Swimming Pool Maintenance for Dummies

Howdy Dopers,

We recently opened our pool and wouldn’t you know I’ve never owned or managed a pool before.

I paid a guy to show me how to get it going, but he flaked out (more on that at the end) so I’ve been learning how to do everything on my own. But I was hoping those of you who manage their own swimming pools can give me some tips and advice.

First things first: Pool is a roughly 16x40, rectangle with cut corners.

In Ground, vinyl liner.
One Skimmer
Triton T60 sand filter
Hayward Super II Pump

***No one is swimming yet but we are nearly warm enough, so I am in-earnest getting the pool swim-ready…

I guess the TL;DR of my main questions would be:

How often do you shock? Is it an intuitive thing?

How long does the pump need to run, and at what times of day?

What’s this thing? Is it a set-up for a second skimmer (located near the shallow entry. The cover won’t come off).

How do you know if you need a booster pump? Does this only pertain to pressure side cleaners? Awful pool guy briefly mentioned it before going AWOL.

How do I decide on what crawler cleaner I need? I think a suction-side like the Hayward Navigator Pro or PoolVac XL.

How bothersome is this minor, slow leak? Am I correct in that the pipe is on the PRESSURE side of the fittings?

Finally, here is what my pool looks like after a week of violent severe weather, during which I had the pump off. Here is the current chemistry: Chlorine is “ok,” PH is “ok,” Acid and alkalinity are both a bit low, hardness is always dark purple. What can I do?

So, our “pool guy” opened the pool (cover off, ladder in, pump on, some chemicals, then left). I was on my own to learn what ‘backwashing’ is, how to do it, why, when, etc…

We do not have a crawler vac, but I am looking to get one.
The pool doesn’t have a flat bottom. Not only does it slope to the deep end, the deep end has sloped walls on the side. Most of the dirt stays on the flat bottom and in the grooves of the liner.

I haven’t been able to vacuum the pool all the way clean. I’ve gotten it pretty close, but vacuuming always loses suction halfway through and I have to stop to backwash.

I usually vacuum directly tube-into skimmer. I got a vacuum skimmer plate but I don’t get enough draw to suck the dirt, so I don’t really use the plate.

I haven’t vacuumed on "waste,"I usually just turn the pump valve to draw more suction then backwash as needed.

But the bottom is CONSTANTLY DIRTY.

We just had major rain (flooding) so I have shocked the water and gotten it back to clean looking. Chemistry isn’t too far off…

When I first started checking the water, the PH was super low. I got baking soda and added as directed to bring up.

We have exceptionally hard water. Not sure what to do about that.

I watched a lot of videos and people swear by using a few gallons of liquid chlorine for shock. It’s cheap, does all the things of algaecide, etc.

Backwashing: I just keep an eye on the gauge and backwash either when suction/re-circulation is low or when the gauge reads 10% or more above normal pressure.

Pool Guy Drama:
I was beholden to this…person…due to the fact the pool was winterized and couldn’t be opened for inspection. He signed an attestation that everything was in good working order, and was on the hook to open it up. The entire point was I told him I wanted to see how to fire things up and get it going, since it will be my job to maintain and run all this from here on.

He is beyond unprofessional, he doesn’t answer the phone like a normal person, he comes off as excruciatingly stupid, and casts off the strongest “this guy is useless” vibes because YES.

He no called/no showed the first appointment. We called him a few hours later and he said he’d come later that day. Didn’t.

We were prepared to go with ANYONE else but he said he’d come on a Thursday.
I specifically asked him to let me know if he wasn’t going to make it so I didn’t waste another day waiting around on him.

He no showed/never called.

Finally he swears he’ll be there noon on Sat. He did not show up. He did show up around 3pm at which point family was arriving for a birthday get-together. I told him under no circumstances was he to leave without going over things with me. “Yes sir that’s my job, show you how to operate things so I can hand it off to you to take over.”

He left quietly without telling anyone, then showed up later to turn something off and told my wife “he’d be back to talk about what we need to do next.” She asked to wait so he could speak with me, he said he’d get with me later.

He just F.O.'d from there, only texting me a week or so later to “backwash my system and to put 25 lbs shock and chlorine” but without any explanation to what, why, or how.

After researching and having to dig in, at that point I decided I was done with this bozo. I got with a few other companies and they assured me he had not completed the opening. They also ensured that unless I had some really specific problem, like high phosphates or something, that amount of chemical is not at all necessary.

After not hearing from the guy, he calls my wife and lies to her that I won’t answer my phone. He then leaves an invoice written out to “no one’s name that i know” in our mailbox after hours Friday night.

7 AM Monday he’s blowing me up, texting multiple times and calling me. So I told him I just needed to clarify some of the billing/charges. He billed for more hours than he quoted, but he also didn’t explain anything he did, and the biggest issue, was I hired him to “show me what’s involved” and he just left without ever talking to me. He tried to lie and say no one was home, and once I pinned him on his lies, he pivots to say if I want to know how to operate my own equipment, I have to pay for “pool school” for him to show me.

I argued his actions were reckless, telling me to backwash a pressurized system without any explaining how to–my multi-valve isn’t even marked–the face plate is off! If you don’t know where the backwash position is by heart, you could mess things up pretty easily.

Anyway I left it at writing him a check for the whole amount he invoiced minus $110 for the parts he never finished. He says he’s going to sue me. Upon some research, he’s been sued 13 times, at least once for BIG $$$ for ruining a whole pool. Wow.

There is plenty of literature available: Amazon.com : Pool Maintenance for Dummies

Look up TroubleFreePools.com, it’s for the hands-on types, but we have had a 30’ round above ground pool for 13 or 14 years now and it’s pretty low key to keep running.
The last algae issue we had was 7 years ago when my wife was treating the min Ch level as a guideline rather than gospel.

We use a product to remove iron at the start of the season as we also have very hard water. Then we add pool stabilizer. Other than that the only chemicals we use are bleach and very occasionally muriatic acid to correct the PH.

Water feels like silk and is crystal clear. It sounds hard when you first read up on the trouble free pool way but it really isn’t.

I wonder if you should just go to a pool supply store and ask them for advice (and perhaps a recommendation to a good pool service company).

I was in a similar spot last year when I opened our pool (any pool) for the first time ever.

You seem like you have all the pumps and pipes hooked up. So you are in a better spot than I was. Fortunately I vaguely remember some stuff from my hydrodynamics class from my civil engineering degree.

The previous owners didn’t do a lot of maintenance either. So the water was pretty gross.

We brought a water sample to our local pool store when we first opened the pool. They gave us as much shock and whatever else we needed to balance the PH.

I’ve been told not to pour the chemicals directly in the pool as they can sink to the bottom and stain the liner before completely dissolving. So you may just want to pour them in a bucket and sink the bucket to the bottom of the pool so the don’t contact the liner directly.

As for how often, I would say we haven’t worked out a schedule.

I put ours on a timer for maybe 6 hours a day to save electricity. We aren’t really there during the week so I might just let it run 24 hours over the weekend.

Not sure. Is that an outlet in the water next to the cover or a light fixture?

Our pool has an outflow which I think is for a heated water pump (not installed).

Hmmm…so that’s what that thing is.

I forgot which one we bought (Hayward or Polaris maybe). We paid like $600. Make sure it can climb the walls. I can’t remember. Basically we just went on a combination of price, online reviews and recommendations from the pool store.

Generally small leaks aren’t that big a deal, so long as the pipe network maintains suction.

Yeah, all that powder is just dead algae or whatever. It’s harmless and can be vacuumed up with your new robot!

Step 1: Hire a reliable, reputable, professional “pool guy”.
Step 2: If unsure, see step one.

Seriously, we tried for a few years managing things ourselves, from the testing strips, shocks, chlorine tabs, algae treatment, scale remover, etc, etc, etc… The pool was around 17 years old when tiles were starting to peel off around the edge, so we knew we were in for the whole thing to be resurfaced and re-tiled - not cheap.

After the project was completed, we were recommended a “pool guy” for re-starting the pool, and we decided to hire him on for a while until things were stable. We ended up keeping him - there have been exactly zero problems with the pool since then. I don’t worry about Ph, clarity, chlorine smell, storing chemicals, or algae (which was a big problem). IMHO it’s worth every dime. He even diagnosed our failing pump, got us a new one at a discount, and installed it for a small fee - now we have an efficient, modern, programmable pump. No one I know who “does it themselves” has as good a track record - most people just hire a pro to deal with it - That’s what I recommend.

I’ve had good results in maintaining my own in-ground, vinyl liner pool of similar dimensions. I do pay a professional to winterize it in the fall, and open it in the spring, but do pretty much all other maintenance myself, and have had good results.

How often do you shock? Is it an intuitive thing?
In regard to chemicals, Take a sample of the water to the pool store in a clean container (jar, bottle, tupperware). I trust their test machine over the strips or other home tests. They tell me exactly what chemicals to buy, how/when to put them in, and it only costs the price of the chemicals. They normally even print out the instructions.

How long does the pump need to run, and at what times of day?
I was told that pools need to ‘turnover’ a minimum of two times a day. (1 Turnover = sucking the equivalent of your pool volume through the filter). I can’t remember the GPM or RPMs of my particular pump, but when I first set it up I downloaded the pump manual to determine ~GPM ratings at the varying speeds (Not all pumps are variable speed, so you may need to adjust On-off times instead), and came up with a timer schedule to achieve the 2 turnovers/day. For my situation I run the pump at a higher speed for 2 hours in the morning, and 2 hours in the evening, and an economy (low) speed the rest of the time. My intention with the higher speed times was to ‘sweep’ surface debris into the skimmer boxes.

What’s this thing? Is it a set-up for a second skimmer (located near the shallow entry. The cover won’t come off).
I’m not sure what that is, but I doubt it is for a second skimmer. See if you can take the screws out and remove the cover and take a look. Maybe just wiring access, or a valve or something like that. I don’t think it is for a future skimmer, because I have never heard of doing that, but also I think that light would be in the way of a skimmer box plus piping.

How do you know if you need a booster pump? Does this only pertain to pressure side cleaners? Awful pool guy briefly mentioned it before going AWOL.
I don’t have one, and don’t know anyone else that does. Maybe ask at the pool store? Sorry, I don’t know about this.

How do I decide on what crawler cleaner I need? I think a suction-side like the Hayward Navigator Pro or PoolVac XL.
I don’t use a crawler/robot vac at all. I would wait a while before you decide. I brush the sides about once a week. I scoop out any large debris I can with a leaf rake (a net on the end of a long pole). Then I try to push any small stuff (silt, tiny plant matter, etc) into the bottom suction drain with the brush. (I turn my pump on high-speed whenever I am cleaning). Every now and then I actually vacuum, with a vacuum head mounted on the long pole, with a hose filled with water, and then stuck into the skimmer suction. Even then, I only vacuum the bottom of the pool of the material I have pushed down off the walls and won’t brush into the bottom drain. I honestly don’t even mind the chore since I only do it once a month or so. I joke that it is very Zen, because you have to move slowly. It feels like a breathing exercise or something. After vacuuming this way, I turn off the pump and clean the suction side basket before turning it back on to it’s normal schedule. If you’re losing suction and having to backwash, maybe vacuum more often, try to scoop out more debris, or maybe you just get more debris and silt in your location, than I do.

How bothersome is this minor, slow leak ? Am I correct in that the pipe is on the PRESSURE side of the fittings?
Hard to tell from the pic how bad the leak is or where it’s coming from. If you’re comfortable around tools and plumbing, I would gently see if you can tighten up the union (sorta looks like it could be leaking there, but not sure) (not too tight, don’t want to crack that PVC). Personally, my next step would be to take the union apart to see I could find a problem. If you’re not comfortable with plumbing, or if the leak worsens, it’s probably time to call a pool company (not the guy you have experience with, obviously).

Finally, here is what my pool looks like after a week of violent severe weather, during which I had the pump off. Here is the current chemistry: Chlorine is “ok,” PH is “ok,” Acid and alkalinity are both a bit low, hardness is always dark purple. What can I do?
I don’t like leaving my pump off for long (try to keep those 2 turnovers / day). I think it’s even more important to keep the pump running if conditions (extra swimmers, weather such as rain/wind, etc) are going to put extra contaminates into the water (Leaves, dirt, sand, bugs, etc). To recover, I think best bet is to take a sample of water to pool store and have them test it for free, and they should print out a paper with all the chemicals you will need, and instructions on how to put them in. Before you go to the store, you will need to know about how many gallons your pool is.

Good luck. Looks like a nice pool.

Hire someone. Seriously. Pool maintenance can become a total PITA for an amateur.

Bare minimum: take your samples regularly to the pool store and let them sell you the right chemicals, with instructions. They will detect any strange conditions and provide you with the correct magic power to solve the problem.
Don’t waste any time with those little test kits. Just go to the pool store.

If it’s not obvious, make sure you know how many gallons you have.

With regards to liquid chlorine, I really only used it for green pool situations.
For my 18,500 gallon pool, I would dump in 10 gallons of “liquid death” and no matter how bad the water looked, it would be blue the next morning.

Pools are fun as long as you have kids or if you happen to throw lots of pool parties. Otherwise they get tiresome to care for.

A few years back I threw in the towel and had my contractor friend fill in the pool–after 20 years of raising kids and enjoying it thoroughly. The pool had been there for almost 20 years before that, so it was about time that it was filled in. These days I gaze out on the freshly trimmed grass in my back yard and smile.

ETA: You might want to change out the sand every few years. It gets less sharp over time and less able to do its filtering job.

It depends on the amateur. I didn’t know shit about pool maintenance before we bought our house. But it’s not really that hard. Then again, I’m handy and like that kind of stuff. I’m also friendly with our neighbors on either side who have pools. So they are useful for tips and stuff.

I’d say closing it at the end of the summer is probably the biggest PITA. Blowing out the pipes. Manhandling the safety cover on. Etc. But day to day, how hard is it? The pump’s on a timer. I toss the robot in the pool and let it do it’s work. Skim off some leaves with the big pole. Every now and then fish a rat or a frog out of the skimmer.

This thread is an excellent reminder of what an ass-pain having a swimming pool can be.

A news story this week provided a reminder that maintaining your pool could also seriously injure or kill you.

Hi all, Thanks for the various and useful replies.

See, I didn’t even know the main drain filtered stuff through, but in retrospect why else does junk accumulate there?

I have been using said advice about brushing towards the main drain to great effect.

I actually vacuumed on “Waste” and it did a much better job. Combined with brushing debris into a single location, the vacuum issue seems handled.

And I agree about taking water to the pool store–I’ve already went in and talked to one place, and called and spoke with another reliable pool service agent. Both situations are how I know the guy I hired was bogus and didn’t complete the job.

BTW he’s been sued about a dozen times, including over $10k for ruining a whole-ass pool. Yeesh.

Anyway, I have test strips to keep things swimmable and I’ll make greater efforts to better balance the water when we swim more regularly–by taking water in to the pool shop. Right now it’s balanced enough but it’s mega ‘hard.’

I got in waist-deep to brush and ended up swimming around. It’s a bit too cold yet but it’s a lot of fun to jump in when you’re hot, and it’s hot here this week!

Pool maintenance has a bit of a Zen vibe to it, so as long as I’m keeping things working and not messing anything up, I do enjoy it.

And as stated, it’s not terribly complicated IF you have the DESIRE to learn it and do it yourself. The pump is the only electric part, the filter is under water pressure.

There are a TON of pool chemicals that could be mixed and matched to great or ill effect, but a lot of them overlap and unless something real funky is going on, regular shock and chlorine seem to be working just fine for me. So I’m not anticipating blowing anything up with bad chemistry.

Anyway, good tips, and useful info, and we’re up and swimming now. I was right about it being crazy good exercise.

Never had a pool, but if I ever get one I’d be reluctant to have a “pool guy” having seen what happens in the movies.

This is why I want to get good at it. Eventually I’ll be someone else’s pool guy.

…now all I need to do is lose a good 50lbs, pack on muscle, de-age about 20 years aaaaaand you know what? Time machine. That’s what I need.

Speaking of pool guys–I called one of my colleagues who has a pool to ask him.

They live in a place where it’s too cold to swim most of the year but pay a dude to get it pristine year round just to look at it.

I had to take care of a pool at some apartments we owned when I was in high-school and first couple years of college (summertime). It was a MAJOR pain in the ass. The pump/filter/chemical equipment (chlorine! Let me tell you about sweating pipes in the crawlspace! Shades of Zyclon B) was all ancient, the heater was defunct, so we had a solar cover (so always had to be over twice a day to cover and uncover the damned hole). Hey, remember that game “Dive for the Penny”? Well, let me tell you what pennies do to 40 year old impellers… or maybe not. System had about 8 valves that had to be messed with all the time. And because it was up in the mountains, you had to winterize it by putting logs in the pool with about 1/4 of the water. The logs would take the brunt of the freezing, but every spring, you would need to acid wash and paint the damn thing. Just an horrific experience. Plus I was working two jobs at the time, and partying like a rock star every night.

I do specificly remember a “Pool Guy” moment, but was too stupid/shy to realize what was happening. Would have been Epic! Two smokin’ hot blond ladies… Man, what I wouldn’t do for a Time Machine!

Those apartments still stand, but the new owners filled in that Turd. Wise Move. Wish my Dad came up with that idea when he bought the place…

I figures out what the thing is. It’s a Poolmiser auto water leveler. I presume mine isn’t hooked up since the outlet under it was covered by the vinyl liner and no hole cut.

If set up properly, this would tie into the main water line and has a toilet-type float valve that controls your pool’s water level. It would be hooked up to a main water supply and auto-fill or drain as necessary.

We left the hose on over night by accident and it should have overfilled, but it didn’t, and before long after shutting off the water, it leveled off to what appears to be the optimal level. So it can obviously drain, just not hooked up to the main.

Things have been going well with maintenance, but it turned too cold to swim for a while.
Our property abuts an empty pasture that is configured to be a retention pond in heavy rains. So when dry, the pasture leaves a nice northerly supply of blowing dirt, dust, pecan tree fuzzies, etc.
When the pond is full, it’s an oasis for frogs and ducks who make their way into our clean pool.

We have a murder of crows around the pasture and the surrounding trees, and I’ve been offering cat food and mixed nuts in a vain attempt to make crow friends. Then I saw they weren’t interested in my nuts–they are interested in plucking frogs out of the pool and dispatching their sweet, sweet livers…