Expert Swimming Pool Maintenance Advice
If you have moved to a new house and it has a swimming pool and you are not sure how to maintain it then this article is for you. Even if you have had a pool for a while you may pick up some tips.
There are two types of in-ground pool, a liner pool and a concrete pool. Concrete pools can be made of solid concrete or have blockwork walls on a concrete floor. Liner pools have a thin concrete shell against the earth with a vinyl waterproof lining laid upon it.
Firstly, here is a list of things your pool should have built in:
✓ A sump, to draw the water out of the bottom;
✓ Skimmers (one, two or maybe more);
✓ To draw water off the surface with a basket inside;
✓ Inlets where the water comes into the pool.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – In the Pool Room
In a separate pool room, you should have:
✓ A pump;
✓ A filter;
✓ Various shut off valves;
✓ Somewhere in the system, a heater.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – Other stuff
As well as this, you should have the following pool equipment:
✓ Winter Debris Cover;
✓ Solar (bubble) Cover;
✓ Flexible vacuum hose;
✓ Vacuum head;
✓ A telescopic pole;
✓ A leaf net;
✓ A thing for attaching your vacuum hose to the skimmer outlet;
✓A testing kit for your chemical levels;
✓ (Optional) An automatic pool cleaner.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – Pool Chemicals
✓ Stabilised Chlorine;
✓ Unstabilised (Shock) Chlorine;
✓ Dry Acid (and/or Soda Ash) (Optional);
✓ Algicide (Optional);
Swimming Pool Maintenance – Your Water
So, let’s start with the water in your pool. It is not a good idea to drain your pool. In the case of a liner pool you should never drain it. This is because the ground pressure on the outside of the pool is equalised by the pressure of the water on the inside. If the inside pressure is removed, the sides of the pool could collapse.
The sump draws water from the bottom of the pool and the skimmer sucks water from the surface of the pool dragging with it any floating debris which is then retained in the skimmer basket. The ideal water level is about half way up the opening of the skimmer. The Skimmer is also where you attach things that require suction such as your vacuum hose or an automatic pool cleaner. Typically, you will have a sort of clear plastic dome that replaces the ‘hat’ of the skimmer basket to which is attached your hose. A better way to get suction is to screw an adaptor to the outlet of the skimmer and push your hose on to that. But the latter method involves getting most of your arm wet.
About a foot or so under the water line will be the inlets for the water returning from the pump. These should have a female screw fitting on them for fixing pool cleaners that work on return flow. They may have an ‘eye’ fitting screwed in to increase the speed at which the water flows in to help circulation.
Between the inlets, the sump and the skimmer good circulation should be achieved to keep all areas of the water moving to the filter.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – The Pipes
Pipes, usually of 1.5 inch (40mm) diameter go from the sump and skimmers to your pool room. Here they should have a shut off valve on each pipe. If you have more than one skimmer they will probably have joined up to just one pipe by now. You can shut off the either or both of the pipes if you need to. Next should be the pump. Most pumps have a little bowl attached before the pump itself. In the bowl is another basket to sieve out any debris that could damage the pump. This is sealed off by a lid, usually transparent so you can watch the flow and the debris. The pump is just an electric motor that spins a sort of propellor which draws the water out of the pipes. Pumps can be temperamental little blighters.
In order to get going, they must be ‘primed’. This means that they must have some water in them to start off with.
To prime the pump, firstly, switch the shut off valves on both pipes to the closed position.
Then fill up the bowl with water to the top. Put the lid back on and switch the pump on and as quickly as possible turn the valve from the sump on. The water that was in the bowl disappears and creates a vacuum and (hopefully) the water in the sump pipe starts on its way to the pump. Wait about two minutes and, if no water at all has appeared, then in swift motion, turn off the valve and then the pump. Any water that may have been sucked up should stay in the pipes.
Re-prime the pump and follow the instructions above again. It may take 4 or 5 attempts. If you have some flow, even a trickle, be patient – the water is coming. When you have full bore flow, you can turn the skimmer valve on. The pump will go dry for a short time while the air in the skimmer pipes is sucked out then the flow should return. It is not a good idea to let the pump go too long with no water in it. The water helps to cool the pumps workings and with out water it can be damaged. Never take the strainer basket out and keep it nice and clean. Debris in the pump is very damaging and too much debris in the skimmer puts too much pressure on the pump.
Generally, you should keep the pump going for about 8 hours per day. If you have cheap electricity at night,, then that is the time to have it on. However, if your heater is a heat pump, then it’s not a bad idea to have the pump and heater on all the time with the thermostat set on the heat pump, to click in and out as needed.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – The Filter
From the pump the water goes to your filter. The typical filter is a big fibre glass bubble filled with sand with a glass top. There should be a pressure gauge and on the side or maybe the top of the filter is a Multi-Port Valve. This valve directs the water in any one of six directions. It is usually set to ‘Filter’. This directs the water to the top of the filter where is is pumped under pressure down through the sand in the filter. The sand is nothing special – just a course sand with a uniform grain size. Any dirt and foreign bodies in the water are trapped between the grains of sand. Every week or so, you should ‘backwash’ your filter to clear out the dirt from between the sand grains.
To backwash, firstly, switch off your pump and turn the multiport valve to ‘Backwash’. Now switch the pump back on. Never turn your multiport valve when the water is flowing. The water is now directed to the bottom of the sand and bubbles upwards through the sand, loosening it and picking up the dirt. Leave it backwashing for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep an eye on the glass top of the filter and you will see a grey or greenish muck being washed out through the waste outlet. Switch off the pump and set the multiport valve to ‘Rinse’. Switch on and rinse for about 10 seconds. This sends the water back the right way, down through the sand but out to waste. If you don’t clean the filter, the sand will fill up with dirt and the pump will find it harder to pump the water through and the pressure on the gauge will go up. Look at the pressure gauge frequently and, if you see a rise in the pressure, then backwash. If you don’t, you could damage your pump.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – More about the filter
Although the gap between sand particles is very small and the sand picks up most of the dirt in your pool, dead algae are very small and can dodge between the sand grains and back into the pool. This is why we sometimes have to help the filter out with a filter aid. The most common, and most effective, is the good old floc tablet or sparkle tab. The tablet goes in your skimmer, dissolves and then settles on your filter sand forming a layer on the top. It catches the dead algae on the way past and keeps them until you backwash. It is important not to leave the floc layer in too long, or the pressure can build up and burst through the layer and all the algae goes back in the pool.
Always backwash at least every 48 hours after putting floc tabs in. Many people think that if they can’t get the green colour out of their pool, it must be that the filter is not working properly. They often think they need new filter sand because theirs is worn out. This is highly unlikely. However, if you mention it to most local pool retailers, they will agree with you and hasten on round and put new sand in your filter and charge you lots of money. If you can’t get the green colour out of your pool, 99 times out of 100 it is because you haven’t killed the algae and as fast as you are filtering them out and they are multiplying in your pool. They must be dead before you filter them.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – The Heater
Next in line for the filtered water is the heater. There are many types of heater and each has its own way of heating and problems that come with it. A brief description of the main types follows.
The gas and oil swimming pool heaters work by burning the fuel to heat the water as it passes through special pipes in the unit.
Electric heaters work by passing the water over a heating element not unlike a kettle.
Heat Pumps are refrigerators in reverse – they use a relatively small amount of electricity to compress a gas which then expands and draws heat from the air to heat the water. They are an efficient way to heat water, but, they work best when you don’t need them, i.e. when it is hot, and most inefficiently when you need them most, i.e. when it is cold.
The same applies to solar heating, which mostly consists of small bore black rubber piping that soaks up the heat from the sun. As always, there is a trade off to be had with heaters. The heat pumps cost the most up front, but are cheap to run when it’s warm.
The gas and oil heaters are cheaper, but more expensive to run – they are best in cold weather though.
Electric are the cheapest to install, but most costly for heat.
Solar is cheap always round but only work well when the sun is out.
Swimming Pool Maintenance – Conclusion
If you are new to pool ownership, we hope this article has helped. All the equipment and chemicals may look daunting at first but you soon get the hang of it. With the help of M Pools & Landscapes it is hoped you will always have clear water and never get ripped off by unscrupulous pool retailers again.
SPATA have a really helpful factsheet on pool ownership and maintenance advice – click here to take a look.