Feature Article - July 2016
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Smooth Sailing

Best Practices in Pool Maintenance and Renovation

By Joe Bush

There are many crucial reasons for maintaining and renovating an aquatics facility: health of the public that uses it and the staff that works in it is, of course, most important, followed by efficient use of energy and money, adhering to federal, state and local regulations, and attracting new users to boost revenue and help improve the well-being of a community.

In addition, the Center for Disease Control's Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), an attempt to standardize practices and policies throughout the nation, is gaining notice and support. Its goal is to help operators establish and follow scientifically-backed methods to keep their facilities healthy in a sustainable way. It hopes, in part, to inform maintenance and renovations and upgrades in a way that will clarify any confusion caused by myriad codes.

Counsilman-Hunsaker was a founding sponsor of the MAHC, and head of operations Kevin Post said the MAHC will be flexible and fluid, keeping operators on their toes.

"One of the nice things about this code is they developed a committee for the MAHC and every other year they meet and allow public input for modifications to the MAHC," Post said. "The idea is, now that it's written it's not done, new research may need to be done, new technologies will come out, new information available. It's been built into the process that the code will be continually updated.

"Generally, for equipment we've found most people aren't spending enough on maintenance and preventive maintenance areas, or not budgeting for capital improvements. It was specifically true in the (economic) downturn—that was where budgets were being cut. They wanted to keep their pool open and operational, and now it's starting to catch up and hurt. A $5,000 item at the time is now a $50,000 item."

Everyone from operators to facility staff to manufacturers to service companies to distributors is affected by facility oversight, preventive maintenance and budget planning for replacement costs.

Terri Smith, a project designer with Water Design Inc., said she sees trends in aquatic facility management, and they either involve money or energy savings.

"It seems more and more facilities are choosing to phase upgrades, not replacing everything all at once, but piece by piece, focusing on the most critical parts first," Smith said, "then, as more money becomes available, moving forward with other upgrades. We are also seeing the addition of equipment to prolong the life and reduce the operational cost of other pieces of equipment. For instance, adding variable frequency drives to pumps not only conserves energy, but can help prolong the life of the pump.

"Replacing equipment with more energy-efficient parts has become very popular, like replacing incandescent light with LED lights. And, with longer warranties and the attractiveness of a maintenance-free surface, many facilities are choosing to add a PVC liner instead of re-plastering their pools. There are also a lot of facilities that are choosing to renovate rather than replace equipment and structures."

Tina Dittmar, supervisor of aquatics for the city of Laguna Niguel, Calif., and president of the Association of Aquatic Professionals, said there may not be a more pervasive subject for AAP membership, including herself.

"This is a huge topic because everything ages and there's always new things," she said. "We're in a constant upgrade. Everyone talks about preventive maintenance. It's what we do every day other than protect people, and it starts from the ground up."

Dittmar has been in the pool operating business for a quarter century, and knows firsthand that even the best maintenance plan run by the most disciplined staff can't prevent every crisis. Operators can understand their building, their equipment, their water chemistry and their accessories; they can train their staff in what to look and listen for; they can keep everything running and safe with TLC, and acquire the latest and greatest that their budgets allow, but…

"Things happen because pools are living, breathing animals," Dittmar said. "We had a major pipe leak underground a few years ago, a two- or three-inch freshwater line had a pinhole leak, and the pinhole leak over several years was spraying against a 10-inch line. It finally broke through the PVC pipe. It was such an intense spray for so long that it literally burned a hole through the pipe and we wound up getting gravel in our pipe.

"How we found out was maintenance, cleaning out the hair trap. 'Hey, this is building grade gravel.' We had to shut everything down and had a leak detecting company come in a few hours later, and they found a huge hole the size of a Nerf football. Freak things happen. We were amazed at the damage it did."