Common Pool Closing Mistakes Part 2
Continuing from Swimming Pool Closing Mistakes Part 1 this article will look at some of the most common mistakes that pool owners tend to make when trying to close their pool themselves. As a pool professional and someone who has closed thousands of swimming pools I strongly endorse hiring a professional service company to close and winterize your pool for you. The cost of doing so, usually a few hundred dollars, is well worth the investment to be sure the pool is closed properly and is unlikely to sustain any winter damage. The cost is quite low compared to the actual worth that is done simply because pool service companies have closing pools down to a refined science.
One skilled worker with one trained helper can easily close 10 or more pools every day during the fall closing season. 10 per day. A smaller pool that does not need to be drained much, as well as a lightweight mesh safety cover can have the entire closing process done in as little as 20 to 25 minutes from the time the truck stops in your driveway until it rolls out again. I know that sounds impossibly fast but it is not. No cut corners, no broken or missing parts, nothing skipped or forgotten...when you close hundreds of pools every fall you can refine the process tremendously. Yes there are also pools which can not be closed in 25 minutes, but seldom will you encounter a pool that takes more than an hour and a half to close. Big gas powered four inch discharge pumps that move a lot of water is the key to reducing time-on-site for pool closings. A good attitude and some hustle in your step is the next most important thing if you are trying to move quickly.
Why spend an entire weekend doing something that a skilled team can do in under an hour for a few hundred dollars. Best of all the onus of responsibility for winterizing correctly falls on the shoulders of the service company. If they forget to remove the drain plug from your sand filter and it explodes I imagine you will be able to get a new filter replacement from the service company. If you forget to drain the filter yourself then you are responsible financially for this error. Still, there are many pool owners, perhaps most, who will close the pool themselves...for better or for worse. Maybe you waited too long to book your pool closing and now every shop in town is booked for the next two months. If you are going to close your own pool then the first mistake this article covers is pool owners not seeing value in pool closing services. If you want to save money on your pool maintenance costs then I have always encouraged pool owners to open the pool themselves, but leave the closing to the professionals. A mistake at opening is unlikely to cause permanent or major damage...but a mistake at closing can be very costly indeed.
Draining The Pool For Winter
Part of draining and winterizing a pool involves lowering the water level below the lowest return ports in order to blow all of the water from the plumbing system. With the water low you can be sure that all water is evacuated from the pipes, and you can also be sure to get a secure and water tight seal with the winterizing plugs being used. While this standard protocol is used for winterizing most pools it must be noted that there are exceptions to this. Some pools can not be winterized, or winterized in this way, as they are at risk for damage. All pools are designed to be full of water to help give them strength and hold them in the ground. Most pools can be drained below the returns to blow out the lines...but some old concrete pools can not. Some fiberglass pools can not. Even some vinyl liner pools experience water related problems such as a floating liner should you attempt to drain too much water from them for winterizing. In these cases draining of the pool can result in damage to the interior surface and even the entire pool structure.
There is risk any time you drain water from a pool for any reason. Do it wrong, or at the wrong time, or to the wrong pool, and you will have trouble. Professionals avoid these problems with experience, knowledge of local swimming pool and ground water table issues, and as a last resort, insurance for their company against damages such as this. Every year pools are damaged from improper draining, or even worse, pool owners attempting to completely drain the pool for long periods of time. These damages may not be covered by your home insurance and they can be terribly expensive to absorb. This is why the theme in this article pushes so heavily towards hiring a service professional for pool closings. The work is not all that hard but the stakes are high. If you still have questions about this then you should definitely read this article: Should I drain my pool for the winter?
Closing A Pool With Dirty Water
A common mistake that a surprisingly high number of pool owners make is to attempt to close the pool while there is still leaves and debris in the pool. Along these same lines attempting to close and winterize your pool if your chemistry is not balanced is also a mistake that you should avoid. Some pool owners might be shocked to hear that others leave the pool dirty. This all boils down to the differences in the way people care for their possessions. Some people meticulously clean and service their car while others ignore all the service notices, lights and noises and just drive until the wheels fall off. Pools are largely the same. If you want to take care of yours, like you should, then the right thing to do is skim, vacuum and chemically balance the pool before closing it. This way when you add a big slug of chlorine right before you put the cover on there is a decent chance that the residual will last for a while. It is totally possible to open your pool to crystal clear water in the spring.
As an add-on to this mistake pool owners often close the pool while the filter is still dirty. When you close the pool for the winter you should give a lengthy backwash and rinse cycle for sand filters, and both DE and cartridge filters should be disassembled for deep cleaning of the elements. Many pool owners make the mistake of rinsing their cartridge filters off with water, or soaking in an acid solution. While both of these accomplish something, the correct order to deep clean a filter is to soak with a degreaser soap that is phosphate free for 24 hours and then rinse thoroughly. Acid rinsing filter elements that still have oils in them can permanently bake the oils into the paper and ruin them. Acid washing should only be done if there is scale build up on the filters, which can happen but is rather uncommon.
Over Filling Water Bags
If you still have a tarp cover and water bag system for winterizing your pool then you should consider looking at a mesh safety cover. There is a reason why these covers are steadily taking over the pool winter cover market. They look great, they last a long time, and they make the pool safer. Not having the standing water alone for months on end is enough of a reason to get one. For more information read this article that answers the question: What is the best pool cover?
Water bags (and tarps) can be found much less expensive than they used to be in previous decades. Unfortunately most of them are also much cheaper. Tarps are so thin you can see through them and water bags break a seam under their own weight right out of the box. If you are replacing your water bags every year then it is possible that you are overfilling them. When you fill a water bag for a pool cover you should aim for 50% to 60% full, and never more than 75% full. When the water freezes it will split the seams in the bag and the first warm day you will find half of your water bags have drained and blown away. For optimal coverage use bags that are 50% to 60% full of water, and just use more of them such that you have at least a foot or more of overlap from one bag to the next around the entire perimeter of the pool. If your cover fits properly it should not fall in over the winter, which is to say that is is not sloping down to the water, or spanning across the pool, but running straight down the walls of the pool to the water level and then turning sharply to run across the surface of the water. This way when water gets on the cover from rain or snow there will be no additional force exerted that could pull the water bags down into the pool.
Taking The Pressure Gauge Out Of The Filter
The pressure gauge in your pool filter is an important piece of equipment that you are supposed to use to monitor for increases in system pressure. Increases in system pressure, specifically, are how you know when it is time to clean your filter. While you might have a regular schedule that you follow, this does not account for sudden changes in pressure from failing filter elements, damage, chemical imbalances etc. You really should have a functioning pressure gauge in your pool filter and you should know (write it on the wall next to the filter) what your system pressure is when your filters are perfectly clean. This is the benchmark to compare future pressure readings against. Most filter manufacturers advise that an increase in pressure around seven PSI or so indicates that it is time to clean the filter.
The problem with filter pressure gauges is that they are an instrumentation device. These dials are calibrated carefully and are sensitive to damage from impact, improper installation, and of course...freezing. If you fail to remove the pressure gauge from your filter then most likely it will become damaged or broken over the winter. Unfortunately you might not even notice that the gauge is no longer working, or is no longer giving accurate readings. This could lead to a dangerous situation where maximum system pressures are being exceeded. Also important is that you would not know when it was time to clean your filters. To avoid these problems you should unthread the pressure gauge from the filter and store it with the other plugs from the pump and filter. When removed from the filter the pressure gauge must read zero. If it reads any number other than zero then it is broken and unrepairable and you will need to get a new one. Fortunately they are quite affordable.
Removing Equipment For The Winter
There are some pieces of pool equipment which should be removed from the pool system and stored in a heated space like a basement or an attached garage. An example of this would be most salt chlorinator cells which might be able to survive freezing temperatures for the winter but really should be stored inside if you want to protect your investment. There are two common items that some pool owners remove and store inside which do not actually need to be removed and they are diving boards and pool pumps.
Above ground pool pumps have a plug wired directly to the pump so you can just unplug the pump and pick it up and walk away. When it is this easy to remove the pump you can make a much stronger argument for taking the time to remove it and store it indoors for the winter. A hard wired permanent electrical connection however is not something that you want to put on and take off every year to store the pump inside. Pool pumps can and do weather quite well outside in brutally cold winters so long as you have winterized it properly. There is no need to electrically disconnect your pool pump and store it indoors.
Some pool owners prefer that their diving board is removed and stored for the winter season. I certainly understand that diving boards are expensive for what they are and you want to get the maximum life from yours, but most pools would be better served to wrap the board with a tarp and bungee cords for the winter as opposed to removing the board and base every year. Something that many diving board owners might not appreciate is that laws regarding minimum pool depth and diving envelope are much more strict now than they were in previous decades and most residential pool diving boards do not meet current standards. Since the diving board is pre-existing it is grandfathered past the current code requirements, however removing the diving board can pose a problem. If you want a pool service company to take your diving board back off and reinstall it in the spring, they are are responsible for installing a diving board on a pool that does not meet minimum safety requirements. In the event of an accident with the pool the service company could now be liable. From a safety perspective you should remove the diving board permanently but if you intend to keep yours then it might be better to just leave it installed for the winter.
How To Use A Pool Leaf Net
If you have a property with a lot of trees, or if your pool ends up being the collecting point for all of the neighborhood trees every fall then you might want to consider using a leaf net for your pool. If you have a safety cover then you do not need a leaf net since the safety cover is intended to let water into the pool so leaves on top will end up drying and blowing away. If you have a tarp or lock in cover then you will end up with a lot of standing water in the winter season, and in that water can be hundreds of pounds of rotting leaf sludge that you need to somehow drag out next spring (all the while your pump on the cover keeps getting clogged with leaf sludge).
If you have a problem with leaves in your pool during the winter the solution is to use a leaf net. Unfortunately a leaf net only works if, you know, you use it properly. With astounding regularity pool owners will purchase or be sold a leaf net, install it on the pool, and then leave it until spring. If they had read the directions on the box they would have learned that a leaf net is NOT intended to be on the pool for the winter. By the time spring comes the leaves are mostly rotten and slip right through the leaf net...not to mention they weigh a million pounds from all the water they are holding. When used correctly a leaf net goes on your pool in the fall before the leaves start falling. Once the leaves have all fallen, or perhaps an extra week or two, you then remove the leaf net from the pool. Being that the leaves are still relatively dry and lightweight removing the cover is easy work for two people and you now have removed almost every leaf from your pool cover. This system is so effective I have seen many pool owners use their pool (and leaf net) as a gutter lane for the leaves on their property. They use a leaf blower to blow all the leaves from the yard into the pool where the water holds them contained, and then they simply remove the leaf net along with every leaf from their property in one fell swoop.
Using The Wrong Winterizing Plugs With A Safety Cover
Many pool owners will upgrade to a new safety cover this year for their winter cover system. Of these safety covers the vast majority will be the type which allows water to pass through the cover and into the pool. This is not a flaw, and is how the cover system was designed to work. These pools are full and ready to operate come spring time, where isolation covers like tarps will require that you add water to the pool to fill it to operating levels. As part of the function for how a mesh safety cover works the water level in the pool will change over the course of the winter. It is possible that freezing of the surface of the water level, along with changing water levels, can allow rubber expandable winterizing plugs to be pulled out of the return ports that they are protecting.
Imagine your dissappointment to open the pool in the spring to discover one or more of your winterizing plugs sitting on the bottom of the pool instead of in the returns where you put them in the fall. This means that water has been able to access your plumbing system, for who knows how long, and now there is a very real possibility that you could have freeze damage to your plumbing system. If your pool is full to the top like safety cover pools often are in the spring I would be less concened, but if you have a water level lower than normal this spring, plus you have plugs that were ripped out of the returns this winter, then unfortunately that is a very likely indication that you might have a new leak in your plumbing system from the freeze damage.
The wing nut on the expandable plugs can become trapped in the top layer of ice as it forms on the pool surface. If the water level then rises without fully melting first the ice will grip the wing nut from the plug and wrench it free from the return. All other types of pool winterizing plugs use a threaded connection along with thread sealants like teflon tape in order to make a water tight seal. These threaded connections can not be forcefully pulled out and so if you have a mesh safety cover system you should avoid using expandable rubber plugs in lieu of threaded winterizing plugs if possible. If you have an older style of pool that does not have threaded ports for your returns then you should try to use plugs that have a very small wing nut as opposed to the much larger plastic wingnut style.
Common pool closing mistakes part 1
Things you will need to close your pool
Pool winterizing discussion
How to protect your pool from freezing
Should you drain your pool for the winter?
How to winterize a pool heater
How to have clear water when you open your pool in the spring
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