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Automatic covers have been around for decades, but sales have taken off in the last few years because more and more municipalities consider automatic covers an acceptable safety barrier. "Some of the building departments in our area will give us a variance, and then you're not required to have a fence as long as you have an automatic cover that meets the ASTM safety standards," says Dan Tietsort, owner of Gem Gunite Pools in Nampa, Idaho. "It used to be that the cost of the auto cover was one of the deterrents, but if you have to fence right around your pool and buy a winter cover, you've spent as much as an automatic cover, so you might as well actually have one and get all the plusses that go along with it."
Automatic covers today are also much more reliable than they were when they were first introduced in the late '60s, says Tietsort. "Now, we have very few callbacks on the auto covers. We give the customers a good instruction period to start with so they know a little bit about them, and they're just a lot more carefree than they used to be."
To ensure auto covers are carefree and easy to use from day one, dealers will want to keep in mind the following tips when selling, installing and instructing customers about maintaining the units.
As beautiful as they can be, pavers do not work well with automatic covers that have a deck-mounted track. "A lot of times these pavers sink in various spots, and if you're attaching track that is supposed to be level and square, you can only imagine what can end up happening when you attach track to pavers," says Brad Stewart, president of Little Giant Pool & Spa in St. Louis.
The sand in between pavers can also get into the tracks, which makes it difficult for the cover to open and close smoothly. "If you do use pavers, use a polymeric sand," says Larry Hayes, owner of Anchor Spa & Pool in Huntley, Ill. "Wet it, and it sets up like concrete." Hayes also suggests voiding the warranty on certain parts, like ropes, pulleys and basically anyplace the sand can migrate to, because the sand is going to wear out these parts prematurely.
Tietsort says he won't attach a deckmounted track to pavers. "If they want to use pavers, they're more than welcome to, but if it's going to be a deck-mounted track, then we require them to let us pour a 6-inch concrete curb the full length of what the track is going to run on. We'll color the curb the same as their pavers, and this way we'll have something to anchor the track on," he says. "I don't feel like it will hold strong enough if it's not anchored on concrete."
Installing accessories on a freeform pool with an automatic cover also presents some challenges. If it's a free-form pool with an auto cover recessed under a cantilevered deck, then placing items like slides and handrails is not difficult as there are numerous spots around the perimeter where they can be sited. However, not everyone who wants a free-form pool and an automatic cover has the budget for recessed track. "That's a big expense," says Stewart.
So when dealing with a deckmounted track on a free-form pool, you'll need to carefully plan where accessories will be placed, since there are only a few spots available. Items like slides and rails need to be at the edge of the pool, but their anchoring hardware cannot be placed in the path of the cover material, so determining where these items can go — if they're even feasible — must be done as the pool is drawn up.
Also, on any type of pool, deck jets and slides are generally tied into the plumbing of the entire pool system, and this can be tricky when there's also an automatic cover, says Hayes. "If the homeowners are using the pool in the evening, they might forget to shut off the jets and slide," he says. "Well, then the system shuts off at midnight and the cover goes on. In the morning when the system starts up again and the cover is on, you'll ruin the cover. Way too much water from the slide and jets will spill onto the cover." If Hayes's clients want deck jets or a slide with an auto cover, he recommends having the jets installed in the tile line, below the track, and the slide installed with an automated valve so water to the slide shuts off when the pool system shuts off.
Deck-mounted covers on free-form and rectangular pools face another issue: drag. "The cover is designed to drag over concrete, but the more you open and close it, the more you're going to wear that cover compared to dragging it over water. And you may find yourself needing to replace the cover fabric sooner than most," says Stewart, who recommends going with a rectangular pool with a recessed cover to his clients getting an auto cover.
Finally, discuss lid options during the pool planning stage. "There are other lids available beyond just the aluminum lid," says Stewart. "You can do walk-on stones and walk-on concrete panels. Sometimes there is a little disappointment when someone gets a pool cover with an aluminum lid, and they didn't know there were other lid options."
The Right Spot
Before installing the cover's key switch or touchpad control, take a few minutes to determine the best location for it. "The switch location is often overlooked," says Stewart, who tries to find a spot that's convenient and safe. "You need to have the pool in full view so that you don't entrap someone or a pet in the pool, or cause damage to the cover, because sometimes these covers come off track a little bit and you don't realize it.
"And if the key switch is way in the back of the yard, that's a pain. But if you can have the switch inside or just out the sliding-glass door, under cover if it were to be raining, that's better. Because keeping the weather out of the pool is a big issue. That's why a lot of these covers are purchased, too. It's not just necessarily for safety. So when the weather guy gets on and says there's 5 inches of rain on its way, you want to be able to close that cover really quickly."
Another reason it's nice to have the switch near the pool, says Hayes, is so that homeowners don't have to go back and forth a long distance when opening their pool after a rainstorm. After they've placed the pump on the cover and it pumps off most of the water, they'll need to open the cover, but not all the way, and then let the pump work some more. They may only have to move the pump and adjust the cover once or twice before they can fully open the cover, but the shorter the distance between pool and switch, the better.
Hayes also likes the safety of the touchpad controls on the covers he installs. "You open the cover with a fourdigit code, instead of a key, which can get lost, and if the kids learn the code, you can change it. And you can place the touchpad high enough that small children can't get at it."
If you're installing a recessed cover on a rectangular pool, you'll need four 90-degree corners on the pool. "Make sure the pool corners are squared, not kind of squared," says Stewart. "It's all right to be off 2 inches when you're building a rectangular pool without a recessed automatic cover, but it's not a good idea to be off 2 inches if you are doing one."
"The reason for that," says Tietsort, "is if that pool is out of square and if you could get that cover to then run, when it closes, it may hit on one side of the pool and not even touch the other."
If your clients will be doing most of the day-to-day maintenance of the cover, you should provide some instruction. If the cover is a retrofit or not the client's first pool, let them know they will not need to add as much chlorine as they did in the past. "Without an automatic cover, there's a lot of stuff getting into the pool, like leaves and bugs, and those are affecting the chemistry," says Hayes. "With a cover, you don't have as much of that stuff getting into the pool, and so it reduces the chlorine demand, and you need to adjust the amount of chlorine going into the pool, or you'll damage equipment, wreck a vinyl liner or a vinyl cover, or even stain or discolor the finish if it's a plaster pool."
Before leaving customers with their new covers, Teitsort tells them if there is water on the cover, it's going to damage something if they roll it back with the water on there. He also mentions the time delay most cover pumps have. "If the pump senses there is no water, it'll stop, and that's one thing that we've had a lot of calls from customers on," he says. "They'll say the pump doesn't work, but they haven't let it sit long enough in the water. It takes about two and a half minutes, and then it will start pumping again."
Upward And Onward
"Approximately 80 percent of our pools have automatic covers, and that's not because I'm a good salesman," says Tietsort. "It's because we offer a good product, and we get good referrals, but the covers have just been such a blessing for people. They help with safety and help people save money in terms of heating and chemicals and water loss. There are just so many plusses with these covers, and people really see the value in them."
Automatic cover maintenance
1. Clean the cover material annually with a product approved for use on an automatic cover.
2. Clean the track annually with a pressure washer. "Never use any lubricants on the track," says Larry Hayes, owner of Anchor Spa & Pool in Huntley, Ill. "Petroleum and/or silicone-based products will attract dirt to the track, and that will get in the way of the auto cover operating properly."
3. If the cover has a clutch that starts slipping, take some time to tighten it. Also, grease fittings by the motor annually.
Dan Tietsort, owner of Gem Gunite Pools in Nampa, Idaho, also points out to clients that they won't have to do any of this maintenance if they call a service company to come out once a year to do it for them.
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