The Clear Path to a Clear Pool - Tips For a Smooth Pool-Opening Season

"Open early and close late" is a sound bit of advice often given to pool owners. And while some listen, others put off the chore until the swim season seems fully established. That's usually too late, of course.

"I recommend people open by the end of April," says Andy Mossing with Mossing Pools in Metamora, Ohio. "If you get into May and we get one warm week, which we usually do, all the pools with mesh covers turn green."

Faced with a vessel of murky, soup-like pool water, all the service professional can do is roll up the sleeves and get to work. As with any cleanup, you go after the big stuff first.

"If the pool is very swampy and cloudy, it may be best to perform a floc treatment in order to physically remove any contaminants from the water," says Karen Rigsby, leader of technical services for BioLab. "A floc treatment involves adding a chemical to the pool. There are several different products on the market. The one we use is a long polymer, so this thing floats through the water and it grabs stuff as it goes. The floc is usually positively charged and the stuff in the water, the dirt and all the contaminants, is usually negatively charged, so the plus and minus attract to each other.

"It's pretty simple," continues Rigsby. "As this polymer floats through the water, it grabs stuff and becomes heavier and heavier, and then it falls to the bottom of the pool. So, for example, when using our floc, you add this to the water, circulate the pool for a couple of hours and then shut the pump off. Then everything drops to the bottom, and you vacuum it out to waste. We find that if you have an algae bloom that is very swampy looking, you can actually physically get a lot of it out and not have to treat it with a chemical, and it's quicker and easier."

If Mossing's clients procrastinate and open their pools to find algae in bloom, he flocs the pools and vacuums debris and dead algae to waste for his pools with sand filters, but for those with cartridge filters, which he says is most of the pools he deals with, he tells customers they can let the cartridge filter out the algae. This sounds easier, but it might mean these customers have to clean their cartridges shortly after opening. "That's why it's important they open early so it doesn't turn green," he says.

Meeting Demands

Whether or not a pool goes green, there will almost always be a chlorine demand to be dealt with when a pool is opened. "Chlorine demand is defined as the inability to maintain a chlorine residual in the pool," says Rigsby. "Especially in climates with warmer winters, the chlorinating products and algaecides used to winterize the pool will not last the entire season. Once the chlorine and algaecides are gone, then bacteria and algae have a chance to grow. In addition, pools with mesh covers are filled with rainwater over the course of the off-season. This allows contamination to enter the pool."

Before shocking the pool to satisfy the chlorine demand, you may need to add some water, and if you know there are metals in the fill water, there are a couple of steps to take to prevent staining (and if you don't know if there are metals in your fill water, you'll want to find that out before putting it in the pool).

"If you know your fill water has metals, you're first going to apply your metal sequesterant," says Rigsby, "and then you're going to use a filter aid. We actually have one that has a charge on it. It's chemically charged so that it attracts the metals. The metals are positively charged, so our filter aid has a negative charge. As the water with the metals passes through the filter, the metals are trapped, and after several turnovers, you can chemically clean them out. That's the best way to do it: Get rid of the metals first and then once you start adjusting the water balance and adding your chlorinating shock and that kind of thing, you don't have to worry about the metals falling out and staining."

Another step to take before shocking the pool is to test and balance the water. Then, to satisfy chlorine demand, different service professionals take slightly different approaches. Many dealers shock the pool with anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds of chlorine. "On a 20,000-gallon pool — if it's opened in the middle of May — we might throw in 15 pounds of chlorine to shock, and that may or may not do it. We throw in the 15 pounds of chlorine and run the pool constantly until it clears up," says Mossing. "After that, it's up to the homeowner to check chlorine levels each day."

If the 15 pounds of chlorine does not do the trick, Mossing says his service professionals may apply a double dose after that, or they often suggest customers come in to run a chlorine- demand test using BioGuard's AccuDemand30. "Then we get the exact amount of chlorine needed to go in," says Mossing.

In cases where you want to avoid the trial-and-error shock experimentation, which may be most of your pools or just a few, Rigsby suggests starting with the AccuDemand30. "Customers bring in a water sample for the chlorine demand test, which takes about 30 minutes. By the end of that, they'll know how many pounds of chlorine it's going to take to overcome the demand. The trial-and-error experimentation will eventually work, but this is a quicker way to find out how far in the hole you are, and then fix it."

In terms of applying the shock, Chas Bogardus, service manager at Budd's Pools in Deptford, N.J., prefers to pour the shock on the steps. "A lot of times the steps may stain if there's any dirt or debris on them, and when we pour the chlorine on the steps, that has a tendency to bleach everything out as it's going down into the pool."

Unfortunately, small animals sometimes get under the cover during the winter, and they don't make it out. "If you have a vinyl liner, they'll shred the liner right on the wall, trying to get out," says Bogardus, and this, of course, will require a patch, or more likely a brand-new liner.

Whether or not the animal damages the pool walls, the unlucky critter will need to be removed. "And anything along those lines could contribute to chlorine demand," says Rigsby. "So once you're able to hold a chlorine residual, you can feel good about protecting the swimmers from disease transmission, but this is another reason to be sure the pool is covered and the cover is secure for the winter."

Once you've satisfied the chlorine demand typically present when the pool is opened, you'll want to add an algaecide, especially if the pool just went from green to clean. "You want to use an EPA-registered algaecide," says Rigsby. "An ammonium-chloride quat or a copper-based algaecide usually work best. For typical green algae, either one of those is going to be fine. If you're dealing with mustard algae, which has a more yellowish color, then you're definitely going to want to use a copper-based algaecide.

"If you need to remove black algae, chlorine is going to be your best bet. And a lot of brushing. Brush, brush, brush to get it off. Black algae clings to surfaces and it has a protective coating on the outside of the cell, so you have to brush it in order for the chlorine or whatever algaecide you use to get in there and do what it needs to do."

Keeping In Touch

As critical as it is to satisfy chlorine demand at opening, it's also important to be sure filters are in proper working order, says Mossing. "We always tell customers that 75 percent of their water-quality issues can be solved with proper filtration as opposed to chemicals. So when opening pools, we tell our customers to monitor their filter pressure, as well as make sure they have plenty of chlorine."

For most of their opening clients, Mossing says that after the cover is removed and sanitizer has been added to the pool, it's up to the customer to monitor filter pressure and check chlorine levels each day. To help this process go more smoothly, this year for the first time Mossing's service professionals left a special "opening week" door hanger for their opening clients.

"On the door hangers, we put tips for the opening week, such as, 'Monitor your pressure every day. Your pressure started at:____,' and then the guys wrote it in. We tell them their filter pressure should be high all week. We did that this year because a lot of times when customers call in just after opening, it's always filter related for us. We don't have a lot of mechanical issues. We also put a coupon on the hanger and encouraged clients to bring in a water sample after a couple days if there are any issues to straighten out. It was a little bit of extra work, but customers really appreciated it."

While it would be nice if pouring in chlorine and turning on the filter cleared up the pool, there is a certain amount of physical maintenance to be done to get pools looking great. Whether it's the service professional that does it or the homeowner, "you're going to have to get out there and brush and vacuum," says Rigsby. "I want to be sure people are aware of that. Don't overestimate what the products are going to do."

Preventative Measure

Openings always go more smoothly when homeowners keep an eye on the water over the course of the winter, notes Rigsby. Both Bogardus and Mossing recommend replenishing sanitizer and algaecide a couple of times during the winter, particularly to their clients with mesh covers.

"In late November or early December and then again in March and April, if they haven't opened yet, we have them add a quart of algaecide," says Mossing. "We just have them dump it right through their covers, and we've found that has helped a lot in terms of preventing the green algae blooms."

Openings can go smoothly, especially when done early in the pool season. But whether the opening is done early or late, letting customers know what to expect and what they need to do to help clear the pool or keep it clear will get you and your clients off to a great start.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail karen@aquamagazine.com.