20 things you should know before buying a swimming pool

Buying a swimming pool is a big investment and it’s not a one off cost: you’ll end up spending time and money on maintenance in the years to come. Not that this should put you off, as a pool can bring so much joy and outdoor family time. But just like you wouldn’t rush into a car or home purchase, we recommend taking your time and doing some thorough research before making a decision. To make the process easier, we’ve come up with a list of things we think you should consider before installing a pool:

Create a wish list

You might have an image in mind – a dream pool you’ve always wanted. But it pays to read up on the latest technology and gather some ideas on modern designs. Once you’ve got together some solid ideas, you’ll be in a better position to start researching styles, materials and a blueprint to make your dream a reality.

Create a look book

A lot of people find it difficult to express their ideas verbally, so gather photos from magazines or online and don’t be afraid to draw your own ideas and take them to a swimming pool builder.

Research the three major types of in ground pools

There are three major types of in ground swimming pools: concrete, fibreglass and vinyl. You’ll want to research which one is the best fit for your backyard. Then you’ll need to think about coping, cleaning systems, filtering systems and finishing touches. Doing your own research and understanding the basic jargon will allow you to better communicate with your builder.

Find a credible pool builder

You’re having a giant hole dug in your back yard, so you’ll want to hire someone credible. Talk to friends, local pool builders associations and don’t be afraid to interview someone before hiring them. A good pool builder will be able to show you examples of their work, provide references and be able to answer all your silly questions.

Think about different pool shapes

We’ve all seen the infamous guitar-shaped pool and dreamed up a crazy shape that we’d love… but to be practical, you’re probably going to go with a kidney or rectangular shape. Both are great options but you need to think about your lifestyle. Rectangles lend themselves better to games and swimming laps, while kidney shapes blend better into existing gardens and suit waterfalls and grottos.

Consider the climate you live in

In Australia, we are fortunate to experience longer summers than most other countries, but you might still want to consider an enclosed pool to extend the swimming season. For those who live in cooler or wetter climates, you may benefit from an enclosure or pool heater. Windy areas benefit from a pool cover to keep debris off. Pool covers are also good for hot climates where evaporation is a problem.

Know how you want to use your pool

What’s the main aim of your pool? Is it for the kids, entertainment or an investment into your home? Do you want to make a dramatic architectural statement or something classic and timeless? Perhaps you want a relaxing retreat? Swimming pools for children might include a wading area or a slide, while something more dramatic may include a water feature or more expensive coping.

Set a budget

You probably have a budget in mind, but it’s important to discuss this openly with your builder to understand what you can get for that budget and if it’s worth readjusting in any way – you may even be able to afford adding to your plans. Be clear and firm with your budget though, to ensure your builder sticks to it.

Consider long term costs

Owning a swimming pool is relatively affordable in terms of actual monetary costs, and if you take the steps to add energy-saving features to your pool, it will cost even less… However, there is still the investment of time in ensuring the pool is full and keeping it clean. Be prepared for this before purchase.

Talk to your local council

While your pool builder should be across any local building codes, it’s a good idea that you also speak to your local council so that you’re aware of them too – as they may affect your designs. This is also a good time to enquire about building permits, restrictions, noise policies and property tax concerns.

Purchase insurance

Yup! There had to be a boring bit and this is it. Owning a swimming pool can affect your homeowners insurance policy, so take the time to talk to your insurance company and ask them if anything will change with the installation of a pool.

Don’t skimp on extras

While sticking to your budget is important, don’t settle if there’s something you really want. Retrofitting a pool is incredibly difficult and expensive, so if you really want the slide or the waterfall or the granite, now is the time to spend the money. If this is going to bust your budget, as your pool builder where you can save on costs elsewhere to help balance out the blowout.

Think green

While people might tell you swimming pools aren’t environmentally friendly, we can assure you that the industry has worked hard to ensure that pools are becoming more green by the year. Today’s pool heaters can be run almost exclusively on solar energy and you can filter your pool using totally natural methods that don’t require a scratch of chemicals. Swimming pool covers also reduce the amount of water lost due to evaporation.

Look for energy efficient options

On the topic of green, it pays to be energy efficient. Enclosures, pool covers and pump and lighting timers all pay for themselves in energy cost savings. In cool climates, it can even pay to shut down your pool for the winter, rather than heat it.

Consider water features

Elegant waterfalls, spouting sconces, bubbling fountains – people love water features almost as much as the swimming pools themselves. If you’re considering anything as grand as a waterfall, or even as simple as a few jets, it’s best to do it during the initial construction. Retrofitting can be tricky (and sometimes impossible) and often costs twice as much than if you installed it in the first place.

Restyle your garden

If you want to keep your maintenance time to a minimum, you may want to take a tour of your garden and consider what you’ve got out there. Trees that regularly drop debris or trees with far reaching, shallow root systems can damage your pool, so consider replacing any high maintenance plants with bushy perennials.

Be smart with safety

Obviously, you’re required by law to adhere to any local safety codes, but you might want to think beyond that – especially if you have children. Consider alarms to alert you when someone or something enters the water, child-proof locks on the gates and security alarms on the windows to the backyard to be extra safe.

Budget for finishing touches

Coping, decking and borders can all give your pool that polished finish, but they absolutely cost. Discuss options and prices with your pool builder before committing to a particular option.

Put fun on the list

If pools were just made for swimming laps, they wouldn’t be half as fun – so go out and buy toys, games, floats and patio furniture to spruce up the fun of your pool area. After all, accessorising is half the fun!

Plan a pool party!

Obviously.

Our Top 10 Pool Maintenance Tips

Skim Debris and Clean out Baskets

Skimming the pool’s surface by hand every few days is one of the fastest and easiest ways to keep your pool clean. Floating debris will eventually sink, making it harder to remove. Use a long-handled net called a hand skimmer or leaf skimmer to remove leaves, bugs and other unwanted items.

Skimming significantly increases the efficiency of the pool’s circulation system and lowers the amount of chlorine you’ll need to add to your pool. Cleaning out strainer baskets at least once a week also helps circulation and lowers chlorine demands. Locate strainer baskets attached to the side of aboveground pools and in the pool deck of in ground pools. Simply remove the plastic basket and shake it out; spraying the inside with a hose can help dislodge stubborn objects.

 

Vacuum the Pool and Brush Walls and Tile

A pool should be vacuumed every week to keep water clear and reduce the amount of chemicals you need to add to it. There are a few different kinds of pool vacuums, although the most common is known as a ‘Kreepy Krauly’ – an automated pool vacuum. If you happen to own a manual one, work it back and forth across the surface of the pool as if it’s carpet. It’s good form to slightly overlap each stroke. Check the filter each time you vacuum, and clean it if necessary.

But vacuuming isn’t the only weekly maintenance your pool requires. Brushing the walls and tile helps minimize algae build up and calcium deposits so they don’t fester and become larger problems. The material your pool walls are made of dictates what kind of cleaning tools you should use:

  • For plaster-lined concrete pools, choose a stiff brush
  • Vinyl and fibreglass walls can be cleaned with a softer brush
  • Use a soft brush to prevent scratching tiles and degradation of grout – you can also use a pumice stone, putty knife of a half-half mixture of water and muriatic acid

 

Clean the Pool Filter

There are three kinds of pool filters: cartridge, sand and diatomaceous earth. While there are different maintenance procedures for each type, all require periodic cleaning depending on the type of filter and how often a pool is used.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions here, as cleaning the filter more often than recommended can actually hinder the filtration process. This is because a clean filter isn’t as efficient as one with a mild amount of dirt in it to help trap other particles, which removes debris from the water. Just don’t let the filter get too dirty!

Keen at eye on the pressure gauge and flow meter to know when it’s time to clean your filter. The ideal time is when the difference reaches 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms) per square inch.

 

Professionally Service the Heater

Pool heaters typically require the least maintenance of all pool equipment. Gas heaters work fine without being serviced for a couple years, and electric ones can last even longer. You can consult the manufacturer’s manual for specific care instructions, however we highly recommend bringing in a professional, who will be able to disassemble the heater safely and quickly. The most common issue is calcium build up inside the tubes of a heater, which can restrict flow, preventing the water from heating adequately.

 

Check and Maintain Water Level

Most water loss occurs in the summer, largely because of evaporation and normal wear and tear, such as swimming, splashing and exiting the pool. So, when you remove debris with your skimmer throughout the week, take a moment check the water level. It’s important to ensure it doesn’t fall below the level of the skimmer, otherwise the pump could be damaged. If the water is low, use a garden hose to bring it up to safe levels.

If you drain your pool to perform maintenance or once the swimming season has passed, be careful to not let the pool sit empty too long. As a general rule, it’s best to leave water in a pool throughout the winter because the weight of the water counteracts with forces from the ground pressing up against the pool from below.

 

Maintain the pH Level

Pool water should be tested regularly to make sure it’s clean and healthy. The pH scale is a measurement of acidity or alkalinity that runs from 0 to 14. A reading between 7.2 and 7.8 is ideal; this range is safe for swimmers and helps sanitisers work at top efficiency.

You can monitor your pool’s pH level with a testing kit. There are many kinds of testing kits available; however, most homeowner versions are either reagent kits or test-strips. Reagent kits aren’t difficult to use. You take a sample of pool water, then add liquids or tablets to it. The water changes colour, indicating its chemical balance.

Test-strips work differently. When you submerge them in the pool for a few seconds, certain dyes they contain cause them to change colour. Next, match up the strip to a colour chart to determine the pool’s pH level. Use this information to gauge what kind and how much of the chemicals your pool needs.

 

Supercholorinate Water

Organic contaminants like ammonia or nitrogen build up in a pool over time. Massive amounts of such contaminants can interact with a pool’s chlorine to form chloramines, which give off that potent chlorine smell that many people associate with pools. To get rid of this harsh odour, it’s necessary to superchlorinate — or shock — pool water back to normal chlorine levels.

While it may seem counterintuitive, adding a large amount of chlorine to a pool can make the undesired odour go away. Some pools should be shocked once a week, while others can go a significantly longer time. Follow manufacturers’ instructions before superchlorinating your pool to get the best results.

 

Find and Repair Leaks

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if low water levels are due to evaporation or a leak. You can uncover leaks in your pool by conducting a simple bucket test:

  • Fill a plastic bucket three-quarters full of water
  • On the inside of the bucket, mark the water line
  • Place the bucket in the pool, and then mark the water line on the outside of the container (If the bucket has a handle, remove it to allow for better stability while floating)
  • Let it float for two or three days

If the water inside and outside the bucket has gone down the same amount, your pool is losing water due to evaporation – simply refill with water from your garden hose. However, if the pool water level has gone down more than the water inside the bucket, your pool has a leak. That’s your cue to call a professional to have it patched.

 

Winterize Your Pool

Where you live determines whether or not you should winterize your pool. If your location experiences temperatures that drop below freezing, you’ll need to take steps to ensure that your pool stays healthy.

Residual pool water left in pipes can freeze and cause damage. To prevent this from happening, use an air compressor to blow water out of the pool’s plumbing when swimming season is over. Also, drain as much water as possible from the filter and heater. Any remaining water can be eliminated using nontoxic antifreeze (caution: this is different from antifreeze for vehicles). Disconnect the heater, pump and chemical feeders, the latter of which should be cleaned and stored.

Finally, clean the pool: skim, brush walls, vacuum, empty skimmer baskets, close skimmer line valve, lower water level to approximately 18 inches (45 centimetres) below the coping and supercholorinate. Lastly, cover the pool to keep out debris.

 

Open Your Pool for Swimming Season

If a pool is properly winterized, it can easily be reopened come swimming season. Firstly, don’t remove the pool cover until you’ve cleaned the area around the pool. Sweep or hose away debris to prevent it from getting into the pool, then use a garden hose to fill the pool to its normal water level. Reconnect everything that was disconnected. Water will need to flow through the circulation system, so open the skimmer line valve. Test the water for its pH level, then shock the pool. It’ll take a week or more before the pool gets balanced and becomes swimmable. Leave the pump running 24 hours a day, and reduce the run by only an hour or two each day until the water is balanced.

Quick tricks to keep your pool healthy

Most pools require the same maintenance schedule, and as long as a pool owner completes the regular maintenance required, such as chemical care and cleaning, it’s easy to keep a pool in clear condition all summer long. There are a number of “unusual” additional activities you can employ to save you time, effort, and money in the long run, which can help you maintain an even cleaner pool. Check out these unique pool care tips and see if they inspire any other out of the box ideas…

 

Add baking soda to your shopping list

Stores that sell pool cleaner will usually offer something called an “Alkalinity Increaser,” which is a simple option for maintaining the pH levels in a pool. Purchasing some inexpensive baking soda from the store accomplishes the same goal for much less money. An Internet search will tell you how much baking soda you will need for a pool your size.

 

Toss in a tennis ball

Suntan lotion and sun block often end up in the pool after they’re applied to a swimmer, and these substances can make the pool dirty quickly. Throwing a standard tennis ball into the pool to float for a while will suck up all those extra oils and chemicals that don’t belong in the pool. It’s fine to leave the tennis ball floating in the pool at all times.

 

Toe the tile line

Residue, dirt, and contaminants form over time and stick along the water line and tile area. Cleaning this area on a weekly basis should reduce the rate at which the pool gets cloudy and dirty since the residue on the tile doesn’t get washed into the pool. Weekly cleaning of this area also reduces calcium build up. It’s also a good idea to clean the cement or walkways around the pool area to reduce the transference of dirt and grime into the water.

 

Don’t let the dogs in

Dogs often love to jump in after their owners and play around in the pool, but chlorine isn’t good for canine companions. Not only will the pool irritate Fido’s skin, but the pool will get dirtier and hairier faster. Keeping up with dog hair in the filters may become a full time job in the summer with dogs in the pool. If the family just can’t stand to let the dog watch the fun from the sidelines, the chlorine levels need to be kept below 3.0 PPM for safety.

 

Keep a cool pool

Pools cost energy to run and maintain, and keeping a pool above 82 degrees may offer a homeowner a much higher electricity bill. Instead of keeping the temperature so high, it’s less expensive to keep a solar cover on the water. There are also options for solar-powered pool heaters, which will also save energy.

 

Track water usage with a bucket

Although environmental factors such as humidity and temperature will impact the rate at which the pool loses water, the average water loss shouldn’t be much more than a quarter of an inch per day. Measuring water loss is easiest by placing a weighted bucket on the stairs and marking the water level on the side of the bucket. Big drops in water levels might signal a leak in the pool.

 

Employing these easy and unique pool maintenance tips will allow you to have a cleaner pool each summer that requires less maintenance and time spent pouring chemicals into the water. A clean and clear pool also offers a much more enjoyable swimming experience for the family and will save you money in the long run.