How to Open or Start a Swimming Pool in the Spring
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 not only best results, but also to take some of the "last minute" stress away.
No matter whether you have an above ground pool or an inground pool, the basic 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 all of the winter mess just go right into the pool! Talk about extra work. I've seen really 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 cover. 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 pool to 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 flow of water DOWN toward the bottom of the pool to optimize the circulation. For even better circulation, consider replacing standard directional returns with "the Circulator".
Bring the Water Level up to normal 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 a little dirty, but that's okay, it will be treated with the rest of the pool. At this time it's a really good 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 good 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. Clean it up, fold it up & store it away. When cleaning, use a good cleaner that is specifically made for cover material. A good chemical cleaning of the winter cover will lengthen the life of the cover 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. Properly attach the correct hoses or pipes to the proper valves or fittings on the pump and filter. Even I've made this mistake: the right hose goes on the wrong filter fitting & 2 weeks later, the pool is still not clear! Here's the easiest way to remember: basket to basket (skimmer basket to pump basket) and hole to hole (exit - "to pool" - hole on filter valve or tank body to return opening on pool wall). Be sure to properly lubricate all multiport or shut-off valve "O" rings with a good silicone lubricant. Not only will you give the gasket added life, you'll help it seal more easily too. Don't over-tighten clamps on above ground hoses; over-tightening will often "crimp" the hose allowing air leaks. REMEMBER: replace ALL of the 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, extra stress & strain is 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 down" to the pump (gravity feed). If the pump & filter system is more than 3 ft above the water level, priming is an absolute must. Keep in mind that the system could take several minutes to "catch" and start.
SPECIAL NOTE: it is VERY normal 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 normal 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 of the excess stuff out of the pool before adding shock & start up algaecide, especially if the water is relatively clear & clean. The less stuff 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 which will contribute 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 by 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 opening. In the long & short run, you're going to save a lot more money by doing this the right way. 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 water balance. That little bit of time will allow the levels to settle back down 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 typically known as pool conditioner or stabilizer. If the water is not allowed to circulate & stir up what's on the bottom, you will end up adding 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 simply wasteful and provide nothing for the water balance.
Install ladders & deck equipment. Be sure to secure 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 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 2 weeks to remove the filtered winter stuff. Chemically cleaning the filter about every 8 weeks lengthens the life of the filter media and promotes longer filter runs.
NEVER DRAIN your pool. The liner will shrink, voiding the warranty and could cause damage to your pool. In gunite, plaster, or even fiberglass pools removal of the water from the pool could result in the pool structure "floating" and causing serious damage to the structure. Always check with local builder for specific instructions.
Start up chemical doses in chlorine, bromine, ionizer, salt-chlorine pools. Shocking must be thorough in order to 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 to use on 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%) when 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 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 gallon.
After adding the initial shock and algaecide, be sure to run the filter for 48 to 72 hours continually. 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). Using additives such as borates and natural enzyme products will enhance any pool chemical care system you use. Be sure to shock the pool and add algaecide every 2 weeks to rid the pool of swimmer waste cannot be filtered out and to keep algae in check.