For most pool owners, the backyard cement pond becomes a leaf catch in the fall. Then, in winter, you may forget it exists for weeks at a time – unless you are carrying a huge load of firewood and wander a little too close to water’s edge. Demand for chemicals seems to decrease in cooler weather. And in North Texas, where normal temps hover well above freezing for much of the winter, we have little fear of freeze damage.
Then came the winter of 2011, when ice and snow blanketed the urban plains of Dallas and low temperatures were consistently in the mid-teens for almost 3 weeks. The ice brought down trees, electrical lines, and pool equipment. My service van got stuck a few times during the insanity, giving rise to my only stories about walking uphill in snow (and yes, it seemed to be uphill both ways). The costs related to pool damages when power outages halt freeze prevention devices can be substantial. You can read our winterization advisory by following this link: http://selectpoolservices.com/winter-freeze-emergencies/ Bookmark it on a battery-operated device, or print it and store it safely: the procedures we outline may save you hundreds of dollars and headaches.
Beyond the dramatic concerns of frosty weather, winter should also change your behavior as it relates to your pool. The following are a few do’s and don’ts as they relate to winter pool maintenance in temperate climates. These are not applicable to pools in colder climates.
Don’t Drain Your Pool
Unless you will be remodeling your pool in late winter, your equipment is not functional at all, and you have consulted with a pool professional, draining your pool for winter’s sake is a terrible idea. Especially in rainy seasons, groundwater pressure can shift or even lift your empty pool shell. Plaster is meant to be constantly under water; if left dry for extended periods, at least two serious problems can arise. First, and less critical, is the fact that the color of the plaster surface could be stained or mottled if left dry. Secondly, if your pool has been plastered more than once, the potential exists for newer layers of plaster to delaminate from the subsurface. This means the newest surface will probably break loose in at least a few places.
Do Feel Free to Reduce Pump Run Time
This bit of advice has some caveats attached. A pool with regular bathers should circulate all of the water through the filter a couple of times per day. Swimmers give off body oils and dirt that need to be filtered out of the water in order for it to stay clear and clean. AFTER the leaves cease falling, in the midst of the winter season, you can reduce your pump run time. Generally speaking, under ideal conditions, winter filter pump run time can be reduced to as little as 30% of the normal, summer cycle. Reverse course and bring pump run time back to normal if:
- You see algae begin to form, which may be caused by chemical imbalance but which ALWAYS demands a longer, more effective filtration cycle, at least temporarily
- Precipitation events occur with greater frequency, or you endure a huge storm with heavy winds
- You plan to use the pool; but if you’re heating the pool, it will likely run for a good day or two before you use it in order to get the temperature up
- You struggle to keep the pool clean and clear throughout the year; reduced filtration time will make the struggle even more painful!
Do Check Your Freeze Prevention Device(s)
There is no need to run the heater and keep your pool water at 50 degrees F. For some, freeze prevention devices are old, metal electrical boxes separated from the standard filter pump timer. For others, freeze protection devices are integral to the system, whether they use mechanical or electric sensors. For automation, especially more recent models, the filter pump should be factory-or-installer programmed to come on when temperatures fall below 36 degrees F. To test them, you can take some ice in a plastic baggie, put a little water in the baggie, and find the sensor. It’s either a thin piece of copper that originally was coiled like a spring, or it is a plastic sensor with a wire connected to the automation system. Both normally hang below their respective housings. Submerge the sensor in the icy water and wait about a minute (maybe longer, depending on sensor type). If the filter pump and perhaps some water feature pumps kick on, you are protected. If not, try a can of air, the type you use to clean between the keys of your keyboard. Turn it upside down and spray its frosty goodness onto the sensor. Freeze prevention devices in the south cause the pumps to run until temps are a few degrees above freezing; moving water should not freeze during the temperate, southern winters.
Monitoring makeup water is difficult enough in the summer, but who wants to go check water level and drag the hose out in near-freezing temps? Regardless of the time of year, some things always remain the same. Chemicals must be kept in balance, the pool must be kept at optimum water level, and baskets need to be cleared of leaves and debris. And during an ice storm power outage, while bemoaning no internet connection or good reading light, don’t forget that your pool is suffering from no electricity as well.