How To Get The Most Life From Your Pool
Maintaining your swimming pool can feel like a never ending list of things that you should do. Actually getting around to each and every thing on this list is
another matter completely. The truth is that you can cut corners with pool care and to the untrained eye everything would look like business as usual - the water is
clear and everybody is swimming...so what's the problem?
The problem is that cutting corners with your pool upkeep and maintenance will end up taking a toll, and this toll will manifest itself as a big, fat wad of cash that you are going to need to spend in the future. Since the cause and effect of early pool component failure are separated by a few years it is not readily apparent to most pool owners that one thing causes the other. This list will help you to identify some of the steps that you should NOT be skipping when it comes to upkeep and maintenance of your swimming pool.
Pool Pump Maintenance
Your pool pump is the heart of your swimming pool. An inground pool pump should last 5 - 10 years with an average expected lifetime of 7 years. With attention to
detail with your maintenance and a correct installation you could, and should, get even more than 10 years from your pump. Sadly, most pumps will never live to be
this old as they will fail early due to one of these reasons:
Pump Leaks - Pump motors draw air through them in order to stay cool. While a pump is designed for outdoor use it is not able to handle chlorinated water being pulled through the motor. The threaded connections that most pool pumps have can develop a leak easily. If you don't bother to fix this then the pump motor will probably fail early due to the chlorinated water being pulled through the windings. Even more common is for the pump to develop a main seal leak which would go unnoticed since it leaks from the very bottom (center) if the pump. This small leak will also draw chlorinated water into the motor. To avoid this problem with early motor failure be sure to inspect your pump for leaks often and repair them as soon as they are detected.
Overheating Pumps - Heat kills electric motors. While pool pumps are built to operate in most climates, taking steps to help the pump to keep cool will pay dividends in longevity. Keeping a pump in a small room with no air flow is not ideal, nor is having a pump running under full sun during the blazing heat of the day. A sun shade or roof is ideal to keep the sun, rain and snow off of the pump while providing maximum air flow. If a pump overheats the windings in the motor can begin to fail and draw more current (which means even more heat). The main seal of an overheating pump is likely to warp and begin a slow leak.
Improper Installation - For your pump to be "properly installed" it needs to have a long, straight run of pipe into the pump. If you have a 90 degree fitting right into the front of the pump then this is not good. To learn more about flow dynamics relating to pump installations you can watch the equipment installation video reviews. Also, the pump needs to be sized correctly to the plumbing pipe size, pool volume and filter model. To learn more about how to size your pump correctly for your pool you can read this article on equipment sizing.
Chlorine In Pool Pumps - Never put chlorine pucks into a pump strainer basket. This is a guaranteed way to make sure your pump fails early as well as your filter and heater since you are sending concentrated chlorine directly through your equipment. It amazes me as a pool technician that even to this day this is something I encounter all of the time. If you care about your pool, and not wasting your money, do not do this.
Pool Heater Maintenance
As the most expensive piece of equipment on the pool pad you certainly want to get the most life out of your heater. Your heater also happens to be one of the most
likely things on your pool to break as a result of poor or improper maintenance. There are quite a few things that if you do not do them, the heater will fail early.
In a worst case scenario it is not uncommon for heaters as new as three months old to fail (and not be covered under warranty) so be sure that you follow these tips to
get the most life out of your pool heater:
Heater Bonding - If your heater is not bonded then you are at elevated risk of damage due to galvanic corrosion (also having a sacrificial anode is extremely important to help prevent this). Check your heater casing to see if there is a copper bonding lug not currently in use. For more information on heater bonding you can read this detailed product review article on pool heaters.
Salt Cell Check Valve - If you have a salt water chlorine generator (or any type of system that adds chlorine to the pool water) then this needs to be installed downstream of the heater. NEVER send concentrated chlorine through the heater. Further to this, you need to have a one-way check valve installed between the heater and any form of chlorine dispensing equipment. Without a check valve in place the chlorine will travel backwards through the system and rot out your heater. This type of damage will not be covered under warranty even if the heater is brand new.
Chemical Maintenance - The number 1 cause of early heater failure is poor chemical balancing in pool water. Learning how to balance chlorine, pH, calcium hardness and total alkalinity is absolutely essential in order to get the most life out of your pool equipment. Having clear water is not enough, you need to learn, and understand, the numerical values behind each of these measurements. If you need to brush up on your pool chemistry then take the Swimming Pool Steve pool chemistry crash course. Failure to properly balance your pool chemistry will kill your heater, but also every other major component of your pool will fail earlier than a pool with well balanced water. This really is the most important thing you can do to make your pool last as long as possible.
Pool Filter Maintenance
A pool filter is less prone to early failure than other components such as the pump and heater. Pumps and heaters are electrically operated, gas powered, complicated
machinery with moving parts. A filter by comparison is much more simple. Pool filters are a pressure vessel and tend not to fail as they are overbuilt. They are
overbuilt as a form of protection since they would be so dangerous if the exploded all the time. Where a pool filter is going to fail early will be on the inside:
Washing Cartridge Filters - Cartridge pool filters use large paper cartridges to clean the pool. The cartridges need to be cleaned often and the temptation can exist to use a pressure washer for this task. Do not, under any circumstances, use a pressure washer to clean your pool filters. Not only will they not actually clean the filters (you need to soak them in a cartridge filter degreaser product and then rinse) but a pressure washer will actually destroy the filters in the process! A very costly mistake.
Sand Filter Changes - Many pool service companies recommend that you replace your sand every 3 years, 5 years or 7 years. The truth is that if your pool is clean and clear, and you have no trouble maintaining your free chlorine levels, then in all likelihood you do not need to change your sand. Changing your sand is when most sand filters will break. The internal components get weaker with age and chemical exposure and opening them to change the sand can easily crack a lateral assembly or standpipe.
Filter Pressure Too High - Regardless of whether you have a sand filter, cartridge filter or DE filter one of the biggest mistakes that pool owners make is letting the system pressure get too high. With every type of filter the way you can tell when the filter is dirty is by an increase in the filter pressure more than 7 PSI above the clean operation pressure of your system. Not backwashing, cleaning the cartridges or stripping and cleaning the grids on your DE filter means that your filter is operating at higher pressure than needs be. This ultimately places stress on every component in the filter and can lead to early failure.
Water Chemistry Maintenance
As already mentioned, poor water chemistry is the number 1 cause for early failure of pool components. Learning how to check and balance your chlorine levels, pH
range, calcium hardness and total alkalinity is critical to the health of your pool (as well as the health and well being of anyone swimming in your pool). There is
however more to know than just these basics. Since improper water chemistry is so hard on pools you should also be aware of and periodically check for the following
Cyanuric Acid - Stabilizer, conditioner and cynauric acid are all the same thing. This sunscreen for chlorine prevents your chlorine from dissipating from UV exposure. Without it you would burn through all of your chlorine every day. It is introduced to your pool manually by you, or through stabilized chlorine products such as chlorine pucks. If and when the cyanuric acid levels rise above 80ppm you will need to partially drain your pool and fill with fresh water.
Phosphates - Phosphates are not something that is usually tested for in the water. You need to either request this test specifically from your water lab, or you can order a phosphate test kit online for yourself. At higher than 500 parts per billion phosphates will significantly reduce the ability for you to maintain chlorine in your pool. If you have phosphate levels in this range or higher you must use a phosphate remover treatment.
Metals In Pool Water - Testing for metals such as copper or iron in pool water is not part of the regular analysis that most water labs do. If you have simple test strips at home that you use for testing your pool water then they will not likely test for metals. Metal in the pool water will cause staining of anything under the water level and these stains can be fairly extensive. If you have metals in your pool water then you need to determine where the metal is coming from (source water, deteriorating pool heater) and then run a course of metal sequestering agent in the pool.
Chlorine In Skimmers - Do not put chlorine pucks into the strainer basket of your pool skimmer. While this may seem like the ideal place to put some chlorine you could actually not be further from the truth. In addition to sending concentrated chlorine through your pool equipment, which will absolutely cause it to fail early, the skimmer itself takes a beating from this. During periods of time the pump is turned off the chlorine will continue to become more and more concentrated. This will weaken the plastic that the skimmer is made from and will contribute to early skimmer cracks or failure. Buy a floating chlorine dispenser, or better yet, add a chlorine erosion feeder to the system.
Skimming The Pool - One thing that is very easy to neglect to make time for is skimming and vacuuming the pool. If you can commit to skimming the pool more then this means that you will end up vacuuming the pool less since there will be less debris to sink to the bottom. If you can skim your pool surface regularly this will also reduce the amount of chlorine that your pool will use, which will also mean less corrections to the pH and total alkalinity levels. To make your life a lot easier be sure to pick up a high quality leaf net.
Vinyl Liner Pool Maintenance
Staying with the theme of water chemistry importance, a vinyl liner pool has unique potential for problems when it comes to balancing your pool chemistry. Most
specifically the acidity of the water. In the event that you let the acidity of the water get too low, even for a relatively short period of time, this can result in
the liner becoming permanently damaged with no way to repair it:
Liner Wrinkles - When the acid in a pool falls too low then the vinyl liner itself undergoes a chemical transformation. The vinyl in the liner swells and causes hundreds of small wrinkles to appear all over the pool walls and floor. If this happens there is no way to return the vinyl to its original condition. The liner will need to be replaced to resolve this. To prevent this from happening be sure to keep your total alkalinity levels and your pH levels in the correct range. Remember that alkalinity is your pH buffer. Without the alkalinity in the right range the pH can tend to bounce around wildly. Keep your alkalinity in range to keep your pH under control.
Adding chlorine to vinyl pools - When you add chlorine to a vinyl liner pool you want to do so in the deep end of the pool and usually in front of the return line to aid in the diffusion of the chlorine. Most importantly if you are using granular pool shock you must dissolve the shock in water first before adding to the pool. Any chlorine that sinks and sits on the liner will cause bleaching. Also, avoid raising your chlorine levels over 10 parts per million in a vinyl pool.
Concrete Pool Maintenance
Concrete pools, with their tile and cement interior surfaces, must be maintained properly to prevent early damage or failure. A new interior surface in a concrete
pool is tens of thousands of dollars so you certainly want yours to last as long as possible. While more resilient to physical damage than a vinyl pool liner, a
concrete pool interior surface is equally as susceptible as vinyl in terms of chemical damage. Improper pool chemistry is responsible for most early failures for
concrete pool interior surfaces.
Calcium Hardness Balancing - In a concrete pool you need to maintain calcium hardness levels slightly higher than in a vinyl liner or fiberglass pool. If you do not then the pool water will leach calcium from the interior surface itself. This can result in crystal growth, staining and even failure of the mortar surface if left to operate this way for extended periods. In a concrete pool keep your calcium hardness levels in the 150 to 200 parts per million range to prevent this problem.
Brushing Concrete Pools - Since the surface of a concrete pool is more porous then a fiberglass pool or a vinyl liner pool, it is even more important to brush the entire interior surface of the pool at minimum once per week. Brushing regularly will help to prevent bacteria and organic debris from growing on the walls and floor. Brushing will reduce staining of the pool surface as well as increase the effectiveness of your chemicals and filtration system.
Acid Washing Concrete Pools - Acid washing a concrete pool is something that many pool owners do to periodically clean it up and make the interior surface look nicer. In reality, acid washing of mortar based interior surface on concrete pools is something that should seldom be done. You should only ever acid wash a pool with a weak solution of 7 parts water to one part muriatic acid, or less, which should barely foam as you apply it to the pool. During an acid wash the mortar layer is being burned away revealing the shiny, clean looking aggregate underneath of it. This stripping or the mortar layer leaves the plaster rough and porous which it should not be. A pool plaster is water resistant due to the smooth and dense finish. Over acid washing pool plaster will actually dramatically reduce the expected service life you will get as well as making the plaster feel much worse than before acid washing.
Saltwater Pool Maintenance
While salt water is chlorine, and the maintenance of a traditional chlorine pool versus a saltwater pool are virtually the same, there are a few unique factors about
saltwater that will affect how you maintain the pool. Increasing the level of salt in your pool increases the rate of galvanic activity in the water due to the water
being more electrically conductive. Also, the type of chlorine that is produced from salt water specifically has a very high pH and this results in salt pools
consistently having problems associated with high pH levels.
Saltwater Pool pH - The specific type of chlorine generated with a saltwater pool chlorinator has a very high pH. Extremely high actually. Chlorine ranges in pH from very acidic to very basic, depending on the form, and the further from the ideal range of 7.2 - 7.8, the greater the need to manage the pH of the pool water regularly. In the case of saltwater the pH of the chlorine made is almost off the scale on the basic end of the spectrum which means the pH in saltwater pools will push upwards very quickly. Aim to keep the pH of a saltwater pool on the low end of the ideal scale, near 7.2, to provide for the greatest pH bounce range before correction is needed again. Chlorine, at pH levels above 8.2, is almost completely inactive in pool water and unable to kill bacteria even if you have free chlorine available in the water.
Galvanic Corrosion In Saltwater Pools - If you submerge dissimilar metals into salt water they will form a galvanic couple and current will transfer through the water between the metals. As part of this process one metal (the cathode) would experience enhanced protection against corrosion damage, while the other metal (the anode) would experience an advanced rate of corrosion. In a swimming pool this can happen and in a saltwater pool the rate of damage from galvanic corrosion increases tenfold. A sacrificial anode is designed to become the anode for the galvanic couple in the pool system and take the brunt of any damage from galvanic corrosion. For the low cost and extremely important function this product serves, you would be crazy to have a saltwater pool without an inline sacrificial anode.
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