7 Good Swimming Pool Maintenance Habits That You Should Adopt
Whether you are brand new to owning a swimming pool, or you have been maintaining your pool for many years, there are likely some areas for improvement when it comes to caring for your pool. There is no single perfect way to go about maintaining your pool. Most people find a sort of equilibrium with their pool devoting the minimum amount of time needed in order to keep the pool in usable condition. The problem with pool ownership, and maintenance, is that the tasks are never ending. There is always something that you should likely be doing to your pool but there is only so much time in the day to get everything done. This article will help you to make sure that you are not overlooking an important maintenance item. With so many pool related maintenance tasks you can lose sight of the importance of each individual component or simply become complacent over time.
For people who have owned and maintained a pool for a long time the biggest issue is complacency. When the pool was new it was easy to find the time for regular skimming, vacuuming, filter maintenance, cleaning the strainer baskets, testing the water and correcting your chemicals. Now that the pool is no longer new each of these tasks feels very much like work and it is all too easy to conveniently forget to do them when you are supposed to. For new pool owners it is a different story completely. The biggest problem with new pool owners is simply being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things that you need to know, and do, to your pool. Further to this, a new pool owner has no perspective yet so they are not able to prioritize the importance of each maintenance item. It would be very easy to forget, or simply never learn how, to properly care for your pool. Most pool owners tend to learn the hard way about how to maintain their pool properly, and the hard way usually involves a lot of money. If you want to reduce the amount of hard lessons you learn, and money you need to spend, then consider adopting these 7 habits of efficient and cost effective pool ownership.
Monitoring Your Chlorine Levels
Whether you are a new pool owner or a seasoned pool veteran your pool will treat you the same if you let it run out of free chlorine...it will turn green. Without an active sanitizer available in the water to kill bacteria and oxidize organic debris then then bacteria and algae will grow unrestricted. Where many pool owners go wrong is by trying to quantify how much chlorine they need to use to maintain their pool. There is only one correct answer for the question of how much chlorine you need to add to your pool - you need to add enough to maintain a free chlorine level of 1 part per million, at minimum, at all times. Whether you need to add a little chlorine or a lot of chlorine will depend on how much bacteria and organic debris are in the water.
A very common scenario is for a pool owner to add a set amount of chlorine and then wait 12 to 24 hours to retest the chlorine level in the water. When they retest and discover that there is still zero parts per million of free chlorine in the water, they don't know what went wrong. Well, in a word, nothing. If you add chlorine to your pool and then test your water a short time later to discover that there is still no chlorine in the water, then this simply means you need more chlorine still. When you add chlorine to the water it will seek out bacteria and organic debris. If there is not very much of either of these in your pool then the chlorine will remain in reserve in the water, just waiting for more bacteria or organic debris to be introduced. This balance of chlorine demand and chlorine reserve is where so many pool owners get confused. If you add chlorine to a pool, but testing shows no free chlorine available, then the amount of chlorine demand was greater than the amount that you added. Even if you always add the same amount of chlorine to your pool and it has always worked in the past, this is not a guarantee by any means that the same amount of chlorine will give you the same reaction in the future. There could be any one of a number of normal issues that would cause your chlorine demand to increase such as:
- Dirty, plugged or aging filter media
- The interior surface of the pool is aging and starting to hold more bacteria as it becomes porous
- Recent rains may have depleted your chlorine levels
- Your cyanuric acid level may be too low
- Your pool may be getting more sunlight than previous times
- Leaves, debris, pollen, sticks and neighbors filthy kids all will increase the amount of chlorine you need
Maintaining chlorine levels in a swimming pool is a dynamic equation and not something static that you can approach with standardized measurements. This is why testing your pool water is so important. Water clarity is not an indication of chlorine levels, and you can not test for free chlorine by taste, touch or feel so crack out those test strips or better yet bring in your water to a local water lab for analysis. Adopting a set amount of chlorine to add to your pool is a great idea as a starting point, but chlorine levels should be determined and adjusted based on water samples, not previous experiences with the pool. If you do not yet have it, every pool owner should have the Taylor pool test kit as part of their stock of pool supplies for accurate water testing.
Skimming & Vacuuming Your Pool
Maintaining the chlorine in your pool will be difficult for you to do if you never seem to get around to skimming the leaves from the surface of your pool, or vacuuming the debris from the floor. When leaves land in your pool they will tend to float for a while on the surface before they end up waterlogged and sinking to the bottom. While the skimmer suction and the vortexing action of your pool circulation system should be enough, in theory, to keep the surface of your pool clear of leaves, any pool owner can tell you that this is not a perfect system. Manual skimming and vacuuming is simply a regular part of pool and spa maintenance.
Why is it so important to stay on top of the skimming and vacuuming of your pool? Every time that you fail to remove that debris from the water you are now relying on the chemicals in your pool to break down this matter. In the above example we discussed the relationship of chlorine demand and chlorine reserve. If you have debris floating on the surface of your pool, as well as older debris that has sunk to the bottom, then you are going to have a pretty tough time maintaining your chlorine levels. A hot-button topic in the pool industry these days is reducing exposure to chemicals such as chlorine. The first way to accomplish this would be to simply need to use less chlorine. If you are diligent about skimming leaves and vacuuming your pool often then you will simply use less chlorine than a more dirty pool. While this is hardly earth shattering news, skimming and vacuuming is likely the first pool related task that you will become complacent with after a while. If you want to maintain a clean, clear pool using as little chemicals as possible, then skimming and vacuuming should be at the top of your maintenance list. You can also consider getting a robotic pool vacuum to reduce on the amount of time that you spend manually vacuuming. If you would like more information then read these pool vacuum reviews to help you sort out which models have which features.
Knowing When To Clean Your Filter
It does not matter whether you have a sand filter, a cartridge filter or a diatomaceous earth filter...if your filter is dirty then it is not doing a good job of keeping your pool clean. Much like with adding chlorine, pool owners tend to approach filter cleaning in the same way, establishing a timeline that they follow for cleaning the filter. Again, filter cleaning is not something that should be based on a regular interval schedule - A pool filter should be cleaned every time it is dirty. So how are you supposed to know when your filter is dirty?
A filter is dirty and requires cleaning when the pressure of your pool system rises 7 PSI over the clean operational pressure of your system. In theory, the clean operational pressure of your pool system, which will be 100% unique to your installation, should be noted and recorded when the pool is first built and operated. Writing down the clean operational pressure with a permanent marker somewhere near the filter might be a good idea. This will give you a reference point to which you can compare your filter function pressures in the future. A pressure rise of 7 PSI or greater represents a significant increase in pressure such that you should clean the filter. With a sand filter this would typically be backwashing, and a cartridge filter would require cleaning of the cartridge elements. DE filters might need a bump of the handle, or periodically a full disassembly and cleaning of the grids. These filter maintenance processes should restore your clean operational pressures back to their original numbers.
Sometimes regular filter maintenance does not resolve the problem of higher system pressures. If this happens then the problem will depend on what type of filter that you have. A cartridge filter can become blocked with sunscreen and oils and you must use a degreaser to clean the elements. If the elements are put back in and either do not reduce system pressure, or only reduce system pressure for a very short period of time, this is an indication that the filter elements have reached the end of their service life and will require replacement. When a sand filter will not reduce system pressure even after backwashing then it is possible that the sand in your filter needs to be changed. As sand ages it can solidify and cause channeling where the water is not being effectively filtered. Additionally, fine debris can build up in the filter sand over time, which also can cause a permanent increase in the clean operational pressure of the system.
Using A Solar Blanket On Your Pool
Swimming pools are expensive to buy, operate and maintain. You should take every opportunity to reduce how much you need to spend on your pool wherever possible. One of the very best ways to increase the efficiency of your pool is to use a solar blanket cover every night. Using a solar blanket on your pool at night will drastically reduce the amount of heat that your pool loses at night when temperatures drop. A solar blanket will also reduce the evaporation of your water significantly which also reduces on your chemical maintenance costs. With so many large benefits to using solar blankets why do more pool owners not use them? Well, the truth is, they take work. Solar blankets are not all that expensive these days so most pools tend to have one. The only catch is the blanket doesn't work very well if you always keep it rolled up at the end of your pool. If you want to get the benefits from a solar blanket you will need to...use it.
It does not take long to put a solar blanket on a pool, nor to take it off. It is the repetitive nature of the process that loses most people. A solar blanket should not be put on, and left on, the pool. The blanket should ideally only be used at night time but this would mean that you need to come outside twice every day to deal with the pool. Once to take the cover off in the morning and again at night to cover the pool before it gets too cool outside. Over time this procedure devolves into only occasional use of the cover, which most often will in turn lead to the cover simply being forgotten.
When you leave a solar blanket on a pool for long periods of time the pool may develop an algae bloom despite having all of your normal chemicals within the right range. There are a few factors that happen when you use a solar blanket that affect the way a pool circulates and how the chemical levels react. Using a cover reduces the oxygen in direct contact with the water, and also prevents much of the UV light from the sun from reaching the water. The top layer of water under the cover will heat up much warmer than the water lower in the pool and the effectiveness of the circulation system is reduced, especially for the water which is close to the cover. Most of all, some water will end up sitting on top of the solar blanket, and without filtration and chlorine these water pockets will quickly begin to develop algae. The cumulative total of all of these effects is that when left on for long periods a solar blanket will increase the potential for algae to bloom in your pool. If you want the maximum benefit from using your solar blanket with the minimal time investment I would say that leaving your solar blanket on for up to 48 hours at a time is fine, after which you need to remove it for at least a few hours before covering the pool again. With a schedule like this you can minimize your time investment, limit the potential for negative consequences to the water quality, all while maintaining your pool as efficiently as possible.
Attend To Repairs As Quickly As PossibleA swimming pool is pretty much the last thing that you want to let small problems develop into big problems with. Any repairs with your pool are not likely to be cheap, but deciding to ignore the problem for one reason or another is sure to have disastrous consequences. There is no greater example of this than with small pool leaks that can develop into huge, disastrous problems that have the potential to financially sink you. For an example of this you can read this article on why you should never ignore a leak in your pool.
One of the most common phrases that all pool workers hear is "I want to get one more season out of it". What pool owners typically do not understand is just how fast pool deficiencies can cause other problems, and just how expensive these other problems can get. If you need a new liner in your pool the logic to a pool owner is to get as many years as possible out of it as this is the cheapest method. In most cases attempting to keep your liner for another year after it already has holes and is slipping out of the track or corners can end up costing you even more in the long run. Your pool was only designed to have chlorinated water on the inside and having a failed liner allows chlorinated water where it should not be. The same thing goes for concrete pools that have an aging interior surface. You can end up buying yourself additional repairs which you might have avoided if you paid for a new pool interior surface a year or two sooner. I understand the logic of pool owners who simply are trying to be frugal with their spending however their lack of technical understanding of the problem limits their ability to make the most cost effective choices. For example, you would not drive your car with worn out brakes for one more year to try to save money...so why would you try to get another year out of the interior surface of your pool after it has reached the end of its service life?
Avoid Contaminants In The Pool
Something that many pool owners would never think about is the presence of nitrates and phosphates in their water. Fortunately most pool owners will not have a problem with these however if you do have problems with phosphates and nitrates, or you want to be sure not to, then there are steps you should take to reduce the amount of them that get into your pool. By reducing the main sources of contamination you can reduce, or even prevent, phosphates and nitrates from being an unlimited food supply for algae in your pool.
Shampoo, soaps and detergents almost all contain phosphates which aid with the cleaning process. These detergents are present on peoples clothes, and in their hair, and every time that you get into the pool you are bringing these stragglers along with you. A few of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of detergent based phosphates in your pool is to only rinse bathing suits instead of washing them (at least most of the time) as well as showering or rinsing off before jumping in the pool. It might be worthwhile to consider adding an outdoor shower to your swimming pool area for quick rinsing purposes. There are a host of reasons why having an outdoor shower is both good for your pool as well as a nice addition that many bathers enjoy having access to but the primary one is it will certainly reduce the amount of soaps and detergents making it into your pool.
Fertilizer is one of the most common, and most serious, forms of phosphates and nitrates in swimming pools. It is very important that you limit the exposure of your pool to fertilizers as much as possible. If you fertilize your backyard then just be sure to give a wide berth to the pool area at an absolute minimum though it would be better for your pool if your avoid lawn fertilization altogether. If you live near a golf course, or if you maintain a pool near a golf course, then your chances of having a problem with fertilizer and phosphates in your pool goes up sharply.
Phosphates can also find their way into your pool in your source water, in rain water, and in some common pool chemicals. While it may not be possible to avoid them completely, you can take these steps to reduce the amount that you have in your water. In addition to not overburdening your pool with contaminants you can also prevent phosphates from being a problem simply by maintaining regular water chemical balancing and maintenance. So long as you have a chlorine reserve in the water you should be able to avoid the negative aspects of phosphates but if you let your free chlorine fall to zero then you will have a fight on your hands getting the algae under control. Algae is best dealt with by not letting it get started in the first place in your pool.
Run Your Pool Pump Less
Since a swimming pool pump is one of the biggest drawing electrical appliances in the average home it should stand to reason that you want to turn it off as often as possible. Many pool owners are wise to this already and operate their pumps for only a few hours per day. If you want to be able to calculate precisely how much water you should be pumping and filtering your can read this article on pool filter reviews which breaks down this calculation for you. The bottom line is that you need to filter all of the water in your pool. The problem is that the water in your pool does not exactly line up in a straight line to go through the filter...so how can you be sure that you filter all of it?
Turns out that your 5th grade teacher was right after all...you need math. The calculation of water turnover in a pool is estimated that by the time the volume of your pool has passed through the filtration equipment five times you will have more or less filtered all the water. The five passes breaks down as follows:
First pass - 42% all water filtered
Second pass - 84% all water filtered
Third pass - 95% all water filtered
Fourth pass - 98% all water filtered
Fifth pass - 99% all water filtered
This is the reason why commercial pools mostly require a 6 hour turnover as this means effectively all of the water gets filtered in a 24 hour period. Residential pools tend to take much more liberty with just how little filtering you can get away with. Many pool owners get by with a single turnover of the water however as you can see this would put you at less than half of the water in your pool actually going through the filter. If a commercial pool has a 6 hour turnover, and a busy residential pool might have an 8 hour turnover, then what would your pool need if it does not get a lot of use? You probably can go somewhere in between the one to two turnover per day range. While this would only effectively filter about 75% of your pool water daily, this should be enough to keep your pool clean, clear and safe if you are trying to find the bare minimum.
Pool pumps are very powerful and the average pump can easily turn over the volume of your pool many times per day. Most pool pumps you can turn off 12 hours per days and still manage to turn over the volume of your pool multiple times. While you could choose to run your pump as little as two to six hours per day only, and this possibly might even meet your minimum turnover needs, this will still result in long periods of time where the water in your pool is stagnant...which is not ideal. Two speed pumps were the first big improvement however now variable speed pool pumps are the way of the future. This is due to the fact that when a pool pump reduces speed by half, the amount of power it needs will only be just over 12% of the power it was using at full speed. This non-linear reduction in electrical demands for electric motors running at lower RPM's is the foundation behind the technology that makes a variable speed pool pump the most cost saving addition you can add to your pool - by far. If you would like more information on variable speed pumps as well as how they can save you money then you can read these variable speed pool pump reviews.
Maintaining your pool might seem like a thankless task but this could not be further from the truth. The first step in making your pool last as long as possible, for as little money as possible, is to simply spend a good amount of time caring for it. If you do not short cut these steps then you are likely to have smooth sailing with your pool now and for years to come.
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