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Maintenance: It’s time to get your pool in shape for summer swimmers

Posted: May 14, 2010 10:45 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Summer is poised to strike, and a dip in a clean, well-maintained pool should be refreshing, not a search for the "Swamp Thing."

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With the warmer weather these days, you are probably venturing outside a bit more - and maybe even considering taking a dip in the pool. But if a winter's neglect has your pool appearing more comfortable for "Swamp Thing" than swimming, it's time for a little maintenance.

"The most common problem is a pool neglected over winter, and it's green," said Ben Honadel, founder of Pools by Ben. "At that point, you have to drain the pool, fill it again and add new chemicals. This is much more expensive than just maintaining it over winter." And that green water can ruin the filter and the pump.

Pool maintenance
Garnered from his years of experience in pool maintenance and repair, Honadel offered some recommendations for getting your pool ready for summer.

"Check for loose wiring in the equipment, just common sense things," Honadel said. "Does something look broken?"

And check your pool heater. "Sometimes it needs service after winter," he said. "Don't wait until the Friday before a holiday to turn the heater on."

Be sure debris has not accumulated around your pool pump, Honadel noted. "If leaves collect around the motor it can overheat." Clean things out and it will last longer.

"Your filter should be cleaned," he said. This is usually done every six months. Clean it before hot weather to be sure everything is ready and it doesn't need repair.

Honadel said if you see algae in the pool water - clean the filter. Algae clogs the filter. Even when the water is clean there could be algae collected in the filter. And even if the algae has been killed by chlorine, it still clogs the filter - and the dead algae is a source of nitrogen that encourages new algae to grow.

"With a clean pool and filter, everything works much better," he said.

He said a dirty pool filter uses nearly 20-percent more electricity than a clean one.

If you are considering buying a new filter, Honadel recommends buying the largest one you can. The average size filter most people use has 60 square feet of cleaning surface. But new, larger filters offer up to 100 square feet of cleaning surface. At an increase in price of only about $200 you get nearly twice the filtering capacity. This allows the filter to operate longer between cleanings, filter better and saves on energy costs.

"It's almost like having two filters," Honadel said.

Keep the water in your pool at the proper level. If you let it get low, your pump could run dry and burn out. Surprisingly, topping off your pool is not that water intensive.

"Year-round, a pool uses less water than a lawn of similar size," Honadel said.

Honadel recommends you keep your pool at your favored temperature throughout the swimming season - rather than heating up the water just before you intend to swim.

"If you only swim on weekends, and you turn on your heater on Friday and turn it off on Monday, you will actually use twice as much gas than if you heat it once and maintain the temperature," he said.

He noted it's the same principle to follow with home air conditioning.

Honadel is not a big fan of bubble covers. While they do insulate somewhat, they are hard to pull off and put back on, and you usually end up dumping dirt into the pool. He said most homeowners end up rolling the covers into a ball and later throwing them away.

"Practically speaking, they don't work," he said.

One of the changes Honadel is seeing in the industry is the increased use of "robot cleaners." These are powered by electric motors.

"You plug it in, put it in the pool. It moves around, collecting leaves and larger debris. Because the motor is right there in the water it is more energy efficient," he said.

At about $500, a robot cleaner costs about the same as an old-style suction cleaner, but is much more efficient at cleaning, said Honadel.

Pool chemicals
If you have a single-speed pump, don't put chlorine tablets in the skimmer. Honadel said this is a common and costly mistake (and one a good pool man would never make).

When the pump is off, the tablets will keep dissolving in the skimmer, and the trapped water will become very acidic and extremely high in chlorine.

When the pump does come on this caustic mix damages pipes, the skimmer, the pump, the filter and the heater.

"You'd be surprised at the number of homeowners who leave tablets in the skimmer. It's extremely corrosive, a very expensive mistake," Honadel said.

For the same reason he recommends homeowners not use a tablet chlorinator, even if your system has one built in.

Make sure your water chemistry is balanced correctly. "The homeowner can take a test sample to a pool store. They'll test it for free and tell you what to do to balance it," Honadel said.

However, he noted there is a new and easier way to do things. "They have a new way of testing pool water, using little test strips that match the colors on the side of the bottle.

These test the chlorine, pH, hardness and the cyanuric acid content (the "conditioner")," he said. "Now you just dip and look. You can test the water much easier and more accurately."

Pool safety
Honadel recommends you perform a safety check around your pool. Make sure your gates around the backyard close and latch automatically.

Not only will this keep your dog from escaping, it will prevent small children from wandering in.

"Check all the drain covers. If they are missing or broken, that's a suction hazard," Honadel said. And consider special enhanced-safety drain covers, which prevent hair entanglement and body entrapment.

Honadel said as of Jan. 1, "California adopted the federal law that requires all commercial pools to be brought into compliance (regarding suction hazards)." And he said this also covers new construction of private pools. "In the future it will probably be required on all private pools."

Hire a pool technician
If you use a quality pool service, your pool technician will take care of all aspects of your pool.

"The average cost for pool service is around $100 to $105 per month," Honadel said. "If the homeowner does the maintenance himself, he will spend $40 to $50 per month on chemicals - and do all the labor."

When it comes to balancing your pool's chemistry the "labor" can be quite complex. Homeowners don't realize this.

"A good service coming once a week gets it dialed in, really nice," Honadel said. "The homeowner sees this and thinks it's easy."

But homeowners often let things get out of balance - and that's where mistakes get made.

By dumping chemicals into the water to catch up, the homeowner can create a "toxic soup" that can damage the pool and equipment.

Honadel recommended homeowners check a few things before hiring someone to service your pool.

"Do they have an L.A. County Health Department license?" Honadel said. The license is not required for residential pools, but it shows that a pool service knows what it's doing.

"They should have liability insurance," Honadel said. "The most common claim is water damage (to neighbors) caused by leaving a hose running. It always seems to do damage to their $100,000 Persian carpet." And he added, "Leaving a hose on is so preventable, and it can be very expensive."

"If they do repairs, they are supposed to have a swimming pool contractor's license," Honadel said. "Ask if they do a background check. All my techs have passed a background check. And my techs also have auto insurance."

He noted you might meet the owner of the pool maintenance company when you hire the company, but then the owner sends out workers you don't know. "It's better to know who is coming to your house."

Qualifying your pool service with these questions, Honadel said, "Is the difference between somebody who is doing it as a profession and (those who are) not."

For more information visit, e-mail or call (661) 263-7503.


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