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How To Open A Swimming Pool

If you are new to owning a pool you can find yourself asking "how do you open a pool?" - Opening a pool is fairly easy to do and is one of the better pool maintenance tasks that pools owners can take on themselves. When it comes to opening a pool versus closing a pool I have always recommended for pool owners to pay for the professional closing service. If you want to save some cash somewhere I would prefer to see pool owners taking on the opening tasks. Closing a pool, especially in areas with subfreezing temperatures in the off season, is a technical process intended to prevent damage to integral pool components. Opening a pool however is largely a multiple step cleaning process. Sure, there are a few technical steps such as assembling the winterized circulation equipment, but there is less chance for damage as a result of you not knowing what you are doing.

When Should I Open My Pool?

The specific dates that you open your pool will depend on the local weather in your area. As a general guideline the opening and closing of swimming pools often closely mirrors the school season. If you don't have kids or grandchildren then the major question becomes how soon do you want to go swimming? Opening your pool in March does not really make sense if you do not plan to swim until June due to water temperature. If you do not like cold water, and you do not have a gas heater that you pay heavily to operate, then it is common to wait until late spring to open. There is however an exception to this general rule.
Swimming Pool Safety Cover
Pool safety covers are becoming more and more popular every year. If you have added a safety cover to your pool then hopefully at some point the installer explained that having a safety cover somewhat changes the timetable that you may be used to. While tarp and waterbag covers, as well as lock in winter covers both isolate the standing water on the cover from the water in the pool (at least in theory) pool safety covers do not work in this way. Pool safety covers still let both silt as well as sunlight to reach the water in the pool. During the cold winter weather, the water temperature prevents most bacteria from growing. As the spring temperatures increase and the sunlight warms the pool water, there will be a marked increase in the rate of algae growth in the water. When you have a safety cover you want to open the pool as early in the year as possible and close as late as possible. Since this does cost more money, and takes more work maintaining the pool, many installers neglect to mention these important details. For most pool safety cover owners you will open the pool like normal in the spring only to discover that the pool is so green in color that it appears to be glowing.

Pool safety covers are only mostly solid. The vast majority, over 95% of all safety covers, are varying forms of mesh. There are however some pool safety covers that are "solid covers" in that they work to isolate the pool water from any surface water. These are more forgiving than mesh safety covers in terms of not requiring specific opening and closing schedules.

Pool Party? - If you have a specific event like a party or wedding then open your pool WEEKS in advance of this date for time to deal with maintenance and repair issues as well as allowing ample time to balance and clear up any water clarity issues.

What Are The Steps Involved With Opening A Pool?

Every professional pool company will have a unique in-house offering in terms of what services are included with a pool opening. This accounts for the variance in pricing as well as quality of service from one place to the next. As a pool owner if you want to open your own pool essentially all you need to do is clean everything and get the equipment running and circulating the water.

- Pump off / clean pool cover
- Install return eyelet fittings
- Install light if it was sunken or brought up to the deck for winter
- Fill pool to operating levels
- Install ladders and handrails
- Assemble pump
- Assemble filter
- Assemble heater
- Install salt cell
- Start equipment
- Vacuum debris
- Brush walls and floor
- Shock heavily with chlorine
- Wait 24 hours and test water and balance as required

This represents a basic outline of what most pool openings will require. In addition to this using a pressure washer to clean the pool deck is a great additional effort. Pool covers will leave stains on the pool deck of which a pressure washer will quickly and effectively resolve. Another good idea would be to have the water tested for metals such as iron and copper as well as having a phosphate test done at a local water lab. Even pools that do not typically have problems with phosphates will sometimes need a single dose treatment in the spring. Anything over 500 parts per billion of phosphates can have noticeable negative effects on your ability to maintain free chlorine levels in the pool. If you have a salt system you will likely need to have your sodium levels tested and will need to add a few bags of salt to compensate for the water that was drained during the pool closing.

Tips For Opening A Pool

How to clean a pool cover - There are many ways to approach this task. Some people take covers out to the driveway and wash both sides with soap and water. Some people use a pressure washer and others just rinse with a garden hose. Some only clean one side of the pool cover, the side that was face up on the pool. How you clean your cover will depend on how particular you are about the things you own. In my professional opinion cleaning only one side of the cover, and cleaning it while on the pool, are both acceptable and something I would do with my own pool. Dragging a cover to your front yard and brooming / pressure washing it might make it cleaner - but will certainly increase the potential for damage to the cover. Some dirt or staining on your pool cover will not reduce its service life. I would rather have a slightly stained cover that lasts twice as long any day. As I have been saying to my clients for decades - you do not store your pool cover under your bed...just rinse it off and put it away somewhere where mice can not get at it.

Install eyelet returns - Remove the winterization plugs from your returns and skimmer. Putting in the eyelets can be difficult in the spring when the water is so cold that you can hardly feel your hands under the water. Since the fittings are plastic threads it is very important to not force or cross thread the fittings which can lead to cracked returns. If you happen to crack the wall side of the fitting you will be very disappointed with yourself. A big tip is to apply a silicone based lubricant to the threads of your return fittings which will help to put them on smoothly but more importantly will allow them to come off in the winter when cracking the fittings is even more likely.

Install pool lights - There are two basic styles of pool lights and both are difficult to install in the spring, again due to the frigid water temperatures. The most common style has a hook hinge on the bottom combined with a single screw that connects top dead center on the light. With this style you must use an extremely light touch with the screw. Commonly they are brass and incredibly easy to strip if you cross thread it or do not line up your phillips screwdriver just right. The other style is a twist lock style that takes a gentle touch to avoid breaking the plastic tabs off. Plastic gets weak over time from the chlorine so cracking these twist lock style lights gets easier to do as they age. With both styles take the time to neatly wrap the light with the extra cord as this will take some pressure off the light fixture itself versus a hastily rolled light cord stuffed awkwardly into the niche.

Filling the pool - Instead of waiting until the pool is fully opened before starting the water, you can instead turn on the garden hose as the first step in the process. Slip the hose under the cover and let it run all during the opening process to get you up to operating levels as soon as possible. Ideal water levels in a swimming pool is approximately half way up the mouth of the skimmer faceplate. An average amount of time required to fill your pool from a single garden hose is about one inch per hour that you are running the water.

Installing ladders and handrails - Pool ladders and handrails use either a 1/2" wrench or a 9/16" wrench. Using pliers, channel locks, vice grips and adjustable wrenches will absolutely damage the stainless steel bolt heads. Use the correct wrench for your pool to prevent this needless long term damage. Using an anti seize compound will go a long way towards preventing seizing from galvanic corrosion and oxidization in this hardware.

Assembling the pump - Pool pumps are made to weather outside year round and they do not need to be removed and stored indoors in the off season. In order to de-winterize a pool pump you need to install two plastic drain plugs. One is on the bottom front center of the pump and the other will be towards the back and side on the pump wet end (side, center, near the bottom). These plastic plugs can easily strip or cross thread so take your time installing these carefully.

Assembling the filter - A sand filter needs very little to get it ready for the pool season. Most importantly is to install the tank drain plug on the bottom of the filter tank being sure to not cross thread this plastic cap. The filter head will need the sight glass installed as well as the pressure gage. The pressure gage should be installed using teflon tape and put in only finger tight plus one quarter turn. A cartridge filter is usually disassembled in the off season as this is when you would perform the cartridge cleaning process. In the spring you will need to open the filter and install the cleaned cartridges. Be sure that you lubricate the filter band clamp gasket with a silicone based lubricant and ensure the flange is absolutely free of sand or grit. Tightening the filter clamp should be done until tight, then take a rubber mallet and sharply hit the band clamp around the circumference of the filter tank. After doing this you will be able to tighten the clamp further. You must make sure the filter tank clamp is sufficiently tight to be safe as the filter pressure is dangerously high. While you want it very tight you also need to keep in mind that the filter is just plastic resin and can be cracked if tightened too much. A few rounds hitting with a mallet and re-tightening is usually enough to get the job done.

Assemble the heater - Pool heaters can vary in terms of how it is winterized and reassembled. Most have between one and three drain cocks that are removed to blow the water out of the heater internals. Plastic drain plugs on the heater should be left out for the winter however if you have brass drain cocks they should be removed for winterizing and then reinstalled into the heater. If left out over the winter then corrosion can form that will not allow you to thread the plugs back in without first sending a thread chase through...and you probably don't have one of those most likely. In addition to these drain plugs about half of all pool heaters also have a pressure switch inside the heater that gets disconnected for the off season. Look for a small copper tube that connects with either a 1/2" or 7/16" nut to the pressure switch. You also will need to open the gas valve inside the heater and finally the external gas supply valve when you are ready to start the heater. In most areas pool owners and gas technicians are the only people legally allowed to start a pool heater. Pool technicians without a valid gas licence are not allowed to start pool heaters in most places. The most common heaters, the Hayward FD models as well as Pentair brands do not have a pressure switch that you will need to connect.

Install salt water cell - In most cases salt water chlorine cells will be removed for the winter and the open ports are plugged to prevent mice from living in your plumbing lines. When you put the salt cell in for the year be sure that the O-rings have not been lost. Cells without a built in flow switch can be installed in either orientation however cells with a built in flow switch will be directional. If you are going to add salt to your pool be sure the salt cell is completely unplugged as concentrated salt levels passing through a powered cell can cause permanent damage to the system.

Starting the pool equipment - The first time that you start your equipment for the year you will likely notice that it is harder to prime the pump than normal. This is to be expected and you may need to repeat the filling and priming process multiple times before the pump catches and starts drawing water. Once the pump is running you want to inspect every component that you have to look for leaks or drips of any kind. Any water leaking anywhere from the system should be treated as a deficiency and resolved. Most common problem areas are threaded pipe connections that have been moved, winterization plugs not tightened enough or cross threaded as well as lost O-rings for valves and unions. Always double check that you have all gaskets for vales, unions, the pump lid, filter clamps etc. and that they are well lubricated with a non-petroleum based product.

Vacuum debris and silt from the pool - The first vacuum of the year should be done as soon as you are able to get the equipment started up. If you have a sand filter you should filter to waste to avoid adding this heavy load of debris to the filter. Vacuum the entire floor of the pool, very slowly, to avoid stirring up the debris as much as possible. Since you will be draining a lot of water from the pool during this process it can be a good tip to slightly overfill the pool during the filling stage as this will allow you to spend some time vacuuming to waste without dropping the water too low for the pump to keep running. If there is large debris and leaves / sticks in the pool be sure to scoop these with a Pool Rake Net before attempting to vacuum. Even if you can not see the bottom of the pool simply work by feel scooping leaves. Let the leaves settle in the water and then scoop everything again. Only once you have physically scooped all of the leaves should you consider trying to vacuum. This is the reason why you really do not want to let your pool cover fall in during the winter as it creates much more work in the spring to get the pool up and running again.

Brush down the entire pool - This is a step that many pool owners do not take and one that will absolutely make it take longer for your pool water to get clean and clear. Much of the debris in a pool will be stuck to the walls and floor. By manually brushing the entire surface of the pool you are lifting this into suspension in the water where it will be pulled through the filtration system and removed. Regular brushing of the pool will go a long way towards improving the efficiency of the filtration system.

Shock the pool with chlorine - Whether you have a salt water pool or traditional chlorine injection system you should start your year with a shock that raises free chlorine levels for a minimum of 10ppm for a 24 hour period. This is to help kill any potential bacteria in the water and give you a fresh start after a prolonged period where there was no sanitizer in the water. Algaecides are not usually needed, as chlorine itself is an algaecide, so do not automatically add it. If you suspect, or know to have phosphate levels over 500ppb then you should treat this with phosphate remover prior to increasing chlorine levels. Most pools will show a dramatic water quality and clarity improvement within 24 to 48 hours after dosing with chlorine shock.

Test and balance the pool water - A minimum of 24 hours after you have shocked the pool with chlorine, and preferably 48 to 72 hours after, bring in your water to a reputable water lab for analysis. Starting your year off with a well balanced pool will go a long way towards reducing frustration as a result of chasing water chemistry values for the first six weeks. You want to test the water for all forms of metals, phosphates, total dissolved solids, stabilizer levels and phosphates in addition to the standard chlorine levels, pH, total alkalinity and calcium hardness levels. You can do this in a water lab or at home yourself using a test kit such as the K-2006 test kit from Taylor for basic testing, though this will not include testing ability for most metals as well as phosphates or salt levels.

Tips for when you open your pool

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