October 1, 2014
By Kevin Losee
Automatic safety covers have seen a number of innovations in recent years which have not only increased their reliability and performance, but have also opened the door to allow them to be installed on pools of all different shapes and sizes. Some of these innovations provide the flexibility needed for automatic covers to be installed during the construction of new pools, while other options allow the cover system to be installed on existing pools. This article will explore a number of different options and systems that are available, as well as explain how they are used in different applications.
At the outset, knowing the main components of an automatic cover system is important. The first component is the drive mechanism. This is the motorized portion of the automatic cover system that physically moves the cover back and forth across the pool. When the motor for the drive mechanism turns in one direction the rope reels turn. As the ropes wind around the reel, the cover is pulled across the pool until it is completely closed. When the motor turns in the opposite direction, the gears to the mechanism shift, allowing the rope reels to be free-spinning, while at the same time, the roll up tube is able to turn, pulling the cover off of the pool.
The second component group is the extrusions. This includes the aluminum track, which guides the cover back and forth as it travels across the pool. Also part of this group is the leading edge tube, which runs across the front of the cover to provide strength and rigidity, keeping the front of the cover out of the pool, and finally, the roll up tube, which the cover rolls up on.
The cover is the third component. It comprises the cover fabric, webbing (the material attached to the sides of the cover), and the rope.
In addition to these main components, there are a number of optional components that can be used. Some are specific to the type of pool the cover is being installed on. For example, some components are made specifically for gunite pools, while others are made solely for vinyl liner or fibreglass pools.
Automatic covers are manufactured and ordered in three different system types: under guide, recessed-top guide, and deck mount. The pool’s shape, cover track location, and type of installation (i.e. a new project or existing pool) will determine what cover system is used. The following is a quick look at each system:
An under guide automatic cover system is generally installed on rectangular pools. With this system, the cover’s drive mechanism is mounted below grade in a cover box, while the cover track is installed under the coping. By mounting the track under the coping, it is less visible, providing a clean look for the pool. The under-guide track can be mounted in two ways. First, the cover track can be drilled and anchored to the bottom side of the coping. This was the standard method used for many years.
The second method, which has become the current standard, is to use encapsulation. This involves mounting the aluminum encapsulation directly to the top of the pool wall during construction. After it has been secured to the pool wall, the concrete coping (or stone, brick, etc.) is poured directly on top to lock it in place. The side of the encapsulation that faces the water will remain visible after the coping has been installed. It includes an open channel where the cover track will be positioned during the installation of the cover system. The cover track can be installed or removed from the encapsulation as needed.
This method allows the cover track to be built into the pool’s side wall. It is largely hidden from view to provide an integrated look around the pool. Encapsulation is available in different options to accommodate different pool types (e.g. fibreglass, vinyl liner, or gunite).
A recessed-top guide automatic cover system is similar to the above in that the drive mechanism is also mounted below grade in a cover box. However, the location for the placement of the top-guide track is what sets this system apart. While the under-guide track is mounted beneath the coping, the top-guide track is located outside the pool perimeter.
There are two options for the installation of this system as well. A standard top-guide track can be mounted directly on top of the pool deck. It is a low-profile track approximately 13- to 15-mm (0.5- to 0.625-in.) thick and rounded on the edges to provide a clean look.
The second option is to use a recessed track. This track is mounted along the sides of the pool before the pool deck is poured, and positioned at the correct height so it will be flush with the top of the finished pool deck. Because this track system sits outside the pool perimeter, it is a great option when installing an automatic safety cover on a freeform pool.
When installing a recessed top-guide system, however, it is important to note the cover will operate under more stress as it is being pulled over the concrete deck. It takes little effort to move a cover across the water as in the case of an under-guide cover system, but when the cover is being pulled across the pool deck, it will have much more resistance. Therefore, to minimize this resistance, the amount of deck the cover will be pulled across should be less than 10 per cent of the cover’s total size. To help accomplish this, the cover tracks should be located within 76.2 to 102 mm (3 to 4 in.) from the pool’s edge when possible.
If the positioning of the guides is more than 10 per cent of the size of the cover, blowers can be installed to help the cover operate more smoothly. A blower will create a cushion of air for the cover to ride on, instead of dragging across the pool deck. The number of blowers, and their positioning, will depend on the cover size and the amount of pool deck it will be moved across.
Deck mount systems are made specifically for existing pools. In this case, both the drive mechanism and the standard top-guide cover track are mounted on the pool deck. This is the same standard top-guide track that can be used with recessed top-guide systems.
For deck mount installations, a bench can be built to cover the drive mechanism to protect it from the elements, while also providing seating for those enjoying the pool.
Very little renovation work is required when installing an automatic cover system on an existing pool. Essentially, electrical wiring will need to be run to the drive mechanism so a control switch can be mounted on the side of the bench. However, if a homeowner is willing to do more renovation, the pool deck can be saw-cut to allow a cover box to be installed below grade, moving the system from a deck-mount application to a recessed top-guide system.
When the drive mechanism is located below grade in a cover box, there are different lid options that can be used to enclose the cover box and provide protection for the drive mechanism. These can be as simple as a hinged aluminum lid that sits on top of the finished pool deck or a concrete walk-on lid that blends in with the rest of the pool coping.
When building a pool that will include an automatic cover, it is important to consider the following guidelines:
If the drive mechanism is located below grade in a cover box, it is important to have adequate drainage from the box. The most frequent cause of automatic cover system failure is lack of sufficient drainage. When a cover box is flooded, not only does the motor sit submerged in water, but the roll up tube can also fill with water, which can weigh several hundred pounds. This can lead to damage of the roll up tube and/or the cover fabric.
The location of the control switch is critical to ensure the cover system operates correctly. It must be located in a position where the entire pool is within view so the person operating the cover can watch as it opens and/or closes. If a problem arises, the operator can immediately release the control switch, preventing damage to the cover, and then investigate the problem.
The ideal placement of the control switch is along the length of the pool, but closer to the end where the drive mechanism is located. This will provide the operator with a good view as the cover completely opens and/or closes.
Drop to water refers to the distance from the cover track to the water level in the pool. It is important to keep the track positioned as close to the water as possible. For an under guide cover system, the tracks are generally positioned 76 to 102 mm (3 to 4 in.) above the water. For recessed top-guide or deck-mount systems, the tracks are generally located 127 to 152 mm (5 to 6 in.) above the water.
It is important to note automatic safety covers are not designed to be pulled taut across the pool; they are made to include slack. A cover that is too tight will pull against the tracks and will not operate correctly. A properly sized automatic cover will come out of the cover track—whether under the coping or on top of the pool deck—then drop down and ride on the water in the pool. Because of this slack, it is normal to see wrinkles or small folds as it crosses the pool.
After an automatic cover system has been installed, it will require routine maintenance. There are four main areas that need to be kept in check:
Regardless of the type of system that is used to install an automatic pool cover, whether the tracks or mechanism are under grade or on top of the pool deck, there are a number of benefits the homeowner will gain by covering their pool.
First and foremost is safety. Although an automatic cover does not replace the need for adult supervision, it does provide peace of mind knowing there is another layer of protection to help prevent unsupervised use.
Another benefit is savings, which comes fourfold. For instance, homeowners will see dramatic savings in pool operation costs in the areas of heating, chemicals, electricity, and water use.
Covering the pool when it is not in use can reduce water evaporation and heat loss by up to 70 per cent.
A covered pool also helps to keep water chemistry in balance. In addition to heat loss, pools loose chemicals through water evaporation. Hence, an automatic cover seals the water in, reducing chemical loss by up to 70 per cent.
Automatic covers reduce the amount of energy needed for pool filtration. Electricity is required to run the pump and filter. An automatic cover keeps dirt and debris out of the pool, saving up to 50 per cent on electricity as filtration equipment operation is reduced.
Water evaporation is reduced by up to 90 per cent. Keeping the pool covered when it is not in use eliminates the need to constantly top it up.
Time is money. When closed, an automatic cover will keep the pool much cleaner, thus increasing the amount of time the homeowner gets to enjoy their pool by reducing the time spent cleaning it. Automatic covers are custom made for the specific pool they are installed on. In most cases, whether working with a rectangular or freeform design, an automatic safety cover can be installed on any pool.
Kevin Losee is the product manager for automatic and solid and mesh safety covers for Coverstar, a division of Latham Pool Products. During his 12 years at Coverstar, he has worked as an automatic safety cover installer, operations manager, technical support and order-entry manager, and product manager. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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