They are too heavy to work with! It takes too much time to store them in the morning and deploy them at night. They use too much manpower to operate. They are too expensive to install and maintain. …. These are a few grievances and gripes heard in and around swimming pools when the idea of installing a thermal pool cover system is introduced.

In my 20-plus years of making and selling thermal pool covers, I’ve heard such excuses countless times. But during these tough economic times, seeing pool covers as a nuisance rather than an essential, integral part of a fiscally efficient — and environmentally responsible — pool operation is rather myopic.

Simply put, an energy-efficient pool equals an environmentally and fiscally responsible pool. How efficient? Depending on the size of the heated pool and the cost of energy, consistent use will save up to

40 percent in energy, water and chemical costs. The entire cost of a pool cover system can pay for itself in less than a year. And with the assistance of utility companies around the country, pool covers may be eligible for grants or energy rebates.

Thermal pool covers are an evolutionary version of the one that Nick Balas and Bill MacCurdy made in response to the gas shortages in 1970s. They started MacBall Industries, providing free-floating, insulated thermal pool covers. Those first covers were simple, narrow strips of closed cell polyethylene foam glued on one side to a tarp-like polyethylene fabric. But, as with many great inventions, they were highly effective.

Later, improvements were made and they incorporated weighted edging, brass grommets, end reinforcements and more.

Current crops of pool covers have come a long way since MacBall’s first products. Not only are covers flame-bonded so the foam and fabrics are fused together to create strong laminates, but newer materials (such as expanded UV-resistant vinyl materials, better threads and stainless steel grommets) and better equipment (such as flame lamination, heavy-duty sewing machines) allow for stronger and longer-lasting covers.

Improvements in information gathering, computer-aided processing and manufacturing techniques also allow complex, custom shaped covers to be made to fit modern pools.

And with careful and proper design, pool covers need not be too heavy/difficult to use or too expensive to install and maintain. The key is to use light but strong raw materials, inventive manufacturing processes, and thoughtful and intelligent configuration.

This is where operators really need to be aware of what they want from a cover. A more durable cover can certainly be made from heavier/thicker fabrics and denser foam, but the trade-off is that the cover will be that much more difficult to use on a daily basis. Lighter weight materials will result in lighter weight covers and easier operation, but they won’t last as long. So a cover that is made by carefully chosen materials with a blend of tough mechanical properties combined with properly designed proportions and configurations may be the best compromise between longevity and usability.

Of course, no cover is worthwhile if it doesn’t actually cover the pool. Again, thoughtful design and advanced techniques have made this prerequisite easier to fulfill, too. Thermal covers can be configured in myriad ways to fit even today’s modern, free-form pools. The right balance of the size and quantity of covers to fully encompass the entire pool should be carefully worked out by considering the pool’s size/shape, deck space and budgetary considerations.

For example, using wider panels that cover two or three lanes will result in less quantity, but heavier panels. But with the help of an appropriately sized and, possibly, motorized storage reels, pool cover size would have less of an impact on the storing process. Main consideration then would be more on deck space (especially important for indoor pools) and budgetary limitations.

Configuring narrower covers that can be fitted between lane lines enables operators to opt for lesser cost and smaller manual storage reels. Because the covers are lighter and lie flat on the water’s surface, friction between lane lines and the cover’s underside is eliminated, resulting in easier operation and less wear and tear on the cover. Further benefit for this type of cover is that it is less susceptible to wind lifts.

As more and more aquatics facilities try to draw entire families to pools, recreational or play pool designs for children are being included in the projects. Typically, these pools are custom shaped and equipped with all sorts of fun waterfeatures that bring aquatic joys to kids, but pose interesting challenges to pool cover designers.

From an energy-saving perspective, even with free-form recreational pools, there should be no operational or design reasons of why pool covers cannot be installed. Of course, the more complicated the pool shape, the more complex the configuration of covers will be.

Using drawings, templates and some good ol’ American imagination and ingenuity, pool covers can be shaped to fit the irregular contours of a free-form pool. Cutouts for ladders, railings, various waterfeatures and folding hinges can be incorporated to make these custom shaped covers easy to handle and coordinated with manual or motorized storage reels.

Ultimately, with proper sizing and configuration, pool covers can be more effortless to use on a daily basis — and easier on the wallet to install and maintain.