If you have followed me long enough, you know one of my favorite places is my pool. Every year I opened the pool to the same swamp that looks like it was taken from a horror movie.
You would think this is the result of neglect and poor maintenance. During the season I am frequently told my pool is the cleanest they have ever seen and how is it possible. As you can see I have my work cut out for me. How do I turn this swamp into the "cleanest pool you have ever seen"?
It is a lot easier than you think, and I don't follow the conventional "pool store" regiment. In fact, I can boil it down to four critical things.
- Having a professional testing kit
- Understanding your chemicals
- Using liquid Chlorine instead of pucks
- Cleaning Robot
These four things are really what makes all the difference. They are all equally important and how I am able to maintain such a fantastic looking pool. Judging by the picture above, I'm sure you don't believe me right now, but let me walk you through opening the pool.
The first stage is removing the safety cover, this is a fabric mesh cover that stretches over the pool during the winter. It generally ends up getting some leaves and lots of snow on top during the winter season. By the time it comes to remove it, it is usually just a some sticks, leaves, and a little water. It becomes a big pain due to the weight of the cover and how large it is, so it usually takes 2-3 people to make it manageable.
Once that is removed, it ends up looking like this.
As you can see in the right, we lost a tree during the winter, and will need to chop that up. At current lumber prices it might be worth as much as Bitcoin.
Needless to say, this stage isn't very encouraging, but when the pool is closed it is crystal clear, there is no debris so all we are dealing with is algae. Totally manageable.
After the cover is removed, I need to start getting chlorine in the pool. I use 12.5% liquid Shock, which is basically stronger bleach. Bleach is typically 5%-6% sodium hypochlorite where liquid Chlorine/Shock is 10%-12.5% sodium hypochlorite. Before I do this though, I need to un-winterize the pump and filter.
Most of our equipment is pretty old, but I had to replace our pump last year so we have a brand new variable speed pump now.
To get the equipment ready I have to tighten the drain caps, there is one of the large filter and two on the pump. I remove these before closing the pool to drain the water out of the system, then put them on very loosely. I also have to put the pressure gauge back on the filter as you can see on the top, I have a liquid filled one I upgraded to that I don't want to leave out in freezing weather.
The last thing is adjusting the filter mode and moving the bypass to allow the jets to function. Before closing the pool I have to blow out the lines with a pool blower called a cyclone to remove air then quickly close the bypass to make sure the drain on the floor of the pool is closed to prevent freezing. The jets and skimmer in the pool are covered with as much air in the lines as I can.
I then reach into the pool and remove the caps off the two jets, while the water looks absolutely disgusting, it is mostly the reflection of algae on the floor of the pool and the water isn't as dirty as it looks.
After priming the pump by filling the canister with water, I can turn on the pump and set it to circulate. I do this initially to make sure everything is working and the water starts to circulate. This usually takes a few minutes until water is flowing like normal. At this point I set the multi-port valve to waste so I can drain a little water. The pool is almost always too high after taking the cover off. I don't want to drain it completely to where I need the water as I will do backwash before I am done opening so I want to still have the water a little high.
Once the pump is circulating and I know everything is working, I need to start working on chemicals. I test all the critical chemicals and go from there.
The first thing is cyanuric acid (CYA), this chemical protects your chlorine from burning off in the sun but it also makes your chlorine less effective, so there is a balance here. I don't typically test this day one of opening because I know it is near zero. It is recommended you spread this around the pool but it is dangerous to leave on the floor of the pool as it can burn the liner, so I put it in a sock and sit it in the skimmer. This slows down how fast it is absorbed into the pool, but prevents damage. I let this sit for a few days then I will give the CYA a test.
Before adding chemicals, I test the pH of the water. This is important as you can damage equipment and the liner if it isn't within normal range. If this is high, I use muriatic acid to lower it, if it is low, I use soda ash to raise it. The advantage of these compared to normal pH up and pH down is there are no other side effects and chemicals added. I know exactly what is going in and how much it will effect the pool. I will do what needs to be done, then move on to chlorine, testing the pH again the next day.
Chlorine, I don't even bother to test, it will be zero. At this point I pour in three gallons of 12.5% shock. It is important to just get chlorine into the system to start killing the algae.
Since I have a de filter (Diatomaceous Earth) I need to recharge it with Diatomaceous Earth. This is a super fine powder used to catch dirt inside of the filter and prevent it from re-circulating back into the pool. I do a backwash (removes most of the dirty de from the system) when I close the pool. This is done to remove any dirt from the system but also lower the water levels before putting the cover on.
Finally I add Daven, our robot. Daven is a nickname my son and I use that represents "Daddy and Evan". We nicknamed our robot Daven for some odd reason. This is probably the best purchase I have ever made. It basically scrubs the bottom of the pool and the walls so I don't have to vacuum the pool constantly. While opening, this is when it is most critical to regularly vacuum your pool to get the algae out. This saves me a ton of work during opening, and throughout the season. During the season I just throw it in the pool when we are done swimming and it will clean the pool once a day. Every week I empty the two baskets to remove the junk it picks up.
As you can see we are already seeing a massive difference in just one day. Again, as I said the green is mostly the reflection of algae from the bottom of the pool.
I re-test the pH and make adjustments as needed, within moderation as there is no real rush to get it perfect, but I usually can get it within range the first try. I then test the chlorine, although this is rather pointless as I know it will be near zero since there is very little CYA in the pool and the algae eats away at the chlorine really quickly. I typically just add another two bottles of liquid shock and make sure the pump is running full speed. Not much to do here outside of emptying our robot as it is doing more work than normal and I empty it daily during opening.
Day 3 things are starting to look better, the water is mostly clear of algae except for certain spots the robot missed but the water tends to be really cloudy. I don't do much other than check the temperature and add more bottles of Chlorine.
Day 4 is when I typically get into a slump, not much changes and we still don't have an oasis. At this point I need to get a little more involved.
The robot doesn't always reach every section of the pool even after a few passes, it usually gets about 95% of the pool, but due to the massive amount of algae it doesn't climb the walls as well as it typically does and there are parts of the floor/wall that still have algae. So I get in the pool and address those areas with a brush to loosen it and allow it to be cleaned by the filter as the water is circulated. The steps are typically loaded with dirt and algae I need to manually loosen with a brush as well.
The cya in the sock is a slow process and typically needs some shaking and manipulation to get the dissolved chemical to spread in the pool, so I will typically drag it around the pool to let it leach into the water and then refill the sock as I need a lot of cya for the size of the pool. Prior to doing this though, I will do a manual test for how much cya is in the pool at this point. Typically not a lot, meaning I am needing more chlorine than I typically would but it is working better than usual.
After this the pool usually looks worse as I have disturbed the algae and debris on the steps, I introduced a lot of cya into the water making it even cloudy than before. I set up my robot to run again, add my chlorine, and let it sit for the night.
Day 5 usually looks a lot better, but still a little cloudy. I didn't get any pictures for day 5, but it is a small improvement from day 4.
By day 6 or day 7, we are looking really good. The water is clear and you have the reflections that typically represent a really clean pool. While it is cleaner than 90% of the pools you have seen at this point, the next week it will typically get even cleaner to the point you can see the bottom of the pool as if it was right in your hands.
Through the season I will test the water and add chlorine on a daily basis and address any test concerns with the appropriate measured chemical response. I keep our robot in the pool and emptied weekly to ensure the debris isn't just sitting in the pool forever.
Most pool owners shock their pool every two weeks, I never "shock" my pool as I am always maintaining a very specific level of chlorine and I don't have to worry about cya runaway as I measure how much to put in and maintain it.
Cya runaway is the result of using chlorine "pucks" that have chlorine and cya chemicals, ever increasing your cya causing your chlorine to be less and less effective to the point you have to nuke your pool to actually clean it. Cya typically doesn't leave your pool during the season or get burned off like chlorine does in the sun. So once you have enough cya, you don't want more. Using pucks doesn't afford you the ability to control how much cya you introduce to your system, eventually causing it to runaway out of control and causing you to require more and more chlorine to keep it clean.