to a dark, swampy, mosquito filled isolation pool cover. Pool safety covers not only eliminate the dark, standing water, but when used effectively they also help to eliminate leaves and falling debris. When the safety cover is installed and drawn taut across the pool it is lifted above the pool water level. This means that any falling debris does not fall into the water where it stagnates...the leaves simply sit on the pool cover until they dry up and blow away. Combine this with the many color options you can choose from these days for your safety cover and you can drastically improve on the cosmetic value of your yard during the off season.
Easier openings - The worst part of opening your pool is simply to scooping of endless leaf sludge. A safety cover completely eliminates this whole negative aspect of opening a pool. With a mesh cover your pool will already be full, if not overflowing, come the spring season. This means that you simply remove the cover and plugs and start your pool up all on the same day. In fact, if you choose, you can actually pull the plugs while the cover is still on the pool and start up your pool system a few days or a week before you officially open the pool and remove the cover. With a tarp cover you will have to pump off the snow melt and rain that has developed on the cover over the winter. This water on top of the cover displaces water from within the pool which means that once you pump off the cover the pool water level will now be too low to start up the system. With water conservation becoming a greater concern being able to start your pool without filling it manually is a significant improvement. A safety cover is secured to the pool deck using brass hardware instead of water bags so the entire opening process is less messy, less wet, and takes way less time that draining and cleaning 150' of water bags and a gigantic tarp cover.
Serviceable parts - Even if you have a problem with your safety cover most of the parts and pieces, including the cover, can be serviced or repaired. This is important since the only real disadvantage of a safety cover is the purchase price. Most commonly the mesh and the strapping will have strong warranty protection against early failure. The springs and hardware however is less covered by warranties and more likely to require service or repair. Older safety covers tend to develop problems with the brass and stainless steel anchors that are installed into the deck surrounding the pool. These coarse thread brass screws and anchors can get filled with sand and debris, as well as develop an oxidized layer which can make working with them difficult. If you were to blast out each grommet with compressed air and apply a silicone lubricant every year then you would probably never have a problem with a stripped or broken grommet for the life of your cover. If you have a problem with a pool cover spring then you can replace these as needed. The only thing you really can not fix on a safety cover easily is damage to the mesh panels like we experienced when a large tree fell adjacent to the pool during a wind storm. Two panels were ripped and the cover was sent back to the original manufacturer and repaired - despite its age. If you have large rips in your cover then you will need to do the same but if you have only a tiny hole you can now buy safety cover patches that you can simply stick on over the damaged area.
As you can see the reasons for getting a safety cover are convincing to say the least. It may have taken a few decades from inception to mainstream acceptance, but it is clear that safety covers are simply a superior product within a market of limited competition. Combine this with the safety-minded nature of our modern day culture and pool safety covers emerge as the decisive winner of the race...at least until the next greatest thing is invented, or the cost of automatic pool covers comes down substantially.
What Are The Negative Aspects Of Pool Safety Covers
No system is perfect and pool safety covers have some negative aspects for sure. One of the first things that you will learn when shopping for a safety cover for your pool is that not every pool is a great candidate to have one. There are a handful of technical requirements that you need to have. Not having these technical requirements is going to either cost you more money, or exclude you from the potential for installing a safety cover on your pool.
Deck around the pool - Since a safety cover is installed into the deck surrounding your pool you will, you know, need a deck surrounding your pool! If you do not have a deck around the pool then you will need to buy special hardware for installation based on what you do have around your pool. Concrete is the standard pool deck material, followed by natural stone and tile as well as wood. Some pools have landscape planters or grass and garden area directly adjacent to the pool. In all of these cases you can customize the installation to accommodate for these alternate deck materials, but it will complicate the installation somewhat as well as substantially increase the hardware costs associated with your cover over and above the standard brass anchor inserts for concrete that are generally included as "standard" with a safety cover purchase. Natural stone and tile decks should not use these smaller brass anchors as was learned back in the early days of safety cover installation where you would see this all the time. Natural stone and tile pool decks should use a much more heavy duty (usually stainless steel) interlock stake that the standard brass anchor is inset into. This allows for drastically enhanced strength to prevent the anchors from displacing stones and breaking grout lines when under tension. If you have a grass or lawn area then you will find the lawn anchors are less heavy duty and made from aluminum instead of stainless steel however they are typically much longer than the stainless ones used for interlocking stone and tile. Most safety cover manufacturers have restrictions on the number of lawn tubes you can use to install your safety cover before it is no longer considered safe and potentially voiding the warranty. It would not be uncommon to require an extra $500 to $1000 of hardware for pool safety covers installed on a natural stone or tile deck versus a standard concrete pool deck. Even wood and composite wood decks require a hardware upgrade to use wood deck anchors.
Cover inclusions - In an ideal world your pool would be perfectly rectangle, square or round and have wide open concrete in every direction within three feet of the pool edge. Most pools are not like this. Every alteration that needs to happen to the cover will make it cost more than a standard rectangle cover. If your pool has a set of steps that also need to be covered then these will cost extra and need to be measured carefully. If your pool is anything other than a straight walled pool then your cover will need to be custom measured and manufactured to fit your pool just like a pool liner. This substantially increases the cost of a safety cover versus a generic off the shelf shape like a rectangle. If you do not have three feet of clear deck area around all sides of your pool then you will need to have alterations made to the cover to accommodate for this. For example if you have slide legs that are near to the pool edge then these will need to be built into the cover design to allow for a secure and safe fit on your pool. If you have a permanent waterfall, water feature or raised wall of any kind in your pool then this also will increase the cost and installation difficulty of the cover system. When someone comes to your home to give you an estimate of how much your pool cover would cost it is these cover inclusions which they are looking for. A single alteration to the cover is not the end of the world, but if you have multiple alterations needed on a custom cover with a waterfall, two sets of stairs and a slide that needs cut-outs then you will find that the price of your cover quickly starts to add up. Even more so when you consider the increased hardware costs that certain decking materials require.
Damage from pests - By far the biggest problem I have encountered with pool safety covers in the field is the total destruction of covers from pests like mice, rats, and even ants! If you do not store your safety cover properly when the pool is being used then you could find yourself in a bad situation come the fall season. With shocking regularity pool covers will be made into mouse nests and in doing so the mice burrow to the center of the cover for maximum protection. Given that the cover is folded over on itself multiple times when in storage this amounts to big chew holes through half or more of the panels on the cover. This can be a disaster for safety cover owners who were expecting decades of service life from their investment only to have it ruined by pests completely in a single season. Storing your cover in a safe and pest free space during the summer is a very smart decision. If you simply have no good place to keep it other than the pool shed then it is recommended that you hang the cover in the bag it came in elevated off of the ground. My personal favorite is to store it in a strong storage bin that has a tight fitting lid to prevent rodents from getting at your cover.
Learning to use the cover (tool) bar - If you work around swimming pools and safety covers you will develop a proficiency in dealing with the spring loaded anchors and straps that you connect the cover to the pool deck with. To the average pool owner this must look like wizardry. There is a definitive learning curve to learning how exactly to use the installation and removal rod to maximum effect. In skilled hands it is simple to put on or take off even the most stubborn and weighted cover straps from the anchors. Most likely as a pool owner you will need to struggle through just a little frustration and learn how to use this tool well. This is not simply a strength maneuver...it is a precision movement coupled with a technical process. With just a little patience and practice you will be a semi-pro at dealing with safety cover anchors in no time.
Seized, stripped, damaged or broken anchors - It is not uncommon to find older, lower quality or poorly maintained deck anchors that are no longer functional. They can break and be sharp, or they can simply seize and become stuck in either the up or down position. Unfortunately repairing anchors like this is a little bit of a hassle with not a lot of great options for a pool owner looking to take care of this on their own. The average household, at most, might have an easy out extractor with a reverse thread that you could try to see if you are able to pull out the anchor. If it is loose in the deck then you might be able to get it but if the friction fit is still strong then you will need to pry it out of the deck somehow which will usually cause at least a little bit of cosmetic damage in the process. There does exist an extraction tool designed for this purpose which operates somewhat like a gear puller but unless you can fashion one yourself out of hardware you may find the cost of buying one of these tools not worth the investment.
Screwing the anchors - The only real pain in the butt with pool safety covers would have to be the aching back you will have after winding all the anchors up or down using the hex key that comes included with the cover. Instead of using the hex key that came with your cover you could buy an extra long key or use an extension of some kind. My preferred method to deal with this is to take any standard screwdriver bit and simply turn it around backwards and put it in my cordless drill...perfect fit. You do need to be careful however as since the brass anchor inserts will strip quickly and easily if you are not lined up well or have the bit inserted into the anchor all the way.
There are some things can potentially go wrong with your safety cover that can require repairs or replacement parts however these would be few and far between when compared to tarp pool cover systems. If you buy a safety cover for your pool, unless you beat the odds, chances are you will get many years of faithful service from your investment...just keep the mice away from it!
Comparing Safety Covers VS. Other Pool Covers
Having a safety cover is different than other pool cover systems. Most notably, as pool owners are made aware, the schedule for opening and closing your pool yearly should likely change a little bit. With a safety cover ideally you want to close your pool as late into the year as possible as well as open as early in the spring as possible. The reason for this is that the cover allows some sunlight through and during the warmer months (of the winter season) this can result in algae growth. It is not entirely uncommon to open a pool with a safety cover to find impossibly bright green water. It can happen. If you care for your pool and balance the chemicals before closing the pool for the season then most likely all you will have is some silt at the bottom of the pool along with perhaps some cloudy water. Having a safety cover does not guarantee that your pool will be green in the spring but it does increase the potential for this versus a traditional isolation cover that segregates the water dirty water on top of the cover from the clean and chemically treated water in your pool.