After a long winter, it’s time to wake the hibernating swimming pool and
rouse it for the upcoming summer season. And as every operator
knows, that requires more than just pulling leaves out with a
skimmer and turning everything back on.
“There’s such a plethora of things that have to happen,” before
opening the gates to the public, says Lee Yarger, coordinator of
aquatics at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
This plethora of activity can range from sweeping leaves out of the locker room to
lubricating motor parts to replastering an entire pool. As Memorial
Day rounds the corner, the public is ready for swim season. Are
you? Here’s everything you need to know to start the season
- He who closed the pool, opens the pool. “How
you open the pool for the season depends on how properly it was
closed down in the first place,” says Alison Osinski, Ph.D.,
president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego. The person
who closed the pool knows what was done and where everything is. If
this person cannot be present, he or she should have left a list
and map where everything was placed. Equipment, nuts and bolts,
chemicals, and the like should be visibly labeled and stored in an
- Get an early start. Give yourself at least a month
before opening day to fire up the pool, experts say. If budgets
don’t allow for a month, take no less than three weeks.
“Conduct inventory and surveys months earlier,” Osinski
advises. She says this is a recurring problem, and suppliers can
vouch for it. “How many people call the week before opening
day and need 900 lifeguard swimsuits because it never occurred to
them to order swimsuits for their staff?” she asks. Draw up a
to-do list to follow each year. The list should include turning on
utilities, requesting chemical deliveries, checking inventory, and
budgeting for repairs and replacements.
- Follow the law. Make sure your facility is meeting
any new requirements. Get a current copy of the bathing code in
case the facility did not receive one.
MAINTENANCE AND CHEMISTRY
- Uncover it. If there’s a pool cover, clean and
dry it before putting it away in its proper storage area. If
there’s no cover, think about getting one for the winter
season, Osinski says. Having a cover will minimize the number of
items, ranging from furniture to animals, that fall in throughout
- Clean it out. If a pool was left undrained and
uncovered in the winter, it’s likely there’s a soup of
leaves and dead critters in it. “Frogs, mice, rats, muskrats,
snakes … either in the gutter system or dead in the
pool,” Yarger notes. Again, the best way to avoid these
circumstances is to cover the pool.
- If necessary, start from scratch. Drain the pool, but
make sure the hydrostatic relief valves are open, Yarger warns.
Located on the pool floor or main drain, the valves relieve
pressure the groundwater puts on the vessel. Otherwise, “you
can literally float the pool out of the ground,” he says,
citing a university pool that once floated 3 feet above the pool
deck before shattering.
- Do a ground check. Shifts in the ground and
temperature changes can cause plaster to crack and leaks to form,
says Farhad Madani, outgoing president of the National Recreation
& Park Association’s Aquatic Branch. Schedule paint and
plaster jobs at least three weeks in advance. Tiles also should be
fixed or replaced before filling the pool. Scrub the pool sides and
floor. If the surface is epoxy-painted, power-wash to clean the
- Flush it out. Lines may have water that’s been
sitting in them all winter, or be filled with antifreeze. Flush the
filters to avoid introducing stagnant water or unwanted chemicals
into the fresh pool. This is one step many people forget, Yarger
says. And make sure the antifreeze used to winterize is for pools,
not cars, cautions Wolfram Hartwig, Ph.D., consultant for Worldwide
Pool Consulting in Ottawa, Ill. That mistake has caused more than
one pool’s water to turn a lurid green.
- Inspect the lines. Replace chemical lines. Drained
pools normally need replacement tubes every year because cold
weather tends to put stress on tubes, and their lack of use causes
- Grease the wheel. If they haven’t been moved
all winter, sometimes parts need to be replaced, Madani says. One
way to avoid a stuck motor and pump is to turn them on every week
or biweekly during the off-season. Greasing and turning them keeps
them from rusting into place.
- Find a proper media. See if the filter media is still good and full.
Inspect the laterals for cracks. Broken ones should be replaced
because they can cause filter media to escape into the pool. Every
few years, replace the media.
- Add water and run. If there’s no water in the
pool, fill it. This is the ideal time to check for leaks and ensure
that the equipment is running smoothly. Add liquid chlorine to
protect the water in the meantime, Hartwig says. Household bleach
is perfectly fine, but it’s only half the strength and costs
more. Backwash regularly and keep the pool equipment running.
- Take a chemistry test. Run a full water test for
calcium hardness, alkalinity, chlorine and pH levels. Calibrate the
automatic system to make sure it synchronizes with the chemical
performance. See if the probes are clean. Some manufacturers
recommend replacing probes on an annual basis.
- Take a walk. “Do a complete assessment of the
facility,” Madani says. Check that entrance gates and fences
are secure. Fill any holes in the grassy areas. Make sure the
irrigation system is operating properly, and repair any leaks or
broken parts. Have large trees trimmed and well-maintained. Follow
local codes to make sure the facility is up to
- Check signs. Make sure signs are clear, clean and up-to-date. Clean
depth markers and replace any missing signs.
- Scrub the deck. Give the deck a good power-wash. “Treat the deck as
an extension of pool water,” Yarger says. “If
there’s algae on the deck, there’s algae in the
pool.” To avoid summer bloom, he recommends scrubbing every
inch of the algae in the pool and on deck. Black algae can be
slippery and cause falls. Finally, inspect the deck for sharp edges
and toe-catchers that can cause injury.
- Play it safe. Inspect all play structures and slides by hand, tugging
and pulling on items to make sure they are still secure. Check that
every bolt is in place and that missing pieces were replaced with a
matching part. Do not use a part that is “good enough,”
Yarger stresses. Many manufacturers offer additional maintenance
steps for their play equipment.
- Make a call. Check that the phone system is working properly and that
important numbers are close by and updated.
- Evaluate assets and liabilities. Evaluate all equipment. Look over
ladders and guard stands for cracks and proper conditions. If there
are diving boards, examine the stand and board. See to it that all
rescue equipment is on site and available, including reaching
poles, buoys, backboards and rescue tubes. Check that dividers are
on between shallow and deep end.
- Hire smart. Make sure all lifeguards are certified and conduct
in-service training. Rehearse the emergency action plan and assign
roles to everyone for the EAP.
- Make a list and check it twice. When the season ends, make a to-do
list of problems that can be fixed off-season. Then make a list of
steps required to open the pool to avoid missed steps. “Have
a checklist you follow from year to year,” Osinski says.
“Follow the reverse to winterize.”