It’s clear that time has been on the industry’s side when it comes to both the safety and automatic cover categories.
Over the years, the pool and spa professionals have become increasingly comfortable with the measuring and installation of these products.
“We’re seeing a lot less mistakes during installation than we used to,” says Barry Greenwald, vice president of sales for Cover Pools, a division of Vista, Calif.-based Zodiac Pool Systems. “Years ago there were a lot more mistakes, but builders have become familiar with putting covers in. Each year seems to get better and better.”
However, there is always room for improvement. Proper installation of these products is required to provide the safety they promise. And as the industry continues finding ways to incorporate covers on increasingly complicated waterscapes, more skill is needed.
Here, producers share some of the most commonly made mistakes made when measuring or installing both types of covers and offer advice for how to avoid them.
Not allowing the proper overlap
Those who don’t know how a safety cover works may not understand why the measurements must be precise, figuring that all should be well as long as the fabric covers the pool.
But the product actually should mimic the pool’s contours. “[Installers] need to make sure they measure the pool correctly and order the cover to fit the pool, not just try to put a large rectangle on a freeform or just a bigger cover over the pool,” says Matt Morgan, president of Pool Builders Supply in Charlotte, N.C.
Other times, professionals set the cover crookedly, so the overlap on the deck is smaller on one side of the pool and a larger on the other. Proper overlap is key to the product’s safety. “[If the] cover’s sold as a safety cover, that means it has to have the proper overhang. It has to be secure to make sure a kid doesn’t fall through,” says Hans Van Vrill, a representative at Pegasus Products in Branchburg, N.J.
Overlap also affects the cover’s longevity. Most producers place 18-to-24-inch-wide chafing strips around the cover’s perimeter to account for the dimensions of the expected overlap. This protects the fabric from wear caused by rubbing against the hardscape.
By ordering the cover in the wrong shape or misaligning it so that the overlap is too great on one side, professionals unnecessarily expose some fabric to the deck, which increases wear and tear. “[That is] really doing a disservice to the end user, because rather than the cover lasting 12 to 15 years, in the most extreme case it may only last three years,” says Mike Preuit, national sales manager at CoverLogix, a division of Plastimayd, LLC, in Oregon City, Ore.
Mistakes in implementing the A-B method
The method for measuring free-form covers is a bit complex, and some professionals don’t get this phase completely right.
Some may not place the triangulation stakes the right distance from the pool or from each other. “It needs to be at least 3 feet away from the waterline at any point on that line, or the drawing will be distorted,” says Ron Schults, vice president of sales with Tara Manufacturing in Owens Cross Roads, Ala. “It has to be very accurate and precise.”
Others have even supplied the A measurements where the B’s should go and vice versa. If one is facing the pool, the A point must always be to the left and B to the right. “When the numbers are flipped, they’re going to be upside down, so therefore the cover’s going to be upside down,” says Richard Rayner, president of Rayner Covering Systems Inc. in South Elgin, Ill.
Installing incorrectly around obstructions
When placing covers around such components as waterfeatures and raised walls, the goal often is to impose the least possible intrusion. Nobody wants to see anchors set in their beautiful waterfall, for instance.
To get around this, installers will support parts of the cover on a cable system that wraps around raised elements and is less visually disruptive. However, professionals can get carried away with this technique, because it looks better and seems to save time. But it could compromise safety and maintenance.
“If you’re using cable to be a lazy way out of [the job], you’re going to find gapping around the walls where debris is going to get in, or it could be even worse where it becomes a safety hazard,” says John Ciniglio, president of Meyco Products in Melville, N.Y. “That gap could probably be 4 inches.”
Additionally, manufacturers report projects where the covers sit too high off an obstruction. For an installer, it can be hard to reach around a bulky waterfall and access the right spot from deck level. “A good installer will float out in the pool with a raft and drill into the wall,” Ciniglio says. “Other installers would go on top of that 3-foot wall, hang down and drill as far as their arm could reach, and now the cover is installed 2 feet above water level, when it’s designed to be at water level.”
This causes two problems: First, placing the cover too high uses up some of the fabric, so it ultimately will be hard to fit the cover over the rest of the pool. Secondly, the fabric is more likely to fail when carrying heavy snow loads.
While placing the cover, always begin with the obstacles to ensure a snug fit around those elements. There’s no overlap here and, therefore, very little room for error. With that complete, the installer can proceed by setting the remaining straps in the traditional order: Form a “plus sign” by anchoring the middle straps going in either direction for stability, then set the others.
Not allowing room to stretch
Over time, gravity and the weight of snowfall causes cover fabric to stretch. Sometimes installers don’t build in the right tension to accommodate this. They might set the anchors too close to the cover or neglect to properly adjust the spring tension.
Anchors should be placed 30- to 34 inches from the pool’s edge, says Leigh Hinsperger, Canadian sales and marketing manager for Toronto-based HPI Yard Guard. This allows 12 inches for overlap, 6 inches of strap, then another 6 inches for the spring. In addition to that, there should be some extra space so installers can pull tight. “If the cover stretches a little bit over the course of eight or nine years carrying a couple pounds of snow and ice, and you’ve got nowhere to go on that strap, you’re kind of committed to that area and might not be able to get a good pull on it,” Hinsperger says.
As for the springs, their tension should be adjusted tightly enough so that the cover remains taut even after stretching a bit. “Now that they’re exposed to the elements and being pulled taut for the first time, they’re going to stretch up to two years’ worth of time,” says Tim Genthner, a technical customer service and sales representative for Merlin Industries in Deer Park, N.Y. “During the initial install, I don’t collapse the springs all the way, but I put a good 75 to 80 percent tension on them.”
Not squaring up the pool or vault
More than anything else, the success of automatic covers rests on precise measurements. The slightest kink could disrupt the cover from gliding open or closed. Because of this, the successful installation of an automatic cover must begin before the product even reaches the site — namely, in the precise construction of the pool and cover vault.
This is where most mistakes are made, manufacturers report. “I’ve seen some that are banana-shaped, where they bowed,” says Alan Cooper, a sales representative for Pool Cover Specialists in West Jordan, Utah. “You can’t see so much with the eye, but once you put a straight piece of aluminum next to it, you can tell.”
Take the time at every stage to make sure the measurements are absolutely right, especially the width. “Everything is based on the width dimension — the cover drum, the lead edge bar, the cover,” says Tom Dankel, vice president of Aquamatic Cover Systems in Gilroy, Calif.
Making masonry lids too bulky
For the especially design conscious, one of the most exciting developments to arrive has been cover-lid trays that accommodate stone, concrete or other materials to match the deck, making the cover vault nearly undetectable.
More builders have taken advantage of this option, but it requires a bit of forethought. The masonry should be at the same elevation as the deck. However, the trays and the brackets supporting them cannot sit so low that they interfere with the cover’s ability to spool.
If the masonry used to cover the lid is too thick, the trays and brackets can be placed too low. The sum of all the lid components should be no thicker than the coping, Dankel says.
Also, keep the masonry pieces small and lightweight enough that someone can reasonably be expected to lift them. Don’t just think in terms of weight — also avoid awkward shapes such as long rectangles.
Positioning the mechanism incorrectly
The mechanism/pulley assembly should be positioned level with the track. This imposes the least amount of work on the system.
“If it’s too low, it creates a drag on the cover as it goes up and into the pool,” Cooper says. “Either the motor or the cover can wear prematurely.” This happens because the fabric must travel higher to go from the drum in the vault to the tracks. To attain a lower break angle, the mechanism should sit as close to track level as possible.
Additionally, it should be centered between the tracks. If not, the cover won’t open and close correctly. “One side’s going to roll up bigger and it will cause an uneven roll,” says Kevin Losee, product director over cover products for Latham Pool Products’ Cover Star division, based in Lindon, Utah. “Occasionally we learn of cases where the cover is struggling to operate.”
Cutting the track or ropes too short
For many of the systems out there, installers must cut the ropes and tracks to fit the project. Installers have been known to cut both too short.
On the rope side, having too little means the cover can’t open all the way. To avoid this, Cooper suggests cutting when the cover is open. “My rule of thumb is to run your ropes through all the pulleys, make sure the cover’s all the way [open] and bring it up 4-1/2 feet,” he says. “That gives you enough rope to wrap around the reels to get a good bite.”
Always err on the side of having too much rope rather than not enough. It’s just a little more to spool around the reel.
Cutting the track too short also has its consequences. On some systems, the tracks must tie the guide and end-of-track mounting plate together. This can’t occur if the track is too short. Consult manufacturer instructions. Some specify how far into the vault the tracks should go. For some Aquamatic products, for instance, the tracks should go into the pit 1 inch. This is far enough to join the tracks with the guide and end-of-track mounting plate, without creating too sharp an angle as the fabric spools from the roller. “If you create too sharp an angle back down to the cover drum, you will prematurely wear the track guides and you could prematurely wear the edging of the cover,” Dankel says. “You’re putting [on] more stress, more load.”