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MAINTENANCE : Keep Cool in a Pool That Sparkles : Monitor Water Level, Chemical Balance, Filters


With the high temperatures this summer, your swimming pool and spa are probably getting more use than ever. And if you're maintaining your pool yourself, that means more work and vigilance than at any other time of the year.

The most visible aspect of summer pool maintenance is the water level.

"When the weather gets warm, water tends to evaporate more quickly," said Jeff Hall of Dolphin Pool and Spa Center in Yorba Linda. "You also lose water as the pool gets more use; it's not uncommon to lose one to two inches per week. The danger is in letting the water level drop below the skimmer. If it does, the pump can run dry and destroy itself, and algae begins growing almost instantly."

Once you've got the water level up, the next challenge is giving your pool the right chemical balance.

"The key to doing routine maintenance is the first word, routine ," said Bob Kobesky of Orange Park Pool Supply in Orange. "You've got to do it on a regular basis, at least once a week, not when you think it should be maintained."

By the time you see a problem, such as algae or high alkalinity or acidity, it may be too late for an easy fix.

"You're dealing with 25,000 to 35,000 gallons of water," Kobesky said. "If you don't stay on top of the maintenance, you'll be overwhelmed."

To measure your pool's chemistry, you can either use a water test kit or take a water sample to a lab for analysis, a service available at many pool supply stores.

"If you're going to use a kit, pay a little more and get one that tests for pH, chlorine residual, calcium hardness and total alkalinity," said Tom Rayburn, a pool maintenance specialist from Santa Ana.

"This will give you a better reading of what's happening in the pool. And make sure you're not taking water samples just from the surface. Take one from about two feet down, where the water is not as affected by the temperature on the surface."

The recommended pH level for most pools is between 7.2 and 7.6. Below 7.2, the water is too acidic to swim in, and above 7.6 it's too alkaline. Keeping it within this range requires an accurate mix of acid and alkalies.

"When adding chemicals, pour them from different spots around the pool," Rayburn said. "Be careful, try not to create a splash on the water, and wear rubber gloves."

Algae is probably the most common complaint among pool owners. When the weather is hot and the water strays slightly out of its chemical balance into a high pH level, this simple plant life can thrive and take over a pool in less than day.

If allowed to get out of hand, algae can change the color of the water and stick to the walls and surface of the pool, often requiring that it be drained and scrubbed down. If the walls and steps of the pool are slippery, you could have an algae crisis looming.

The first step in fighting an algae attack is super-chlorinating, which is putting up to five times the normal amount of chlorine disinfectant into the pool.

"It kind of works like a shock treatment on the water to raise the chlorine level quickly and kill off the algae," Hall said.

If super-chlorination fails, algaecides can be added. And if nothing seems to solve the algae problem, it may be time to call in a professional to drain, scrub and start the pool over from scratch.

"Once you start having serious algae problems, you're spending a lot of money on these specialty products," Hall said. "By not letting the pool's balance get out of hand, you end up saving money."

Should you find that there's a strong odor of chlorine around the pool, it's a sign that there's an imbalance in the water chemistry, and the problem is not that you've added too much chlorine.

"This happens in pools that have been used heavily and which have not been maintained as they should," said Rudy Rodriguez of All Season Pool & Spa Supplies in Garden Grove.

"There's too much organic and inorganic waste in the water, such as perspiration, hair spray and cologne, and they have displaced the chlorine out of the water. More chlorine has to be added to make up for the loss."

Getting rid of dirt and contaminants is the responsibility of the pool filter, which is a part that's often ignored by those who do their own maintenance. The most common filter has the pool water pass through a series of grids coated with diatomaceous earth, a white, chalky substance mined in the California and Arizona deserts.

These "DE" filters are highly efficient at trapping dirt in water, Hall said.

"Generally, the cleaner your filter, the more sparkling your water," he said. "Filters should be cleaned out at least twice a year. Sometimes people let them go for a few years, and the grids are so clogged you can barely pull them out."

The usual cleaning method for DE filters is back-washing, or reversing the flow of water through the filter.

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