How to Open or Start a Swimming Pool in the Spring

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Starting or opening up a swimming pool is pretty simple. But it does require a bit of work and a couple of extra hands. Honestly, it’s best to start a week or two before you want to open it for the best results and to take some of the “last minute” stress away.

Whether you have an above-ground or inground pool, the essential work is the same or similar. Follow these simple steps with details & tips:

Remove all the leaves, dirt & debris from the winter cover before removing it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people let the winter mess go right into the pool! Talk about extra work. I’ve seen clean “winterized” water become black with the “tea” & debris from the winter cover. Spend a couple of half-hours scooping the excess & accumulated leaves from the top of the body. Remember, it’s not just last fall’s leaves; it’s the spring pollen, tree “helicopters,” & pine needles too.

Remove all winter & ice expansion plugs (Gizzmos). You can’t start the pump & filter system if water isn’t flowing from the pool to the filter & back! Be sure to replace the respective directional returns (eyeballs), suction grates (usually used on lower suction fittings), Circulator fittings, etc. If you are using standard, stationary eyeballs, remember to point the water flow down toward the bottom of the pool to optimize circulation. For even better circulation, consider replacing expected directional returns with “the Circulator.”

Bring the Water Level up to the average operating level. If the water on top of the cover is relatively clean & algae free, use that water to fill the pool. It’s free! It may be dirty, but that’s okay; it will be treated with the rest of the collection. At this time, it’s an excellent idea to add either an algaecide to the water or a natural pool enzyme to start cleaning up the water and prepping it for the initial shock. If you are adding fresh tap water to top the pool off, add a suitable metal and mineral stain & scale control product to prevent sudden metal stains, especially iron or copper when the pool is first shocked.

Carefully remove the winter cover. Please clean it up, fold it up & store it away. When cleaning, use a good cleaner made explicitly for cover material. A good chemical cleaning of the winter cover will lengthen the body’s life by removing the dirt & soil from the fabric (you wouldn’t put dirty clothes away in the closet for the next season, would you?)

Hook up the filter system. Attach the correct hoses or pipes to the proper valves or fittings on the pump and filter. Even I’ve made this mistake: the proper hose goes on the wrong filter fitting & 2 weeks later, the pool is still unclear! Here’s the easiest way to remember: basket to basket (skimmer basket to pump basket) and hole to hole (exit – “to pool” – spot on filter valve or tank body to return opening on pool wall). Properly lubricate all multiport or shut-off valve “O” rings with a good silicone lubricant. Not only will you give the gasket added life, but you’ll also help it seal more efficiently too. Don’t over-tighten clamps on above-ground hoses; over-tightening will often “crimp” the hose allowing air leaks. REMEMBER: replace ALL drain plugs to the pump, filter tank & heater (if equipped).

When starting the pump for the first time, be sure to “prime” the pump with water. Don’t start it dry; not only can harm be done to the pump, but extra stress & strain is also placed on the entire system. If your pump is below the water level, as on most above-ground pools, priming probably isn’t necessary because the water is naturally “falling” to the pump (gravity feed). Priming is an absolute must if the pump & filter system is more than 3 ft above the water level. Remember that the system could take several minutes to “catch” and start.

SPECIAL NOTE: it is VERY typical for LOTS of bubbles to come out of the return fittings when first starting. Even for up to 24 – 36 hours, some bubbles will remain in the plumbing system while it returns to regular operation.

SPECIAL TIP: to make the filter start easier, open the “air bleeder” valve on the top of the filter tank when the filter starts. You will hear a big “whoosh” of air as it is pushed out of the filter. When water gushes out, replace or close that valve. If your filter does not have a manual air bleeder, temporarily remove the pressure gauge for the same results.

Clean & vacuum the pool of all dirt & debris. Get all the excess stuff out of the pool before adding shock & start-up algaecide, especially if the water is relatively clear & clean. The fewer things in the water, the more effective your initial shocking will be.

Clean the liner or tile line with a good quality pool surface cleaner like Off the Wall Surface Cleaner. DO NOT use household cleaners as they can affect the pH and add phosphates to the water, contributing to algae growth later on. This is where most of the winter’s scum has left its mark. Clean it off now while it is still “soft” & easy to remove rather than when it bakes in the sun is more difficult to clean. Prevent this scum line (biofilm) from reforming with regular cleaning or using AquaFinesse Pool Pucks.

Add your initial doses of shock & algaecide. Now you can add the chemicals! When starting, don’t skimp. Do a good “heavy” shocking and proper dosing of algaecide at the opening. In the long & short run, you’ll save a lot more money by doing this correctly. Follow the doses below.

Allow the opening or start-up chemicals to circulate for 24 – 36 hours before doing any testing or water balancing. Why wait? 2 reasons:

1. Additions of Shock & algaecide will change the water chemistry and balance. That little time will allow the levels to settle back for a more accurate reading.

2. The chemicals already in the pool water may be settled toward the bottom. This is especially true of cyanuric acid, a pool conditioner or stabilizer. If the water is not allowed to circulate & stir up what’s on the bottom, you will add a stabilizer that, more than likely, doesn’t need any additions. This is a great way to save money. By the way, NEVER add conditioner or stabilizer unless the pool water needs it, and only if the test shows a level of 20 ppm or less. Stabilizer or cyanuric acid levels should be no higher than 60 ppm. Higher levels are wasteful and provide nothing for the water balance.

Install ladders & deck equipment. Be sure to secure and tighten anchor bolts, diving board & slide anchors (if equipped). Check to make sure bolts or hardware are in good condition. Replace worn or corroded nuts & bolts for your safety.

Filter 24 hours before bringing in the Opening water sample for Testing & Analysis. Adjust pH, Total Alkalinity & Calcium Hardness as needed.

Chemically clean the filter with Kleen It or Strip Kwik Filter Cleaner after two weeks to remove the filtered winter stuff. Chemically cleaning the filter about every eight weeks lengthens the life of the filter media and promotes longer filter runs.

NEVER DRAIN your pool. The liner will shrink, void the warranty, and could cause damage to your collection. In gunite, plaster, or even fiberglass pools, removing the water from the pool could result in the pool structure “floating” and causing severe damage to the system. Always check with the local builder for specific instructions.

Start-up chemical doses in chlorine, bromine, ionizer, and salt-chlorine pools. Shocking must thoroughly break up residual chloramines (combined chlorines) from winterizing. If chloramines are not dealt with now, a lingering chlorine demand (an inability to maintain a solid chlorine or bromine level) problem will develop.

Chlorine shock: un-stabilized Cal-Hypo is the preferred product for an initial spring shock. It gets in, oxidizes, then gets out (gasses off). Use at a rate of 3 to 5 lbs per 5,000 gallons for best results. Do NOT use a non-chlorine shock with the initial start-up. Liquid chlorine bleach is OK but is very weak (about 11%) compared to Cal-Hypo (about 60%).

Initial Algaecide: don’t skimp with the algaecide! Always use an algaecide that has at least 30% active ingredients. Be careful using algaecides with copper as an active ingredient; improper use may lead to the staining of pool surfaces. Gallon jugs of algaecide typically contain less than 10% active ingredients and are a virtual waste of money. Follow the label directions for an INITIAL dose, typically 1 – 2 quarts per 10,000 gallons.

After adding the initial shock and algaecide, continually run the filter for 48 to 72 hours. DO NOT backwash the filter during this time. Let the filter and the chemicals do the work.

Final & continuing steps: balance the water (pH, total alkalinity, calcium hardness). Additives such as borates and natural enzyme products will enhance your pool’s chemical care system. Be sure to shock the pool and add algaecide every two weeks to rid the collection of swimmer waste that cannot be filtered out and to keep algae in check.

Follow the five keys to pool care. It’s that easy.

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