Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pool Maintenance

Ah, the joys of pool maintenance. Battling the evil forces of algae, leaks, evaporation, leaves, insects and yes, even the odd mouse (yuck!)

I no longer bother with a cover on the pool ... I've been using the liquid blanket technology for years, and it works well enough. I also don't cover the pool in winter ... this was my third spring opening the pool without any cover at all. I did have a lot of leaves this year, but I didn't mind, as the pool was crystal clear in a few weeks anyway ...

I shock the pool every couple of weeks once it starts getting used ... but otherwise, I simply keep the auto-chlorinator full and let it run. When I switch on the heater (gas), I need to maintain perfect chlorine balance in order to avoid the dreaded algae bloom. I've had a few of those over the years, basically when I forgot to refill the chlorinator. You really want to avoid those ...

Otherwise, basic maintenance is a breeze ... make sure that the alkalinity is kept up and that the pH is held slightly above 7 ... I quite like it approaching 8, as the water feels somehow "sweeter" that way.

Alkalinity is easy ... just add baking soda now and again and check the water quality with a tester. pH is more difficult, as you need a buffer to hold it up there. It turns out that the perfect pH buffer is Borax, found in the laundry section of any supermarket. But since baking soda also raises pH, add the Borax only after the soda has been absorbed and circulated and you've checked the pH.

Yes, you read that right. After stabilized chlorine pucks, all the pool chemicals you need can be obtained at your local grocery store, and at less than half the cost of the equivalent pool supplies. Same chemicals ... I kid you not. Check the labels.

In fact, this year's opening pool shock was done with a dozen bottles of bleach from WalMart. At a buck a bottle, the total chlorine I needed for the shock was about half the price again. But use the cheapest stuff you can find, because it is pretty diluted and you need a lot of bottles.

I got most of this info from a terrific web site called Pool Solutions. I've been reading it for years. It is run by the owner of a pool business and he knows his stuff. Check it out.

Meanwhile, that wasn't to be the primary subject of article. In fact, I sprung a leak. And then water started flowing from my pool. Ba-da-bing!

Seriously ... like any given weekend, I spent a moment filling the chlorinator with pucks and screwed the lid back on. This time, though, the lid went on with great difficulty. The last few turns were a nightmare. And when I switched the pool back on, it quickly began pouring water from the top of the lid.

It actually ran for 8 hours on Saturday in that condition, because I forgot to check it in the morning (it comes on at 7) and went instead to the formal gardens to shoot images.

The pad was soaking wet when I shut it off to figure out what was going on. I had to use a strap wrench to get the lid off, as it was stuck tight. Once I had it off, the problem became obvious ... the o-ring had stretched and no longer stayed in its groove. This meant that the inner lid was no longer sealing against the chlorinator's body, allowing the water to shoot around the inner lid and out the top of the unit.

So off I went to Mermaid Pools, a decent outfit that stocks many critical parts for the pool. I walked into the store and a young fellow took one look at the lid and gave me the part number I needed before I spoke. I went to the back of the store, where the parts counter resides, and got the part. I also got some silicone lube to make it seal just that little bit better and to help the twisting. Finally, I got some alkalinity plus, violating my own rule about buying at grocery stores ... but it was worth it to me to avoid carrying 6 2kg boxes.

The prices on this stuff are shocking ... the o-ring (the above is the old one by the way) cost me $25! The tiny lube tube was almost $14, as you can see in the image. And the pail was about $13. Pretty silly prices ... luckily I do all my own labour, so this is all I spend in a typical year. Perhaps 4 pails of pucks at $40 and whatever parts I need through the year.

Anyway ... the actual swap of the o-ring took 10 minutes, and an hour after I switched the pool back on, I checked the device and it was perfectly dry, as it had been for 12 years before this weekend.

And now I have my pool back ... only now the heater is running and the temperature is rising. I think I'll be able to swim later today ... we'll see.

Edit: Ok, there's one more task that I left out ... cleaning the skimmer. A 2 minute job normally, but today it took me ten minutes to round up sufficient tools to pick out the rotted half mouse (yes, half) and the bloated rat the size of a kitten, whose fur and skin were sloughing off. I was utterly grossed out and now have a true appreciation for what crime scene techs and police officers must have to tolerate on the job. I still shudder when I think about it .....

Edit 2: Decided that I was grossed out enough by the rat that I went out and bought 5 gallons of bleach and a box of Borax to super shock the pool and bring the pH up (water gets acidic as things rot) ... the pool should be very nice tomorrow afternoon, so maybe I'll get my first swim in finally. The water's been at the perfect 84 degrees Fahrenheit since this afternoon.

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