Installing automatic pool covers requires a team effort, with the builder and subcontractors playing important roles.
“The pool cover installer should make sure they’re coordinating with whoever is building the pool,” says Mark Sheinman, president of Pennco Automatic Pool Covers in Havertown, Pa. “You need to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”
Here, specialists explain how all parties can contribute to a long-lasting automatic cover.
• Make everything square and follow the specifications.
The most important part of the automatic-cover installation rests in the pool builder’s hands. Unfortunately, it’s also where most mistakes are made.
“Most covers will work well for the first couple years, but after that, you’ll start to see issues if the pool is out of square or not constructed correctly,” Sheinman says. “The customer starts having little problems like, ‘It was out of alignment today,’ or, ‘It didn’t close evenly.’ You just won’t have consistency in operation.”
For the cover to glide smoothly through narrow tracks, several elements must be precisely aligned. To make this happen, builders need only to take a little extra time to make sure the pool is level, plumb and square — and built to the planned specifications.
And remember: No improvising on the job. If the pool plans need to change, coordinate with the cover installer so everyone is up to speed.
• Set up proper drainage.
Even the newest hydraulic cover systems and waterproof motors are not meant to sit submerged in water, but that’s exactly what will happen if the cover mechanism box floods out due to rain, pool overflow or ground water.
Some cover installers prefer when pool builders drain the cover box to daylight, with the pipes gradually sloping until they empty out to daylight at a lower level. This usually requires a gradual slope in the yard, but on flat sites, the pool sometimes can be slightly raised to create enough of an elevation differential.
“Then there’s very little to no chance that the mechanism enclosure could flood or clog up,” Sheinman says. “It’s the least expensive method, and extremely effective.”
On sites that won’t accommodate this scheme, there are other options. Some like to send the drainage to the sewer. Before doing this, make sure it is permitted by local code.
Another possibility is to dig a dry well with crushed stone on the bottom. However, be aware that dry wells probably will require some maintenance. For instance, when the soil doesn’t drain properly, it can get backed up and flood out the mechanism enclosure.
Some builders don’t like to tie this system in with the deck or backwash plumbing. If the other systems back up, they say, gravity will send water right into the lower-sitting cover box.
As with pools, larger pipe is generally better when plumbing a drain. Sheinman prefers 4-inch plumbing, so that leaves and other debris can move more freely. Three inches is just adequate, he says. If you go with 2-inch plumbing, though, the drain may have to be snaked more often than the homeowner likes.
In addition, use sweep 90s rather than hard corners — these make it easier to get a sewer snake through for unclogging.
Drains can be placed throughout the box, as you would on a deck. However, many
installers recommend placing them on the ends of the mechanism enclosure, so they’re more accessible to service techs for cleaning.
• Make stone lids service-friendly.
Builders often choose to integrate their cover boxes with the deck by covering them with stone or a cementitious material.
That’s forward-thinking in terms of design. But consider how this will affect service down the road. A single technician can only lift so much, which is why Nikk White recommends breaking the lid up into sections that max out at 50 pounds.
“If it weighs 75 pounds and you have to drag it off and pinch your fingers, [service techs] are going to ignore it and not do it,” says the service manager of Cascade Pools in Lake Oswego, Ore.
If possible, he may use hollow artificial rock to make for a lighter product.
When using a natural, flat material such as flagstone, keep the joints between the sections separated — do not grout them together.
“You have to break the grout to get the lid off,” White says. “Some masons say, ‘It’s silicone.’ But you still have to cut it, and then it’s going to look like heck. It’d be better not to put anything in there in the beginning.”
• Provide proper support for deck-mounted installations.
These applications — where tracks are placed on the deck to cover a freeform pool — will only work on a stable surface. Otherwise, the deck won’t properly hold the tracks.
Pavers that sit directly under the tracks or other cover components should not simply be installed on a sand bed.
“It’s important to either set the pavers in concrete, or have concrete between them to lock them into place,” Sheinman says. “When you do, you have a good, permanent foundation that’s not going to move over time. Otherwise, you’re going to have problems long-term with the installation.”