Owning a home with a swimming pool is sure to make you popular come summer, but with the prestige comes a little maintenance. The average homeowner is capable of performing some pool maintenance projects on his or her own; other projects, however, are best left to a professional. The below steps are what a swimming pool maintenance contractor would do.
Pool Maintenance 101
If you have a pool, pool maintenance is an absolute requirement. Neglected pools are quick to become what’s known as “frog ponds” — pools fraught with algae buildup, mosquito nests, and other health and aesthetic issues. Fortunately, proper pool maintenance is relatively easy when you keep a regular schedule.
Skimming –The first step in any pool maintenance routine is skimming the pool. A skimmer is a fine mesh net attached to a long pole. It’s used to remove floating debris such as leaves and drowned insects. If left untended, debris will clog your filters and/or sink to the bottom of the pool where it can leave unsightly stains. Debris can also decrease the efficiency of your pool’s circulation system. Skim your pool at least once every few days. Also, remove, dump and clean out your pool’s strainer baskets once a week.
Vacuuming –A skimmer can’t get everything. Even with routine skimming, fine particles like dust and dirt eventually sink and settle to the bottom of the pool. That’s why your pool needs regular vacuuming. There are two kinds of pool vacuums: automatic and manual. Automatic vacuums run along the bottom of the pool and generate suction in random patterns; manual vacuums attach to a long pole that allows you to steer the suction yourself. When using an automatic vacuum, be sure to overlap your passes to ensure that you’re getting all of the fine debris. If you have a large pool, vacuum in sections. Vacuum your pool once a week.
Brushing –Brushing keeps the walls of your pool clean. The kind of brush you’ll need will depend on the material of your pool’s walls. Plaster-lined concrete walls benefit from a stiff-bristled brush while vinyl, tile and fiberglass walls require a soft-bristled brush. For stubborn buildup, use a pumice stone, a putty-knife, or a 50/50 mix of water and muriatic acid (be sure to wear gloves and eye protection). Brush your pool once a week before vacuuming. Brushing will loosen particles for the vacuum to pick up.
Cleaning Filters – Filters come in three types: sand, cartridge and diatomaceous earth (DE). Each type has unique cleaning requirements. Sand filters must be “backwashed” and treated with a special sand-cleaning chemical. Cartridge filters are removed and sprayed with a garden hose. DE filters are backwashed like sand filters, but more DE must be added. The advantage of DE filters is that they trap much smaller particles.
Pool Heater Maintenance – The typical pool heater can go at least a few years before it needs servicing. Sometimes, calcium and other minerals build up in the heater’s tubes, restricting its operation. When this happens, it’s best to hire a professional to disassemble and repair the heater.
Water Level – A pool can lose water both through natural evaporation and from people splashing and getting in and out of the pool. Check the water level every time you skim the pool and clean the baskets. Water levels should not be allowed to fall below the the skimmer basket intake tubes. This can ruin the pump. If the water is low, use a garden hose to fill the pool to the appropriate level.
Maintaining pH – Your pool water’s PH level determines its acidity and alkalinity. A certain level of acidity must be maintained in your pool. A pH level of 7 is considered ideal; less than 7 is considered too acidic. Acidic water can damage your pool liner, your pool equipment and even your skin. Water that is too alkaline can clog filters and cloud the water — and it can cause your eyes and nose to burn and cause dry and itchy skin. A simple home testing kit can verify the acidity or alkalinity of your pool water. Add chemicals according to instructions to neutralize your pool water.
Shocking the Pool – Over time, organic contaminants such as ammonia and nitrogen can build up in a pool. These contaminants interact with the pool’s chlorine to form chloramines, which create a chlorine-like odor that emanates from the pool. Adding more chlorine can remedy this situation. This is known as “shocking” the pool. Some pool owners shock their pools as frequently as once a week; others go longer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you’re adding the proper amount of chlorine to address your situation.
Leak Detection – If you have to add water frequently, you may have a leak. Detecting a leak is simple. Fill a plastic bucket three-quarters of the way and mark the water line on the inside. Float it in your pool or set it on the steps and mark the waterline on the outside of the bucket. After two to three days, compare the water lines. If the amount lost is the same, you’re losing water to evaporation. If there is a disparity between the bucket line and the interior water line, you have a leak. You will need to call a professional for the repair.
Winterizing – If you live in a freezing climate, you will have to winterize your pool. This entails removing water from the pool’s plumbing with an air compressor and draining as much as you can from the filter and the heater. Remove any remaining water with a special antifreeze designed for pools. (Car antifreeze is a different product altogether.) Disconnect the heater, the pump and any chemical feeders. Clean and store the chemical feeders for the winter. Then give the pool a good cleaning. Close the skimmer valves and lower the water level to about 18 inches below the pool’s edge. This will allow any expansion from freezing some room to grow without putting pressure on your pool liner. Finally, shock the pool and cover it to prevent incoming debris.
Reopening – When swimming season comes around again, clear the area around the pool of debris. Refill the pool to its normal level and open the skimmer valve to get the water circulating. Test the water’s pH and shock the pool. Turn on the pump and leave it running 24 hours a day. Decrease this time by one hour each day until the water is balanced. Your pool is now open for fun!
If you can't maintain your pool, hire a pool maintenance service. Pool services will handle everything from regular treatments to closing and opening your pool for the seasons. Most pool maintenance services cost about $75 to $100 per hour. Some services may cost extra.
The majority of pool maintenance projects can be completed DIY. All it takes is the right materials and the ability to follow simple written directions.
Skimmer –A skimmer is a shallow net attached to a long, light pole. It’s used to skim debris from the water’s surface. How long this takes depends on the size of the pool and the amount of debris present, but it usually takes about 20 minutes to skim an average-sized pool. You should skim your pool once every day or two. Unskimmed debris can sink to the bottom of the pool and adhere to or permanently stain the pool liner. A skimmer costs around $7.
Chlorine –Chlorine is a necessity for every swimming pool. Chlorine is used to neutralize harmful bacteria. It is available in liquid and tablet form, and it can be added as part of a routine maintenance program or inserted into floating, time-release dispensers. A 25-pound container of 3-inch tablets Chlorine tablets costs about $60 to $70. A two-gallon container of liquid chlorine costs about $7.50.
Muriatic Acid –Muriatic acid is used to lower the pH levels of your pool. It prevents bacteria blooms, fights mineral buildup and generally helps to keep your pool clean. Too much acid can damage your pool and cause your eyes, nose and skin to sting. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for adding acid to your pool. Muriatic acid costs about $7.70 per gallon.
Soda Ash –Sodium bicarbonate, also known as soda ash, is used to combat excess acid. Soda ash will raise the pH level in your pool by neutralizing some of the more harmful effects of muriatic acid. Too much soda ash, however, will allow bacteria to thrive in your pool and encourage mineral buildup to clog your plumbing. A 6-pound container of soda ash costs about $8.
Testing Kit –A basic testing kit is a must for every pool owner. With a kit, you can gauge your pH levels by taking a small water sample and adding certain chemicals to the solution. Most kits test for chlorine, bromide, alkalinity and acidity. Test kits cost about $15. Keep in mind that testing solutions must be periodically replaced. A full set of replacement solutions costs around $8.
Pool Vacuum –A skimmer will not pick up the finer particles that get into your pool, so a pool vacuum is also necessary. A pool vacuum will roll along the bottom of the pool and suck up small debris. Vacuums can run as low as $20 for a basic manual vacuum to as high as $200 to $600 for a robotic or automatic vacuum.
Filters –Replacement filter cartridges are priced based on their size and capacity. A basic two-pack of 4.25-inch cartridges can cost about $13, but a single 10-inch, higher-end filter can cost as much as $75. Sand should be replaced in sand filters every three years. A 50-pound container of sand filter costs about $12. Diatomaceous earth for pool filtering costs about $20 for a 25-pound bag.
Pool Cover –A pool cover is necessary for safety, and it also keeps debris out of your pool when you aren’t using it. Though expensive, covers protect your pool and save you money in the longer term. A good cover will extend about two feet beyond the edge of your pool edge (a 16’x38’ pool would need an 18’x40’ cover, for example). A good cover generally costs about $580.00.
Maintaining your pool yourself will take less than two hours if so long as you do it regularly. Routine maintenance not only keeps your pool clean for use, but it also allows you to spot problems early on — before they become big, costly repairs. Spending a few dollars in treatment chemicals, for example, will prevent you from having to a hire a professional to clean a “frog pond” pool to the tune of $55 to $124 an hour.
No matter how well you maintain your pool, it’s going to need repairs from time to time. When this happens, it’s best to call a professional. Leaving pool repairs up to professionals helps keep simple repairs from snowballing into major catastrophes.
The pool component most commonly in need of repair is the pump motor. Apart from the cover, the pump affects every aspect of your pool. It is the system with the most moving parts and is thus the most prone to failure. When the pump motor fails, water can’t circulate, heat or filter. Check your pump motor regularly and address problems as early as possible. The cost to repair a pump depends on what has failed. Replacing the pump motor altogether can run from $185 for a .75hp motor to $350 for a 2.5hp motor.
If you maintain your filter, you probably won’t have to worry much about replacing the cartridges. But if your filter requires increasingly frequent cleaning, it’s probably trapping oils that will be difficult to remove. A properly sized cartridge should go three to five weeks before needing a cleaning. A new cartridge costs between $13 and $75, depending on its size.
Sand filters are equipped with a pressure gauge. If the pressure in your pool gets too high, your filter isn’t working properly. And if the pressure is too great, it can cause a catastrophic failure and can cause the tank to rupture. If the pressure is fine but your pool requires increasingly frequent cleaning, you may need to replace the sand in the filter. New sand particles are particularly rough, which helps them trap particles. Over time, the water can wear them smooth and reduce their efficiency. Sand costs about $12 a bag. Replacing a sand filter system costs from $150 to over $500.
A diatomaceous earth (DE) filter may fail similarly to a sand filter. Further, failing DE filters can pump DE powder back into your pool. In this case, a professional can tell you whether you need to replace an o-ring or address a failing valve. Stainless steel tanks can also spring pinhole leaks over time. When this happens, the tank should be replaced (any patches will be temporary). Replacing a DE filter system costs around $600 to $700.
Determining whether you have a leak is relatively easy when compared to actually fixing a leak. A pool repair professional can help you determine whether the leak starts at the filter or in the pool itself. You can patch a vinyl liner for as little as $20.00 with a DIY patch kit, or you can hire a professional to do the job for around $200. A fiberglass liner should be repaired by a professional. This typically costs around $300. Concrete or gunite pools usually need to be drained and sanded to be properly repaired. This can cost from $800 to $1,550.
Heater and Heating Tubes
As water courses through the heating tubes and back out into your pool, minerals build up in tubes and create blockages. Also, insects crawl in and around the system and can affect the functions of the various smaller systems of your heater. The average cost to repair a pool heater is around $394. However, left unattended, a pool heater repair can easily climb to $1,200. We do not recommend that you attempt to repair a pool heater on your own.