October 21, 2019
By Greg and Codi Keller
Every facility operator and/or manager knows pools are a lot of maintenance; it is just a fact. They are a constructed body of water that, if left unattended, can become a swamp rather quickly. Even with today’s latest technology and automated systems, someone needs to ensure they are properly calibrated and working efficiently. Not all pools are equipped the same, of course, so the amount of physical labour required by operator, manager, or staff will vary. Further, there are also daily maintenance items to check off the list, as well as weekly, monthly, and annual tasks.
Every pool operator/manager needs to be familiar with the equipment installed at the aquatic facility he/she manages so it can be maintained properly. If one is unsure about what systems are in place, it is strongly recommended the manuals (which should have been left after construction) are reviewed. If these cannot be located, an operator should contact the builder. If this is not an option, perform an equipment inventory and search the internet for the manuals (most, if not all, can be found here). As a last resort, facility managers can also contact the manufacturer to get copies of the manuals. Once in hand, they should be read carefully as a facility operator will better understand how the pool equipment operates and how it should be maintained. Time spent getting to know what is installed on the pool, how it works, and what is required to keep it in working order can save an aquatic facility time and money in the long run. Proactive maintenance is always less expensive and requires less downtime than reactive repairs.
This article focuses on the proactive maintenance items facility operators should be performing on the pool(s) and/or spa(s) they manage—everything from maintaining proper water chemistry to completing physical maintenance on the mechanical systems.
Chemical balancing is very important in maintaining a pool or spa. If facility staff is diligent in monitoring the pool’s and/or spa’s water chemistry, all of the systems associated with them will last longer. This includes the pool’s finish (e.g. liner, tile, plaster, paint, etc.) and/or the mechanical systems—everything will last longer if the water chemistry is spot on. That said, nothing lasts forever, even with perfect water chemistry; therefore, the following maintenance items also need to be performed to keep the equipment working and the finishes looking their best. There is nothing worse than having to close an aquatic facility because the water is green. After reading this article operators will have the basic know-how to maintain a pool or spa and avoid this from ever happening at their facility.
Using an automated chemical controller can be a big help to achieve properly balanced pool water. The controller is constantly monitoring the chemical levels and dosing the pool water with the required chemicals as needed. That said, operators need to ensure the chemical controller’s probes are properly calibrated and working as designed. Note: These probes will need to be replaced as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Further, facility staff will still need to be present at the pool and/or spa to test the water manually and double-check the parameters now and then. The chemical controller can only dose the chemicals it is hooked up to and programmed to administer. If other minor adjustments are needed, these will have to be performed manually.
Facility operators/managers should ensure facility staff regularly clean out the skimmer and strainer baskets as this will not only help keep the water chemistry in check, but will also extend the life of the pump. Indeed, an indoor pool or spa will have less debris and will need to be cleaned less often; therefore, this applies more to outdoor facilities.
Naturally, there are more things in the outdoor environment that will get into the pool and/or spa. When the skimmer and strainer baskets get clogged, the pump has to work much harder to maintain the optimum flowrate. It may not seem like much, but over a long period of time, if the system is kept as clear as possible, and the pump is allowed to operate with the least amount of resistance, it will last longer. It is impossible to pinpoint how much longer exactly, but it will certainly extend the life of the equipment. Therefore, by simply keeping the system clear of debris and helping it work as little as possible, facility managers will see a higher yield on the initial investment of the pump. Water chemistry is also affected by this—the cleaner staff keeps the water from organic debris, the easier it will be to keep it clean, clear, and properly balanced.
Having staff brush the pool walls on a weekly basis is also highly recommended, as this removes anything that may have started to grow on them. The debris simply falls into the water where it is chemically treated and filtered. For example, if an algae bloom is left unattended on a pool wall for a week, and the chlorine levels are not high enough to oxidize it, it is only going to get worse. In fact, it could potentially stain the pool’s finish, causing it to turn green. Even if the pool and/or spa walls look spotless to the naked eye, a quick brushing by staff will help to ensure the cleanest pool/spa possible, all while extending the life of the finish.
Keeping the filter clean and pressures down is good for the pump and filter system. Understanding why backwashing is important when the filter pressure rises above its set point is a good practice to get into. Facility operators can refer to the operation manual for the individual unit to determine the filter’s operating and maximum pressures. The benefits for doing this include: cleaner pool water and filtration media, and the pump does not have to work as hard to circulate the water as the pressure is lower.
If the pump is controlled by a variable-frequency drive (VFD), it will be ramped up to run faster to keep up with the set flowrate when the filter media is dirty. Backwashing the filter cleans it out, allowing the VFD to power down the pump to its normal operating level, which is required for the set flowrate.
If a sand filter is being used, operators should ensure the media is changed approximately every five to seven years depending on how frequently the pool is used. If the pool has a high bather load, the media should be replaced much sooner. Essentially, overtime the granules of sand get worn down and they lose their jagged edges and filtering capability. Under a microscope, these granules, when new, are squared and rigid, which allows them to trap particles from the water as it flows through the filter.
When backwashing, this involves running water through the filter in the opposite direction to clean the media. This practice effectively loosens most of the trapped particles from the sand bed and flushes it to waste, out of the pool. By ensuring the filter media is maintained properly, operators can make it easier to keep the pool clean and the water properly balanced. Both contribute to the overall health and longevity of the pool.
If an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system is being used, facility operators should make sure the lamp is routinely changed to ensure optimal performance. The frequency of changing the lamp should be verified with the manufacturer based on the particular model being used. There are other maintenance items that need to be considered, besides the UV lamp (bulb), but these tasks are specific to the unit installed on the pool or spa.
For instance, biennial replacement of the quartz sleeve might be a recommendation. The quartz sleeve protects the lamp from the water, but it degrades overtime and prevents the UV rays from effectively passing through to deactivate bacteria. If they are not replaced, as per manufacturer’s instructions, the UV system will not function to its designed operating potential. Eventually, if left too long, the unit will fail and the quartz tube, along with the lamp, will need to be replaced. For a facility operator/manager, this means a reactive repair will be needed, which will be much more costly to fix than performing proactive maintenance.
When looking at maintaining the pool pumps, the easiest maintenance task a facility operator can check off his/her list is lubricating the strainer lid O-ring annually. If these gaskets are dry, they will crack and fail, which will result in a leak. When servicing, operators/managers need to be absolutely sure they are using a lubricant that is approved for use on the pump in question. Using the wrong lubricant will decrease the O-ring’s life, which will ultimately cause a leak and result in a reactive purchase of an O-ring. Even though the O-ring may not be very expensive, the time spent sourcing the part and installing it is far greater than simply keeping it maintained to function better and last longer.
Internal pump seals typically need to be replaced mid-way through the equipment’s life. If a facility manager notices water between the motor and the wet end, this is typically a sign that the pump seal is failing. Should this occur, it means reactively getting the pump serviced, which results in pool downtime and a more costly repair.
If a facility has planned and budgeted for this maintenance, it can be completed before the seventh or eighth season begins, thus eliminating any downtime—especially when the weather is nice patrons want to use the pool. Further, by budgeting for the maintenance item, it allows money to be set aside to complete the work. And, by planning for the repair, the job can be performed during the off-season, which might mean the cost may be lower than if the work was completed during the height of the season, or if it was an emergency repair.
When it comes to vinyl liners, as discussed earlier, making sure staff monitor the pool for proper water chemistry is the best bet. There are surface protectants applied to pool liners, but if the water chemistry is off for extended periods of time it will weaken. Using a vinyl cleaner, opposed to a special pool vinyl cleaner, to remove scum lines will also diminish the protectants. Once this happens, the liner will degrade faster should any further water chemistry imbalances occur—not to mention the damage caused by the sun’s UV rays. The best way to extend the life of a vinyl liner, and not have to worry about reactive repairs, is to be very diligent in monitoring and balancing the water chemistry.
Facility operators/managers who are able to keep the items discussed in this article maintained—especially when it comes to water chemistry—the pool water will last longer. Draining and refilling a public pool is very expensive; it also increases an aquatic facility’s carbon footprint. Therefore, the benefits of proactive maintenance—whether equipment or water related—will have a positive effect on the overall investment. Keep in mind, nothing lasts forever—especially with pools—but the longer a facility can keep as much of the same water that was initially used to fill the vessel, the better it is on the bottom line.
It is almost impossible for a facility operator to never have to experience a reactive repair. However, it is possible to lower the number of times they occur by having a detailed, proactive maintenance plan in place.
Greg Keller is a service and sales representative at Acapulco Pools Ltd., a commercial pool builder and service provider based in Kitchener, Ont.
He graduated from Conestoga College’s architecture-project and facility management program in 2011 and was hired by Acapulco upon graduation. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With an extensive background in aquatics, Codi Keller has the knowledge and experience needed to answer technical questions and address aquatic issues promptly and accurately. She is responsible for co-ordinating the Acapulco Pools service department, including troubleshooting, scheduling technicians, and order processing. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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