Preparing your pool for the winter freeze might seem like a chore wrapped in a reminder that the time for vacations and backyard barbecues has passed. But if you properly winterize your pool, not only will your pool be easier to reopen later, but it will also prevent costly damage.
Tabatha Poling, vice president of service operations for Leslie's Poolmart, Inc. has decades of experience, going back to Leslie's first store. The first step is to balance the water chemistry by adjusting your pool's alkalinity, pH, calcium hardness and chlorine to the proper levels. The trick, Poling says, is "to start working on that about a week before closing the pool, so they have time to test, purchase the chemicals, let them circulate, and retest." This will also give you time to brush and vacuum the pool, removing any dirt or debris.
The next step is to drain water out of places where, during winter, it can freeze and expand. Poling advises, "Lower the pool water level below the skimmer and return lines, to drain all of the water out of the plumbing." This is usually about 18-inches below the tile line. Similarly, Poling says, "Remove the drain plugs from the pump housing, the filter tank and the heater. If the pool has an automatic pool cleaner with a booster pump, they'll want to drain that, and they will want to take the drain plug out of the automatic chlorinator." Poling suggests putting those plugs in the strainer basket of the pump, so you'll know where to find them later. Once the water has drained out of the return lines, install winterizing plugs.
If all the water has not been completely drained from your system, you risk causing a very expensive error. Expanding ice can cause cracks and leaks in underground plumbing. Repairs will require pool owners to tear up their concrete deck just to access the problem. Adding a bit of pool antifreeze to the lines can serve as inexpensive insurance against freezing and expansion. Adding a gizzmo to your skimmer can also help relieve pressure from expanding ice.
Third, turn off the power supply to all of your equipment. Remove the on and off trippers from the time clock. Forgetting this step can also lead to costly damage. A pump that runs with dry lines will burn out, requiring replacement.
Next, Poling says, "Once the customer has drained those return lines and plugged those lines, refill the pool back up to 4 to 6 inches below the skimmer inlet in vinyl-lined pools or four to six inches below the tile line in plaster-lined pools." While refilling the pool, remove any non-permanent items from the pool.
Fifth, Poling recommends putting air pillows into the pool. Because these are only half-inflated, they also protect against ice expansion by taking pressure off the pool walls. Poling notes, "This is especially important in an above-ground pool, where it's just a thin, steel wall." Poling continues, "At that point, cover the pool. Use a winter cover held down by water bags or water-filled blocks." Alternatively, a safety cover uses anchors sunk around the pool, providing for a tighter fit.
The final step is winter maintenance. "Keep excessive water off of the cover," Poling cautions. "If there is significant rain, and water accumulates on top of the cover, use a cover pump. It will drain that excess water off the cover. If too much water accumulates, it'll pull that cover down into the pool." This will harm your water's balance, introduce dirt and debris into your pool, which can cause staining and raise water levels, which, if significant, might freeze and damage tile or the skimmer. "The other thing is to maintain the water chemistry. Peel back the cover every couple weeks and make sure the pool looks good," especially if you have a warm spell. The heat can change the chlorine and other chemical levels.
Winterizing a pool is not a simple process, but pool owners can do it themselves, so long as they are careful and are willing to put in the time for regular maintenance. "If you follow these steps," Poling says, "you'll have a clean pool and a successful spring opening."