March 20, 2011

Expat Tips - Pool Care

So after months of preparations and paperwork you've finally arrived in your beautiful new house in South Africa. The sun is shining and your new pool is sparkling blue. But not for long if you don't take care of it! Trust me, I speak from experience. Our pool has gone through many stages of green, and not many things are actually quite so distressing as a green pool, even if it is winter and no one is swimming in it. We are one of those families who had never had a pool before, and I've learned quite a bit in the pool care department over the last year. So I thought I'd give you a few pool maintenance tips.


What a well-maintained pool should look like

    This pool needs attention - overflow not circulating
    back into pool, barracuda hose has come loose, and
    a good dose of chlorine is needed
  • If you have any choice in the matter (most likely there are too many other factors when picking a house), avoid pools with overhanging trees or grasses. Also, rimless pools with an overflow look stunning but are a pain to clean up, since your pool cleaner does not cover the overflow area. They also cool the water down more quickly. If you have small kids, make sure your pool is covered with a net (or insist that your landlord installs one).

  • Consider hiring a pool service and ask your neighbors to get recommendations. The cost will range from R500-R700 per month. There are many garden services that will also maintain your pool. However, I've found that those services are great with the weekly visits, but not so responsive when you have an emergency. When your pool is turning green, you want to fix it quickly, not in four days, so I think you need to learn the basics of pool maintenance yourself (and then you don't really need to pay for your pool service). If you decide to take care of your pool yourself, you will soon develop a feel for what it needs at any given time.

  • Have your landlord explain the pool pump to you. It has a timer that's fairly easy to understand, it has an on/off switch for the pump (maybe two pumps if you have an overflow like we do), and it has what looks like a large lever on top that you can lift and turn to various positions (like filtration or backwash) which I'll explain later.

Pool pump set to "filtration" (where it normally is)

  • Make sure your pool cleaner - often referred to as Kreepy Krauly or Barracuda, which is the vacuum thing moving across the bottom and sides of your pool - is in good working order, and the hoses it is attached to don't have any holes. There should be a lot of suction and it should rhythmically creep along. When we first moved in, our cleaner would frequently stop for no reason, until we discovered a crucial part was missing and the hoses were leaky, causing it to lose suction. We now have a Zodiac Pacer  and it has been running like a charm.

Barracuda

  • Program your pool pump so it runs a sufficient amount of time during the day, when the sun is the hottest and algae growth the fastest. We have ours run about 8 hours a day during summer, from about 8:30 to 4:30, and as little as 2-3 hours a day during winter. It's pretty much a function of temperature. If you have a solar heater (I highly recommend having one installed if you don't - for a one-time cost of R14000, which we split with our landlord, we've been able to add 6-7 degrees Celsius for a summertime temperature of about 30 degrees) you will want to run your pump while the sun is shining.

  • Your pool should also have a floater in it, which you can buy anywhere, like Pick 'n Pay or Builder's Warehouse, for around R50. Some are better than others, so I wouldn't buy the very cheapest brand. You can twist the bottom of the floater from a smaller to a larger opening, thus releasing the chlorine faster. We usually have ours on the largest opening, but we also have a large pool. A smaller one will be sufficient for a smaller pool. In summer, we've been running through a floater in 3-4 weeks. You will know when it is empty when it starts tilting to the side.

  • Also equip yourself with a big bucket of chlorine and perhaps a testing kit or just test strips. There are pool supply stores like Brandon's Pool Care (Leaping Frog Shopping Centre near Fourways) where you can have your water tested and get every chemical imaginable (I once walked away with at least 10 kg of bottles, sachets, and tablets, together with 2 pages of step-by-step instructions). But just know that at the end of the day it all comes down to chlorine. It's not rocket science. Especially during summer, the chlorine released from the floater might not be enough, so you'll have to add about a cup every week, sprinkling it slowly along the edge of the pool. After it rains, or whenever the pool doesn't look sparkling clean to you (like I said, you'll develop an eye for this), add another cup. If your pool has already turned green, shock it by adding six cups. Let the pump run for several hours after you've added chlorine to your pool.

  • If your pool has an overflow, clean it once a week. Scrub it well with a brush attached to a pole, then wait an hour or so for the dirt to settle on the bottom (or you can do the scrubbing the night before).Turn off the pump, remove the barracuda from the end of the hose, extend the hose with another link if necessary, and plug it into the sweeper attachment at the end of a long pole (which you can also get at Builder's Warehouse; in fact, you can pretty much get anything at Builder's Warehouse, including Boerewors hot off the grill or even your very own plumber looking for a job). Take care not to get much air into the hose during this process or you will lose suction, which is a pain to get back. Then turn the pump on again and slowly sweep along the bottom of the overflow. You won't need to sweep your actual pool if you have a barracuda, as the barracuda will perform this very function automatically.

Sweeper attachment

  • Backwash and rinse your pool once a week. You best do this on the same day every week, so as not to forget. Turn off your pump, shift the lever to "backwash," turn the pump back on and run it for about 2 minutes (some pumps have a little clear tube on the side where you can see the water flowing through, and you will want to backwash until the water is running clear). Turn off the pump again, shift the lever to "rinse," and run 1 minute. This process will remove dirt particles that are caught in your filtration sand and prevent it from becoming clogged.

Pump set to "backwash"

pump set to "rinse"

  • Every once in a blue moon, check the basket in the weir (the place at the side of the pool where the barracuda hose is attached) and clean it out. You'll be amazed to find some long-lost items. If your pool has an overflow (in case you haven't yet realized what a pain an overflow is), you might have to clean out the filter that is built into the separate circuit pumping overflow water back into the pool. Ours frequently gets clogged up with grass and small leaves and there are times where I have to unscrew and take apart the entire filter and spray it out with the hose (usually getting myself soaked in the process) several times a week. You will know it's clogged when the overflow is, well, not overflowing.

Filter for overflow pump
Clogged filter
Clean filter

  • Don't forget to swim in your pool and enjoy it! Even if you're a chicken like my when it comes to cold water, you'll have worked up such a sweat from all the scrubbing and cleaning that you'll happily dive in.

    Seemed like a good idea...
    ...but revenge followed on the spot!

    Life could be worse!

    All this probably sounds more complicated than it is. Once you develop a routine, your pool maintenance should take almost no time. I actually find pool cleaning therapeutic! I usually scrub the overflow Sunday nights (or, I should say, I subcontract this task to one of the boys), once everyone is done with a weekend full of swimming . On Monday mornings, before the pump has even started running, I'll vacuum the overflow, backwash and rinse, hose out the overflow filter, and add chlorine if needed (both to the pool and overflow). Takes me less than 20 minutes and my reward is to look down at a freshly sparkling pool all day as I'm sitting at my desk writing expat advice blog posts.


    10 comments :

    Sine said...

    I lied. I don't only use chlorine in. Every two months or so when the pool looks like it doesn't want to return to sparkling even with chlorine, I add an aelgicide (the scientific name is too long and too complicated). The product I used was called StaBlue. It's a blue liquid that you pour in the water along the edge of the pool, a half bottle is usually sufficient. Clarifies your water instantly.

    Kenny said...

    These are fantastic pool tips. Even though swimming pools do need some attention, I think they are well worth it! There is nothing like a pool in the summer time.

    Sine said...

    Thanks Kenny, I agree. I didn't think so before we had a pool, but now we have one, we wouldn't want to go back. Too bad summer is almost over around here.

    JA Plumbing said...

    Hey Sine, this is an awesome post. I was partially aware about pool care before reading your blog. After reading your blog I have learned most. Really great work!

    Earl Finnegan said...

    Without proper pool services, they can get really disgusting. It's best to always stay on top of the work.

    Eugene Cave said...

    I've just started doing some pool maintenance in Greenwood IN and I've realized I should have done it a long time ago. My filter looked worse than yours!

    W. A. Jeffrey said...

    I hate swimming pools but since all the houses have them in SA it will be something I will have to deal with. I hope to find a good pool cleaning company so I don't have to do much myself. Frustrating to have to bother will all that work considering I don't know how to swim and will never even get in the darn thing!

    Sine said...

    Oh but it is SO pretty to look at:-)

    Ronny Anderson said...

    Add replacement of damaged cartridge filter above in your tips. As it is the major part of a swimming pool that prevents pool water from dirt and debris. You can visit us at Filters4less.biz to replace your old and damaged cartridge.

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