For pool service technicians who work in the frost belt, the change of seasons brings new chores. In the spring, that means opening pools.
The level of difficulty involved in that job has a lot to do with how well the previous fall’s pool closing was performed. If it was completed properly, the opening usually goes fairly easily. If not, it can be more of a chore.
Inspecting the cover
The first clue showing how easy a pool opening will be lies in the safety cover. Solid covers generally do a better job of keeping a pool pristine over the winter because they don’t allow any sunlight in the pool to nourish algae.
“With a solid cover pool, whatever your water looks like when you close it, that’s what it’s going to look like when you open it,” says Jim Mussallem, chief operating officer of Philadelphia’s Better Pool Management.
However, a disadvantage to these covers is that they can fill with water if there has been a lot of precipitation. “It takes time to pump them out,” says Matt Keim, a partner in Aqua Ducks Pool Service in Bethlehem, Pa. “You can get 800 pounds of wet leaves out of a pool if the homeowner didn’t keep up with it. We require that the cover be dry to avoid additional charges.”
Mesh covers don’t collect water, but they do allow material such as tannic acid from leaves to filter into the pool. The mesh can also allow sunlight to hit the water, and that can be a problem.
“We tell our customers with mesh covers, ‘If you don’t put an algaecide in by April 1st, you’re an April Fool.’ Sunlight will go through the mesh and cause algae growth and you can have a green swamp by the time the pool’s opened in May,” Mussallem says.
Cleaning the pool
Taking care of the algae and debris is a priority for Jim Patton, service manager of Illini Pools in Springfield, Ill. His crews vacuum pools with a service pump as soon as the cover is removed. “We find that all of the algae and debris settles on the bottom, so we get all that off the bottom and the walls first. We don’t want to run all that stuff through the customer’s filter,” he says.
The timing of the opening can also affect the condition of the pool. “A lot of people don’t like to open until a few weeks before Memorial Day,” says Terry Sabransky, a service tech for Leisure Unlimited in Cleveland. “We try to encourage earlier openings to have better water quality when you pull the cover off. We have a lot of pools that are quite green in the springtime, so there are usually a couple trips back to get the pool ready to use.”
Some companies even incentivize early openings. “The pools that we open early in the spring take a lot less time and use a lot less chemicals in March than they do in May because the algae hasn’t grown as much, so we charge less in March than we do in May and June,” Patton says. “There’s more labor required. It also gets our guys back to work earlier.”
Many service companies offer cleaning and storage of pool covers, and most will put them away on the customer’s property. Once the cover is removed and stored, it’s time to look at the equipment. Filters, heaters and pumps must be checked to ensure they’re working properly. For DE filters, it’s time to charge the system. With all pools, ensure that everything is watertight by running the pump either normally or through a siphon if the water level is low.
An opening is usually a two-person job for Baker Pool Service, near St. Louis. “One guy stays by the pool and pulls the winterizing plugs and puts in all the wall fittings,” lead service technician Joe Winkler saya. “If a pool has wall treatment, he’ll pull the eyebolts out. Those safety covers leave marks, so they scrub the deck.”
Meanwhile, the senior tech heads for the equipment pad. He’ll check the filters and the O rings. Pressure-side cleaners also get a look since it’s not uncommon for them to break down over the winter.
Cold weather can be particularly hard on heaters. They can be collection sites for debris, which needs to be removed, and sometimes even become home to small animals. In addition, moisture caused by accumulated snow can corrode electrical parts. A thorough inspection is necessary to make sure the heater is safe to operate.
For pools with sand filters, the system can be started in the backwash position to ensure that no debris gets into the pool.
Once the winter equipment has been removed and the equipment pad put in working order, it’s time to add chemicals. Some pools need to be shocked at this point; if it’s a vinyl pool, use a shock that won’t stain the liner. If it’s a salt pool, then add sufficient salt to the water.
If the pool’s not full, start the pump running off the main drain or install a siphon to ensure that everything’s functioning properly. Winkler’s company offers two levels of opening service; the basic one stops at this point and lets the customer fill the pool and complete the chemical regimen. The higher-level service includes two more visits, allowing the techs to open the skimmers and adjust the stabilizer and salt levels.
Pools with chlorine feeders have their own issues when they’re opened for the swimming season. Check valves must be inspected. “We bypass the feeders in the winter, so they need to be hooked back up,” Winkler says. “The fittings, both on the chlorinator and the saddle fittings on the pipe, tend to crack. The compression nuts that connect the tubing to the saddle fittings wear down a lot. Those are replaced as part of the service.” Sabransky’s company goes a step further, bringing salt cells into the shop after the fall closing. There the units are inspected, cleaned and held for installation in the spring.
Vinyl-liner pools present unique problems: In some cases, a rainy spring can cause the liner to pop off the bottom of the pool. “I have customers where every year we have to put a 1-inch tube behind the liner and pump the water out from behind the liner so it will seat again,” Sabransky says. In addition, some techs say that ice in the pool can start to oscillate in the wind, which can cause the liner bead to unhook, so service techs opening vinyl pools must come prepared with tools to reseat liner beads. That task can be a disadvantage to early openings. “Reseating the bead can be challenging, since the material’s not that pliable in early spring,” Patton says.
Now is also the time to check the pool lights and ensure that they’re working properly. Also take a look at the jets; make sure they’re not broken. If they were removed during the closing, replace them now. Many pool service companies note needed repairs during the fall closing procedure, but don’t perform the fixes at that time in case something breaks again in the cold.
At this point, check your customer’s records and make any repairs noted during the closing. When installing the ladders and rails, be sure to inspect the equipment to ensure that it’s in good condition. Then, take a deep breath. The busy season’s here.