Pool Opening Mistakes
Since opening a swimming pool in the spring is largely a labor process this is a great way for pool owners to save a few hundred dollars by opening the pool themselves. In my previous article about how to open a swimming pool I explained how to open the pool step by step. This article covers some of the most common mistakes that pool owners might make along the way and how to avoid these simple (but often costly) mistakes.
Missing Gaskets & O-Rings
If you are new to opening your pool then most likely the biggest area of concern for you will be the equipment pad. The cover portion of the pool opening is much less technical than the challenge of reassembling your pool equipment properly. While putting together the pool equipment after winter storage is not especially difficult, if you have no experience with trades or technical work then the idea of assembling your equipment might stress you out - don't let it. If you are going to make a mistake putting together your equipment it will most likely be from you overthinking the process.
When you winterize a pool system the process that you use will be unique to your installation. For most systems, winterizing will involve opening the pool system usually at a union or union valve fitting. Each of these unions has a rubber O-ring gasket that is integral to the air tight seal of these access points. You could not imagine how often pool owners will drop, lose or displace this O-ring and rest assured your system will not function without it. If you are going to open your own pool this year then double check the area around your system to make sure an O-ring did not fall out of one of your unions. If you want to be thorough then you would open and lubricate every gasket and O-ring on your system with a silicon based lubricant to ensure that your gaskets and O-rings do not dry out and maintain a leak free connection.
The pump lid O-ring in particular is the most likely one that you will have a problem with, if you were to have a problem. Every time the pump lid is opened and closed the O-ring takes some wear and tear. Chemical damage, age, mechanical compression or incorrect gasket lubricant like Vaseline all can result in a pump lid gasket that just will not seal correctly anymore. If you are going to open your own pool this year you should be sure to lubricate the pump lid gasket and be certain that you do not misplace it, or accidentally crush it when you put the lid back on the pump. If you want to be a proactive pool owner then you should definitely consider ordering a replacement pump lid gasket and having this on hand as a spare.
Broken Plastic Winterizing Plugs
Carrying on with the pool equipment aspect of getting your pool ready in the spring, almost all pumps have winterizing ports, and plugs, that need to be installed. Typically these plugs are removed for the winter season to be absolutely certain that no water can become trapped in the pump, freeze, expand, and break the pump. When it comes time to put these plugs back in a gentle touch is required. While some older equipment used brass plugs for winterizing ports, almost all current day equipment uses plastic threaded plugs.
When you have a plastic threaded plug going into a plastic threaded flange there is a significant concern for breaking either the plug, or even worse, the pump flange. It is entirely possible to cross thread a plastic winterizing plug into a plastic flange. Since the pump is usually on the floor, and the winterizing ports are on the bottom of the pump, it can be hard to reach these ports depending on the orientation of your pump installation. It is strongly recommended that you take your time threading these winterizing plugs into your pump and be very careful to not cross thread them.
It is worth noting that plastic plugs into a plastic flange can easily be over tightened using hand tools such as wrenches, channel locks or a ratchet and socket. Normally the best tool to use when tightening these plastic plugs into place is a 9/16" wrench and a very light touch. If you snap off the head of the plug or crack the pump receiver flange then you will be looking at a much more technical repair or possibly replacement of your pump. Some pool pumps will have winterizing plugs that have a O-ring where others will require the addition of a thread sealant such as teflon tape. In skilled hands gasket tape, or teflon tape, is suitable for sealing the threads of winterizing ports on pumps - however it is worth noting that teflon tape can make it easier for you to accidentally over tighten and crack the pump flange if you tighten too much. Since the teflon tape offers little in the way of friction resistance this can happen. The other most commonly used thread sealant is 100% silicone however sealing your winterizing ports with silicone will only work if you do it 24 hours in advance of starting your system, and your plugs and threads must be completely dry before threading them in.
Lost Winterizing Plugs
When you disassemble pool equipment for a dormant season of a few months or longer there is a very real possibility that something will get lost or misplaced before the spring opening. The holy grail of commonly lost pieces are the winterizing plugs for your pump, filter, heater, or any number of peripheral equipment components which all have winterizing plugs.
These pump drain plugs are a standard size and will fit in almost all pool equipment though they are Hayward OEM plugs. Pool drain plugs are small and very easy to lose. The best place to store yours for the winter season is in the pump strainer basket along with all other components of the equipment that were removed for the winter. Even still, these plugs have a way of going missing and you should do yourself a favor and order a few of these to have in your spare parts kit.
Missing just one of these little plastic plugs would be enough to have your whole pool system down for a week while one gets mailed out to you. If you have to jump in your car and drive to a pool store to get a replacement one of these plugs then you will spend as much on gas as you would just ordering some replacements today.
Rusted Heater Drain Cocks
Pool heaters have largely switched over to plastic drain plugs (usually CPVC heat rated plastic) however there are still some models that use the traditional brass drain cocks. Experienced pool technicians can look at a handful of drain plugs and identify correctly which ones came from which equipment. It is very common for pool owners to use the plugs interchangeably between their equipment since they are all the same thread size. With plastic flanges and plastic plugs becoming more common you need to be careful to not over tighten or snap the head off the plug. If you have the older brass style of plugs you will find it much more difficult to remove and install these versus any plastic type of plug. If you have a handful of drain plugs that are all different and you are trying to figure out which one goes where - if there are any metal or brass plugs they probably go with your heater and you will need to give these plugs extra care and attention to avoid a potential problem.
If you have a brass drain cock on your pool heater then you will be battling corrosion and machine threads - two things which do not go well together. Where most pool equipment has the drain plugs removed for the winter, brass drain cocks or brass threaded plugs on a pool heater should not be removed for the winter. While you do need to remove the drain cocks in order to winterize the heater, it is recommended that you reinstall them directly after completing the equipment winterization.
If you remove brass drain cocks from a metal heater flange then corrosion will form over the winter months. When you attempt to thread the drain cock into place in the spring you will find that you can not thread it in, or it simply will not stop cross threading.
The solution to dealing with this problem, assuming you have found this information after the winter where you did not reinstall the plugs after winterizing the heater, is to use a 1/4" NPT tap as a thread chase to clean the rust out of the threads. Ideally you are not using this to tap new threads or to taper the hole larger, but just gently send it through to clean out the rust. If you have this tap tool you should use it before trying to thread your brass drain cocks in. If you manage to ruin the threads in the heater manifold you could very well be looking at some expensive replacement heater parts.
Leaks In The Equipment Room
After you have completed the startup of your pool equipment it is important to check for any leaks. Since you tend to splash around quite a bit of water when you start up your pump it can be hard to see small leaks. It is strongly recommended to check back with your pool system in 12 or 24 hours and inspect for dampness or any obvious signs of leaks from any of the connection points that you took apart or put back together. A leak in your pool system, even a few drops of water, is considered a problem that you should not ignore.
Leaking pool equipment can introduce all kinds of potential for damage or system efficiency loss and should definitely not be ignored. Leaks around the pump can allow chlorinated water into the pump motor and cause premature bearing and ultimately motor failure. Leaks around the filter can potentially be an indication of something that is not put together correctly, or not tight enough, which could be dangerous. If you have leaks in your pool equipment then you need to address these before they develop into more costly problems.
Using duct tape, silicone or epoxy to fix a pressurized pool system is never a good idea. Almost all plumbing leaks on a pool system require some level of disassembly and repair in order to fix correctly. For example, if you have threaded connections to your pump, filter or heater these can become displaced during winterization which results in a slow drip leak in the spring when you pressurize the system. You should not attempt to fix leaks in a threaded connection with an external application of anything. Leaks in glue joints should be cut out and replaced and leaks in threads should be disassembled and put together with a new application of thread sealant such as teflon tape or silicone. If you would like more information on common leak points and how to fix them with pool equipment you can read this detailed article about pool equipment leaks.
Not Adding Enough Chlorine
A common mistake that pool owners make when opening their own pool is to neglect to add chlorine to the water or to simply not add enough chlorine. When you open your pool the race is on to get the pool water level up and the filtration system running so you can safely add chlorine. Since the pool has been dormant for the winter you will have no chlorine in the water at all. If you are one of the lucky people to open their pool to clean and clear water then it will not take long for things to start to turn on you once the cover is off. Without the filtration system running and with no chlorine to prevent algae growth, you will likely have green water within 24 to 48 hours of opening your pool.
When you open your pool for the year this would be a great time to give it a heavy shock of chlorine. Nobody is going to be swimming in the next 48 hours anyway so be sure to give the pool enough chlorine to raise the free chlorine count to a minimum of 5 parts per million. Where most pool owners can go wrong with this process is to take too long getting the equipment running after opening the pool, or more commonly relying on a maintenance chemical feeder system such as an erosion feeder or a salt system.
Erosion (puck) feeders and electronic (salt water) chlorine generators are great for the maintenance dosing of your chemicals throughout the pool year however in the spring your pool should be jump-started with an additional chlorine shock treatment. My preferred shock method is to add liquid chlorine as it disperses easily in the water, does not increase the cyanuric acid level and has a minimal impact on the pH of the water. Where pool owners sometimes go wrong is to forget to test the water and make sure that you have the chlorine level where you want it. It is strongly recommended to check your water chemistry six hours, twelve hours and 24 hours after opening to make sure that your free chlorine levels are high enough.
The amount of chlorine that you need to add to your water is not a set amount. The amount you need will depend on the current chlorine demand in the water. Chlorine demand is the amount of chlorine that it will take to overcome the current amount of bacteria and organic debris in the water. The answer to "how much chlorine do I need to add" is not a definitive answer, but instead a guideline that you need to add chlorine until you can achieve and maintain a free chlorine level. It is OK to have slightly too much chlorine when you first open your pool, but not enough chlorine is almost certainly going to result in green water and algae growth.
Salt Water Pool Startup
There are a lot of reasons why this could be your first year opening a pool with an electronic chlorine generator. Regardless of the reason, there are a few things that you need to know about opening your pool if you have salt water that differs somewhat from traditional chlorine pools. The first thing that you need to know is that if you drained water out of your pool at the end of last season in order to winterize it then you will need to add more salt to your pool to get the levels back into the range recommended for your chlorinator.
Each salt chlorine generator has a specific salinity range that it needs to operate within. While 3000 parts per million of salt is often used as a standard number within the industry, you should look up your specific system or read your owners manual to find out precisely what your salt range should be. You will find almost every brand, make and model of salt system along with the recommended salinity level on this page of salt water system reviews. One area of concern that pool owners are likely to encounter is inconsistent salinity readings. Quite often a salt system will have a digital readout of the salt levels, and many pool owners keep a bottle of these sodium level test strips around. Just to confuse things further, you take a water sample into your local pool and spa water test lab and they also provide you with a salt level test. So what happens if you get three different salt readings from three different tests?
Inconsistent readings in salt level tests for pools and spas is totally normal. First, testing for salt with the quality of equipment and test strips used for pool and spa water will have a margin of error of a few hundred parts per million. You would think that trusting your $2000 salt system salinity reading would be a smart move however many systems begin to give inaccurate or erroneous salt readings as they age and fail so even though your salt system was expensive, it also might not be totally accurate. So how do you accurately determine your salt level in your pool? In short, you don't, and that's OK. It is an accepted variance within the industry to be within a few hundred parts per million for salt levels so managing your expectations is the true answer to figuring out exactly what the salt level in your pool is. Sure, you could go and buy an expensive digital salt meter however you really don't need to do this. You typically will not need to adjust your salt level very often at all. Use test strips (or better yet a Taylor salt test), your salt system and a local water lab for a triple redundant check. Your salt level should be assumed to be the average of the three numbers assuming they are all close. If any one is not reading near to the other two then you should discount that value and investigate why you are getting these inconsistent readings.
A common mistake that pool owners can make with salt water is opening your pool, turning on the equipment and walking away. First, as mentioned earlier in this article, your chlorine generator is more of a maintenance chlorinator and it can be difficult for some systems to raise your chlorine count fast enough in the spring on its own. Second, most electronic chlorine generators have a low temperature limiting sensor that prevent the system from generating chlorine when the water temperature is below a certain temperature, often 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to help your salt water system in the spring it is completely normal, and advised even, to use manual chlorine treatments such as liquid chlorine to get your free chlorine residual established and maintained until the water warms up a little bit.
Dumping Dirty Water From Your Cover Into Your Pool
Dumping dirty water from your pool cover into you nice clean pool water is a rookie move...but if you are a pool owner this is something that very realistically might happen if you are not careful. The first thing that you need to know is that water is heavy. Very heavy. Even once you have removed the vast majority of water from your pool cover you should avoid the temptation to try to lift the last little bit out of the pool as you pull the cover off. More times than not this will result in one or more corners of the cover slipping into the pool and spilling the dirty water from the cover into the pool.
There are a few ways that you can avoid this problem, such as pumping your cover until it is essentially dry, for example. The problem with this is that it is harder to do than say. Normally a pool cover will envelop around any kind of pump and limit how well it can pump, or if it can pump at all. You can attempt to consolidate the water into one corner of your pool where you have the pump located to help facilitate a deep pocket of water that the pump can operate better in. One tip to help you with this process is to start at one end of the pool, and using two people you simply walk the water from one end of the pool to the other where the pump is located by lifting up the cover and pulling tight across the width of the pool. In order to do this most of the water needs to be pumped off the cover already but once the pump starts to struggle this tip will work well. If you can walk the majority of the water to one end of the pool cover, you can then temporarily draw the cover tight essentially forming a smaller pool around the pump.
By forming a smaller pool with the cover your pump will be able to remove more water than when the cover is still stretched over the entire pool. To help be certain that you do not dump any debris or dirty water into your pool when you finally remove the cover you should run a garden hose onto the cover once the pump loses prime. By adding more clean water on the cover you can further dilute the dirt and debris still on it. If you do this enough there will be no dirt or debris left to drop into your pool.
Another good tip is to start a hose running before you even start with your pool opening process. Simply slide the hose under your pool cover so that the pool level starts going up right away. Getting a head start on filling up your pool means that you will be able to get your equipment started as soon as possible. Every time you need the hose for opening the pool simply use it and then place back under the cover and running into the pool. In most areas you will get about one inch of vertical height of water level in your pool for each hour your garden hose runs. Since water pressure and pool size varies this is obviously only a rough estimate but should be enough for you to estimate how long you will need to run your hose to fill your pool back up. When your pool has been fully opened a good tip would be to start with your water level quite high to account for the vacuuming to waste that you will need to do to clean the pool for the spring. Normal water height would be half way on the mouth of the skimmer of your pool - but for a spring opening set your initial water level to almost touching the top of the skimmer mouth.
Common Problems After Opening Your Pool
There are a number of very common pool problems that you can encounter when you open your pool in the spring. If you are a new pool owner then you might benefit from the new pool owners crash course to make sure you have the terminology and basic operation of your pool and equipment under control. If you want to avoid some common problems associated with opening your pool then consider these commonly known issues:
Storing your pool cover - Mice and other rodents and insects can make short work of even the most expensive of pool covers should you let them get at it. A pool cover is a great rodent nest, or so it would appear, and if they do chew to the center of your cover then you will have hundreds of holes in the cover by the end of the swimming season - far more than you could patch. The solution to dealing with rodents eating pool covers is to either store them in a huge rubbermaid bin with a lid, hang them off the floor, or use moth balls to deter rodent activity. Some people doubt the effectiveness of moth balls, and another option that people seem to agree will work is to use dryer sheets which apparently rodents tend to avoid.
Heater will not start - If your heater will not start there are a few things that you should look at right away. Gas heaters have external gas valves as well as internal gas valves, and presumably both were closed for the winter season. You need to make sure that all the gas lines are set to open, and that you have power supplied to your heater (assuming you have a digital heater). Finally the heater needs adequate water flowing through it. You can try cleaning your filter as inadequate flow can stop your heater from firing. If you can verify that the gas is on, the power is on and the pump has good flow then you have reached the end of how you should interact with your pool heater. Pool heaters are so much larger and so much more dangerous than the average pool owner understands. You should not attempt to interact, modify or otherwise troubleshoot your pool heater in any way. Since a spring cleaning is strongly recommended for gas heaters every year you should pay for this (cheap) service and have the gas technician start your heater for you.
Pool pump won't prime - Getting your pool pump primed for the first time of the year can be a challenge even under normal conditions. If you have an aging pump, or any kind of deficiency within your plumbing system then you pump may be difficult or even impossible to get primed. If you have just opened your pool for the year and are having trouble priming your pool pump then you should read this extensive article about how to prime your pool pump which discusses specifically the troubleshooting process that you should go through in the spring to solve this problem after opening your pool.
Robotic vacuums for spring cleaning - If you read the owners manual for your robotic pool vacuum you will see that somewhere in there it will tell you that robotic vacs are for maintenance cleaning and not spring cleaning. If you throw a robotic vacuum into a pool filed with leaves and debris you can be certain that you are operating your vac outside of its designed purpose. You should manually vacuum your pool to waste in the spring and use the robotic vacuum to maintain the pool once it is clean. Robotic vacuums are expensive and if you abuse yours you will probably find it broken sooner than later.
Vacuuming debris from the pool floor - You should not attempt to vacuum heavy debris in your pool such as piles of leaves, sticks, acorns or walnuts. You should attempt to scoop your pool with a heavy duty leaf net to remove most of the larger physical debris before vacuuming. When it does come time to vacuum you also want to be certain to use an inline leaf canister to prevent any debris from potentially getting lodged in the suction lines of your pool.
If you follow the tips outlined in this article then you can most likely avoid these common problems associated with opening your pool. Be sure to have a full water lab analysis of your water and make corrections to your chemistry as soon as possible after getting your pool up and running. Poor water chemistry is the number one cause of early component failure in swimming pools so once your pool is open you want to get your pool balanced as quickly as possible.
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