New Swimming Pool Owners
Have you recently had a pool installed, or bought a house with a swimming pool, and you find yourself thinking that you feel completely overwhelmed with where to
start? Caring for and maintaining a new swimming pool can certainly be intimidating to people unfamiliar with this process. The good news is that while there is a
steep learning curve to swimming pool ownership, once you get some of the basics under control you will find that it is a fairly easy process after all.
Choosing to learn about your swimming pool is the best thing you can do to avoid costly problems and frustrations along the way. If you are not informed, or under informed about pool care, this is when you can really run into problems.
This article is designed to teach you the basics of what you need to know right now as well as point you in the right direction for the areas that you will need to do further research. This is an efficient and effective method to take you from 0 to "pool maintenance expert" as quickly as possible.
As a new pool owner you can feel overwhelmed easily because there is so many facets to swimming pool ownership. The main thing that you lack at this stage is the ability to classify an order of importance to what you need to know.
What Type Of Pool Do You Have?
There are a few different kinds of swimming pool and you need to know which you have. In ground swimming pools can be vinyl liner, concrete or fiberglass which will
total over 99% of the residential market. The type that you have will determine what kind of care, maintenance and repair costs you will likely experience. An
informed pool owner should obviously know what type of pool they have.
Vinyl liner pools - A vinyl liner pool is a pool that comes in a kit of wall panels. The wall panels are set in place and the floor is typically a smooth mortar concrete over which a vinyl liner is hung from a coping track at the top of the pool wall. Even though the floor is made of concrete this is not a concrete pool - if a vinyl liner covers the interior surface of the pool then it is a vinyl liner pool.
Concrete pools - There are a lot of different terms that can be used, all of which are all methods of describing a concrete pool. Shotcrete pools, cast pools, gunite pools, tile pools and plaster pools, marcite, marblite, quartz, pebble, exposed aggregate and painted pools are all ways of saying the same thing. The difference in terminology, in most cases, simply refers to the method of placement used to get the concrete into the shape of a pool. Ultimately if the shell of the pool and the interior surface of the pool are both made of a concrete or mortar material - then you have a concrete pool.
Fiberglass pools - Fiberglass pools are not concrete pools with a fiberglass paint over the interior surface. A fiberglass pool is a pool shell that is entirely comprised of fiberglass and is dropped into the ground as a finished product. A gel coat finish provides the smooth interior surface for the pool.
Identifying Pool Equipment
As a new pool owner you will need to have regular interaction with the circulation and filtration system on your pool. In order to seek advice or research any
individual component in greater detail you will need to be able to properly identify each component of the system. Every pool will have a pump and a filter of similar
kind. This is the basic pool installation minimum for circulating and filtering the water. In addition to this common equipment will include gas heaters, solar
heaters, salt water chlorinators, chlorine puck erosion feeders, ozone generators and UV lights.
Pool Pumps - The pump is the heart of the pool system. It is electrically powered and serves to suck water from the pool through skimmer and main drain pipes and push water through the filter and back to the pool. The pool pump has an electric motor one one end and a "wet end" chamber on the other end that has pipes going in and out of it. The pump requires regular maintenance in the form of cleaning out the strainer basket in the pump to avoid over-working the pump. If the pump gets too hot it can trip the electrical breaker or potentially develop internal damage in the form of short term and long term symptoms which is why the pump must never be run dry. If you want to learn more about pool pumps including how to figure out which one is the right one for your pool then read this pool pump review article.
Pool Filters - The pool filter is the large tank that contains a filter media that removes particulate from the pool water. There are 3 common style of pool filter which are silica sand filters, cartridge filters and diatomaceous earth (D.E) filters.Sand filters are very heavy due to hundreds of pounds of sand media. Sand filters require periodic backwashing which rinses the debris that the filter has removed from the pool. Cartridge filters contain a paper cartridge, or series of paper cartridges, which filter the pool water. Cartridge filters are capable of filtering much finer material than sand filters but also cost considerably more than sand filters. D.E filters remove the finest amount of particulate from swimming pools but also require the greatest amount of maintenance and care which includes bumping, charging and periodic disassembly and cleaning of the internal grids. Regardless of which type of filter that you have, you will need to pay attention to the operating pressure of the system via the pressure gage. Increases in pressure are an indication that service is needed. A general rule of thumb is to determine the clean operating pressure of your pool system and perform service (backwashing, cleaning or disassembly) once the pressure of the pool system has increased by 7 psi. Each filter type has a recommended maximum operating pressure of 30 psi and a danger limit never to exceed 50 psi. These values are very important to know and remember. To learn more about pool filters read this pool filter review article.
Pool heaters - Gas powered pool heaters are the most common way of heating pool water. These are available to run off of propane or natural gas and range in size from 100,000 BTU to 400,000 BTU with the most common, by far, being 250,000 BTU. New pool owners are often surprised with how much money it costs to run a gas heater. Since gas billing is usually multiple months for billing cycles you can rack up quite a bill before you know it. It is possible to burn thousands of dollars of gas in a few months time. It is important to understand that a large BBQ might be 25,000 BTU so an average pool heater is like having 10 large BBQ's running on full blast. Be sure to balance your pool water as poor chemistry is the #1 killer of gas heaters. To learn more about how to properly care for gas heaters, as well as how to size them for your pool then read this pool heater review article.
Pool heat pumps - A pool heat pump is different from a gas heater. Instead of using gas as a fuel source, a heat pump uses electricity combined with the technology similar to an air conditioner to create an energy transfer that can warm pool water. Ambient air temperature is heated and transferred to the pool water via a heat exchanger system. Similar to a rooftop solar heater more so than a gas heater, a heat pump can not simply heat the water at any time of day or night - it requires specific temperatures in order to work. Even still a heat pump has limitations of performance and will not, in most cases, extend the swimming season - only supplement the in season swimming temperatures. If you live in the right area where electrical costs are low and you have a large amount of warm sunny weather, then a heat pump might be the most efficient method to heat your pool water. If you would like to learn more about heat pumps, how they work and how to find out if one will work on your pool then read this pool heat pump reviews article.
Salt Water Chlorine Generators - Chlorine is a chemical sanitizer used to keep swimming pool s clean, clean and safe to swim in. Chlorine comes in many forms from pucks, to powder to liquid to gas. Another form of chlorine is chlorine that you derive from sodium chlorine, or salt. If you add salt to the pool, usually around 3000 parts per million, an electrolysis cell passes a tiny current through the water inside the "salt cell" which causes the sodium to separate from the chlorine. The chlorine kills bacteria and turns back into salt ready to pass through the salt cell again. New pool owners often confuse salt water thinking it is something different from chlorine - it is not. A salt pool is a chlorine pool except you generate your own chlorine as opposed to buying chlorine already processed from salt and ready to go. There is much you should learn about salt water if you have this, or want this, for your pool. Start by reading this article on salt water chlorine to learn if this product is right for your pool.
These are just the most common pieces of equipment that most pools will have. In addition to these items there are many other less common components such as ozone generators, UV lights, erosion feeders, rooftop solar heaters, as well as various automation control systems. Be sure to look over your pool system closely and Google any product names that you do not recognize.
Pool Water Chemistry & Balancing
If you are new to owning a swimming pool you are probably aware of balancing water chemistry - you might not be able to do it - but you know about it. A part
of every new pool owners life is learning the ropes for how to balance pool water and how to chemically treat the water so it is clean, clear and safe to swim in.
What you might not know about pool water chemistry is just how important it is:
- Unbalanced or poorly treated pool & spa water can kill you given the wrong set of circumstances
- Poorly treated or unbalanced pool water can break your pool equipment, interior surface and entire pool
- Most causes for frustration, wasted money and down time with the pool will relate to poor water chemistry
Knowing the basics now of just how important water chemistry is to your pool, you would be strongly advised to take the 10 Minute Pool Chemistry Crash Course. This however is just the starting point for new readers, as indicated in the crash course, you must continue to research pool water chemistry until such time you know how to interact with your pool in any circumstance.
If you are thinking about adding something to your pool in terms of treatment chemicals, but you are not sure what the chemicals do or if they will actually solve your problem, do not put them in your pool. There is a correct course of action for each chemical balance situation - there should never be a need to guess as to what the problem is or how to fix it. The way to resolve problems like this is to bring your water in for testing at a local water lab (you can also purchase a more sophisticated test kit yourself as opposed to using the very limited test strips. A good home test kit for pool owners would be the Taylor K-2006 FAS-DPD test kit).
Reading in between the lines a little - many pool owners experience frustration in dealing with swimming pool store water labs at some point. Typical complaints would include being sold products that they don't need, following advice from labs only to have the same problems persist, and most commonly talking to people who do not understand water chemistry and balancing themselves. Consider each of these points further:
Being sold products you don't need - This is a very common complaint from pool owners about dealing with pool retail stores. You walk in to get some chlorine pucks and walk out with $400 worth of things you are not even confident you need in the first place. The cold, hard truth about this is that you are an under informed shopper. You do not know enough about what your pool needs to make an informed decision about what you put in it, and as a result you rely on the advice of the person who makes their living selling pool chemicals. What is happening is that there are many overlapping chemicals for pools, in that many chemicals have similar properties or effects, such that you could use one or the other to essentially the same results. For example, there are many different types of algaecide including multiple levels of strength as well as various compounds they are made from such as copper, silver, natural enzymes depending on what tickles your fancy. If the product is an algaecide, it has the ability to kill algae so in theory any of these could potentially work. Strong ones are more money than weaker algaecides but they have harsher side effects. Natural enzymes are more expensive that other types of algaecide because, in theory, they are more healthy for you to swim in. So which would you choose? How about chlorine? Chlorine is an algaecide (sanitizer, oxidizer & algaecide actually) so maybe you didn't even need an algaecide to begin with. As you can see, it would be easy to end up "getting sold something you don't need" but depending on your exact situation, a stronger algaecide than regular chlorine might be in order. The best method to avoid being oversold to is simply be as educated and informed as possible on the subject.
Following the advice from a pool store yet the same problems persist - What is important to recognize is that swimming pool water balancing is not always a 100% linear process. Sometimes there is the need to follow an order of operations, and unfortunately this sometimes entails a process of elimination to solve a problem. There are also so many variables involved with pool water chemistry that it would be impossible to consider every last item, much like the butterfly effect, and so generalizations are made when you are receiving advice about how to react to a problem with your pool water. If you have green water then a pool store might tell you to shock it, or to add an algaecide, which you might do, but the water stays green. Did anyone test the water for copper? Did anyone test the water for phosphates? Copper from a failing heat exchanger could be turning the water green, or phosphates from the fertilizer blown in from the golf course nearby could be limiting the effectiveness of your sanitizer. Both of those things could be happening. You also might be in chlorine lock because you use chlorine pucks that have cyanuric acid in them and you have gone into chlorine lock - every pool water situation is unique. Sometimes it is not practical for a pool store to know, or have the time to find out about every detail of your pool. If you do not request specific tests such as phosphates then many water labs do not automatically do them. In the end, in many cases, pool stores will advise to you the most common cause for the problem that you are having. If your problem does not resolve then they may begin to look deeper into what is happening in the water. Again, the best remedy to avoid this problem is simply to become as informed as possible.
Pool stores with under-skilled staff - This is just a reality of the pool industry. Swimming pools are complicated and it takes a long time to develop an expert level of understanding about them. Pool stores tend to be seasonally busy which means a logistical nightmare for having enough well trained and experienced staff available during the busier times. In most cases a pool store will rely on a core group of more experienced staff, buffered by a small army of high school and university students earning a paycheck over the summer months. As the owner of the pool the onus is on you to seek out a pool store with reliable, knowledgeable staff to assist you with pool care and supply the products that you need. The best defense against dealing with under skilled staff is to seek out professional advice, and once you find it, that person becomes your go-to person for all issues. If you start to mix and match pieces of advice from the internet, different pool stores as well as your neighbor then you are much more likely to encounter problems with your water. Once you find someone that really seems to understand the nature of the problem and has a good success ratio with assisting you with your water issues, it would be a good idea to be loyal to their advice. If you talk to a different person every time you have a question about water chemistry then you are almost bound to have a problem sooner or later.
If you have read about sanitizers, oxidizers, pH balance, total alkalinity, calcium hardness, cyanuric acid (stabilizer), phosphates, nitrates, free chlorine, total chlorine, chloramines, breakpoint chlorination and saturation index then you can consider yourself to be at minimum decently informed about pool water chemistry and balancing.
Swimming Pool Maintenance
As a new pool owner everything is new and sometimes the basics about how to interact with your pool are lost. There are some basic rules that you need to follow that
might be too obvious to even make it into standard pool care textbooks - like not letting your pool overflow for example. Or keeping the water level above the mouth
of the skimmer at all times, or that you need to backwash a filter and clean out strainer baskets - with so much to know it can be easy to see how you might have
missed on or two of these required maintenance tasks for your pool.
Water Level - The water level in your pool needs to be approximately half way up the face of the skimmer opening. This allows for water levels to go up or down to the maximum deflection without needing intervention. If the water level drops below the mouth of the skimmer then you risk having your pump run dry, overheat and fail. If the water level of the pool is allowed to raise too high (like from a forgotten hose or heavy rains) then water will be escaping the pool system along with your heat and chemicals that you paid for!
Filter Care - The pool filter you have will need some level of regular maintenance. A cartridge filter needs to be opened and cleaned when the operating pressure of the system rises approximately 7 PSI above the clean operational pressures. A sand filter needs to be backwashed and then rinsed when the operational pressure rises 7 PSI, or on a regular schedule like weekly at minimum. D.E filters require regular dismantling, cleaning, rebuilding and recharging with diatomaceous earth so if you have a D.E filter be sure to read about these processes.
Priming The Pump - A pool pump can never be operated "dry" which means that water must be moving through it to remain cool. Priming the pump involves putting water into the wet end chamber, closing the lid and turning it on. You must monitor the pump to make sure that it actually primes as sometimes you need to repeat this process a few times. If you are worried about priming your pump properly then watch this video to learn more: Priming A Pool Pump
Clean Strainer Baskets - The pump as well as the skimmer will both (should) have strainer baskets. These are to help trap leaves and debris from entering the pool plumbing system or into the pump and filtration equipment where it can become lodged or potentially do damage. During periods where there is a heavy accumulation of debris in the pool these strainer baskets can become extremely full extremely fast - and it is very hard on the pump to run like this. Be sure to regularly check on and clean out all strainer baskets and if yours is cracked or broken then replace it right away.
Skimming The Pool - A well designed pool would technically skim itself since there is a slight vortex action to the way a pool circulates. This is how a skimmer is able to skim all of (most of) the debris from the pool surface. A weir door helps to hold the debris within the skimmer should the pump turn off. This does not always work however and manually skimming debris off of your pool is a good idea for multiple reasons. The biggest being that what is a leaf floating on the pool surface right now will eventually be a rotting leave sitting on the floor of your pool where it is much harder to get to.
Vacuuming The Pool - Over and above just having it look nice keeping the floor of your pool free from organic debris is important to help reduce your chlorine demand. Any organic debris like leaves in your pool will use up chlorine in the water and will cumulatively add up to a negative effect on the balance of your pool water. Keep the pool clean of debris for the most predictable and lowest cost chemical maintenance schedule.
Brushing The Pool - The interior surface of your pool will hold bacteria and organic debris much more than you will find these elements floating in open water. In order to help the pool filtration system do its job you need to brush the entire interior surface of the pool (walls and floor) at least once per week. Be sure that the brush you use is a pool brush made for the type of pool that you have and is in good working order with no missing pieces or sharp things sticking out of it.
Adding Chlorine - Chlorine is only one of the many chemicals that your pool will require in order to stay in balance. It is not possible to tell by eye if there is chlorine in the water - a test must be used. If you add chlorine to the pool and wait 12-24 hours and the test still says that you have no chlorine this simply means that you have not built up enough chlorine to overcome the bacteria count in the pool yet. (so long as all other test values are within normal ranges)
The Thing On The Bottom Of The Pool - The main drain is located on the bottom of the deep end floor in a swimming pool. Contrary to how it sounds it is not actually a drain but instead a suction point that is tied into your filtration and circulation system. Only if you have an isolated pipe that runs directly from the main drain to the pump would you have the ability to drain the pool through the main drain.
Draining The Pool - Swimming pools can only ever be drained under certain conditions and depending on the style that you have you should probably never drain your pool. Draining a vinyl pool will ruin the liner and both fiberglass and concrete pools have the ability to pop out of the ground breaking them permanently.
Covering The Pool - A solar cover for your pool will reduce water loss due to evaporation, heat loss and chemical loss by over 50%. It can seem like a lot of work to drag out the solar blanket every evening and put it on the pool but in the long run you will be rewarded financially for doing this. You are not supposed to keep the solar blanket on your pool during the day as this can promote algae growth.
Heating The Pool - Gas heat is very expensive and new pool owners have a tendency to crank up the pool temp to 90 degrees until they get the first gas bill. A $250k BTU pool heater is like having 7 to 10 large family BBQ's running on full blast so they can get very costly very quickly. Set your pool temperature to 80 degrees (26.5 degrees Celsius) and stop whining you baby...it's not that cold! Use of a solar blanket at night will dramatically improve the thermal efficiency of your pool if 80 is simply not enough for you.
You Gotta Know When To Hold Em' And Know When To Fold Em'
A big mistake that people new to pool ownership often make is trying to prolong the life of their pool and equipment by putting off repairs while they save for them. Much like a car, once a problem has made itself apparent, you need to repair it before that small problem makes something much larger also break. It is understandable that swimming pools are expensive and unexpected repair and renovation bills can be extremely daunting - even still do not try to put off repairs for "one more season" or you will end up paying more in the long run.
This is especially true with interior surfaces for swimming pools. A new vinyl liner or a new pool plaster is fairly expensive and the most common thing that pool owners will put off for as long as possible. Instead of trying to get the absolute maximum out of your interior surface you would be better advised to replace it / repair it as soon as a problem is detected. The amount of additional work, and money, an interior surface can cost you is simply not worth trying to get "one more season" out of your existing one. The same concept can also be applied to things like pool chemicals and pool maintenance equipment like vacuum heads, brushes and poles. If there is any signs of disrepair be sure to replace or repair these items before using them in the pool again. A $25 pool brush is not worth taking a risk with a $2500 pool liner so always err on the side of caution with any item that you put in your swimming pool.
This is hardly a comprehensive guide to pool ownership - more a starting point for referencing many of the concepts and best practices that are common within the swimming pool industry.
Learn About Your Pool From An Industry Expert
Learn directly from a pool and spa expert with this video tutorial series designed to look at mistakes commonly made while installing pool and spa equipment such as
pumps, filters, heaters, salt water and more. Take a look at these Installation Tips from Steve.