Few products offer the range of benefits that can be gained from pool covers of both the automatic and safety varieties.

Safety, along with savings in energy, water and chemicals await those who make this investment.

To ensure that pool owners enjoy these advantages hassle-free, follow these tips for properly installing this technology.

Automatic Covers

When it comes to these intricate systems, precision and communication between the pool builder and cover installer are key.

Remember that it starts with the pool.

Even though the vessel may form a rectangle, they rarely are perfect. It’s not uncommon to find rectangles 2- to 3 inches out of square from one end to the other. Cover installer John Moss, area manager serving San Diego County for Poolsafe, has even seen pools that are up to 1 foot narrower on one end than the other.

Unfortunately, that won’t work for an automatic cover. For these installations, make sure the sides are perfectly parallel so the cover can glide smoothly through the tracks.

You also may need to adjust the waterline to suit the cover. Some builders like to keep a higher waterline to create a sleeker look. But if an automatic cover is involved, you may need a larger gap for the leading edge.

Also avoid cantilevering the coping too much, advises Shawn Unger, vice president of Pool Cover Pros in Chebanse, Ill. He prefers that the stones only cantilever up to 1½ inches past the retainer. The glider and leading edge, which stick up vertically from the track, need clearance to roll unobstructed.

"If the coping stone is hanging too much, there are bolts on the glider that will rub on that coping stone," Unger says. "It’s a big issue that we seem to run into quite a bit."

Consult the manufacturer or cover installer about the cover box dimensions and wiring.

One of the most common mistakes Moss sees is cover housings that are mis-sized. They could be too narrow, wide or shallow.

“I’ll hear from contractors, ‘We formed up for the pool cover housing. Bigger is better, right?’”

Not necessarily. If the cover box is too wide, the mechanism won’t stretch.

“Other times, they’ll say, ‘We needed to make it tight, so we made it 12 inches,’” Moss continues. “But if it’s a 50-foot pool, then all that fabric won’t fit.”

Cover width also factors into the sizing of the vault: Wider pools require bigger equipment, so a bigger vault is needed. The motor and mechanism are offset in the installation, which also requires additional — and asymmetrical — spacing. For instance, if the cover vault needs to be 4 feet wider than the cover itself, it may need to be 3 feet wider on one side, but only 1 foot wider on the other.

Don’t guess, and don’t base sizing on past installations — ask the cover professional. “Things change over the years, so don’t assume it’s the same dimensions for everything," Moss says.

The same holds true for the electrical components. Some controllers use low-voltage wires, while others work on high voltage. And the number and placement of the wires varies by brand. Clear this up before installing your pool’s electrical system.

Provide adequate drainage.

While the motor may be considered watertight or waterproof, it’s still not a good idea for the contents of the cover vault to sit underwater indefinitely.

"Most of the components are waterproof or water resistant, but there’s still electrical in the box, so there’s corrosion at that point," Under says. "So you want to keep water away from the box."

Additionally, the combination of chemicals and dirt can gum up the drive gears. “We don’t want chemical water flooding the mechanisms,” Moss adds.

To prevent this, generous drainage should be provided. Moss generally prefers a 3-inch drain that runs out to open air so large volumes of water can escape after a rainstorm.

Some builders prefer to install a sump pump or French drain, but doing so requires certain precautions. For instance, only install French drains in sand or other well-draining soil, make them large, and test them to make sure they can handle plenty of water.

“I had one job recently where they dug a hole about 2 feet deep and 12 inches around,” Moss says. “That’s not sufficient — it only holds a couple of gallons.”

If choosing a sump pump, explain that it will need to be tested from time to time to make sure it works.

Be careful with custom-made vault lids.

When installing custom stone cover-box lids, make sure the stone can be lifted by service technicians.
Edwards Pool Construction, Courtesy Cover Care When installing custom stone cover-box lids, make sure the stone can be lifted by service technicians.

The aesthetics of cover boxes have come a long way. While prefabricated vaults with aluminum lids are still available, shotcrete pool contractors often build their own vaults with a custom lid matched to the surrounding coping and deck. A system of brackets and trays makes this possible by accommodating stone, pavers and other materials.

When choosing this route, be sure to work out the elevations so the top of the lid sits flush with the deck and coping. Also consider how heavy the material will be and ensure the brackets and trays will support it.

Another factor to consider: Long-term serviceability. While it may be tempting to place large stones, pavers or slabs over the lid for a clean look, these will be difficult for technicians to lift for maintenance and repairs. “We have a number of [maintenance customers] where our files say, ‘Two-man job’ because they have lids that are 24-by-24 inches and 3½-inches thick,” Moss says. “That’s not something a person can easily lift up.”

Some clients have wanted to use custom stones as big as 4-by-2 feet. “Oftentimes in that situation we’ll say, ‘We’re going to cut it into 2-by-2’s so it’s manageable,’” Moss says.

Here again, consult with the cover specialists to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding elevations and serviceability.

Safety Covers

When working with these products, pool builders and cover installers must adapt to the project.

Consider the new apps to make measuring easier.

Measuring safety covers has always been the toughest part of working with this product category. The traditional A-B measuring process, a relatively lengthy affair that requires taking measurements from several different points in the site, then handwriting all the data — left plenty of room for error. While veterans no doubt have it mastered, even small things like poor penmanship or inadvertently transposing numbers can throw everything off.

A safety cover extends over a vanishing-edge wall.
The Aqua Doctor A safety cover extends over a vanishing-edge wall.

Fortunately, manufacturers and some third parties have developed smartphone apps to simplify this process. These apps allow the on-site tech to enter the measurements on the keyboard, eliminating the penmanship issues. And if something doesn’t seem to add up, based on photos and other information entered into the app, it will detect errors.

“It might say, ‘Please check point A-36 — it doesn’t match,’” says Isaac Keselman, CEO and president of The Aqua Doctor in Florhan Park, N.J. “A lot of problems can be identified right in the field during the measurement process.”

With these miscalculations immediately pointed out, installers avoid the need to make return trips to remeasure.

Use the correct anchors.

The type of deck will determine what anchors are needed for the cover, so that they’ll stay in place inside the deck material. If you’ve combined deck surfaces, you may need a combination of different anchors.

In standard concrete decks, manufacturers generally recommend a brass anchor set into a ¾-inch hole. Wood decks require a different type of anchor that will screw in place. Lawn installations require another type of anchor.

The appropriate anchor becomes especially crucial when the pool is surrounded by pavers that are set in sand or dirt. Without a hard material such as concrete, the cover will need something more heavy-duty to stay in place. Installers generally drill a hole 18 inches into the surface, place a sleeve and set the anchor in the sleeve.

Using the wrong anchor in these applications can prove disastrous in cold-weather areas. As snow piles up on the cover, it pulls down. This, in turn, tugs on the straps and anchors. If the anchors aren’t set firmly enough into the ground, they can pull out. In the worst cases, the strap can serve as a slingshot, taking a paver with it and flinging it into the air.

“It’s basically like a slingshot ... People have had them go through windows before,” Keselman says.

Don’t cheat on strap spacing and length.

Homeowners will prefer fewer anchors in their decks, so they’d probably want the straps set 5 feet apart rather than 3 feet. Additionally, they might want the longest straps available, hoping they’ll stretch past the deck and can be anchored in the grass.

While these options may seem less obtrusive, they also can compromise the cover’s effectiveness. The straps need to be spaced close enough to form a grid across the cover that provides adequate support. On freeform pools, the straps will probably need the 3-foot spacing to account for the curves. While many rectangular pools can use 5-foot spacing, larger ones shouldn’t, as the many square feet of fabric add up to plenty of weight to support.

And extended straps don't pull on the fabric as tightly and securely as shorter ones, so they should be used sparingly — say, to help pull the cover over planters or waterfalls. If you use too many, the cover can be compromised, so consult with the manufacturer to avoid reaching this point.

Know where to start the installation — especially with freeforms.

When fitting safety covers to rectangular pools, installers can follow a relatively intuitive succession of steps, often starting with the corners. With freeforms, crews need to work a little more carefully.

When fitting a curvy cover over the pool, find the center points, both lengthwise and widthwise. Match the cover’s center points with those of the pool, then extend the fabric out around the vessel, covering the features and bump-outs around the perimeter.

To get this cover just right around the spa, Keselman came back and added more padding after the first season of use.
PHOTO COURTESY The Aqua Doctor To get this cover just right around the spa, Keselman came back and added more padding after the first season of use.

“You have to start with some sort of fixed point, then from there you can get your length and width ... then keep pulling taut on everything else,” Keselman says.

Remember that even veterans need help from time to time. And expect to adjust as you go.

In the rush to get work done, professionals may not take time to review the directions or consult their manufacturers for help.

But even pros like Keselman, who has worked with covers for more than 30 years, need support from time to time. A recent project with an elevated spa proved tricky. He had to decide how much padding was needed over the spa so the corners and edges wouldn’t rub against the fabric and tear it prematurely. After the cover went through its first winter, Keselman and a manufacturer’s tech decided to add extra padding in time for its second winter.