Essential Aquatic Maintenance
Facilities Need Planned Maintenance, Energy-Efficient Solutions
By Deborah L. Vence
Aging aquatic facilities need a lot of TLC, requiring facility operators to be even more mindful of their daily operations and maintenance requirements. Regular upkeep involves adhering to a set schedule to help keep things in order, as well as budgeting for any repairs or replacements. Everything from energy-efficient products to chlorination systems to lighting can all play a role in helping you to maintain your aquatic facility successfully.
In this issue, we talked with industry experts about what you can do to help keep your older and newer aquatic facilities running smoothly, what renovation options are available and what to do as your facility continues to age.
One of the first things to do in running an old or new aquatic facility smoothly is to develop a planned maintenance schedule.
"Whether your facility is newer or an aging facility, a maintenance plan and schedule will assist you with keeping everything in working order," said Juliene Hefter, executive director of the Association of Aquatic Professionals, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas.
"This type of plan is put in place so that you will have an idea of how long items will last and a possible timeline for when they will need to be replaced. It also assists with knowing daily, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance tasks that need to be maintained in order to ensure that all of your equipment is working properly," she said.
Brian Bokowy, business manager for a Gainesville, Fla.-based company that provides chemical products for swimming pools and spas, agreed. "Commitment to a preventive maintenance plan is crucial to the success of any aquatic facility. There are two aspects to this commitment," Bokowy said.
Aging aquatic facilities need a lot of TLC, requiring facility operators to be even more mindful of their daily operations and maintenance requirements.
"First, make sure that you budget for parts and replacement items that will be necessary throughout the year," he said. "Second, schedule and plan any physical maintenance items and any shutdowns that may be necessary. Make your customers aware of these items and why they are being done, and stick to the schedule."
For Mike Fowler, commercial marketing manager/sales for a company that specializes in swimming pool, spa and aquatic equipment, the first thing that comes to mind in running an aquatic facility is proper filtration, efficiency in your pump and proper water chemistry.
"As much as pool products have improved in efficiency, materials and durability, just replacing old equipment with more energy-efficient ones and making sure your water chemistry is constantly maintained go a long way to improving the quality of your facility. One other thing is looking at lighting, especially LED," Fowler said.
High-functioning aquatic facilities have plenty of pool deck equipment that keeps pool patrons coming back for more pool time.
"Whether it's rails, pool lifts, lifeguard stands, diving boards, slides, starting platforms or pool games, keeping the equipment in proper working order, and looking good is important for a facility's overall aesthetic appeal," said Karen Andrus-Hughes, marketing manager for a Canby, Ore.-based manufacturer of commercial and residential pool deck equipment (slides, diving boards, games), ADA pool lifts and pool lighting products.
"And, when you find the right products, you want them to provide a long life of service to your facility. Many pool deck equipment products are made with stainless steel or include stainless steel components and hardware," she said. "Pool environments can be tough on these components, but with proper care you can extend their life and keep them looking good."
She also suggested that aquatic facility operators inspect mounting hardware and to be sure to check crevices, weld points, under gaskets and bolt heads, where small amounts of liquid can collect and become stagnant.
"Routine cleaning helps maintain the protective film on the parts of deck equipment that are stainless steel and will help prevent rust," she said.
"To clean, use warm water, a gentle soap or detergent and a soft cloth, and briskly rub along the polish lines of the steel and around hardware. Rinse thoroughly when you're done cleaning. Periodically, you can even apply a soft liquid wax that will provide an extra layer of protection," she explained. "For additional durability and protection, pool deck equipment products made with stainless steel can also be coated with either a powder coating or vinyl coating."
Spending a little extra time each week caring for your pool deck equipment and inspecting for possible wear and tear can yield big dividends. Not only can you extend the life of your pool accessories, it will also help ensure a safe, fun pool season year after year.
When it comes to repainting and resurfacing pools, facility operators need to keep in mind some important factors, according to Rebecca Spencer, marketing manager for a pool paint manufacturer in Rockaway, N.J.
She recommended the following:
- Evaluate and consider conditions that may lead to deterioration, such as weather, location, water chemistry, sun tan lotions and oils.
- Was the pool surface properly prepared previously? Was the appropriate product used to repaint the pool?
- Was sufficient time allowed for curing before filling the pool with water?
- What type of pool is it (concrete, gunite, steel, fiberglass)?
- Is the pool condition sound? Is it cracked? Is there peeling and chipping?
- It is not difficult to repaint a pool. It is less costly and less time to fix minor cracks and divots than to replaster.
- Proper surface preparation is paramount to achieving a successful paint finish.
As for how long aquatic facilities can make the paint last, Spencer made the following suggestions:
- A longer-lasting finish is achieved by using an epoxy. The service life can be up to eight years. Acrylics are best when short downtimes and annual painting must be done, as is often the case in municipal pools.
- Follow manufacturer's instructions for preparation and painting.
- Always select a product that is compatible with the type of coating previously used to paint the pool. For example: use an epoxy over an epoxy; chlorinated rubber over chlorinated rubber. An acrylic can typically be used over rubber or epoxy. However, it will have to be repainted in about two years.
- Allow plenty of time to dry and cure before filling. If the pool is filled too soon after the final coat is applied, chalking and blistering may occur. Good ventilation is important for an indoor pool to dry completely.
- Maintain appropriate water chemistry. Poor chemistry negatively affects the water and deteriorates the painted surface.
Spending a little extra time each week caring for your pool deck equipment and inspecting for possible wear and tear can yield big dividends.
Additional information from Spencer's company suggested that with painting being one of the best ways to protect and beautify your pool, you should "Always start your job by purchasing premium tools. Not only will high quality rollers, brushes and products create a better result, they'll make your job easier."
Also mentioned were the three types of coatings that are suitable for aquatic surfaces:
- Acrylic Water-Base can be applied over most types of coatings that are in sound condition, and can be used on damp surfaces. This is a cost-efficient approach and when done correctly, may last up to two seasons.
- Synthetic Rubber can be applied over existing chlorinated or synthetic rubber systems, bare concrete or plaster. When properly applied, the finish can last up to three years.
- Epoxy creates a tough, durable finish with unsurpassed stain, chemical and abrasion resistance. If the pool is currently painted with epoxy paint, you must continue to use epoxy. Epoxy can be an excellent alternative to re-plastering; two coats of a high build epoxy will achieve a hard, abrasion-resistant surface that costs less than resurfacing. With proper preparation, the epoxy finish can last up to eight years.
Not only that, surface preparation is extremely important. Whatever coating you use will adhere best to a solid and clean surface. Inspect the surface condition of your empty pool. Repair minor cracks or chips, and sand down all peeling or flaking areas. Follow this by power washing the entire surface to remove loose paint and other debris. Let it dry, and then sweep away loose impediments.
Moreover, it's important to ensure that your pool surface is completely clean and free of loose paint, dirt, oils or solutions before applying a new coating system.
Marc Sanders, marketing manager at an Ellensburg, Wash.-based company that specializes in commercial pool equipment, said that "For many facilities, on-site chlorine production is the answer. ROI on the units is pretty incredible and units can begin to pay for themselves in a matter of months. Storing chlorine can be problematic, and on-site production alleviates that issue completely."
In an article by Wayne Smith, president of the Ellensburg, Wash.-based pool equipment company, he cited a client example about McMenamins Anderson Hotel in Bothell, Wash., which features a 170,000-gallon salt water pool with a water temperature held at a constant 90 degrees. He said "maintaining a pool of that size at that temperature poses some significant challenges."
Pools (and spas) running at higher temperatures require more chlorine to keep them free of nasty pathogens.
But, Smith's company, together with the team at McMenamins, designed and constructed one of the most cost-efficient mechanical rooms in the country. "In fact, several smart choices in the design actually pay for themselves while operating," he stated.
"Pools (and spas) running at higher temperatures require more chlorine to keep them free of nasty pathogens. Shipping and storing enough chlorine for such a large pool would present significant challenges for any facility," Smith stated. "McMenamins packs a full-service hotel, brewery, three restaurants, five bars, movie theatre and conference rooms into a former junior high school, and as you can imagine, that left little room for chemical storage."
On-site chlorine production using a salt chlorination system was at the top of the list of must-haves even before the savings such a system could deliver were considered. Smith explained in the article that "Daily maintenance includes adding salt directly to the pool, which is then passed through the chlorine-generating cell in the … system where an electrical charge is applied to produce the necessary chlorine for the pool."
Meanwhile, the company provides a free operational cost analysis report to clients such as McMenamins prior to installation and the numbers reveal payback and positive ROI in a matter of months, meaning that installing and operating an on-site chlorine production system can pay for itself.
Myron Clifton, director of marketing and sales operations for a Concord, Calif.-based national distributor of commercial swimming pool equipment, chemicals and aquatic supplies, said that "For both older and newer facilities operators should consider upgrading to new energy-efficiency products: solar systems, high-efficiency pool heaters (up to 98 percent efficient), LED lighting, pool cover systems, and variable frequency drives (VFDs) all contribute to reducing costs, reducing pool maintenance and helping to save energy."
He said, "Solar systems and high-efficiency heating systems help you to reduce the amount of energy it takes to heat your facility to your normal operating temperature.
"Many customers are also adding LED lighting to their pools because not only do the lights use less energy—using only 55 watts of energy compared to 500 watts with standard lighting, LED lights are designed to create a wider beam of light with more uniform light distribution and a crisper light color," he said.
In addition, swimming pool covers can help retain the heat that normally radiates from a pool, whether indoor or outdoor, which saves money.
"VFDs allow you to lower your pump speeds during non-peak use periods and by reducing the power frequency which will help you lower your energy operating costs," he added.
Options for renovations at your aquatic facility depend on what type of facility you have to begin with.
"Most operators should review their facilities and come up with creative ideas to improve the facility to meet the needs of their patrons and community," Hefter said.
A well run pool makes you look good and your patrons happy to be swimming at your facility.
"Any way that you are able to increase attendance and use your facility for multiple uses at any given time will assist with this," she said. "We are starting to see more and more partnerships being developed in the industry when it comes to aquatic facilities. Communities are coming together to ensure that the needs of the community are being met in various ways."
And you don't have to break the bank. Small renovations can go a long way.
"Adding spray or floating features, small drop slides or water climbing walls have seen a big increase in attendance while seeing only a moderate cost for renovation," she said.
Meanwhile, Fowler noted that energy-efficient pumps, VFDs, higher efficiency heaters and automated chemical controllers are good renovation options.
"In a lot of cases, commercial pools are in need of lots of renovation because of [the] age of equipment and possibly budget restrictions at a facility. When looking at replacing equipment, it's always a good case to look at more energy-efficient options when putting in new stuff," Fowler explained.
"It may be a little more out of pocket to start, but the ROI is much better than older equipment of yesteryear," he said. "If budgets allow, an automated chemical controller system would take the worry [out] of having to have someone hand check chemicals all the time and could be used to properly maintain the correct levels."
In addition, the pumps on these projects, in most cases, are oversized and a facility is probably using butterfly valves to slow the flow down through the pump, which adds much more pressure on the pump and can shorten its life.
"With pumps that [have] VFDs built into them or attached to it, gives the opportunity to dial in these pumps to exactly what is needed while also streamlining the costs to run them," he added.
Clifton said the best options now are fully integrating an energy plan that includes solar systems, high-efficiency pool heaters, LED lighting, pool cover systems and VFDs into your pool operations.
"Introducing these products into any facility, new or when renovating, will help your facility be the most efficient, which allows you to maximize your cost savings," Clifton said. "Solar systems and high-efficiency pool heaters reduce energy usage. LED lights save money by reducing the amount of power used, reducing the time and labor required to change incandescent bulbs, since the LED lamps last much longer than standard lights."
Pool covers also help to dramatically reduce heat loss and water evaporation, which also reduced the amount of chemicals that are used.
As an example, "A local pool operator recently added a solar energy system to their facility and saw these technologies dramatically reduce their energy consumption and operating costs," Clifton noted. "Additionally, the facility was able to receive generous rebates and incentives from their local utility, that further reduced costs and return on investment (ROI)."
What to Do as Facilities Age
There are plenty of things you can do to ensure your aquatic facility lasts a long time.
"Maintain your facilities and your pool to make everything last longer. Make sure to have balanced water and proper airflow. Balanced water and proper airflow will increase the lifespan of all of your pool equipment," Hefter said. "Keeping everything clean makes a big difference in how your facility operates and keeps it running smoothly."
Fowler agreed that proper maintenance is key, and suggested that if your aquatic facility closes for the winter, to slow it down through the use of VFDs instead of shutting it all off.
"Maintaining proper chemical levels at all times is crucial for proper pool operation, and improper chemical balance can lead to other issues including damage to heaters, pumps and pool surfaces," he said.
"One of the benefits of using VFDs in commercial pools these days is the ability to slow the pumps down, if allowed, during non-operating hours, and if the pool is shut down for the winter season, it's possible to leave the pools full of water and just slow the pumps down to the lowest possible speed to keep water moving, but saving the cost of having to empty and fill a pool each year," he added.
Bokowy reiterated the importance of maintenance.
"It sounds like a broken record," he said, "but preventive maintenance and scheduled replacement of older equipment is even more critical with older systems; maintenance or repairs by 'crisis' is not a plan, and only leads to frustration for the facility and your customers."
What's more, Clifton noted that regular facility audits by the aquatic staff will let you focus critically on aging equipment at your facility.
"This should be part of your useful life analysis of all products in use at your facility," he said. "This will also allow you to budget for timely future replacement of your pool components. Proper budgeting and planning will help you run the most efficient facility possible."
And, training is a key component for all pool operators.
"You need to make sure anyone who has responsibility for pool operations receives proper training. There are two main training classes offered nationally to train facility staff- the CPO Course (Certified Pool/Spa Operator) and the AFO Course (Aquatic Facility Operator) that will provide a proper foundation to operate your facility," Clifton said. "Your best opportunity to keep your facility running smoothly is having competent, trained staff, with the ability to recognize safety and operational issues at your facility.
"A well run pool," he added, "makes you look good and your patrons happy to be swimming at your facility."
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