Guest Column - May/June 2002
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A Job for All Seasons

Prevent pool problems before they surface

By Mark Warshaw, Bel-Aqua Pool Supply Inc.

Before and After: Painting pools is usually done
every few years for appearance and to provide a
protective coating. In many seasonal climates it
is done yearly.

While servicing commercial swimming pools, my grandfather used to say his "pools were so clean that you could read a newspaper at the bottom of the pool." Although the technology has changed since 1955, the underlying principles of proper pool maintenance have remained the same.

He told me something else I've never forgotten: "Do checkups annually, and you'll probably find problems. Do checkups more often, and you will prevent them." Preventive maintenance, through regular checkups, is still the only way to ensure a clean, clear, safe pool—whether indoors or outdoors, open year-round or seasonally. It involves two broad areas of focus: water chemistry and everything other than water, including pool equipment, as well as pool area and surface maintenance.

Taking care of the water, the lifeblood of your pool

Water treatment

There's nothing more inviting to swimmers than sparkling clear water. What that takes is a precise blend of proper water chemistry, filtration and circulation. Water chemistry involves maintaining proper levels of sanitizers to kill bacteria and oxidize organic matter, such as algae, and sustaining proper water balance. Regularly. This improves water quality and swimmer comfort, reduces cloudiness and scaling, and helps prevent corrosion of pool surfaces and equipment.

Water testing

It's important to check with your local health department to learn which test kit is approved for your area. However, be aware that color comparators left out in the sun can fade, compromising the accuracy of your test. They may need to be replaced. Test frequently and from different spots around the pool to assure accuracy.

Chemical automation is being increasingly used now for testing water and maintaining proper sanitizer level and water balance. Automatic chemical controllers use ORP (Oxidation Reduction Potential), which unlike standard test kits, can measure the sanitizer activity of the water along with the concentration of sanitizer in the water. ORP and pH electrodes are placed in a sampling of the water. Following user-defined set points, the controller can activate the appropriate automatic chemical feed device.

Daily Pool Cleanings
(Because looks can be deceiving)

Even when algae or dirt is not visible, it's probably growing. This procedure is an everyday must:

  • Brush pool walls top to bottom with a nylon-bristle brush so dirt can fall to floor and be vacuumed out. Use a stainless-steel bristle brush on tough algae deposits, making sure not to damage the pool surface.
  • Clean tile line with tile brush. Scum and scaling can form. Clean with nonabrasive tile cleaner or mild acid cleaner made specifically for tile line.
  • Make sure skimmer net fits your debris needs. It's much easier to empty a leaf skimmer net then to open a pump's strainer basket.
  • Manual vacuums
  • If provided, use separate suction line for vacuum to connect to, or use pool's existing skimmer. If using a skimmer, it may be necessary to divert extra suction to it by use of switching valves or plugging other open skimmers.
  • The heavier the vacuum head, the easier to keep it on the pool floor. Check to make sure the vacuum head is in good condition. If wheels are worn down, the vacuum head will not move freely on the pool surface. If the hose has a swivel end, make sure it is placed on the vacuum head side. Often when a hose has a small air leak, it is difficult to see but will affect the performance of your vacuum system.
  • Automatic vacuum cleaners
  • Many newer models offer infrared sensors to help the unit adjust to different depths, remote controls for steering the unit directly to debris and automatic shut-offs to allow units to run overnight while the pool is not in use.
  • Portable, self-contained vacuum systems can be used poolside for maximum suction. Many contain their own filter to eliminate debris from going into main filter system.

  • Taking care of the equipment, the workhorses of your pool


    Cartridge filters should be cleaned with a
    high-pressure hose, soaked in a filter cleaner
    degreaser, and then acid washed to remove algae,
    organics and bacteria.

    There are three basic types of pool filters: Hi-Rate Sand, DE (Diatomaceous Earth) and Cartridge. Routinely, Sand and DE filters need to be backwashed to ensure proper filtration and flow rate; cartridge filters need to be cleaned. The additional filter cleaning and maintenance described below should be done at least once annually.

    Hi-Rate Sand filters, the most common type, usually have a combination of gravel and silica sand. Although the filter media are cleaned and reused by backwashing, it is often necessary to change the filter media after time. Inspect all interior parts—areas under drains and laterals can become cracked even when not fully broken off.

    DE (Diatomaceous Earth) filters contain filter grids that in a year's time can become clogged. Although backwashing removes most of the DE and dirt, additional maintenance procedures are often necessary. DE Filters should be taken apart a minimum of once a year. The filter grids/elements should first be soaked in a filter cleaner and degreaser to remove body oils and grease, and only then acid-washed to remove organics.

    Cartridge filters have removable cartridges that require routine cleaning. They should be cleaned with a high-pressure hose, then soaked in a filter cleaner degreaser, and then acid washed to remove algae, organics and bacteria.

    Before reassembling your pool filter after maintenance, make sure that the gaskets and O-rings are not dried out or cracked and that your gauges are working properly and set at zero. Replace the drain plug that was removed when you drained the filters. Check all the valves to be certain they can be turned freely and that all handles are installed.


    Commercial pumps have metal baskets that can
    rust and corrode over the years due to improper
    water balance, allowing debris into the pump and
    potentially damaging the impeller and diffuser.

    Commercial pumps have metal baskets that can rust and corrode over the years due to improper water balance, allowing debris into the pump and potentially damaging the impeller and diffuser. Routinely make sure your pump's strainer basket is cleaned out and in good condition and that all O-rings and gaskets are lubricated and serviceable. It's important to be sure your pump is air-tight to prevent loss of prime or decreasing circulation. If you operate only seasonally, take your pump apart in the off season, inspect it and replace the shaft seal if necessary.

    Skimmers, main drains and return inlets

    Your pool's circulation system relies on surface skimmers or overflow gutters, main drains and return inlets to remove debris and provide uniform water and chemical distribution. Skimmer baskets must be cleaned regularly to prevent them from being clogged, reducing flow rate. Skimmer weirs or floats must be working properly to control the flow of surface water into the skimmer to facilitate the removal of surface debris. Make sure skimmer covers are securely attached to prevent tampering and to ensure the safety of people walking along the pool deck.


    Main drain covers should be checked regularly to ascertain that they are in good condition and also securely fastened to prevent entrapment and keep large debris from entering the main drain line. Main drains often have a hydrostatic relief valve to relieve ground-water pressure. They should be checked to make sure they are working properly and replaced as needed. Return inlets are often adjustable. Adjust the flow of the inlets to prevent pockets of stagnant water. If your pool is winterized, these procedures for securing the main drains and return inlets are of paramount importance.

    Chemical feeders

    If your feeders are not working properly, they can upset the water-treatment balance by limiting the amount of chemicals in the mix. Since liquid chemical feeders may be exposed to corrosive chemicals, I recommend completely overhauling your feeder annually. That requires replacing tubing, seals, check valves, injectors, foot valves and diaphragms. And you might take advantage of the fact that most liquid feeders offer a lubricant for use during normal operation, which prolongs the life of the replacement parts.

    Lighting fixtures

    As you may know from experience, loose-fitting lights can be hazardous to swimmers and can be banged around causing the bulb to burn out. When you change a bulb, check the gasket as well, and change it if necessary. A simple light wedge can help firmly secure the light in the housing.

    Better Safe Than Sorry
    Frequent equipment checks
    Deck equipment
  • Check ladders frequently to make sure steps are not broken and ladder bolts and nuts are tight.
  • To prevent corrosion on stainless-steel railings, use warm water and a nonabrasive gentle detergent with a soft cloth on a regular basis. This will remove many different contaminants, preventing scaling, pitting and rusting and will help maintain the polished finish.
  • Be sure ladders, handrails and grab rails are securely fastened into anchor sockets and anchor wedges tight. Use escutcheons over end of rail that goes into anchor socket to cover anchor and prevent injury and tampering.
  • Diving equipment
  • Make sure diving boards and stands are securely fastened.
  • Check to ensure fulcrums are in good condition.
  • Check nonskid diving board surface for wear and tear.
  • Safety equipment
  • Set up a regular schedule to inspect safety equipment. Local regulations may change. You should be notified by your local board of health to make any additions or changes to your current safety equipment list.
  • It's imperative to periodically replace items used frequently from the first-aid kit.
  • Essential signage
  • "No Diving" signs where necessary
  • Pool capacity signs
  • Emergency signs
  • Proper CPR instructions
  • Commercial pool rules
  • Ropes and floats
  • Constantly check their condition. Floats crack; ropes fray from year to year. Hooks must be in good condition and tight on the end of the rope.
  • Rescue and aid equipment
  • Continually check first-aid kits, back boards, head immobilizers, CPR masks, neck braces, safety hooks, reaching poles, life rings and rescue tubes.
  • Stretchers usually must be located around the pool area; check local regulations.
  • Manuals online

    Many major manufacturers have made their equipment manuals available on the Internet. Refer to your individual manufacturers' manuals or contact your supplier.

    Taking care of what's out of the water

    Expansion joints and tile grout

    Expansion joints should be checked annually for failure. While replacing old non-watertight expansion joints is time-consuming, it is relatively inexpensive and can prevent major masonry repairs to coping and tile.


    Coping serves to prevent pool water from splashing on the deck and also provides a level nonskid service on top of the pool wall to join the pool wall to the deck. Tile enhances the appearance of a pool, and it is also relatively easy to clean the staining that usually occurs around the pool's waterline.

    Painted pool surfaces

    Painting pools is usually done every few years for appearance and to provide a protective coating. In many seasonal climates, it is done yearly. Whether your pool is concrete or fiberglass, painting can provide a UV chemically resistant, water-resistant finish. Specific guidelines exist from each paint manufacturer on how to paint your pool and paint compatibility. For existing painted pools, many manufacturers offer chip analysis of pool paint to check for durability and compatibility. Surface preparation is extremely important in ensuring that any paint adheres well.

    Of course, you knew all this. But do all the people who maintain your pool know how important frequent checkups are? They should.

    As my grandfather said, "Some problems don't wait all year to appear."

    Mark Warshaw is vice president of Bel-Aqua Pool Supply Inc., a family-run pool and spa distributor established in 1955. Mike can be reached at 800-344-7946 (in New York, 914-235-2200) or visit