January 1, 2010
By Michael Shebek
In general, automatic pool covers are quite reliable. However, as with any piece of equipment, the system will require maintenance at some point. Some of these maintenance issues are foreseeable—small wear and tear or general upkeep issues, for example. Other issues, however, are unexpected. This unanticipated service can fall under two categories—electrical or mechanical.
Most service requests from pool cover owners amount to, “My cover doesn’t work, please come over and fix it.” Obviously, this type of call doesn’t provide much insight into the problem or help diagnose the issue. Service professionals must take it upon themselves to do a thorough onsite assessment of the situation at the job site in order to identify the problem and provide solutions, likely without much help from the pool owner.
This article will focus on fast, accurate, point-by-point evaluations a service technician can use to find a solution to any automatic pool cover problem.
Every service request must start off with a five- to 10-minute evaluation of the entire pool cover site. In those early moments, service technicians should focus less on getting the problem fixed hurriedly and take an investigative approach before handling any equipment. By operating the cover before evaluating the site, a technician might cause further damage to the system. Secondly, more often than not, the quick-fix approach will only address the symptom of the problem, not the underlying cause.
When entering the pool area, technicians should walk around the entire pool cover and perform the following tasks:
After performing this cursory inspection, the technician should notify the customer if a problem is noticed above and beyond the customer’s request. Proactive communication with the customer will promote a positive relationship with the client and increase credibility during the time spent at the job site. By following these inspection procedures, technicians will have a much better understanding of the pool cover situation before the real work begins.
Sometimes the most obvious problem can be answered with the simplest question: “Is there power to the pool cover?” The quickest way to test for power is to use an electrical tester pen. When held against power cords, it will illuminate to indicate whether power is present. Not only are these devices handy, they are also affordable; they typically cost less than $10. As such, they are a must-have for any service technician. If no power is present, the problem might be solved in the first five minutes—a tripped ground fault interrupter (GFI) circuit breaker.
If this is not the case, the path of power (or reverse path of power) should be followed. The technician should start at the electrical box to see if the breaker is on. If it is, he or she should continue to look for power at the next connection, usually a junction box near the motor or controller. Each location should be investigated until the location of the breakdown has been determined. The ultimate goal of this process is to determine whether the problem at hand is an electrical issue or an electrical component issue, either the controller or motor.
Next, the controller should be gently operated to see if the motor shaft is able to move in both forward and reverse. If it moves in both directions, but the cover does not, the technician is dealing with a mechanical issue. If this is the case, he or she can skip further electrical diagnosis. If the shaft does not move and the motor still has no activity, it is time to move on to the next step.
Electrical issues are not always the motor or controller components, but can be attributed to wiring and/or connections between these components. These connection locations are usually the most difficult electrical problems to diagnose and repair. When all else fails, all connections at junction boxes and components need to be rewired.
If all of the above steps have failed, the problem lies within the motor or controller. Of course, since each manufacturer’s product is different, technicians should consult the manufacturer or its manual for repair details.
While it is important to remember each manufacturer’s system is unique, these checkpoints are the best starting point for any technician looking for a mechanical issue with an automatic cover. After the housing lid has been removed, the motor end of the drive system needs to be checked using the following steps:
If present, the torque limiter should also be checked. Newer systems have electronic torque limiters (ETL) that do not require lid removal to make an adjustment; they are easily adjusted from a touch pad. Mechanical torque limit (MTL) systems require torque adjustments over the life of the system. Some of these MTL systems can be adjusted under the lid using wrenches.
Technicians should also check for ropes pinched in lid-support brackets. With the popularity of stone or concrete lids, this inspection step is becoming much harder to perform, due to the added weight of these trendy materials. Companies should keep this in mind when they install stone or concrete lids.
The frame, rope reels and end casting should also be checked for corrosion, particularly as salt generators become increasingly popular in the pool industry. Newer automatic cover drive components are anodized or made from stainless steel to prevent wear, but older systems may not be protected. If white material is present on drive components, all components should have corrosion removed before reinstallation.
Finally, technicians should check for debris inside the roll-up housing, which can cause interference with the vinyl. Occasionally, the strangest items find their way into cover housings. Experienced technicians tell stories of everything from swim noodles, skimmer lids and bathing suits to raccoons, snakes and other assorted wildlife. These items will cause the cover to bind up while trying to open, so technicians need to keep their eyes open and stay vigilant.
By spending five to 10 minutes evaluating the entire pool area and methodically following the proper diagnostic steps, a pool cover technician’s time on site can be more efficient and effective. Of course, all this is moot if he or she does not communicate well with the customer.
If any major components need to be repaired or replaced, technicians need to explain the problem and present the pool owner with options. Then, once a course of action has been decided upon and repairs have been completed, the technician must communicate one more time, to make sure the owner knows what has been accomplished and answer all of their questions. That’s what turns a good service call into a great customer experience.
Michael Shebek is owner and CEO of Automatic Pool Covers Inc., a cover manufacturer based in Westfield, Ind. The business was started in 1979 as a pool cover installation and service company. Shebek has more than 20,000 hours of in-field pool cover service experience. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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