As pool season winds down, your pool company will perform standard procedures to close your facility for the season. These procedures are commonly referred to as winterizing. In order to avoid costly freeze damage, it’s important to know what is and is not included in standard pool winterizing.
Most pool companies include winterizing as part of their service contract. Procedures vary depending upon where you are in the country. In the Southeast, winterizing typically includes draining the pool water level down 12-24” below normal, draining the pool equipment (pump, filter, heater, and other optional equipment), installing freeze protection and plugs in the skimmers, storing pool furniture and equipment, and installing the pool cover.
For the typical in ground pool, skimmer lines run several feet underground and should not be at risk for freezing. However, if your pool is built on a hill or suspended in a parking deck, pool walls may be exposed, and therefore skimmer lines may be exposed. In these cases, the lines might need to be blown, pool antifreeze added, or the system kept running to prevent freeze damage. Please note that pool antifreeze and car antifreeze are different, and are not compatible. Pool companies typically do not include winterizing any part of the municipal water plumbing. This is because municipal water is a different system and requires additional equipment to inject pressurized air to clear the lines. Sometimes even after air injection, water can still be stuck in the municipal water system in low spots, angles or dead ends. Municipal/drinking water pipes include those going to: showers, toilets, sinks, drinking fountains, hose spigots, fill lines, and fire sprinklers. Irrigation lines may use municipal water or natural water. Ask your landscaper if your irrigation system needs to be winterized.
If you keep your bath house open and it is not part of a heated club house, you will want to use space heaters in the bathrooms to keep them above freezing during the winter months. Keep in mind that overuse of space heaters will run up your electric bill. It doesn’t have to be toasty in the restrooms, just above freezing, so it helps to get space heaters with a thermostat on them.
If you have exposed plumbing that cannot be isolated from the rest of the municipal water system (commonly seen in pool fill lines, outside showers, drinking fountains, and hose spigots), wrap these pipes in insulation or heated electrical wrap to prevent freeze damage during hard freezes.
Winterizing vs. Winter Maintenance
Some homeowner board members are unsure of the difference between winterizing and winter maintenance. Winterizing is the procedure discussed previously, which prepares your pool for colder weather. Winter maintenance is ongoing maintenance on the pool and facility throughout the off season. Winter maintenance service typically includes: adjusting the water level in the pool to keep it off the cover, chemically treating the water, removing debris from the pool cover and pool deck, and bumping the pump motors.
Most pools are covered with mesh safety covers that are designed to prevent accidental drowning and keep stain causing debris out of the pool for the winter. Safety covers are literally the best investment a community can make, because a quality safety cover will last 12 or more years, and provide a return on investment in as little as 2 to 3 years.
Where does the savings come from? The biggest savings is electricity from not having to run your pool pumps all winter long to keep the pool circulating. The second biggest savings is reduced maintenance costs, since the pool won’t have to be vacuumed throughout the winter. The third cost savings is reduced wear and tear on the pool surface and pool pumps. The fourth cost savings can be a reduction in your property liability insurance premiums for installing a safety cover.
Why is winter maintenance important?
If the pool water level is not routinely lowered to remove excess rainwater, the water level in the pool will come up and touch the pool cover. This allows debris that blows onto the cover to stick and stay in the center of the cover. Then you get what is often referred to as the “tea bag effect.” The leaves that are trapped on the cover decay and release their tannins into the pool water. The tannins tend to float and then deposit in the pool plaster, making a stain ring around the pool, similar to ring around the bathtub. This stain ring does not come off easily and may require acid washing to remove.
If chemicals are not added to the pool throughout the winter, the pool will turn green after the winterizing chemicals wear off. This causes additional expense at Spring start up, because heavy chemicals dosing and labor are needed to clean up the algae. In worst case scenarios where the algae stains the plaster, it may be necessary to drain the pool and perform an acid wash to remove the staining.
“Bumping” pump motors is as simple as turning them on for a few seconds during a winter maintenance visit. This spins the motor shaft and helps break loose any corrosion that has accumulated from condensation that forms on the motor’s metal parts during freeze/thaw cycles over the winter. This method is not foolproof, but it helps minimize motor failure during Spring start up and therefore prolong the life of pool motors.
If you’re unsure what the best course of action is for your pool, ask your CAI-member pool professional. In addition, look for pool companies who are members of APSP – the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (formerly known as NSPI). The APSP is the industry’s trade association. Membership generally means these companies commit to follow a standard code of ethics and take the training of their maintenance staff seriously.