A pool is one of the most valuable features of any home and keeping it in top condition is important throughout the year. René Hart reveals the best way to maintain your pool through winter, and prepare it for summer.
Thanks to advances in pool covers, as well as solar and gas heating solutions, today’s pool owners have the luxury of extending their swimming season as long as they wish, without needing to spend too much extra time or money. However, for most of us, our swimming season remains tied to the natural seasons, and during winter our pools remain covered and unused.
As the cooler weather approaches, don’t make the mistake of completely forgetting about your pool; it can end up costing you money!
With some simple pool maintenance through autumn and winter, you can almost be guaranteed of a fresh, clean pool by the time the warm weather returns.
Queensland Pool + Outdoor Design speaks with Matt Ranieri, the owner of Narellan Pools Sydney City and Northern Sydney, and Bradley Hamilton, the sales manager for Cooke Industries, about the essential steps you should take during winter and in the lead-up to the warmer months to keep your pool in tip-top shape all year round.
Winter presents a brand new set of challenges for maintaining your pool, but the work you put in during the chilly ‘off’ season will pay big dividends when you next decide to crack it open for a dip.
“Maintaining healthy pool water during the winter season will ensure your pool is ready to be enjoyed at the first sight of sun,” says Hamilton. “Also remember that maintenance is cheaper than repairs. If you let your pool go green during winter, you will pay much more for chemical treatments when trying to ‘bring it back’ at the start of the season.”
Before you put away your bathing suit at the end of summer and call it a day, you’ll need to prepare your pool for the colder months. Here are some handy tips for ‘winterising’ your pool so it won’t suffer any damage from the cold.
Leaving your swimming pool exposed to the elements will mean it needs cleaning more regularly, which is why it can be wise to invest in a cover. Covering your pool will help keep leaves and other organic material out, which means less cleaning for you and less food for algae and bugs to thrive on. Further, a cover will protect your pool from adverse weather conditions.
“Depending on the style chosen, a cover can provide a range of benefits such as minimising water evaporation, retaining heat, and reducing the volume of debris that finds its way into the pool,” says Hamilton. “Some covers are
even made solid so they add a safety aspect to their design.”
By retaining heat, a pool cover is a convenient and cost-effective way to keep the water ready for use. “If you have an all-year-round heating system, the blanket will assist in keeping the heat in the pool and bringing the water up to the desired temperature,” says Ranieri. “This means it will cost less to heat the pool and keep it heated.”
Let’s Get Physical
“There are two types of clean – chemically clean and physically clean,” says Hamilton. “Both rely on each other. By keeping the pool chemically balanced, the water stays fresh, healthy and free of bacteria. By keeping the pool free of debris, not only is the water more visually appealing, but chemical costs are reduced.”
When winter arrives, make sure all surfaces of the pool are scrubbed with a broom or brush to remove any algae growth or build-up from the warmer summer months, and then remove all the debris and organic material you dislodged while scrubbing.
“Removing debris from the floor can be done a few ways, depending on the pool,” says Hamilton. “You can manually vacuum the pool, use suction cleaners that plug into the skimmer box, rely on robotic cleaners that you lift in and out of the pool, and install an in-floor cleaning system during construction for a year-round solution.”
Make sure you remove any organic matter that has fallen into the pool with a net and empty the pump baskets regularly. “The less debris, the easier the pool will be to maintain,” says Hamilton. “Regularly emptying the skimmer and pump baskets and removing settled debris from the pool floor will ensure the filtration and sanitation systems perform more efficiently.”
Testing your pool water and ensuring it is safe to swim in is a vital part of maintaining your pool, even in winter. “Testing the water at your local pool shop is essential throughout winter to identify any irregularities before they become an issue,” says Hamilton.
It’s important to monitor the pH balance not only to ensure the water is safe, but also to keep it looking aesthetically pleasing. The Australian standard for pH levels is 7.0 to 7.8, with 7.4 being ideal. If you leave your pool untreated, bacteria and other organisms will begin to develop in the water, which will turn it cloudy and affect the skin and eyes of swimmers.
“When the water chemistry is correct and balanced, the pool is safe to use and the chlorine is effective at removing bacteria and algae,” says Ranieri. “I would usually recommend testing the water fortnightly in winter. However, if you are using the pool frequently or experience heavy rain, or if a lot of plant matter finds its way into the pool in a short space of time, you may want to test more regularly.”
“Alkalinity or buffer is a way of keeping pH levels more stable,” says Hamilton. “Low alkalinity can lead to fluctuating pH levels, and varying pH levels can have an effect on a sanitiser’s ability to keep the pool healthy. High or low pH levels can also create issues with your pool’s surface, cause skin irritations and sore eyes, and affect
warranties on some pool components. Most simple test kits provide a reasonable indication of the pH and alkalinity levels, but your local pool shop would need to perform a test to obtain a precise measurement.”
It’s important to give your pool’s filter a good clean and thorough backwash before winter. “If your filter is not cleaned, it will eventually fill up with so much debris that it will reduce the flow of water in the pool and then eventually stop the flow [altogether],” says Ranieri. “When this happens, the filter will not be removing debris from the water or sanitising your pool by removing algae and bacteria. In this situation, your pump can run dry, overheat and break, in which case it will need to be repaired or replaced.”
Whatever you do, don’t ever switch the pool off completely. If there’s one thing algae loves almost as much as an under-chlorinated pool, it’s stagnant water. Continue to backwash and rinse your pool once a week to prevent a buildup of dirt.
“Regardless of the time of year, your pool’s filter is catching all the nasties you’re trying to keep out of the water,” says Hamilton. “Dirt, pollen, bugs and dust are just some of the things your filter is catching every day. By cleaning the filter frequently you remove these contaminants from the cycle and reduce your chemical requirements.”
As the need for filtration isn’t as high over winter as it is during the warmer months, you can reduce your filtration system’s run time to just a few hours per day. This will ensure the pool stays clean while it is covered up.
“Every backyard is different and required filtration varies from pool to pool,” says
Hamilton. “It’s important that every pool is kept operating throughout winter to maintain good circulation. As a general rule, for a standard-size pool, four hours of pump time per day is [required as] a minimum. Remember, maintenance is always cheaper than repairs.”
Keep It Up
Once you’ve completed your preparation for winter, it’s important that you stick to a weekly maintenance schedule even when you’re not
using the pool. This involves doing a visual inspection to make sure all your equipment is working properly, checking the water level and topping up if necessary, emptying the skimmer basket, and testing your chlorine and pH levels.
“Maintenance requirements are site specific and influenced by many factors, including the debris load, pool equipment and operating hours,” says Hamilton.
Caring for a plunge pool with a cover in a tree-less yard might be as simple as conducting a water test and emptying the basket once a month, whereas a large pool surrounded by deciduous trees might need the basket emptied weekly.
Although maintenance may seem like a hassle, setting aside time will be well worth it later on in the life of your pool. It will also greatly reduce the amount of work you will have to do during spring when you want to get your pool ready for use again.
“Visually, your pool can be a great feature of your home in winter when you aren’t using it, so keep up maintenance regularly; check and empty the skimmer box, use an automatic or manual cleaner for the floors and walls, monitor the water chemistry, and keep your filter and pump baskets clean,” advises Ranieri.
When the warmer months approach, it’s time to wake the pool from its winter hibernation. If you’ve maintained the water properly during
winter, preparing it for spring and summer should be a breeze.
“By maintaining its health throughout winter, you can rest assured your pool will be ready to go when the summer weather arrives,” says Hamilton. Here are some ideas for preparing your pool so your family can safely enjoy the water in the warmer months.
First things first, you’ll need to remove the cover to gain access to your pool. Make sure that all the leaves, dust and other debris that’s accumulated on the cover are not going to end up inside your pool. The cover will have protected your pool from most of the debris, but the chances you’ll have to skim the water, and vacuum the dirt, small debris particles, sand and algae before using your pool are high.
Also ensure that you clean out the baskets and wash the filter. “These need to be checked and cleaned often to ensure optimum water flow,” says Ranieri. “The pressure gauge on the filter will let you know when it needs cleaning. The same goes for the pump; if not cleaned regularly, it will affect the water flow.”
“The pump is the heart of a pool; it circulates the water through the filtration, sanitation, heating and cleaning equipment,” says Hamilton. “By making sure the pump basket is empty and the pump itself is operating correctly, you ensure it can complete its job efficiently and effectively. The pressure gauge on the filter is an indication of water flow through the pool system. Low pressure may be due to a pump issue, blockage in the suction line or low water level. High pressure may be an indication that the filter needs to be cleaned or there is a blockage on the return side of the system.”
Top It Up
Maintaining correct water height is crucial to the successful operation of the pool’s circulation system. “If your water level is too high, then your skimmer box cannot skim effectively as it won’t be sucking in the surface water, where the majority of debris sits when it enters the pool,” says Ranieri. “If your water level is too low, your skimmer won’t suck in any water at all, which means your pump may break, which would cause loss of filtration and sanitation.”
“Correct water height is even more crucial with the increasing popularity of wet-deck and negative-edge pools because they rely on a balance tank, which is more susceptible to running dry,” says Hamilton. “Maintaining water levels can be time consuming, but it can be made easy with an automatic leveller such as our Australian-made Water Witch.”
Once you’ve filled the pool back up, let the water circulate for at least eight hours before swimming so the new and old water can combine.
Chemical balance is the most crucial part of preparing your pool for summer. Before you dive-bomb into your backyard aquatic splendour on the first sunny day, you need to make sure the water is safe to swim in.
“The demands on filtration and chemicals will increase as the temperature rises and the pool is used more frequently,” says Hamilton. “The simple solution is to test your water more frequently and increase the running hours so you can enjoy your pool at any time!”
These days, you can buy test kits or strips to monitor the water’s chemical balance yourself,or you can take a sample to your local pool-maintenance professionals.
“For convenience and peace of mind if you are new to looking after a pool, hiring a qualified technician to check over your pool at the change of each season is a good idea, until you’re comfortable and confident enough to look after it on your own,” says Ranieri.
Maintenance Is Key
After you’ve made a solid effort to bring your pool up to scratch for the swimming season, it should be easy to maintain for the rest of the summer.
“Stay on top of your maintenance, and your pool will always look beautiful,” says Ranieri. “You will take pride in it and get the most amount of enjoyment out of it.”
Continue to remove debris with a net, vacuum the pool surfaces, clean the filter and test the water balance regularly. Thankfully, with the variety of pool equipment out there today, your workload can be significantly decreased as long as you invest in high-quality products.
“Pool maintenance needn’t be a time consuming and costly burden,” says Hamilton. “By performing small tasks more frequently, you eliminate the need for big clean ups when you should be enjoying your pool. With advances in technology, water sanitation is more precise, variable-speed pumps can reduce running costs, and automated cleaning systems will make the entire process easier for you. All of these options can assist in creating a positive [pool-ownership] experience, and you’ll always have a pool that’s ready to use whenever you are.”
All the above steps lead to this one moment – the joy of removing your pool cover on a hot summer’s day, jumping in, and letting the cool water wash off the stress of the colder months gone by.