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Water maintenance

Proper water care is important for maximum enjoyment

By Rob Kamstra

Ahhh… hot summer days lounging by the pool. Is there truly anything better, especially during these crazy times?

Pools, swim spas, and hot tubs make a great addition to any backyard leisure environment as people continue to spend more and more time at home. While the enjoyment homeowners receive from a pool or hot tub is the most important part of backyard leisure, proper water care and maintenance cannot be ignored. These are critical elements in keeping your investment in tip-top shape, ensuring maximum enjoyment for years to come.

To do this, it is important you always start with a review of the three pillars of water management.

  1. Proper circulation: the movement of water throughout your pool, hot tub, or swim spa;
  2. Proper filtration: the catching and removal of finer particulate and debris from the water; and
  3. Proper chemistry: the necessary treatment of the water to ensure it is maintained free from bacteria and algae and kept balanced in terms of its mineral content. All are equally important in the successful management and maintenance of a body of water.

 Circulation

High pH levels can also result in the corrosion of metallic surfaces.

The goal of effective circulation in your pool, hot tub, or swim spa is to make sure fresh, treated water is evenly distributed throughout the vessel. This prevents what are called ‘dead spots,’ areas fresh water does not move into, creating stagnant water, which is prone to growths like algae.

Pools, for example, have movable return fittings or ‘jets’ that direct the returning water from the pump and filter back into your pool. For best results, the return jets should be directed downward at a 30- to 45-degree angle toward the bottom. Turning them all slightly to the left or right will also get the water moving together in a circular motion. When angled correctly, the jets maximize the movement of the heated chlorinated water throughout your pool.

One of the more common mistakes is directing your pool’s return jets to the surface and to the skimmer opening. This works against effective circulation by only moving the water at the surface and sends it right back from where it came. The same water is filtered and treated over and over while stagnant water forms below. If you notice dirt accumulating in the same spots repeatedly or some surface algae growing, you should try re-positioning the return jets for more effective circulation.

Issues like vinyl wrinkling can be the result of low pH and low total alkalinity.

Your pump is what moves the water, and the time it runs makes a big difference in proper circulation. The longer a pump operates, the more effective the circulation (not to mention filtration). On average, with a properly sized pump, your pool will turn over 100 per cent of its volume every four to six hours. Most pools require at least two to three ‘turns’ per day and more in the heat of summer. Increasing your pump’s operating time in peak periods to maximize maintenance is highly encouraged or, better yet, you should consider a variable-speed pump (VSP) that runs continuously but at varying speeds for energy conservation.

If you are using a timer, make sure your pump operates during the daylight hours. If cycling off, do it during the overnight hours. Finally, it is recommended you keep your skimmer and pump baskets clean. Excessive debris in either of these baskets restricts water flow and compromises circulation.

Filtration

When angled correctly, the jets maximize the movement of the heated chlorinated water throughout your pool.

Filtration is the process of removing fine particulate and debris that accumulate in your pool, hot tub, or swim spa’s water. This fine debris is constantly being removed or ‘filtered’ from the water through the filtration system. An important part of your filtration system is the filter itself, defined by the type of media used within it—sand and cartridge filters are most popular. Much like brewing fresh coffee, the filter media captures the fine particulate and debris, while allowing the rest of the water to flow through freely. Eventually, your filter media will reach a point where it requires cleaning. At this point, the captured debris is removed or cleaned from the filter media to allow a new cycle to start again, ensuring your water remains clean.

Cleaning debris from your filter is a relatively simple process if you have a cartridge-based system, as the cartridge is removed from its housing and rinsed with a gentle flow of water.

Effective and regular water maintenance will keep your backyard investment in working order season after season.

The process of removing captured debris from a sand filter is called ‘backwashing.’ This basically involves changing the position on the filter’s dial valve, which runs the water through your filter in reverse, lifting and separating the debris from the sand. The ‘dirty’ water then runs out a dedicated waste line. A pressure gauge is the best tool to use to let you know when your filter media is reaching its max capacity. As the pressure increases, it means the sand, for example, is accumulating debris. Once it reaches a 6.9 kPa (5-10 pounds per square inch [psi]) increase over the starting position, it is time to backwash. In addition, a yearly cleaning of the sand with a good filter cleaning product will help remove scale, oils, greases, and suntan lotions that normal backwashing does not always dislodge. With cartridges, it is advisable you do this with each cleaning to keep the fabric free of stuck-on debris.

To help you maintain proper filtration and circulation, periodic skimming of free-floating debris using a leaf net, occasional brushing or wiping of submerged surfaces, and periodic vacuuming of the walls and floor—manually or with an auto-cleaning device—is recommended.

Chemistry

This process focuses on treating and balancing your water to ensure the safety of bathers and the protection of the surfaces and equipment.

The three primary water balance parameters are: pH, total alkalinity, and calcium hardness.

 pH

pH is by far the most important water balance parameter and you should test your water regularly to ensure optimal results. The ideal pH range is between 7.4 and 7.6, at which the water is most comfortable for swimmers. As your pH drifts down, it takes on more acidic properties, potentially damaging surfaces and irritating your eyes and skin. Issues like vinyl wrinkling, etching of plaster, and corrosion of metallic surfaces can be the result if not attended to. It also leads to chlorine being more hyperactive and aggressive and harder to keep in the water. Meanwhile, as the pH level goes up, it creates conditions where scale is more likely to form, making chlorine sluggish and less effective. For example, chlorine is only 20 per cent effective at forming the key germ-killing compound when the water’s pH is 8. Therefore, periodic testing and adjustment are an important step in ensuring the proper chemistry of your water.

Total alkalinity

Total alkalinity helps maintain your water’s pH and keeps it within an ideal range. Balancing total alkalinity also protects your equipment, plumbing, and accessories. It often needs to be adjusted monthly, thus regular water testing will assist in determining and maintaining its ideal level.

Calcium hardness

Calcium hardness is the measure of dissolved calcium present in your water. If calcium in the water is low, it is referred to as ‘soft water.’ Conversely, water with a high level of dissolved calcium is referred to as ‘hard.’ Calcium typically does not vary unless larger amounts of water are lost, and the vessel is refilled with imbalanced water. Therefore, it usually only needs adjustment once or twice per season.

If you keep these measures within their ideal ranges, the other remaining aspects of water chemistry will be easier to maintain. This includes sanitization, oxidation, metals management, phosphate, and algae control.

The role of chlorine

Chlorine is the most common sanitizer added to pool water with the primary purpose of killing and controlling unwanted bacteria and algae. Another common sanitizer is bromine, a popular choice if you are a hot tub or swim spa owner, but a lesser-known alternative for pools. Saltwater pools are also quite popular. These pools use an electrolytic chlorine generator (ECG) device or ‘salt cell’ to manufacture chlorine from salt.

Regardless of the sanitizer you use, if the levels are left unchecked and fall low, your water can become an ideal environment for harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms, which cause rashes, swimmer’s ear, and other waterborne illnesses. Maintaining a chlorine residual of 1 to 3 parts per million (ppm) is ideal for pools, while hot tubs require 3 to 5 ppm. Again, like with pH, periodic testing is important to know your pool has the right amount of sanitizer and it is maintained consistently. Stabilizer can be used with chlorine systems in outdoor pools to limit the amount of chlorine lost to sunlight.

Through the normal use of chlorine as the sanitizing agent in your pool, hot tub, or swim spa, a chlorinated byproduct can form. Chloramines, also referred to as combined chlorine, form when chlorine reacts with wastes, nitrogen, or ammonia, usually from sweat and urine. This can often be recognized by its potent smell.

In this case, the chlorine has been changed into an irritating, obnoxious problem. To rid your water of these unwanted compounds, you should shock your pool periodically. Shocking is the treatment process that removes chloramines, as well as other organics and finer particulate, through the process of oxidation. When performed on a routine basis, your water is kept largely free of chloramines, organic wastes, and other finer particulates too small to be captured by your filter. As a result, your water will have a significantly improved look and feel and a chlorine residual free to do the job it is supposed to do.

Metals

When left in your pool water, metals like copper and iron eventually leave unsightly stains on surfaces like walk-in stairs and can be difficult to remove. Iron can come from sources such as well water, while copper usually occurs when acidic water has dissolved the heater element. It is copper, not chlorine, that is responsible for green hair.

Phosphates

Phosphates are food for algae, and they should be thought of as fertilizer. It is increasingly recommended you keep the phosphate levels in your pool water low. Using a specialty phosphate remover will keep levels near zero, making it difficult for algae to grow explosively. In situations where sanitizer levels run low and phosphates are present, algae can bloom and grow very quickly. This is a situation you want to avoid!

Another option in controlling algae is a preventative algaecide. When added on a regular, programmed basis, it can help you ensure trouble-free maintenance by deterring algae from growing, even if phosphates are present. These products should be used with the direction of a local water care specialist.

Biofilm

Are you looking to optimize water management and control algae and bacteria even better? The removal of biofilms will help you achieve this while also reducing chlorine use. Biofilms develop in the form of a slime layer and can be found essentially anywhere in your pool, hot tub, or swim spa. Once a biofilm forms, it is harder for sanitizers to break through and kill the bacteria and other micro-organisms living within the structure. A removal product will assist in the destruction of the biofilm, preventing them from reforming and making it easier for the sanitizer to kill bacteria. Less biofilm means far less opportunity for algae and bacteria to prosper, resulting in less work for chlorine to do. Brushing your pool’s interior walls and other reachable surfaces will also help to dislodge biofilms, reducing chlorine consumption and improving overall results.

Water care should never feel like a part-time, unpaid second job. It can be easy and effective when you follow the three pillars of water management. Effective and regular water maintenance will keep your backyard investment in working order season after season.

Rob Kamstra has more than 30 years of experience in the pool and hot tub industry and is the director of business development for Backyard Brands Inc. He is the past president of the Pool and Hot Tub Council of Canada (PHTCC) and has supported the council in several areas, including marketing and business education. Most recently, Kamstra rewrote the basic and advanced industry chemistry courses. He has been a frequent and sought-after conference presenter throughout the industry on both chemical and business/marketing topics. He can be reached via email at rob.kamstra@backyardbrands.com.

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