How To Get Your Pool Ready For A Party
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The average pool owner may not know this but the most common thing that a pool guy gets asked about during a project is the anticipated timeline to completion as there is a party planned. So much so that this has become an inside joke among pool technicians. The dreaded pool party reference even topped the list of the 6 things you should NEVER say to your pool guy. From a pool owners perspective it is completely reasonable to have an event planned and need to complete work within a specific timeframe. The problem exists in that the pool season is a very small window in most areas of North America and what ends up happening is that there are parties every weekend of the summer. The result is that almost every pool that a pool technician works on is under pressure to "get the pool ready in time for the party". If every person you talk to mentions that they are having a pool party and the pool needs to be ready by then, the urgency of the request loses effect...especially if it is obvious that the pool has been neglected or left too late to meet the timeline. That is the reason for this article.
For years I have chastised clients who reference their pool party deadline but have done little to get the pool ready. For many pool owners a pool expert like myself is called in a last resort once the pool owner comes to terms with being unable to resolve the problem alone. In most cases this is mere days before the party which is quite simply not enough time to help them. Whether you are dealing with chemical and balance issues, or something more serious like a repair or renovation that needs to be done, you should be planning weeks in advance of your party.
Pool Renovations Or Repairs Before A Party
Before we start to talk about the things that you have more control over, such as chemical balancing, let's first consider the angle of repairs and renovations. If
you have repairs that need to be completed, or are planning a larger renovation of your pool area, you should not even begin to plan a party at this stage. What may
appear to be a straight forward project to you may in fact turn out to be much more involved.
Rain & Weather Delays - Pool renovations and repairs can end up taking much longer than anticipated for a variety of reasons. Taking for granted how long a project will end up taking can really put a damper on those pool party plans. Even a well intentioned contractor can run into problems with weather. Weather delays are a huge issue in the pool industry as most of the work that we do requires very specific weather. Rain can prevent you from pouring concrete, plastering pools, hanging vinyl liners and a variety of other integral tasks of a pool technicians day. Combine this with each step of a swimming pool remediation being staged, and dependent, on the stage prior being completed. This means a rain day not only prevents me from completing one step of a pool project, but will usually also prevent me from taking any other steps towards completing the project.
Product & Parts Availability - This is something that pool owners are sure to take for granted. The seasonal nature of the industry in North America is such that most pools are opened around the middle of May and closed in the end of August or early September (which coincides with children and school schedules). Most people do not want to have work done on their pools in the middle of the swimming season and as a result there is a huge flurry of work requests that happens at the very beginning of the pool season and the very end of the pool season. This means that pool parts and new equipment can run in short supply. If you consider that a swimming pool wholesaler may sell 75% of all the heaters that they sell in a year during only the month on May this will help you to understand. The logistics of supplying an entire Country with pool products can be quite a challenge. It is extremely common to run into short supply availability of products and parts, even common ones, that can last one to two months. Most of the time delays will be around the one to three week ranges for new shipments to arrive, but low demand supplies or rare parts can be a very big challenge to locate. A seasoned pool professional knows very well how common of a problem this is and this is something that he would take into consideration when establishing a timeline for renovations however even the best pool professional can not account for the unforeseen.
Unforeseen Circumstances - There is a total lack of congruency in building practices in the swimming pool industry in North America. Even today each contractor will have their own individual approach to building a swimming pool in terms of equipment, plumbing material, circulation system etc. and so you can imagine what the nature of the industry looked like 30 or 40 years ago. The pools that are needing renovations now are the ones that were built in previous decades where the industry was downright lawless. There is simply no telling what a previous pool technician (or home owner) did to the pool until you get into the job. I once removed a vinyl liner from a pool only to discover that whomever put the liner in last time did something that no pool tech would anticipate. The pool was green and leaking badly when I inspected it. After I removed the liner I discovered that the pool was actually a dirt floor (dirt, not sand) and someone had lined the floor with thin sheets of metal. The material they used looked like tin you would see in modern day duct work inside of houses. That tin provided a nice and smooth floor for them when the liner was installed but once the sheet metal started to rust the pool began to leak. When the chlorinated water got to the sheet metal it really started to rust. By the time I removed the liner all that was left were millions of razor sharp pieces of rust sitting on, and buried in, the dirt floor of the pool. There is simply no way to fix a problem like this. This required two solid days of cleanup and a new mortar bottom to be installed on the floor. The cost of this was almost double what the initial liner estimate was and the timeline of a few days turned into almost two weeks once the communication with the pool owner and subsequent rain delays had finished. This in turn pushed back two weeks of future work I had scheduled. Such is the nature of the industry. Once the pool is drained and a problem discovered there is no other option than to do the work. If I were to just leave the pool empty this would likely ruin the pool completely in time. Working in an industry with no congruency in building methods, and most of the potential problem areas buried (literally) this is a recipe for delays and extras being a regular part of swimming pool contracting. If you need a full scale renovation of your pool do not plan an event shortly after completion. Your pool project could take two or three times longer than planned and if your pool party is that important to you then you want to make sure everything will be ready in time.
Attend To Known Problems Before Your Party
Swimming pools are supposed to be clean, clear and relatively free of turbidity. They are also supposed to be leak free. If your pool has an active leak, or if there are deficiencies that you are aware of then attend to these before even scheduling a party. A pool should not have problems with clarity, or with later loss. If you have a problem like this is can seem minor enough to ignore. If you have an important event planned then these little problems can become big problems and suddenly you do not have enough time to do anything about them. Imagine two days before a wedding reception at your property you discover your pool has lost a foot of water overnight. This kind of thing happens all the time and in many cases the problem was known about in advance.
Scheduling Pool Service
When it comes time to servicing the pool before a party the timeline that you want to follow would be to have a technician look at the pool at minimum two weeks before
the scheduled party. It is important to note that pool companies get very busy during peak times of the year and it may take up to a few weeks to even get someone out
to look at your pool. This means if you intend to have some service done in advance of the party you should be contacting pool companies at minimum one full month
before the event. Even this is not enough time to deal with serious weather delays or sourcing of backorder components so you are cautioned to not leave service until
the last minute. A pool party with a pool that is only half filled with freezing cold green water is sure to put a damper on your party fun.
Pool Heater Service - Probably the most important piece of pool equipment to have inspected and serviced before a party is the heater. Most pool owners would be surprised to learn that you should have your heater serviced every spring for a cleaning and inspection. A spring cleaning service for a pool heater is very affordable however gas technicians will be hard pressed to get to your pool quickly since everyone needs heater service at the exact same time of year. Make sure that you schedule yours well in advance. A heater cleaning service will include vacuuming out the burner tray and orifices where spiders and rodents can make their home over the winter. While most pool heaters, especially newer ones, will fire up at the touch of a button in the spring what you can't see is that the heater will not be running as efficiently as it once did. The presence of spiders (webs), rodents, leaves and especially carbon and soot will cause your pool heater to burn less efficiently. This results in higher gas costs, lower heater efficiency, but most importantly this will result in a further accumulation of soot buildup which will perpetuate this problem. Since running a pool heater is so expensive most pool owners use theirs the absolute minimum that they can in order to keep the water temperature tolerable. During pool parties it is common to crank up the heater to help everyone enjoy warm swimming temps. This puts a lot more strain on the heater than it would normally experience and can be the straw that finally makes the heater send out an error code and shut down. Having your heater cleaned, serviced and inspected a few weeks before your party will go a long way towards ensuring that your pool party doesn't turn into a meeting of the polar bear swim club.
Pool Pump Service - Your pool pump should not need a special service visit from a technician just for a planned party unless there is a known problem with the pump. Your pump should be running quiet, cool and leak free. If your pump is leaking water (from anywhere), is making any unusual noise or tripping the electrical breaker due to overheating then you will want to schedule a service inspection well before the party date.
Filter Cleaning - Cleaning your filter before the pool party would be a good idea. There is a lot of contamination of the pool water from a heavy bather load and if your filter is already due for a cleaning this can prove to be too much. While the party is likely to be fine, the days following the party are very likely to result in turbidity in the water. If you have a sand filter be sure to backwash a few days before the party. If you have a cartridge filter consider having the cartridges cleaned. Since most pool cartridge filters can run a long time before needing cleaning it may be overkill to clean them before the party. You almost certainly will want to clean them after the party since makeup, cosmetics, sweat, oils and sunscreen from bathers will clog the paper that the cartridges are made from. Many pool owners mistakenly will rinse of filters assuming that this cleans them however this only rinses the debris from the surface. In order to clean filters, especially after a big pool party, remove the cartridges from the system and soak them in a cartridge filter cleaner chemical which is essentially a grease cutting soap that is phosphate free. This will safely remove the oils from the paper which is what causes cartridge filters to plug up. You should be able to monitor the condition of your filters simply by watching the pressure that your pool system operates at. When the pressure of your system rises 7 PSI above the clean operational pressure this is an indication that it is time to clean the filters again.
Chemical Balancing Before A Pool Party
When it comes to planning a pool party the single most important thing that you can do it make sure the pool is clean, clear and well balanced. Nothing is worse than a pool party with green water, or a pool party where everyone is complaining about smelly water or getting out of the pool with bloodshot eyes. You need to make sure that your free chlorine, total chlorine, calcium harness, pH and total alkalinity are all in the correct range. You should also consider checking your phosphate and nitrate levels in advance of the party as well. Phosphates or nitrates can consume the chlorine in your pool very readily and keeping these values in check will prevent any green pool surprises on the morning of your party. If you need to brush up on your pool chemistry then you can learn more about these testing variables in my pool chemistry crash course.
Free Chlorine Levels - You do not want to heavily shock the pool the day before or the day of your party. You want to have ample time for the chlorine to do its job without being too strong for the comfort of swimmers. In a residential pool the minimum level of free chlorine in the water should be 1 PPM. If you are planning a large pool party with an anticipated heavy bather load in the water then this will not be enough of a buffer. You should aim to have your free chlorine level at minimum 3 PPM in advance of your party and even 5 PPM would still be less than what your average commercial pool would have. This will give you plenty of protection in the water, as well as a suitable reserve of chlorine to deal with all of the impurities, bacteria and debris that will be introduced during the party.
Total Chlorine Levels - Free chlorine is a measurement of the chlorine in the water that is active and available to kill bacteria. Total chlorine is the measurement of the free chlorine as well as the combined chlorine in the water. The combined chlorine is a measurement of the chlorine that has already done its job and now lives in the water as a chloramine. Chloramines are the thing that causes red eyes in swimmers as well as the smell from pool water. The difference between free chlorine and total chlorine levels should never be greater than 1 PPM. If you have 1 PPM or more difference between the two this means that you have a buildup of chloramines in the water and you should correct this at least one week before the party. The way to fix this problem is to increase the free chlorine level to ten times what the difference betweeen your free and total chlorine level is. When you drive the free chlorine levels high in your pool, over 10 PPM free chlorine, the free chlorine will oxidize and neutralize the chloramines. In order to do this your free chlorine levels will need to be maintained at over 10 PPM for a 24 hour period (which may require multiple chlorine shocks over 24 hours to maintain). Once you have completed this chlorinating process the free chlorine levels and total chlorine levels should be equal and this indicates there is no longer a combined chlorine (or chloramines) in the water. Since your pool will have an elevated chlorine level for a few days following this treatment be sure to complete this process at least one week in advance of the party.
PH Levels - I have talked with hundreds, possibly thousands of pool owners who complain about being allergic to chlorine. The truth is that almost nobody is allergic to chlorine. Most municipal water supply systems are treated with chlorine (or more recently, chloramines) so those who are truly allergic to chlorine would also not be able to take a bath or shower at home, or drink / cook with tap water. The reality is that in almost every case where someone believes they are allergic to chlorine they are actually just pH sensitive. The pH of pool water is kept at or near 7.4 as this is as close to the pH of the human body as possible. The further that you deviate from this range, the more people will begin to experience reactions such as red eyes, dry itchy skin or rashes. This is especially true for those with light colored hair and fair skin. Since the pH scale is logarithmic this means a pH of 8.0 is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 7.0. For those with sensitive skin this tolerance will prove too much for their comfort. If you have a salt water system on your pool the type of chlorine that is derived from salt water has an extremely high pH. If you turn up your chlorine generator to build a higher chlorine reserve this can in turn push your pH levels too high. By the time the pH reaches 8.2 or above the chlorine is less than 10% active in the water as chlorine is most efficient at more acidic pH levels (much too low for humans to comfortably swim in). Be sure that you account for any extra chlorine from your salt water system by checking and adjusting your pH regularly.
Total Alkalinity Levels - The total alkalinity measurement in your water is the amount of alkaline materials dissolved in the water. The purpose of maintaining this range is to help prevent drastic fluctuations in the pH levels. With low total alkalinity in the water the pH will tend to shift (bounce) dramatically which can result in water problems very quickly. By maintaining your total alkalinity between 70 PPM to 125 PPM you will effectively limit the ability for the pH to change whenever something is added to the water with a pH higher or lower than the pH of the water currently.
Metal Content - Before you begin the process of making adjustments to your water chemistry in advance of your pool party you should have your water tested for metals. Metals in the water such as copper or iron can have a negative impact on the water quality. This is especially true if you intend to to things such as heavy chlorination. Metals in the water can react with other chemicals, especially in higher levels or during times when the water chemistry values are not within the normal range. This can result in some very profound changes in the water clarity and quality. Too much copper in the water can be oxidized by a heavy dose of chlorine (or oxidizers such as peroxide as witnessed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio when the Olympic pools turned bright green). In the case of iron instead of copper the water can turn dark brown from the chlorine oxidizing the iron. To avoid these problems, as well as problems in general with staining in your pool, have the water tested for metals before you start making corrections to the water chemistry for your party.
Removing Phosphates & Nitrates - If you have nitrates in your pool water, or phosphate levels above 500 PPB then you will have a very difficult time maintaining the chlorine levels in your pool. The phosphates and nitrates act as a food for organic plant matter and the growth of algae will outpace the ability for the chlorine to kill them. Once the chlorine reserve in your pool has been depleted the algae will grow at an astonishing rate and you very likely could wake up one morning to a green pool. Before you begin any other chemical corrections in your pool for this party you should have your phosphate and nitrate levels checked and use a suitable phosphate remover product to get these levels under control.
Post Party Chemical Treatment
One of the most important things you should consider when preparing your pool for a party is actually something that needs to be done after the party. Many, many pool
and hot tub owners wake up after the night of a big party to discover green or cloudy water. This is a result of the bacteria and organic debris in the water using
up the chlorine reserve. Once the chlorine reserve falls to zero the water will turn cloudy and green very quickly. A busy pool party, a party where kids are in the
pool, or a party that involves drinks that might occasionally get spilled in the water are all cases where the chlorine reserve is likely to be used up even if you had
the values in the right range prior to the party (3-5 PPM free chlorine).
The night of the party, once everyone is done swimming in the pool, you should shock the pool with a heavy chlorine shock, or a non chlorine oxidizer shock such as potassium monopersulfate. I prefer to use an oxidizer after a party specifically as the oxidizer will work quickly to oxidize the bacteria and organic debris in the water without raising the sanitizer levels too high to swim the next day. By adding in a fast acting oxidizer at the end of the night after a party you will be giving the pool the ability to kill the new bacterial before that bacterial has an opportunity to grow in the water. Add 1 - 2 cups of potassium monopersulfate at the end of the night and most likely you will be waking up to a clean and clear pool. Be sure to check your chlorine levels the day following the party to make sure you have not completely deleted your chlorine reserve.
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