Through this swimming pool blog I try to reach swimming pool and hot tub owners to help them with the difficulties in owning and caring for a pool. As with most things in life, experience makes a vast world of difference when it comes to how easy (or how difficult) of a time you have maintaining a swimming pool. Many people jump into pool ownership through the purchasing of a new home. Most of these people, if they have not owned a pool before, will likely be overwhelmed with how deep and complicated of a subject pools can be. Not to mention costly. There are a lot of moving parts that arrive you at a beautiful backyard swimming pool and most people will struggle with the technical nature of the equipment or the scientific nature of the water chemistry. If you own a pool long enough then you will, at some point, get into repair and renovation bills which are never cheap.
I like to compare owning a swimming pool to cars because most people seem comfortable with understanding how a car is complicated and technical, and how it breaks, and what you need to watch out for when buying one. When you buy a house with a pool you should imagine that you are buying a house that has a $100,000 car permanently attached to the ownership of the house. If you want to sell the house one day, you will only be able to sell it to a person who wants to buy a house with a $100,000 car attached to it. Sure the car is worth $100,000 so in theory it makes the house worth even more money, but in reality most people do not want that so you are selling to a smaller potential group of buyers which results in less overall demand for your home. Add to this that a $100,000 car probably looks pretty awesome when you picture it in your mind. I, for example, picture a Tesla Roadster when I think $100k car. What if the super expensive car that is permanently attached to your real estate is a ramshackle run down hunk of junk that needs all new parts and a total restoration? What do you think that would do to your real estate value?
Even worse is that you can just not fix a car...no biggie. If you have a pool problem then you have to fix it. Not fixing the pool problem, whatever it is, will almost certainly result in continued deterioration and damage to the pool - as well as the area around your pool including any structures or houses. In this way owning a deteriorating older pool is not so much like owning an expensive car...so much as it is like owning an expensive car that is currently on fire in your driveway. You could ignore the fire since the car is screwed anyway...but maybe your house or your neighbors house will catch on fire. Also don't forget that you must be able to restore the fire-ravaged car at some point if you ever want to be able to sell your house so the longer it burns the more expensive the repairs will be.
All ridiculous comparisons about pools and flaming heaps of twisted metal aside...owning a pool is not all that bad. You just need to buy a new one, or pick one that has some life left in it. Then you can get down to the real issue of the day to day maintenance. This is what I hope to help you with contained in this article. I want to use my experience as a pool and spa expert to make your life a little bit easier. When thinking about subjects that I could tackle that would make a difference to pool owners I realized that simply highlighting what, precisely, a pool professional would do day to day that is different from pool owners would help. If you own a pool then consider these potential ways that you could make your life easier when it comes to caring for your pool:
Knowing What Chemicals To Add
The first advantage that a pool professional has over the average pool owner is an understanding of the different pool chemicals and what each one does in the water. All too many pool and hot tub owners will find themselves adding things to the pool even though they are not entirely confident in what the chemical does, or if it will solve the current problem they are facing. Having years of familiarity maintaining pool chemicals will give you an decided advantage over someone just learning the ropes for the first time.
If you are not sure what a chemical does you should absolutely not add it to your pool. Even if your neighbor Jim tells you that he uses it all the time and it works wonders - do not use it. This is where a lot of pool chemistry problems originate...using the wrong chemical at the wrong time, or simply adding the wrong thing altogether based on what your pool actually needs. As a pool owner you have probably read about algicides and phosphate removers and clarifiers and flocculents. Chances are that if you stay on top of your basic water chemistry variables, free chlorine, total chlorine, total alkalinity, pH and calcium hardness, then you will never need to use any of these products.
So you might be wondering why I just said that you should never need to use an algicide. Obviously algicide is common since you see it in every pool store and in multiple concentrations and formulas for different types of algae. Why would a pool professional not use algicide? The reason is because chlorine is an algicide. This is one of the four defining characteristics of an approved chemical sanitizer for swimming pools. When used properly, and when not inhibited by other chemistry values being out of range, chlorine will completely prevent the growth of algae in the pool. It is when you mis-manage your chlorine that problems start to develop. By staying on top of your basic water chemistry you can almost completely eliminate the need for reactionary water treatment chemicals. Proactive care of the water is one of the single biggest ways that a pool professional will maintain a pool versus a new pool owner still trying to learn about water chemistry. This will end up being a lot easier, and a lot less expensive than the alternative of letting your water turn bad and then always fighting with it trying to regain water clarity and proper balance of your chemicals. It is worth noting that there certainly are cases where advanced chemical treatments may be required for your pool, and for these you need many of the less common pool chemicals, but this would apply to the minority of pool water chemistry issues.
High Quality Pool Chemicals
While on the subject of pool chemicals another way that experienced pool pro's have an easier time managing their water chemistry is through the use of high quality, pool and spa specific, chemicals. When I used to manage a water lab one of the first questions that I would ask when dealing with persistent or uncommon water quality problems is about the brand of chemicals that you use. If you buy your chemicals from a hardware store, or even worse a giant ultra-discount mega-shopping-mart, then you can count on having some problems at some point. All pool and spa chemicals are not created equal...not by a long shot.
When you are buying discount pool and spa chemicals you are hoping for reduced pricing from volume purchasing and generic name brands. What you are actually getting are fillers and inferior quality chemicals. That is why they are so cheap - not because the big brand stores are passing the savings along to you. When you have inferior quality chemicals that are chock full of fillers, often which are not stored properly and sold after many years of sitting on the shelves in the winter, you are going to have some unexpected results. This is how I describe using inferior chemicals in your pool and spa to people who do not understand. Yes the chlorine you bought from the hardware store will work to raise your chlorine level, but less so than a higher quality chlorine. Also there exists the potential to have adverse reactions in your water from additives and fillers that are present in low cost chemicals. At the end of the day I have seen far, far too many water quality problems coming from low quality sources to ever feel comfortable recommending them. I think that it is a safe bet that most pool professionals would agree with this.
To give you a real world example consider bromine. Bromine and chlorine do almost the same thing in pool and spa water with a few technical exceptions. For the most part, the main reason that more people do not use bromine is simply that it costs much more than chlorine. In my water lab we used to carry two brands of bromine pucks. One brand performed better than all of the rest that we had tried. They would last longer in puck / erosion feeders and you would end up getting much longer out of this one particular brand than an equal size and weight bucket from any other brand. Despite how superior these bromine pucks were I could not convince people that the more expensive brand was the better choice. People time and again would choose the cheaper product of equal weight thinking that it is simply a better value for the money. Even once I told them that this other brand will last twice as long, and only costs 40% more...which is for sure a better value.
I ended up contacting this company to find out why their bromine pucks were so superior to all of the others that I had tried. I wanted to learn the technical difference as well as find out how they manage to sell their products versus less expensive brands. As it turns out I was right that there was a difference between the brands of bromine pucks. The company that I spoke to was Chemtura and as it turns out they are one of the leading sources of bromine mining in the world and capable of producing over 143,000 tons of bromine annually. As they explained to me their bromine pucks consist of 100% bromine, without any fillers, which are created via compression. Other bromine manufacturers have to buy bromine (since they don't own bromine mines) which is more expensive than mining it yourself and most add fillers to help bulk up the product. They also do not compress the product as much which leads to bromine pucks which dissolve faster. Swimming pool chemicals are one of those things where buying more expensive products will often cost you less money in the long run. Higher quality chemicals last the longest and work the most effectively without unpredictable results from unknown additives to the product.
Skimming & Vacuuming The Pool
Sometimes it is the obvious things that get missed which can add up to future frustrations when it comes to caring for your pool. When a pool professional is managing a pool they will vacuum and scoop leaves before making any chemical corrections to the water. This is a very important step that pool owners can sometimes get lazy about. It takes a lot of effort to drag out your pole and vacuum hose and vacuum the pool...or so it seems. The truth is that an experienced pool maintenance person can probably set up and prime a vacuum hose, pole and vacuum head before the average pool owner can even finish complaining about needing to vacuum again. Once you have vacuumed a few thousand pools it is no longer daunting to set up to vacuum. Put the vac head on the pole, attach the hose to the vac head, put the vac and hose in the water, work the air out of the vacuum hose and finally plug into the suction. If it is a heavy debris load instead of just some spot cleaning then perhaps connecting an in line leaf cannister or bypassing the filter as well. In total an experienced tech can do all of these things, literally, in a few seconds. Under a minute for sure.
Once you get quick at setting up your vacuum then you will be far more inclined to do so. Which is important since any debris in the water is actively working against your chemical maintenance, and especially chlorine, within the water. A pool professional knows that in order to establish and hold chlorine levels, pH and total alkalinity you need to be working with a pool that is free of physical debris. Recognizing that maintaining your chemistry will be hard, or impossible, without vacuuming the pool is an advantage that pool pro's have over the average pool owner. Add to this the ease and familiarity with which a pool pro can crack out the vacuum equipment and set it up and you will see how this is easier for us than you.
You should endeavor to really get to know your vacuum system and get quick at setting it up to vacuum. This will pay dividends for you over the long term maintenance schedule for your pool. If you are confident that you will never get faster at vacuuming your pool, or if you just hate to do it, then this is all the more reason to look into the new energy efficient robotic pool vacuums.
Scooping leaves off the pool is a different story than vacuuming. Vacuuming is about accepting the fact that you need to do it and then working on being able to do it faster by becoming familiar with the tools and process. Skimming a pool is easier for a pool pro than you because we are simply using different equipment than you are. Do you recognize this thing? You probably have one outside by your pool right now. Why don't you go ahead and throw that hunk of junk straight into the garbage...or perhaps use it for skimming your fish tank. When you are a pool pro and you need to skim leaves out of a pool - ain't nobody got time for a tiny skimmer net. Across the board for swimming pool professionals you will find that we use only deep leaf nets. Let's take a look at a few of these now:
You have a small pool with no trees around it. You take extremely good care of your pool equipment and you will never drop this leaf net as it will surely break. If you scoop aggressively it will break. If you use it when it is cold it will break. In fact, you will have to work very hard to get it not to break.
You like to keep your pool clean, and you see value in spending a few more dollars from the cheapest leaf net on the market to get a more robust product. Your hope is to keep the pool clean without breaking the net from occasional dropping, but for the price if you can get a few seasons use from it then you will be satisfied.
You are drunk with power. You break everything that you touch and you are certain that you will get your money back in full from the lifetime guarantee that this professional grade leaf net provides. If you have trees around your pool this should be the only leaf net you consider.
The light duty leaf nets look good, and are incredibly affordable, but any seasoned pool pro would tell you that they just do not last. I suspect that these entry level nets would not last for a single day on a pool service route. The middle of the road nets are better, but still not strong enough for reliable professional use. Many pool owners could get by with these but if you have a lot of leaves and do a lot of scooping then there is no doubt that the lifetime guarantee from ProTuff is worth the investment. Now your only limitation as a pool owner is getting the hang of the wrist flick method that allows you to turn the net inside out and dump it. For that you will just need to practice.
Watching For Problems With The Pool
A swimming pool pro has dealt with hundreds or even thousands of pools. This gives them an advantage when it comes to spotting small and seemingly insignificant deficiencies long before the average pool owner would notice. This is because a pool pro knows A) To look, and B) Where to look. Noticing small problems before they become big ones is really the big tip from this list. A pool pro will recognize right away when something is not right, and they have a much better frame of reference to determine "uncommon" from "not right". Pool owners tend to ignore the early warning signs that pools give you and wait for the more obvious symptoms to develop. By this point the pool will almost always require more extensive (and costly) repairs than if the problem had been picked up early.
So what are you the pool owner supposed to do about this? How can you magically note deficiencies in your pool before they become a problem? Well, you can't really other than by doing a lot of homework about how pools break. What you can do is become aware that small seemingly insignificant things can be an early warning sign for a future problem. Consider these common things that a pool pro would look for that a pool owner might not:
Pump Seal & Bearings - If you have a seal failure on your pump, for any one of a number of different reasons, ultimately the pump will leak water from the bottom middle somewhere. This allows chlorinated water to be drawn into the pump which will corrode the pump and bearings and ultimately cause the pump to fail. Since pool technicians deal with this kind of thing on a daily basis they are always looking out for water leaks from the bottom of the pump. If you notice water, or even persistent dampness under you pump, this is an indication that your pump needs service and if you ignore the problem eventually it will kill the pump altogether.
Water Loss & Leaks - Water loss in your pool is probably the biggest and boldest early warning sign that your pool will give you. A shocking amount of pool owners simply top up the water level in the pool more often and grumble something about evaporation. A pool pro is experienced enough to know what is a normal rate of evaporation for a pool. If the rate of water loss is fast enough that you are noticing it then the chances are high that you have an active leak. Fortunately for pool owners there is no professional level test you need to do to figure out if you are losing water or not. Simply follow the leak detection bucket test steps to find out for sure if you are losing water at a faster rate than evaporation. A return pipe leak will most likely cause a deck crack in a concrete deck in less than a year. If you have coping in this area then you could need a new coping and deck installation, or worse, so finding and fixing leaks fast is critical.
Interior Surfaces - When the interior surface of your pool has passed its service life then you need to replace it. This is a new plaster for concrete pools, a new liner for vinyl pools and a new gel coat for fiberglass pools. Since these repairs are all expensive pool owners tend to put them off for a few years before doing them. A pool professional knows that the interior surface of your pool is probably the single most important part of the entire pool. When a pool is operated with a deficient or leaking interior surface this always will result in other more expensive repairs needing to be done. For example, trying to get "one more season" out of a vinyl liner could easily cost you an extra $2000 to $3000 in floor repairs when you do change the liner.
Water Clarity - When a pool professional sees the water in their pool turn cloudy they will immediately pull out their test kit to find out what is going on in the water to cause this. Pool owners, not as familiar with water chemistry in pools, may instead wait a little bit to see if things get better on their own. They seldom do. If the water is turning on you there is a window of opportunity to jump on the problem and make corrections before things really go haywire and take much longer and more effort to resolve. You should have a professional quality test kit at your disposal and at the first sign of anything wrong with the water you should be testing it and double checking all of your chemistry variables.
Expansion Joints Failure - Expansion joints typically exist between pool decks and the actual pool. At whatever point your horizontal pool deck connects to the vertical pool wall you should have either an expansion joint or a flexible polyurethane bead. The function of these are to provide a transition between the pool and the rest of the backyard. This is for a number of technical reasons, but for this article all you need to know is to look for them. When you swim you should look at these parts of your pool up close and look for failures. Forgetting (or not knowing) to replace urethane beads when they fail is one of the smallest repair items that leads to some of the most expensive pool repairs out there. Watch out for this one, especially if you have a concrete pool.
As a pool owner just do your best to keep an eye on things. Check your deck for cracking or shifting, look at the corners of your pool for any signs of anything that looks not perfect or different. There are so many small items that when caught early will save you money and frustration in the long run. Even if you do not know what the failure is, or what will happen if you leave it, at least noting small deficiencies on your pool when you look for them will give you a starting point for more research that you can do. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to swimming pools...in more ways than one. You can also read this article that talks about leak damage in swimming pools as a result of long term, undiagnosed leaks.
Planning Ahead With Pool Chemistry
As discussed in the beginning of this article, many of the chemical treatments that are used by pool owners are reactionary to a problem that they are having. A swimming pool pro is going to have a much easier time maintaining their pool water chemistry than a pool owner because a pro has the experience to know what is likely to happen in the near future. This can give you a big advantage if you know how to apply this information...especially when it comes to maintaining free chlorine levels.
Many of the water chemistry and water clarity problems that you can encounter in a pool are as a direct result of letting your chlorine count fall to zero, or effectively limiting the chlorine though another chemical imbalance of some kind. A pool pro knows that there are times where the pool will go through more chlorine and they often will, in advance, adjust for this. This is a small but highly effective method of reducing "problem pool" episodes. You can apply this same knowledge to your pool maintenance schedule and benefit from it:
Rain In The Forecast - Have you ever noticed that your pool will turn green a day or two after it rains? Rain water in your pool increases the chlorine demand for a few different reasons. The bottom line is that when you are expecting a lot of rain you should be testing your water and adding chlorine more often. If extreme rains or in the forecast you may want to wait to add chemicals as you might need to pump some water off of the pool and there is no point in chemically treating water that is being pumped off. You do however want to ensure that the free chlorine level in your pool does not become depleted at any time.
Heavy Bather Load - If you have a pool party, or just an abnormally high bather load in the pool, this is when you should be shocking. Do not wait until the day after to discover that your pool has turned green. When you have a big party at the end of the night it would be a very good idea to add some oxidizer, or some chlorine, to get a head start on all the bacteria that you introduced to the water. In the morning be sure to test the water to see where your chlorine levels are at and make any additional corrections that the pool needs. This one step of adding a shock the night of a party would probably eliminate half of the green pools in the USA. OK, maybe not that many, but a lot.
Extended Heat & Sun - Chlorine needs protection from cyanuric acid (stabilizer, pool conditioner) in order to stay in the pool. Otherwise the sun simply burns the chlorine off as fast as you can add it in. A pool pro knows that when there is an extended forecast of heat and sun that they should check the chlorine levels as well as the CYA level. If your CYA is too low then you will have trouble keeping your chlorine count up. Knowing to check this in advance, and to test your chlorine levels more often during heat waves, will save you from waking up to green water one morning.
There are a lot of ways that you can start to act proactively with your pool chemistry maintenance such as these three methods listed above. For a pool owner the take away here is to know that sometimes preemptive action is prudent and there are certain factors that are known to cause problems with the free chlorine level in your pool. While you may not have decades of experience to know in advance of every potential future water quality issue, what you can do is simply be diligent with your water testing. The ore often you test your pool water the more comfortable you will become with the process as well as becoming familiar with which factors tent to cause a problem for your chemistry. Do not wait until you have a deeply routed problem with your pool water - quick action will allow you to correct the water as quickly as possible and for as little money as possible.
If you are starting at square one with your pool and need to pretty much learn about "everything" then you should start by reading the new pool owners Swimming Pools 101 article.
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