Ah, Spring. The time of year when the weather heats up, the days grow longer, and algae blooms in pool water faster than you can say Daylight Savings Time. Yes, it’s time to pull back those winter pool covers, convince yourself that last year’s swimsuit is still going to fit, and get to work opening your pool!
Even if you cut a few corners, clearing up your pool water should be a simple process that most importantly requires a little patience. Overcompensating with chemicals, hastily readying pool equipment and other little details that are often overlooked daydreaming about the long, glorious summer months that lie ahead.
It happens – here are the most common mistakes made when opening your pool.
1. Not Cleaning Your Pool Deck FIRST
The first pool-opening mistake you can make actually doesn’t have anything to do with your pool water; it starts on the outside with your pool deck. Clear the deck of the 6 months of debris that collected around your pool so that it not only doesn’t end up in your pool, but it also won’t dirty-up the pool cover you are about to clean.
2. Not Cleaning Your Pool Cover
I know I’m guilty of it – in the midst of wrangling your winter cover or safety cover off of your pool you realize when it’s already too late that you just compounded your work because all of the leaves and debris that were atop the cover are now floating gracefully in your pool water.
I know you just cleaned your deck – so it will be much easier to fold and clean your cover after it’s been removed and splayed out flat on the ground. Ideally, it should only take a few minutes to clean the cover as you fold it, using a hose and brush on solid covers, or leaf blower for mesh covers.
Be mindful of where you store your cover as well. I had a family of adorable field mice burrow their way through my ever-so-neatly-folded pool cover last winter and had to patch it several times over. It may have been a single tunnel to the mice, but it was actually a dozen holes all over the cover once unfolded. Try to hang a safety cover bag in your garage or inside your house if possible. Mice are a pool cover’s second worst enemy.
3. Missing the Opportunity to Raise Water Level
Once you start removing the cover, take the time to refill your pool water levels while you are working. Don’t get all the way to the point where you are ready to fire up the pump only to realize the water line is too low for the skimmer. You were on a roll too and it’s too early to take lunch while the water refills. Depending on the water level, you may move-up topping off your pool water level to Step 1.
4. Not Cleaning Cover Water Bags
If you use water bags on a solid pool cover, or to close safety cover gaps, they are usually gross and slimy after the long off-season. In order to get a few more seasons out of them, lay them all out on a sloped surface like a driveway, and hose and scrub them clean. Let them dry before rolling or folding them up, and store them in a safe location for next year. You can patch any holes with a vinyl patch kit.
5. Missing a Safety Cover Anchor
If you have a safety pool cover you may have fallen victim to stubbing your foot on a rogue, forgotten cover deck anchor. After you’ve allen-wrenched your way around the perimeter of your pool and screwed all the anchors back into their homes to hibernate for the summer, do a double-check. Odds are, you’ll find one or two brass anchors that were missed, or a few that require a little more elbow grease to turn them down. Better to do it now, than for them to find you later.
6. Forgetting To Pull All of the Pool Plugs
Forgetting to pull your winter freeze plugs can potentially damage your plumbing when you are finally ready to fire-up your pump and filter. Be sure to do a quick recount, and get all plugs from your pool skimmer, pool returns, spa jets, cleaner line, whatever lines were plugged in the fall.
7. Not Opening All of the Valves
This is another easy-to-forget pool opening mistake and a great way to damage your system and possibly injure yourself. Make sure all of the valves are open so that your pump isn’t exerting itself in vain as you scratch your head and try to figure out why the pump isn’t priming, or why the filter lid just blew 20 ft. into the air.
8. Not Ready For Prime Time
If your pump has a basket with a locking tab inside, lock it into place and if you removed the drain plugs on your pump be sure to tightly secure them back into place. Remove any old Teflon tape, and replace with new. Also make sure to clean (with a rag) and lubricate (with Teflon pool lube), the pump lid o-ring, and tighten down the lid very snugly after filling the pump with water.
9. Forgetting the Filter Details
Before turning on your pump for the week (we’ll get to that part), you will need to put the pressure gauge and drain plug or cap back into place. Hopefully, you stored these and other easily misplaced filter parts somewhere safe last Fall. Be sure to check the filter tank clamp, to be sure that it is fully tightened, and completely covering both tank halves.
If your filter has a multiport valve, set the valve to the “Waste” setting, and roll out your backwash hose. Starting-up the pump on waste, and letting it run for a minute, will clear out antifreeze, worms, dirt and other slimy gunk. Switch to the “Filter” setting afterwards, and for DE filters, add the DE powder immediately, through the skimmer. Open the air bleeder valve on top of the filter tank to bleed off any air trapped in the filter.
Once the pump is primed, and the water is flowing freely on the “Filter” valve setting, make a note of the PSI on the pressure gauge. This will help you benchmark the optimal running pressure so you know when to backwash or if you are losing pressure. With a permanent marker, you can write the PSI on the filter tank, or mark directly on the gauge dial.
10. Not Running the Filter as Long As It Takes
You might not want to hear it, but it’s normal to leave your pool filter system running 24/7 until the water has cleared. It may cost a few more energy dollars, but it won’t blow-up, I promise you! You will save money on chemicals and time clearing the pool by letting the system run continuously for a few days. It shouldn’t take much more than that, for most filter systems. Unless, of course, your water chemistry and sanitation is lacking…
11. Not Adjusting the pH and Alkalinity FIRST
We probably could dedicate an entire blog post to the pool opening chemical mistakes one can make. The biggest mistake is not balancing your pH and alkalinity first. I know it’s probably the one thing you’ve heard the most: pH levels should be 7.2 to 7.6, and the total Alkalinity is best in the 80-120 ppm range. Having your pH a little on the low side 7.2-7.4, will help your chlorine shock work more effectively as well.
12. Ignoring Calcium Levels and Cyanuric Acid Levels
Even if your pH and alkalinity levels are balanced perfectly, your pool water quality will suffer without the proper levels of cyanuric acid also known as stabilizer and conditioner. The level should be between 30-50 ppm and if your pool is freshly filled, add 3 lbs per 10,000 gallons to raise the level. One treatment in spring, if cyanuric acid level is low, is usually all that is needed. If too high, treat with Bio-Active CYA Reducer.
Ignoring your calcium levels can lead to stubbornly cloudy water, staining, and scale. The recommended calcium range is 150-400 ppm. Again, after adjusting the calcium hardness initially, you shouldn’t have to be concerned with it again for the rest of the season.
13. Adding all the Chemicals at the Same Time
Once all of your water is balanced with good pH, Alkalinity, Calcium and Cyanuric levels, it’s easy to be blinded by ambition by adding shock, algaecide, clarifier and a stain & scale treatment, or an entire Spring Start-Up Kit, all at the same time.
For the best results, adjust water balance and shock the pool on Day 1. On Day 2 add clarifier, on Day 3 add your stain & scale treatment, and on Day 4 or beyond, add algaecide. Shocking can deplete or deactivate other pool chemicals, so shock first, then add the other stuff over the following days, once chlorine level drops.
14. Not Closely Monitoring Chemical Levels
It’s certainly easy to perfectly balance the aforementioned chemical levels, follow the instructions to a tee, pat yourself on the back and be done with it. Spring pool chemistry can be affected by any number of elements, including incorrect adjustments. Keep an eye on it by testing the water several times during the first week after opening, and making additional adjustments as necessary.
15. Not Vacuuming To “Waste”
Once you’ve shocked your pool or if you used a Floc treatment, it’s best to vacuum out all the dead algae and fine debris with your multiport valve set on “Waste”. This prevents the finest of particulates from joyriding through your filter and running laps through your plumbing. If you don’t have a multiport valve, you can install a 3-way valve between the pump and filter, just for this occasion, and also for lowering the water level after heavy rains.
16. Not Brushing the Pool
After vacuuming the pool, hit your tile, walls, floors and steps with a good pool brush, and then continue daily. Brushing your pool walls twice a day during this first week (and once a week thereafter) may seem unnecessary, but it helps clean the pool faster, improves circulation and filtration, and is a killer workout for your biceps, triceps and traps!
17. Forgetting To Add Chlorine To Your Chlorinator
If you have a floater, chemical feeder, or even a salt system in your pool be sure they are loaded or ready to go to work! Note that most salt cells won’t produce chlorine under 60° F, so you may need some chlorine tablets for a few weeks. After the initial shocking of the pool, chlorine levels will be sky-high, but can quickly deplete, allowing algae a fighting chance to bloom again. Keep your test kit handy, and use it frequently for the first few weeks.
18. Forgetting to Set the Timeclock
And resetting the timeclock to the current time. If you have the classic Intermatic timer with the yellow dial, pull out on the dial and turn it so that the current time aligns with the down-arrow (located at 6 o’clock). After the water clears, place the timer dogs (trippers) on the dial, and use pliers to tighten down the set screw, so they don’t slip out of place.
19. Forgetting to Yell Cannonball
Look at that crystal clear pool water. The sun is shining. The pool is open for business. Your swimsuit fits. All those pool opening details have left you feeling carefree. It’s time for the first cannonball of the season. Don’t blow it by not yelling, “CANNONBAAAAAALLLL” as you fly through the air.
InTheSwim Staff Blogger