- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The winter weather is history, and it’s finally time to get the backyard swimming pool ready for the summer.Even the most experienced pool owners usually can use some help opening their pools for the season, and again when it’s time to close them in the fall, says Paul Wahler, general manager of Poolservice Co. in Arlington.

“If people try to do this all themselves, and they don’t know what they’re doing, they might have a problem,” Mr. Wahler says. “You might need someone with experience that knows what to do.”

Before a service call is made to open a pool, customers need to make sure the water is at normal operating level, Mr. Wahler says. The pool can’t be opened if it isn’t full of water.

“The rain does some of it, but most people use a garden hose to keep the pool topped off,” Mr. Wahler says. “Let the hose run through the cover. By the time we get there, it should be full and ready to be started up.

“In the winter, homeowners should lower the level of the water, but you don’t drain it completely,” Mr. Wahler says.

During a service call, the cover is removed before the filter is started, Mr. Wahler says.

Although some people have mechanical covers for their pools, other customers have removable covers. When the cover is removed from the pool, it usually is folded and stored, Mr. Wahler says. If it is a solid material, as opposed to mesh, a deodorizer should be used to prevent mold growth.

“You can’t dry the cover unless you have a tennis court,” Mr. Wahler says. “If you lay the cover on the grass, it will burn up the grass. If you flip it over, you could flip it endlessly and never dry it.”

After removing the cover, technicians reassemble the filter system. It should have been drained for the winter to prevent freezing, Mr. Wahler says.

Other accessories should be in working order, such as the heater and automatic cleaner. A water chemistry test should be performed at poolside, he says.

After the filter has run for a few days, Mr. Wahler recommends doing a complete water test. It usually takes several days for the water to begin to move and filter. After that, customers should begin regular chemical maintenance.

In addition, homeowners should manually vacuum the bottom of the pool, he says.

“A lot of people have automatic pool cleaners, and they think they will throw the pool cleaner in and let it do the work,” Mr. Wahler says. “We recommend vacuuming.”

Thankfully, one doesn’t need a degree in chemistry to own a swimming pool, says Bob Spero, co-owner of Maryland Pools Inc. in Columbia, Md. Some clients use salts and minerals to maintain a sanitized pool. Mineral Springs is a popular system that is considered to be better for the environment than traditional maintenance systems, he says.

“You have the ability to keep the chlorine at a better level,” Mr. Spero says. “You put salts and minerals in the water with your hand. Your water passes through the filtration system, and it applies a small charge to the water. The charge produces a low level of chlorine.”

Because of the multiple tasks at hand, pool owners shouldn’t wait until Memorial Day weekend to open their pools, says Chuck Browning, head of the construction department at Browning Pools and Spas in Damascus. Along with building pools, the company opens and closes them for customers.

“Open the pool in April or early May, so any issues can be cleared up prior to the season,” Mr. Browning says. “You want the problems fixed quickly, so the summertime investment isn’t just sitting there.”

For those people who are considering building an in-ground pool in the back yard, they have three major options: concrete, vinyl or fiberglass, Mr. Browning says.

Concrete pools usually take about eight weeks to install. The plaster may need to be replaced or rejuvenated in 10 to 15 years, he says. The size of the pool can be modified to most designs without a problem.

Because some portions of vinyl pools are premade, they are usually 20 percent less expensive than concrete pools, Mr. Browning says. The tiles, which are easy to replace, often have a print pattern on them.

Further, the material isn’t as abrasive to the feet as concrete. Vinyl pools take about three to five weeks to install. In 10 to 15 years, the lining of the pool probably will need to be replaced.

Fiberglass pools are premade shells that are installed in the ground, Mr. Browning says. They can be installed in about three weeks. Concrete and fiberglass pools cost about the same. However, with fiberglass pools, a transportation cost needs to be factored into the overall price. There usually isn’t much repair required.

In general, how people want to use the pool will determine the type of pool they build, Mr. Browning says.

“Certain looks resonate with different types of people,” Mr. Browning says. “Most commonly, a husband will say, ‘I want a nice place for the kids and wife to enjoy.’ ”

An older couple with grown children might want a pool for lap swimming, says Walt Williams, co-owner of Alpine Pool and Design in Annandale.

“They might be big swimmers,” Mr. Williams says. “They don’t want to run anymore. They want to swim. We could build a 12-by-50-foot lap pool.”

Another category of pool owners includes those who build pools for art’s sake, Mr. Williams says.

“There is a high degree of emphasis placed on how it will look in the back yard,” Mr. Williams says. “It’s still a swimming pool, but we can be more creative.”

The most important aspect of building a pool is to plan ahead, says Duncan MacKeever, owner of Crystal Pools in Rockville. Depending on the county in which they live, it has taken his clients anywhere from two weeks to two years to get the proper permits to build a pool.

“It is becoming so involved to get a permit for a backyard swimming pool,” Mr. MacKeever says. “Make sure you check the reference of the builder to confirm that they have a track record, that they can do what they say they will do.”

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