Each May, pool operators and service professionals start getting ready to reopen pools that were closed for the cold winter months. To some degree, pool opening is covered in pool operator training courses. (See for example, the “Spring Start-up” section of chapter 16 in NSPF’s “Pool & Spa Operator™ Handbook.”).
An experienced professional will probably have a more detailed routine for pool opening; but even the best commercial pros can find ways to improve their performance. Check the list below to see if there are opportunities you may have overlooked.
- Take advantage of low pool-water levels. If water levels in the pool were reduced to below the return jets, and pipes were drained to prevent freeze damage, this may be the perfect time to check, service and replace valves. Servicing a flow-through chemical feeder, filter, pump or flow meter is less of a chore with a pair of smoothly operating isolation valves in place. (An isolation valve can also simplify replacement of a pressure gauge.) Repairing or replacing valves is much easier before water levels are raised than afterwards. A little extra work before water levels are restored could pay off during the swim season when it will be important to minimize downtime for unanticipated repairs.
While you’re at it, check for other equipment that needs to be serviced or replaced such as gauges, pumps, etc. The Model Aquatic Health Code Annex (2016 Edition, section 126.96.36.199) recommends checking inspection reports for any remaining action items before opening the pool. Even drain covers may be easier to check or replace while water levels are low.
- Be prepared for possible changes in the fill water. Operators in various parts of the United States have been caught off guard by changes in fill water hardness, alkalinity, pH, etc. (Many water authorities get raw water from multiple water sources, such as surface and ground water or wells tapped to different aquafers. Changes in water levels, rainfall or demand may force the authority to draw from a secondary source with poorer water quality.) Another possible change is a switch from chlorination to chloramination. Chloraminated fill water could raise the combined chlorine concentration in the pool water to objectionable values, especially with the volume of fill water required to raise the water level in the pool for a spring reopening. Check with the local water authority and/or test some water samples; or be prepared to deal with unanticipated changes in water hardness, alkalinity, or chloramine concentrations.
- Deal with Leaves and Other Debris Before It’s Dispersed in the Pool. If allowed to enter the pool, waste material could react with chlorine or serve as a food source for microbial life. Disinfection byproducts, elevated chlorine demand and excessive microbial growth can create water quality headaches.
- Use a leaf blower or other means to remove leaves from the cover and away from the pool before removing the cover.
- Water that has collected on the winter cover, is most likely contaminated with rotting leaves, pollen, algae, mold or other organic waste. Use a small sump pump or wet-dry shop vac to remove this water before it has a chance to get in the pool.
- If there is debris in the bottom of the pool, remove as much as possible with a pool vacuum (or a net for fresh, intact debris) before it gets spread throughout the water.
- This is also a good time to brush the walls and floor of the pool, gently moving the solids to the deepest part of the pool, where they can be vacuumed or drained to waste with minimal effort.
While we’re on the subject of keeping organic matter out of the pool water, consider setting the filter valve to pump to waste for a few minutes when the pump is first turned on. This way any pool antifreeze or other organic material in the pipes won’t be dispersed in the pool.
- Prior to Turning on the Circulation Pump: After restoring all the equipment to normal swim-season configuration and priming the pump, before you turn on the switch, check one last time. Are all the valves set to the right positions?
Also, the 2016 Model Aquatic Health Code Annex recommends making sure that chemical feeders are not turned on while the pool was shut down. A strong slug of acid and/or chlorine hitting the pool could be a nasty, and possibly dangerous, surprise. Accidental feed of chemicals with the circulation pump turned off is a problem that may be avoided by installing an Accu-Tab® flow-through chlorinator and an Acid Rite™ System flow-through acid tablet system. Flow-through feeders will not deliver pool chemicals unless the main circulation pump is operating. However, even with these types of feeders it is a good idea to remove tablets before winterizing and insure that the isolation valves are fully closed and not leaking.
- Balance the water, before allowing the heater to turn on. Low winter temperatures could have made the water more corrosive to calcium carbonate. Cold winter water may have rebalanced itself by dissolving plaster, grout or calcium carbonate deposits in the circulation system. Then, rising temperatures and gradual loss of dissolved carbon dioxide (raising the pH) could have shifted the balance toward scale formation. The pool heater is the most problematic place for the supersaturated calcium carbonate to be deposited; but a hot surface is the most likely spot to initiate such precipitation. Prevent this potential problem by balancing the water before the heater is powered up. Consider the benefit of using a target temperature above current water temperature when balancing the water.
- Keep Good Records. This could include not only water-test results, but also a fall closing checklist and a spring re-opening checklist. Note any problems encountered during the spring opening. Were stored motors, drain plugs, and other items poorly stored? Were they hard to find or hard to access? Was there an algae or corrosion problem because the water was not properly winterized? Noting things that could have gone better may be your first step in preventing such problems next spring.