This is the first article in a series of articles for pool owners to get the most out of their swimming pools for the least amount of money.
As a new pool owner, it is important that you understand the basics of how your swimming pool works in order to make the best decisions for your pool maintenance. As you progress through this series of articles you will learn that in most circumstances (not all) it actually costs you less money to hire a professional pool service to take care of your pool than it costs for you to do it yourself. This is certainly counter intuitive but it is true and I will prove it to you!
For now, let’s just focus on getting you up to speed on the basics. Future articles in this series will dive much deeper into the different aspects of your pool.
Your swimming pool is essentially made up of the following “parts”:
- The main reservoir of water (the pool itself).
- The skimmer.
- The main drain.
- Underground plumbing.
- The main pump.
- The filter.
- A sanitizing system.
- Wall jets.
Let’s cover each one of these individually.
The Main Reservoir of Water
This the main pool of water and is self-explanatory. Most residential main reservoirs hold between 18,000 and 30,000 gallons of water.
If you see a rectangle “hole in the wall” at the top 10 inches of your pool wall this is the hole leading to your skimmer. You can look inside the skimmer by lifting the cover (usually a white plastic lid) that is located on the pool deck just above the skimmer hole in the wall.
The skimmer is extremely important for the overall efficient function of your swimming pool system because it is responsible for a couple of key things. First, the skimmer filters out large things (leaves, bugs, etc.) from the water before these large things enter your underground pool plumbing which helps protect the pump and filter from getting clogged up. Second, the skimmer sucks in leaves and other floating debris on the surface of the pool before these things get waterlogged and sink to the bottom of the pool. It basically helps to keep your pool looking pretty.
Sometimes skimmers can be damaged from freezing temperatures or concrete pool decks that have settled over time. Replacing your skimmer can be expensive (roughly $1K) because the concrete around the skimmer must be removed and you need someone who knows what they are doing or the structure of the pool could be damaged.
The Main Drain
If your pool is equipped with a main drain (not all pools are) you can identify it by a plastic cover (usually circular) on the bottom of the pool at the deep end. Like the skimmer, the main drain is also responsible for filtering out leaves and other large debris before it reaches the pool pump and filter. However, because of it’s location at the deepest point of the pool the main drain gives the pump access to all of the water in the pool which allows all the water in the pool to be filtered. If a pool was equipped with a skimmer only (and no main drain) the only water that would reach the filter for cleaning would be the top three or four inches of water which is highly inefficient. Having a main drain is a good idea and well worth the expense of installing one during the construction process. Once a pool is built it is very expensive to add a main drain.
There is much discussion and confusion around the question of whether or not a dual main drain is required on residential pools by the Virginia Graham Baker Act. After many weeks of chasing the truth the best answer I can give you is that it varies by State and almost noone knows what the actual legal requirements are. It appears that in my state (Georgia) the federal act has not been adopted for residential pools. However, dual main drains do make the chances of a child getting stuck by main drain suction much less likely and therefore is a good idea regardless of what the law requires. I will go into this issue much deeper in a future article within this series.
Your Skimmer, Main Drain, and Wall Jets are connected to the pump via underground plumbing. This plumbing should be schedule 40 PVC plumbing. I have seen some pools that were built with interior plumbing or black plastic plumbing. These pipes will not last long…a couple of years at the most. If you are one the very few who do not have schedule 40 plumbing it will all need to be replaced soon and this is an expensive project.
The Main Pump (AKA The Filter Pump)
The only job that the main pump has is to move water. The pump sucks water from the main drain and skimmer and pushes water back to the pool through the filter and then to the wall jets. All of the plumbing between the main pump and the skimmer / main drain is called the “suction side” of the plumbing. All of the plumbing between the main pump and the wall jets is called the “pressure side” of the plumbing. Most pumps are single speed and basically push the same amount of water per minute no matter what. They are either on or off. Water is either moving or it is not. Newer energy efficient pumps allow you to set the speed of the pump to match your pool’s water volume and filter type to achieve near perfect efficiency. Variable speed pumps do save you a lot of money over time but are expensive to purchase. Pumps made by Hayward or Pentair are the best on the market. Off brands are almost always a bad deal.
Your pool filter has only one job…to physically filter the bad stuff out of your pool water. The smaller the bad stuff the more difficult it is to filter from the water. Different filters are rated for different filtration levels. Some filters can filter down to 2 microns. Other filters only filter down to 15 microns. Pool professionals tend to get very passionate about their favorite filter type but I have observed over the years that a simple sand filter is the one that customers seem to love the most. There are four different types of filters. Here is a list of the filters from most to least popular (based on my observations of the market).
- Sand Filter
- Glass Filter
- DE Filter
- Cartridge Filter
The Sanitation System
The sanitation system uses chemicals (and in some cases ions) to sanitize the water in your pool by killing bio threats such as e.coli and algae. There are three basic types of sanitation systems available for keeping your pool water swimmer friendly.
- Traditional Chlorine: The pool is treated with chlorine tablets that erode into the pool water inside a “chlorinator” that is attached to your plumbing. Some pool owners keep chlorine tablets inside their skimmer instead of investing the $200-250 to install a chlorinator but this damages the pool skimmer and the pool wall under the skimmer over time. Once or twice a week the pool will need to have 100% free chlorine molecules added to the water to make sure that all bio threats are killed and this is called “shock” or “shocking the pool”.
- Salt System: Salt systems still use chlorine to sanitize your pool water but instead of buying chlorine and shock at your local pool store you actually generate your own chlorine automatically in your pool. This is why salt systems are so cheap to run and this is why so many people have them. Instead of shocking the pool you just flip a switch. Most people love their salt system.
- Drinkable Pool Water System: This is for rich people. It uses a proprietary blend of multiple technologies to render the pool water drinkable without the use of salt, chlorine, or ozone. It doesn’t burn your eyes or skin like chlorine and salt systems do and it doesn’t cause cancer which is a big plus. However, it is very expensive (around $5600 in 2017) so it is not for everyone.
The Wall Jets
The wall jets are just holes in the wall that are connected to your underground plumbing. Water is returned to the pool by the pressure from the pump. “Eyeballs” are usually added to the jets in order to better direct water flow. The jets should be adjusted to encourage a circular rotation of water around the pool.
I hope this article has helped you better understand your swimming pool. Subscribe to my blog or to my youtube channel if you want to learn more. Thanks.
Chris Ward, President