It seems as if now, more than ever, child safety is top of mind — and one of the best ways industry professionals can help pool owners achieve it is with safety covers.

“Thirty years ago, [a pool owner] didn’t have to have a cover. Now everybody wants one,” says Chad Parsons, cover supervisor at Neptune Swimming Pool Co. Because the firm likes to provide turnkey pools, nearly all of its projects include covers. Based in Clackamas, a suburb of Portland, Ore., the builder has been installing pool covers since 1974.

Here, we talk with pool professionals about challenging cover installations they have faced.

Meeting challenges

Case in point: The Neptune crew had their work cut out for them on one particular project — an oblong indoor pool measuring 24-by-75 feet. It took four men to unload the 400 pounds of cover fabric. Once the cover was on the pool, it was time to see it in action. However, a metal bracket holding up the pavers on the cover lid caused a glitch. As the cover deployed, the fabric caught on the bracket above the spool, and as the spool unfurled, it shredded 75 feet of fabric.

“We had to replace [the cover] not long after installing it. Not fun,” Parsons says.

A pool of similar proportions presented its own challenges in Champaign, Ill. As Sharon Pauza notes, it is “a gorgeous, 22-by-75-foot pool with a concrete bottom, stainless steel walls and tile border.” The biggest challenge here was the size, says Pauza, who is store manager and daughter of the founder of Cardinal Pool and Outdoor.

“The sheer length of the pool meant everything must be heavy-duty — the motor, ropes and type of cover material,” she adds. “There’s a lot of drag. You must keep it lubed and the track clean — do it once a month, and do maintenance during the season. It eliminates a lot of chance of the rope breaking. The maintenance is key.”

But for Tom Callahan, the true test comes when his company tackles any type of installation for the first time. The firm, Poolsafe, has been installing covers and fencing since 1983, when his father began the business. Its eight installers work in the areas around its Escondido, Calif., base.

“Our most challenging installation is, really, the first time we do something unusual — a dual level pool, our first vanishing-edge — new applications that we haven’t done before, that’s challenging,” says Callahan, vice president.

He notes that Poolsafe’s first dual level cover installation occurred about 10 years ago, “and no one had ever changed levels before, so it was the most challenging for us then.” As for covering vanishing-edge pools, he says it’s “a little intimidating at first, but once you figure out the procedures, it’s OK. … I like to say it’s kind of an art and a science.”

Factoring in the factors

Of course, various factors can affect cover installs and it really depends on the pool, but two common considerations are pool shape and obstructions.

Dave Kramer says Xenia, Ohio-based Knickerbocker Pools “... allows the cover to follow the curves. There would be a lot of wear on the cover if we put a lot of [it] on the deck,” he says, referring to rectangular covers that are wider on the sides and glide over the water along the deck track, regardless of the pool’s form. “I use the A-B plot program, which is a fairly simple software,“ adds Kramer, general manager.

Still, he notes that most of his company’s installs are on rectangular pools. Two or three times a year, they have to cover around a landscaped waterfall, Kramer says. But when a waterfall is in the mix, he says you must try to figure out how to still safely cover the pool. “You don’t want to allow access to the pool, but you don’t want to damage the waterfeature either, so we take measurements and triangulate. Now, if it’s a loose waterfall, where they’re going for the natural look and just stacking up rocks, I can’t secure anything to it. If the feature is concrete or there’s mortaring in the falls, you can use eye hooks and strings; you can attach to it because you have a stable surface.”

Parsons points out that if a pool has a waterfall, you must put in sensors so there’s no chance the falls will activate when the cover’s on the pool. Auto-stop sensors shut off or turn on waterfeatures when a cover is closing or opening.

Meanwhile, Pauza in Illinois says the area is flat, so there aren’t many issues. Still, she reports that pool shape can cause installation difficulties, though most recently, Cardinal Pool has set its sights on a project where dealing with obstructions will be a top priority. As she explains, “We have made a proposal [that] we think will succeed, for a 30-year-old oval pool with obstructions. It’s a new homeowner who wants to update. [The pool] doesn’t have a hinged ladder and railing that move, and it’s created a lot of drama.”

Sometimes deck surface considerations also might come into play because it will affect the drilling of holes for cover anchors. If, say, it’s paver or stone instead of concrete, you must be more careful and use newer drill bits so as not to affect the surface adversely, notes Kramer, whose company installs mostly anchored mesh safety covers, as well as automatic safety covers.

What if?

It’s one thing when your company builds the pool with a cover in mind. What happens if you’re asked to retrofit an existing pool, or repair a cover already on a pool?

Neptune will go out on calls to add covers to pools not of its own making. But not every pool is a candidate for a cover, Parsons says. He tells of a case where a homeowner wanted an automatic cover, but due to a narrow deck and rock wall, it was only possible to cover three-fourths of the pool. Parsons would have had to install a flap and anchor on the rest. If the homeowner neglected to latch the flap, the pool would be accessible to children and pets.

Neptune turned down the job for liability reasons.

Callahan agrees that if an owner decides to add a cover after the fact, it might not be possible due to problematic obstructions. “That being said, during construction, if they’ll involve us, the homeowner can have the cool construction features [and a cover].”

Workmanship issues may enter into the equation for retrofits, but they can still be do-able. “We do diagonal [measurements] and the like if we find things [on the pool] that aren’t square, and the manufacturer will make the cover to the shape of the pool,” Kramer notes.

But for a unique cover repair story, Neptune’s is hard to beat. Recently Parsons went out to work on a cover that has been on a pool since 1974. “It’s Model 1, the first ever made by Pool Cover Specialists,” he notes. “It’s worked 40 years! We updated the fabric, put in a new guide system, new pulley, new motor. It’s a rectangle pool, 17-by-38-feet.” He says it’s not easy to work on a system so old, though “it will probably be on the pool another 40 years — but I won’t be going out to update it!”