Closing Time: Preparing your pool for the winter season

August 8, 2016

By Jason Cramp

[1]Although we hope summer will go on forever, there is no escaping the fact winter will soon be here, so it is never too early to plan for the colder months ahead.

The purpose of winterizing is twofold—to protect your pool from the ravages of winter, and secondly, to make next year’s opening a lot easier—saving you both time and money.

There are basically two ways to go about it—close the pool yourself, or have a trained service technician do it for you. A professional will remove water from all the lines and replace it with anti-freeze, plug up the lines, drain the pool, add winterizing chemicals, balance the water, install a winter cover and remove and store deck furniture and equipment.

The importance of proper winterizing cannot be overemphasized.

If a pool is not winterized properly, there can be problems such as damage to equipment or pool structure as the water freezes. You must remember water will expand when it freezes. Many homeowners are familiar with broken pipes due to freezing and pools are no different, although on a far larger scale.

There are two components to winterizing your pool—mechanical and chemical. The mechanical portion protects the pool and equipment from freezing, while the chemical portion focuses on keeping the pool’s interior surfaces and water clean over the long winter months.

For those who want to take on the task themselves, here are four detailed steps on what you will need and what you have to do.

If a pool is not winterized properly, there can be problems such as damage to equipment or pool structure as the water freezes.

1. First things first
Start by disconnecting, removing and storing pool hardware such as slides, ladders, diving boards, and maintenance equipment. If some items cannot be removed, simply cover them with builder’s plastic to protect them from the elements. At this point, you should also remove the patio furniture from the deck and store it in a dry area over the winter.

The next step is to remove any debris from the pool that may stain any surfaces. This can be done using a hand-held leaf skimmer to remove leaves, twigs, and bugs from the surface of the water. The tile along the waterline should then be scrubbed with a brush and pool cleanser, and the sides and bottom of the pool should be vacuumed. Do not use household cleaning products as they can leave suds in the water—instead, use products specially formulated for pools. Once the water is clean, you can lower the water level, but keep in mind cities such as Toronto have strict guidelines when it comes to discharging chlorinated water pools. Check with local authorities so you know what the bylaws are in your community.

A common assumption about winterizing an inground pool is that you have to drain all of the water from the pool. Not true! In fact, if all the water from your pool is removed, you can cause cracking and heaving of the pool walls when the pool shifts due to pressure from ground water.

Underground piping and pool walls can shift by the action of frost around a pool. The movement of pool walls is caused by leaving the water level too low. The water level in a steel/vinyl pool should never be lower than one-third the depth of the shallow end. For example, if the pool normally has 0.9 m (3 ft) of water in the summer, there needs to be a minimum of 0.6 m (2 ft) of water at the start of winter.

While lowering the water level, the pool can be vacuumed, although, it is a good idea to run the garden hose into the skimmer to keep a watertight seal as the water drops below the skimmer.

The water level can be lowered by using a small submersible electric pump or by using the pool pump. First, set up your pool vacuum and turn the pump’s dial valve to ‘drain’ or ‘waste’ and lower the water level to approximately 45 cm (18 in.) below the top edge of the pool or 50 to 70 mm (2 to 3 in.) below the return fittings.

Plumbing lines must be blown and capped to remove water and it is important this is done in sequence to avoid water from being trapped along the way. Further, make sure all caps are tight so when the water level in the pool rises over the winter, water will not leak back into the lines.

While lowering the water level, the pool can be vacuumed, although, it is usually a good idea to run the garden hose into the skimmer to keep a watertight seal as the water drops below the skimmer. At this point, the pool light can be removed from its niche and lowered to the end of its cord into the pool.

Lights that sink can hang in the pool as long as the cord is long enough to let them settle on the bottom of the pool, which will be deeper than any ice. Underwater lights that float need to be removed from the pool and stored on the deck, generally in plastic bags or under the edge of the winter cover. Only a certified electrician should disconnect the pool lights and they must also be turned off at the electrical panel, as damage can occur if the pool light is turned on during the winter.

2. Ready the equipment
The pump, hoses, pipes, heater, and filter should then be completely drained to prevent damage from frozen water.

For the pump and filter, set the dial valve to the ‘winterize’ position. If the dial valve does not have a winterize position, simply set the dial pointer between any two positions. Remove and store the filter drain cap, the pressure gauge, and the sight glass and take out the drain plugs from the pump.

Shut down the pool heater according to the manufacturer’s instructions found on the inside of the unit. Remove the drain plugs and use compressed air or a wet/dry vac, set on ‘blow,’ to remove any remaining water from the heat exchanger. Before reinstalling the drain plugs, grease the threads and then disconnect the pressure switch from the siphon loop tubing.

A pool heater that is incorrectly prepared for winter can suffer extensive damage, so it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions outlined in your owner’s manual. If you cannot locate your manual, most can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.

Set up your pool vacuum and turn the pump’s dial vlave to ‘drain’ to lower the water level approximately 45 cm (18 in.) below the top edge of the pool.

For the pool skimmer and returns, remove and store the skimmer basket and use a wet/dry vac to clear the water from the skimmer and main drain lines. For skimmers with two holes, plug the skimmer into the main drain hole (usually the one closest to pool).

You should also add a special anti-freeze to the skimmer and pump—but make sure you only use anti-freeze that is specially formulated for pools as other types can be toxic.

If the skimmer is allowed to collect water and freeze, you will probably have a broken skimmer in the spring.

You should also remove the pool jet from the pool returns and use a compressor or a wet/dry vac to remove water from these lines as well. Once water is forced out of the returns, plug them. If your pool is equipped with side suction or automatic cleaner lines, they should also be cleared and plugged.

For chlorine generating equipment, drain the water from the unit, and if your system is an off-line model, disconnect the tubing. The cell from your generator should also be removed and cleaned (if necessary) and stored indoors.

3. Water chemistry
The chemistry of the water that will sit in your pool for the next five months plays a huge factor in what you will face in the spring. Before winterizing, take a water sample to your local pool store for a professional analysis. Based on the results, they will advise you on how to balance your water for the winter. If done properly, this will prevent stains, scaling, and algae growth. Keep in mind, water balance parameters are different for the winter than the summer.

Special winterizing chemicals, which are available in a prepackaged kit, should also be added. These kits include sequestering agents that prevent copper, manganese, and iron deposits from collecting and staining pool surfaces. An algaecide is also included to protect the pool from algae growth when the filtration system is not working, as algae can take over a pool very quickly—even in the dead of winter.

Another important element of the kit is a chlorine shock for oxidizing contaminants in pool water. By superchlorinating (adding about five times as much chlorine to the water as you normally would), any dissolved organic matter remaining in the pool will be oxidized.

4. Cover it up
The final step is to install a winter cover over the pool to prevent unauthorized access during the winter, which will also keep out debris. There are three options when it comes to covers. The water bag cover, which consists of a tarp held in place by vinyl bags filled with water; the lock-in fabric cover, which is held in place by beading on the cover and locked into a track in the coping; and the safety cover, a porous woven cover that is stretched over the pool with straps and springs or operated automatically.

The cover design should use either a mesh material or a special cover pump to automatically drain water that collects from rain and melted snow. If you are unsure which cover best suits your needs, consult your pool dealer.

After a visual check around the pool to make sure everything has been turned off, including the electrical breaker and gas, you can lock the gate on your pool fence and walk away with confidence knowing your pool will be in tiptop shape come spring.

Turn off all power to pumps, filters, boilers, underwater lights and disinfection systems;
Remove plugs from circulation pump(s);
Remove and clean pump strainer basket;
Remove the pressure gauge from the filter and drain, regardless of filter type (sand, diatomaceous earth or cartridge);
Degrease the sand in the filter;
Remove, clean and degrease the cartridge filter elements;
Remove drain plugs from pool boiler;
Disconnect the pressure switch on the pool boiler;
Turn gas off to boiler and set gas valve in off position.
(If allowed by the gas authority having jurisdiction);
Remove and store salt cells; and
Put all removed parts in pump strainer basket and place
in storage.

With files and photos from Robin Reed, operator of Reed Pool,
a swimming pool maintenance firm in Newmarket, Ont.

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