Above Ground Pool Maintenance and Care Guide
Above ground pools are loved for their ease of set up, quick installation time, and significantly lower cost to install compared to in-ground pools. Once they’re installed and filled, however, all pools need the same care and maintenance to keep the water clean, clear and safe to swim in.
A pool care routine in brief:
- Several times a week: test Sanitizer and pH balance of the pool, and adjust.
- Weekly: Skim leaves and debris, brush pool sides, and vacuum. Empty skimmer basket and filter basket. Clean filter per manufacturer’s instructions
- Monthly: Test Alkalinity and Water Hardness, clean pump/filter area looking for leaks and damage
- Make a customized maintenance schedule for your equipment based on your user manuals.
Maintaining your pool:
Water is the stuff of life, and without maintenance, algae, bacteria, and debris can collect to form a vibrant and thriving community. The key to keeping the pool a haven for you and your family rather than these invading creatures and plants is sticking to a regular schedule. Keeping the water circulating, the liner clean, removing debris, and chlorine and PH levels in the right range is simpler than you think with the right habits and tools.
This guide will provide the information you need to keep a pristine pool. It describes the three main components of great pool care: filtration, cleaning, and chemistry. All of these main components focus on the water. A fourth component which will need only occasional attention is the maintenance of the pool machinery that helps you with the first three.
Your water filter pumps water from your pool, feeds it through the filter to remove debris and then pumps it back into the pool. If it’s unobstructed, all of the water in your pools gets a pass through the filter every eight hours.
This system helps your water it two ways. The constant movement of water acts to hamper the growth of bacteria and algae. And the filter removes particulates and dirt from the water. The three most common types of filter rely on sand, a cartridge, or diatomaceous earth to do the filtering work. Each of these filters need different maintenance, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for flushing and care for the system.
Your circulation/filtration system must run for at least 12 hours a day, and 24/7 operation is the best. Constant operation provides a continuous flow of water, which is best for both the pump and the filter. Constant operation is also better for the water. It also provides constant water movement, and a 24 hour run increases the number of cycles, so that all of your pool water is filtered 4 times a day.
Maintain your system: The filtration and circulation happen automatically as long as the pump is turned on, but you’ll need to perform some manual maintenance tasks to keep the circulation and filtration system in great shape. There are usually two places for larger debris to collect, the first is the skimmer basket. Empty this at least weekly, and more often if it fills up (seasonal events like leaf fall can fill this daily in an uncovered pool). There is also a basket next to the pump. This catches larger debris that got through the skimmer basket. Check this weekly, usually at the same time as you check your filter. Some filters need a weekly backwash. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance requirements for your equipment. Regardless of filter type, you’ll need to keep an eye on your pump pressure gauge. Watch for high PSI levels (commonly above 8, but again, check your manual). If the PSI is too high, you’ll need to clean your filter to protect the pump and filter from damage, and also to be sure your water is circulating through the system as it should. Filter maintenance helps to clear out the crud the filter has taken out of your water during and restores the efficiency of your filter.
The circulation and filtration system is very efficient at cleaning unobstructed water, but you may have some water that doesn’t flow as easily. Corners, stairs and even pool toys can form protective eddies that keep pockets of water from flowing through the pump. These areas may need spot cleaning, especially during periods that your pool doesn’t get as much use. Remember that the circulation and filtration keeps the water clean, so areas with little to no circulation can provide a place for algae and bacteria to grow. Debris can collect in these still areas and in the rest of the pool, especially on the bottom. Some debris is too heavy for the moving water to sweep it into the filter, and some is too light and floats around, avoiding being pulled into the filter.
Your weekly cleaning includes: skimming the pool, emptying the skimmer and filter basket, brushing the sides of the pool, vacuuming, and any filter maintained recommended by the manufacturer.
Use a long-handled skimmer to get large debris from the pool. If debris collects during the week, you may need to do this more often. If debris falls to the bottom of the pool, it can stain your pool liner, so skim your pool quickly if you see debris on the bottom.
Next, brush the sides and bottom of the pool to loosen dirt and algae that sticks to the pool liner. Finally, vacuum it. There are automated systems that will help with this, but even if you use them, you’ll need to check for missed areas, and clean them by hand. If you’re using a manual system, aim for at least weekly brushing with a standard vinyl pool brush followed by a total pool vacuum. If your chemistry is out of balance, or if you have a problem with lots of leaves or other debris collecting, you may need to do this more often.
This is the most demanding maintenance task and you’ll be doing it at least weekly, so invest in the best quality vacuum cleaner you can. An automatic pool cleaner is the best, but you can use a manual pump if the automatic cleaner is beyond your budget. Remember that the easier it is to do, the more consistent you’ll be, which can lead to lower maintenance costs over the life of your pool, so the best machine you can get – even if you’re going with a manual vacuumed – may worth it financially. It’s always going to be worth it in terms of reduction of your effort!
One difference between in-ground pools and some above ground pools is the durability of the liner. Be sure that the vacuum you’re working with is appropriate for your pool, and use vinyl brushes without metal parts that can damage the walls to your pool.
Pool chemistry basics include three required components and a couple of optional ones. The required components are sanitation, pH balance, and water hardness. Occasionally, you may choose to use Algaecides or Clarifiers to mitigate temporary problems. Chlorine and pH should be tested 2-3 times a week. Testing the water is a quick task, and the earlier you identify an imbalance, the easier it is to fix. Alkalinity and hardness can be tested once a month.
Sanitizer: the most common sanitizing regimen is a combination of stabilized chlorine and shock. Sanitizers have two jobs. First is to kill bacteria and algae, and the second is to dissolve non-living organic matter, including dead bacteria and algae, pollen, leaves and windblown debris, hair, oils and skin cells from swimmers (especially canine swimmers).
- Stabilized Chlorine: Stabilized Chlorine can be added to your pool in a floating chlorine dispenser. This product contains both chlorine and a stabilizer, making a separate chemical stabilizer (usually cyanuric acid, CYA) unnecessary. Your chlorine level should be kept between 1.0 and 3.0. If it is low, add a tablet or stick to your dispenser, if it’s too high, remove the dispenser until levels are back down in range. (https://patch.com/connecticut/stratford/the-truth-about-pool-condtioner-or-stabilizer)
- Shock: Sometimes, the organic matter might be introduced to your pool faster than your chlorine can break it down. Shock is a quick addition of chemicals that help break down that excess organic matter. If your chlorine levels are relatively high and constant, and the organics in the system are low, you might never need it. When your total chlorine level is above your free chlorine level by 2 ppm or more, shock your pool. Using a non-chlorine shock allows you to use the pool sooner after the treatment. (http://lapawspa.com/how_often_should_i_shock_my_pool_000222.html)
pH balance: pH should be between 7.2 and 7.6. Proper pH levels help your chlorine to work more efficiently, protect your equipment from damage, and maintain safe water for swimmers. A quick refresh on how acids and bases work is available here (http://www.chem4kids.com/files/react_acidbase.html).
- Alkalinity: Alkalinity is really a subcategory to pH. It is a pH buffer. Your pH is affected by rain, swimmers, and other things that routinely enter your pool, and without proper alkalinity levels, the pH changes too rapidly to effectively maintain. To mitigate this constant change, keep your alkalinity level between 80 and 120 ppm. You should check this regularly, but probably won’t have to adjust it as often as the other chemicals because it usually stays relatively stable. (http://www.havuz.org/pool_pool/pool_maintenance/water_testing/total_alkalinity.htm)
Water Hardness: While sometimes overlooked, testing and adjusting your pool’s calcium hardness is a cheap preventative measure that can save expensive repairs. Water that is too soft or too hard will damage your pool liner and equipment through corrosion or the formation of scale. Your test kit may call this “Calcium Hardness”. Test it monthly and whenever water is added to your pool (via the rain or the hose). Keep calcium hardness between 200 and 400 ppm. (http://poolforthought.com/maintaining-pool-calcium-hardness/).
Algaecide: Algae growth indicates a problem somewhere in your pool care system. If left to fester, it can become a major problem. If you have a serious algae bloom, first check your main chemical balance and make adjustments. Pay special attention to the free chlorine level vs total chlorine, as you may just need to shock your pool. After you adjust the chemicals, do a thorough cleaning (skim/brush/vacuum). This is also a good time to check your filter and see if it needs to be cleaned. If the algae bloom isn’t addressed by the steps above, you may choose to apply an algaecide. Don’t apply algaecide and shock at the same time, as shock will destroy it. If you find a frequent need for algaecide, do some detective work, you may have an underlying problem. (http://www.bluewavechemicals.com/Why_Use_Algaecide_Do_I_Need_Pool_Algaecide.html)
Clarifiers: It’s entirely possible that you’ll never need to use a clarifier, but it can be helpful to remove super fine particles that become a problem due to a pollen bloom, or windblown dust. Like algaecide, if you find yourself using it consistently, and can’t blame your pool’s cloudiness on dust or pollen, you should investigate the rest of your system. Check all of your chemical levels, and clean your filter. A well-maintained pool really shouldn’t need to use a clarifier that often. (https://www.troublefreepool.com/threads/25694-How-often-can-I-use-clarifier)
Maintaining the proper pool chemistry will limit the growth of bacteria and algae, make the water safe for swimmers, prevent expensive damage to pool systems, and make your weekly cleaning chores easier.
Pool equipment and the maintenance needs vary according to the manufacturers and models of your machinery and the pool itself. It’s important that you have access to the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and troubleshooting. First, you should familiarize yourself with your pool’s equipment. Make a list of the make and model for all the equipment you have. All pools will have a pump and a filter and a vacuum. Some will also have a heater or a chlorinator. Next, be sure you have the user manuals for everything. If not, find the manuals either on line or from the manufacturer. A quick search for “pool equipment user manual” followed by your manufacturer and model number will usually bring you right to the document you need. Flip through the manuals and familiarize yourself with the maintenance guidelines. Read the instructions for cleaning your filter carefully, as this will be your most frequent equipment maintenance task.
Seasonal tasks: Opening and closing your pool.
Closing your Pool – Mild Climates:
In mild climates the only difference in winter pool maintenance is that you can reduce the run time of your filter by half, and if you have a cover, you can reduce the time spent skimming, brushing and vacuuming.
Closing your Pool – Cold Climates:
In colder climates, closing the pool is a project, but you will have easier weekly maintenance through the winter.
Preparing the water: Most pools should not be drained completely in the winter, but the water level will need to be lowered. First, find the manufacturer’s instructions for your pool and lower the water to the recommended level. Second, If the instructions say not to drain the pool, you’ll need to condition the water before it freezes. Be sure the pH is between 7.2 and 7.8 and shock the pool. Next, Run the filter continuously for at least 24 and up to 48 hours. After the chemicals are correct and the filter has been run, skim, brush and vacuum the pool so that it’s as clean as possible when it freezes. Finally, add an algaecide so that nothing grows before the freeze.
Preparing the equipment: If you have an automatic vacuum, turn it off, drain it, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winter maintenance and storage. Turn all of your pool machinery off, and then turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse for your pool equipment. Drain the pump, filter, heater, and any other equipment and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for lubrication, storage and covering for the winter.
Cover: Finally, cover the pool securely, being sure that edges are sealed so that wind and debris can’t get underneath. If you’re using water bags to weigh down and secure the cover, fill them halfway.
Opening your Pool:
Opening your pool is a simpler process. First remove the cover, clean it and store it. Then check and clean the skimmer basket, filters, pumps and the drains. Reconnect any hoses that were disconnected for the winter. If there are leaves or debris in the pool, remove them with your long-handled skimmer. Fill the pool to the proper level, and restore power to the pool operations by replacing the fuse or flipping the breaker. Turn the machinery all back on and run the pump and filter. Check everything over for leaks and be sure the machines are all functioning. Brush and vacuum the pool, and re-skim it if necessary. Let the pump run for 3 hours before you test the chemicals. Be sure to test Alkalinity and Hardness in this first test of the season. Adjust the pH levels and drop your chlorine dispenser in the pool, and let the pump run for another 3 hours. Test the pH again repeat the adjust/pump/test cycle until it’s correct. Next, shock the pool per the label instructions. The pool’s now ready to use! for the first couple of weeks, check your chemicals, skimmer basket and filter baskets more frequently.
A well-maintained pool is not only a great place for family fun: it will also protect your investment. Excessive debris and algae can stain your liner and damage your pool machinery, while poor chemistry can actually allow the water to become corrosive and damage both the pool’s surfaces and its equipment or promote the formation of destructive scale. Like many things in life, a little work consistently can save the headache of a big (and sometimes costly) cleanup of a pool that’s gotten out of control. Regular maintenance will ensure a safe pool and avoid the cost of repairs or even replacement of the pool liner, parts or equipment if maintenance problems go on for too long.
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