Closing A Swimming Pool Permanently
Closing a swimming pool permanently, or for extended periods of time, can end up costing you far more than you might imagine if you go about this the wrong way. There are a lot of completely valid reasons to want to shut your pool down for a long time. The owner of the pool may have died, or is no longer willing (or able) to care for a pool. Sometimes repair costs have added up to the point of being unmanageable and there is simply no other options available. Removing a swimming pool is usually more money than people imagine and this makes removing the pool a viable option for those with the budget to do so. So what happens to all the people stuck in the middle who do not want to eliminate the pool completely, but also have no desire or interest in keeping it open and maintained?
All too often pool owners in these situations pool owners simply "walk away" and neglect the pool entirely. This, certainly, will result in damage to the pool, complaints from the neighbors, a reduction in the real estate property value, and eventually an ordinance from the city warning you to take care of the pool (one way or another) or risk experiencing substantial fines. Regardless of your reasons to want to close the pool permanently, you need to consider that the pool will continue to deteriorate without regular maintenance. Quite often a pool that is left uncared for, even for a few years, will require extensive renovations and repairs which could have otherwise been avoided.
Why Is It Important To Maintain A Closed Pool?
Financial difficulties are probably the most common reason why someone might choose to abandon their swimming pool. Often the process follows a familiar path where the pool is mostly neglected for many years, during which time regular repairs and maintenance are not performed, which leads to a situation where all the "little things" have now added up to giant, expensive, repair bills. When estimates are received to get the pool back into serviceable condition, the price is so high that it is simply not possible for the pool owner to pay the bill. At this point some pool owners might look into having the pool filled in with dirt...only to discover that this process is also very expensive - usually as much as fixing the pool would have been in the first place!
Out of frustration, and with few decent options available, this is when some pool owners just "walk away" and cease all care and maintenance of the pool. If it is broken already then what is the point of caring for it any longer? This, right here, is the heart of the problem. Just because you can not afford a $15,000 repair and renovation bill does not mean that things can not get a LOT worse. If you think that a $15,000 repair bill is unmanageable, just wait until the pool deteriorates to the point where you need $50,000 to stop it from destroying the rest of your property! Not only can this happen, but it almost certainly will if you take the path of least resistance and just leave your pool unmaintained for extended periods of time. A pool in such a state can drag down the value of your home to such a great extent that the entire house becomes essentially unsellable - or if you are able to sell it you will need to do so at a reduced price far greater than the actual cost of repairing the pool.
Swimming pools are possibly the single most important thing in your home to keep up with maintenance on. When you stop caring for them properly they are extremely unforgiving and will likely end up costing you more than you can possibly imagine. This is why you should not close your pool permanently. It is almost always less expensive in the long run to keep the pool open and minimally maintained...but that is not what this article is about! This article is for those of you looking for specific information on how to close your pool for extended periods of time with minimal risk for long term costs and potential damage. Again, you have been warned that leaving your pool unused can cause problems but if you are in a situation where you simply must close your pool, then following some of these steps can help your pool to deteriorate minimally.
Closing A Pool For Long Periods Of Time
Despite my warnings about why you should not close your pool for extended periods of time, if you must do so then you should at least invest in closing it properly to minimize the amount of damage that the pool will experience when dormant. The problem is that you can not really just leave a pool dormant without causing problems. The first, and most important problem with long term pool dormancy, is the water itself. Water needs to be chemically treated and filtered or it will become stagnant. Over time this will allow for bacteria and insects to take over the pool, and given enough time the pool will eventually become a swamp. If you are thinking that "who cares - I am not going to use the pool anyway" then you might be underestimating just how much of a problem having a swamp in your backyard might be.
Smell - The first thing that you need to know about closing a swimming pool for extended periods of time is that it is going to smell bad. Big deal right? Who cares about some stinky water? Well, your neighbors will, for one. Most likely you will also since stagnant pool water does not simply smell unpleasant...when you let a pool sit without chemical treatment or filtration it will smell foul enough to drop flying birds right out of the sky and make a dog walking by the front of your house throw up! Well, OK, maybe this is an exaggeration, but not by much. Stagnant pool water will end up smelling bad enough that you may just get a knock on the door from your local police department wanting to search your property for corpses. The foul stench of stagnant pool water can get bad enough that you can smell it from the front of your house and it is not the kind of stink you can learn to live with.
Insects - Part and parcel with stinky, stagnant pool water will be the insects that move in to take over the now chlorine free water. Have you ever thought that you would like to own a mosquito farm in your backyard...because leaving your pool to stagnate would be a keen way to get started towards this goal. The concern for huge bodies of stagnant water breeding mosquitos is actually the main reason why many urban areas have laws governing when you must open you pool every year. Mosquitos are carriers of disease, and specifically bad ones at that, and this alone should be enough of a reason to avoid leaving your pool closed for extended periods of time.
Bacteria & Disease - In addition to the lovely diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, west nile virus, equine encephalitis and many more, stagnant pool water can also be a breeding ground for airborne diseases like Legionnaires disease as well as terrifying pathogens like flesh eating bacteria. Does any part of this sound like something you want in your backyard?
Permanent Damage - In addition to the nasty bacteria and bugs, a major concern of letting your pool sit dormant is simply that the pool will deteriorate at a very advanced rate. Things like the interior surface of the pool (all types of pools including fiberglass, concrete and vinyl liner) are specifically prone to damage from sitting stagnant. If you were to replace the pool liner, or have the pool freshly plastered right before you shut it down for a year or two, you can fully anticipate that these new interior surfaces would need to be replaced again when the pool finally gets opened next. Despite the fact that a new liner or a new plaster should last much longer than this, this assumes continual care and chemical maintenance. Stagnant water is not congruent with longevity of pool components. If you put a pool into long term storage there is a very real chance that you will need to do some serious repairs and renovations to open it again one day in the future.
So how long is too long when it comes to closing a pool? For example pools that are located in cold climate areas are all closed for six months or so every year and they are still fine. It is worth noting that in these areas pools are closed during very cold months when bacteria growth and insects are minimal. Even despite this, pools in these areas will wear much faster than pools located in areas where they operate 24/7/365. By the time a pool has been closed for one year, including at least a few months of hot summer weather, you can count on the fact that early wear and tear is taking on toll on the interior surface. Anything longer than a single year for a dormant pool begins to risk that the pool will need to be rebuilt from the ground up should you ever want to open it again.
How To Close A Pool For Long Term Storage?
Now that you know some of the concerns with leaving your pool sit dormant and unmaintained, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to close the pool at least try to follow some of the steps outlined below. Doing this will not guarantee that the pool avoids damage while "in storage" but at least this should minimize the risk to your pool and maximize the quality of life for anyone who needs to live in or around a dormant pool.
Install A Safety Cover - Installing a safety cover, and specifically a mesh safety cover that allows water to pass through, not a solid safety cover that requires you to pump off the accumulated water, is the single best thing you can do for a pool that needs to be taken offline for an extended period of time. These types of covers will help to keep the pool safe for children, pets and animals during the time that the pool is closed. Having a permanently closed pool in your yard where people and animals can access the body of water is an extreme safety concern. In addition to it being dangerous, a tarp cover will be the worst offender in terms of attracting bugs and bacteria. If you want to keep a pool closed for an extended period of time with minimal negative consequence then using a safety cover should be considered to be the least that you can do. The pool is going to smell bad no matter what if you are not treating the water. If the pool has a few dozen squirrels and neighborhood cats at the bottom of it this will make the problem of disgusting, dangerous and smells water infinitely worse.
Winterize & Close The Plumbing System - Shutting down the pool plumbing system for long term storage might seem like an obvious thing to do for some pool owners...however some geographic areas never close their pool and as such it might not occur to these owners that leaving the plumbing system open is a bad idea. If it gets freezing cold in your area, failure to isolate and close the plumbing system will result in eventual component damage from water freezing in the lines. In areas without freezing temperatures the concern is that the water within the plumbing lines and fixtures will become so gross and disgusting that you can actually require full replacement of the plumbing lines if you want to operate the pool one day in the future. The amount of scum and biofilm that can form inside a dormant plumbing system is so great that it can make it impossible to ever properly clean them in the future. Blowing out all of the plumbing lines and capping both ends with permanent (or winterization) plugs absolutely must be done if you want your pool to sit dormant for extended periods of time. If nothing else this should allow you to limit your concern for future damage to the pool structure itself. You should also winterize and close the pool filter and the pool heater if you have one. The pump should be removed completely from the installation and stored indoors. The heater and filter are too big and not practical to move and store, but the pump is fairly easy by comparison, likely with two plumbing unions and one electrical connection, and is the most likely component to fail as a result of sitting unused. If you store the pump drained and dry in your basement or heated garage then it most likely will still be in serviceable condition when you want to open the pool next.
Chemical Treatment - Look, the pool is going to be a green and disgusting mess no matter what you do. Unless you run the pump and filter daily and balance the chemicals then algae, insects and bacteria is going to take over your once crystal clear and inviting water. You can however at least do a little bit of work to minimize the amount of bugs you have. Adding chlorine to the tune of a few liters (less than a gallon) every two weeks to a month is the absolute minimum that you should do. Liquid chlorine, if added in small amounts will help to keep the bugs at a minimum while presenting minimal risk for chlorine damage to the pool. To drastically decrease the chance of the chlorine all sinking to the bottom of the deep end and causing damage to the interior surface, it is strongly suggested that you manually agitate the water after any time you add chlorine. This will also help the chlorine to diffuse into the water better and discourage the bugs from taking over. It will certainly not be enough to stop green water and bugs, but it might just be enough to stop the water from turning completely black.
Maintain The Water Level - In a perfect world it would be a lot easier to put your pool into storage if you could just drain it and keep it dry. Other than being a big, dangerous hole in the ground, the main risk for draining pools is that all pools require water in them (to one degree or another) in order to maintain the structural integrity and hydrostatic balance within the ground. You may have heard of empty pools collapsing, popping out of the ground, and having the interior surface ruined from being empty...and all of these concerns are true and serious. The best you can hope for is to maintain the water level in the pool at the height it was intended to operate at. This will require that you periodically pump out some rain water and snow melt to avoid constant overflowing. It will also require that you have a pool that can hold water which means if expensive leaks are the reason you are closing it these need to be repaired before you take your pool offline. Fortunately if the leak was in the plumbing system then you might be able to isolate it when you winterize the plumbing system. If the leak is within the pool structure then this is where you can get into serious problems...not just with the pool, but with the entire house and property as well as your neighbors house and property. Having a structural leak in a pool without the money to attend to the problem is a real issue. If this describes your situation then at least the best you can do is to learn more about what happens to a pool with a long term leak.
Swimming pools are not really meant to sit unused for extended periods of time. There are really no good answers as to how to do it well, and without any long term problems. Unlike a car which can be put in the garage, covered and up on jacks, a swimming pool is still outside exposed to the elements. It still needs to have water in it, and without filtration and chemical treatment the water is going to become a stinky, dark, mess.
Should you ever open the pool again in the future the risk is very real that it will take more work to get it up and running than if you just fixed the problems that it has now, especially when it comes to the costly plumbing system and interior surface.
If you can afford to keep the pool running with minimal filtration and chemical maintenance then this is by far the preferential option. If not, then at least following these simple steps you can minimize on the potential for damage, and make living near the pool reasonably safe and minimally disgusting.
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