Pool Procedures Overview

Expert Tips on Maintaining a Safe, Healthy and Sustaining Swimming Pool

By Rick Dandes

Proper maintenance and operation of pools, and the disinfection of pool water, can play a key role in preventing most safety hazards in pools and ensuring the health and enjoyment of poolside visitors and swimmers. Those hazards, however, can be subtle, and exist in a myriad of forms, said Steve Little, CEO of a Palm Desert, Calif.-based swimming pool maintenance firm.

Little described some of those hazards: They can be physical, he said, requiring pools to be maintained and operated in a way that prevents injuries to all visitors. This means operators need to be supplied with equipment in case of an emergency. There can be chemical hazards, meaning the solutions used to clean pool water need to be stored safely and used correctly. And finally, there are microbial hazards, such as bacteria (for example, pseudomonas, which causes skin infection known as "hot tub rash" or E. coli, which can cause stomach illness), viruses like Adenovirus (pink eye) or hepatitis A (causing stomach virus), fungi, such as tinea pedis (tied to Athlete's foot) and parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia (both can cause stomach illness).

Maintenance Best Practices

Helping to keep a pool safer and open starts with a trained and certified staff, said Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Management practices and technology make trained staff better, but can't replace knowledgeable staff, he said.

To that end, Little explained, "There is an analysis I do on every pool my company touches, and that analysis is a safety inspection, first before anything else. How safe and aware are pool owners of the fact that pools are the number-one killer of children under 5 in the United States? Are the operators aware of how quick drowning is? And once that awareness is accomplished, is the pool and spa efficient? Is it using energy in a manner that is sustainable to our environment and sustainable to the pool owners, in terms of their utility bills?

After that, Little said, "I go look at it and see how it is kept. Are the plumbing subsystems, electrical and mechanical subsystems current to current building code? Are they going to work? Are they going to sustain use of the pool? Because as maintenance experts, our goal is to have the pool ready when the people who come to the pool are ready to use it."

So, what kind of steps need to be taken regularly by staff to maintain the pool, to keep it performing like new?

People typically are very familiar with the board of health requirements regarding their pool chemistry, and much of that now is automated, observed Jason Mart, president of an Indianapolis-based company that designs and builds new and renovated pools. But generally, a monthly inspection of your equipment room and the whole environs around the pool is necessary.

Proper maintenance and operation of pools, and the disinfection of pool water, can play a key role in preventing most safety hazards in pools.

"Evaluating whether you have corrosion buildup and whether you've got various wear. Check to see if chemicals seem to be interacting with the substrate. That is an inspection that can be done monthly or quarterly, but it should be regularly done," he said.

Make general inspections with particular attention to watching your metal components, particularly if you have dialectic conditions; where two different types of metals join together, there can be visible corrosion.

Most equipment at pools is used until it fails, but it is a good idea to replace your pump every 3 to 5 years, Mart contends. A good strategy, he said, is to buy a spare pump motor and have that stored out of the pool room. It's a smart thing to do because after your pump motor fails, finding the right size motor to drive the pump in the exact same voltage and amperage power output can be difficult and could take several days. If you have a spare you can swap them out when one fails and have the other one rebuilt and then it becomes your spare. "This strategy helps avoid downtime," Mart said.

"I would recommend having a licensed contractor make the inspection," Little added. "In California, pool inspectors must be licensed, but that might not be the case where you are." Still, your best bet is to have a licensed contractor thoroughly evaluate the pool a few times a year, looking at the components of chemistry, electrical and mechanical subsystems, filter, pumps, heaters, valves and links.

"Where we are in California, we never close pools," Little said. "They are open 365 days a year. So, we do thorough inspections once at the traditional start of summer and once at the traditional end of summer: that is, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

"You must also maintain the proper pool water balance, said Juliene Hefter, executive director/CEO, Association of Aquatic Professionals. Improper pool water balance can cause many types of failures at your facility such as the staining of equipment, and shorter life cycles of equipment. The use of too much or too little chemicals, cleaning of hair and lint baskets, and backwashing only when needed, are other maintenance issues, she said.

It's All About Chemistry

Your pool can be a hostile environment, with a daily, ongoing battle in the water against pathogens, Mart explained. Acids and caustic chemicals can attack your concrete pool interior. Chlorine, acids, salts and pool chemicals splatter on the deck and can dramatically shorten the normal life expectancy of concrete, tile and grout.

Even body oils over time, he said, can make the deck surfaces too slippery. Acids destroying the plaster can make pool interior surfaces far too rough for patrons to use comfortably. The best solution is permanent encapsulation.

Something else to watch for, Mart said, are tri-chloramines and other disinfection byproducts, which outgas from the chemical reaction of pool chemicals with the swimmers' sweat and (yes) urine. These gases hang low over the pool and not only make your swimmers miserable but also damage every metallic component in the pool and surrounding environs.

Some people think if they just dump chlorine in a swimming pool, it is safe. But the sanitizer can be completely ineffective if the water is alkaline, Little cautioned. "So, have a licensed professional adjust the chemicals." While in colder areas, he said, the cooler water might retard bacteria and other organic growth, in California and warmer climates, water must be tested more often. "And where we take care of pools, at say a Marriott Hotel, we test the chemistry every day, twice a day. Because the pool water can become an incubator of algae and organic compounds."

As temperatures rise, bacteria and algae production can turn a pool green very quickly. That bacteria can eventually damage the pool's pipes and make people sick. All the more reason to regulate and evaluate the pool chemistry regularly.

Keeping the Pool Deck Hazard-Free

Meanwhile, never forget there are maintenance "musts" to do outside the actual pool to keep people safe, Little noted. Pool decks, for one thing, should be regularly cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of disease as well as the inevitable slipperiness that can come from bacteria growth.

The way to clean a deck can vary widely depending on the surface material: brushed concrete, textured modified cement or other cement coatings, tile, stone, brick. Just follow the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning and maintaining the surface.

Dirt and scum can best be removed from larger decks by pressure washing, but for smaller pool areas, using scrubbing with a stiff brush and using a cleaning solution will usually do the job. To get rid of bacteria and other harmful pathogens, you need to also disinfect your pool deck. Don't forget to immediately wash down the deck after you are through, Little said.

Simplifying the Process

There are ways to simplify pool maintenance. Labor is the biggest driver of cost of swimming pool maintenance, and smaller municipalities might not be able to afford the everyday cost of a licensed inspector. If you are an entity that wants to take care of the pool you can save money: Perform the labor yourself and trust the professional with the chemical adjustments. "In our market," Little said, "we have customers who do a lot of the physical maintenance and we come by twice a week and adjust the chemical balance in the pool." Little advises you to know what you are capable of, and know what you need a professional for and their professional capabilities.

Make a daily checklist and a weekly checklist of the items that need to be checked for safety, added Hefter, "as well as what needs to be done on a daily basis to keep everything in working order and what should be done weekly and checked weekly."

Common Mistakes

Pool inspection studies show that many pools and spas are not operated by trained staff, and often 10 to 20 percent have public health code violations like the improper disinfectant level or pH. A common mistake is the assumptions of false assurances.

"I hear this every day," Little said: "'If I smell chlorine, I know my water is safe,' when in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. The presence of smelly chlorine is actually an indication that chlorine has already done its job. Smelling chlorine means there is no chlorine in the water. So false assumptions and not taking the time to verify is a mistake. The way I train my staff is trust in your actions. Trust in your staff. But verify. And when you are done verifying, verify again because people's lives are affected by what we do."

Richard LaMotte, VP of sales and marketing, for a water quality and analytical testing company based in Chestertown, Md., offered up some mistakes in water quality inspections, and how to avoid them. One mistake, he said, is using old reagents or improper test procedures to evaluate water quality. "Look for expiration dates or ask manufacturers to confirm shelf-life. Read instructions carefully."

Lamotte explained that dosing the water with enough chemicals to correct a deficiency or over-dosing and causing another problem is a recurring mistake he sees. His solution? Use software to confirm dosing requirements. Leaving test reagents out in severe heat all day long can lead to problems. So store kits indoors, and if possible take a sample to the kit or bring it out only when needed for testing. Sporadic checking is one more mistake that pool managers often make. Or blindly trusting your team. Embrace new technologies and new learning. Don't be complacent or apathetic.

Mart cited another mistake made by operators: not properly caring for their pool interior surface. "Using too much acid for cleaning plaster, for instance, is a frequent problem area because the acid can take the alkaloids out of the cement that is in the plaster and can make it fail faster. That's a common problem and one that is avoided through proper training and care in getting the formulation proper. Over-acid washing is one of the biggest causes for plaster and grout failure."

Make certain that your filters are clean. Periodic washing of the filter with a filter renew type product to clean it—or replacing it on a regular schedule—is a very good idea for avoiding channelization issues.

If you have a cartridge style filtration system, maintain a separate container of TSP water to soak the filters in, Mart said. "And soak them until the day they need to be changed out. Then wash them down with an appropriate filter cleaning system. Take the older filters you've just taken out into the TSP soak bath. That will make for much cleaner filter and extend their life expectancy by simply having an extra batch that you trade out. Maintain two sets and rotate them."

What's the Latest in Equipment?

Swimming pool maintenance is a scientific discipline with many components that help properly circulate, filter, heat and chemically treat the water. More pools are using supplemental disinfectants like UV and ozone systems. Smart managers are converting their pumps to energy-saving variable frequency drives. New and exciting pool equipment comes out almost weekly, from water treatment options to safety equipment.

"There are some exciting trends in air handling equipment that we are seeing in the market these days," Hefter said. "They are said to eliminate chloramines in the air, which is especially difficult to do in indoor pools that do not have the best air circulation. I have also seen so many interesting and new vacuums for swimming pools. They seem to be becoming more efficient in the industry."

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