Shocked

My Personal Opinion About Being Shocked

Because of a popular news story, I have recently been asked several times about the possibility of being shocked by lights or railings in a swimming pool. I have personally been shocked several times by swimming pool lights and equipment. Keep in mind that I visit literally hundreds of pools each year and I am constantly called by people with problems, so I am prone to find these existing dangers. Here I want to recount a couple of my most memorable experiences in an attempt to educate you on why I was shocked and also why you shouldn’t be too worried about it.

First off, I have to deal with electricity on a daily basis and I have been shocked many times. It is something that you never get used to and it scares you each and every time. When I don’t get shocked, but instead arc electricity to ground, the intense flash of light and loud pop scares me even more, even though it is less hazardous to my health. Either way, it is a strong reminder of what we are dealing with on a daily basis and just how dangerous electricity is. These “shocking” experiences usually take place while I am wiring up pool equipment. I usually have an electrical box open that is labeled in five different places as being dangerous and most pool owners would never venture inside of it. Usually, when I get shocked on the rare occasion, it is somewhat expected. Other times, it is totally unexpected and the next two paragraphs will detail that.

The first time I remember being shocked by a pool light, I was called out to change a light bulb in a spa. Normally, you can remove a light from a pool or a spa without any danger and I approached this light in that way. I don’t remember turning off a switch or breaker (I’m not sure if it was indeed off or on), but I do remember removing the single screw that holds the light in the wall and pulling it up out of the water. As soon as the light broke the surface of the water, with me holding onto the metal face ring, my hand instantly felt the electricity running through it. I dropped the light back into the water immediately. I’ll never forget the homeowner standing right there with me, having a conversation, me stopping mid sentence, and her asking, “Did you just get shocked?” What I do not remember is the final outcome of that situation. I can tell you that I was not shocked until the light exited the water and I believe that the water acts as a grounding source, allowing us not to be shocked until the metallic object breaks the surface. This is why I believe a handrail is more dangerous than a light.

My most memorable experience of being shocked happened just a couple of years ago. I was called out to a property where a tree had fallen recently and I believe that is a key clue as to why I was shocked. While I was speaking to the homeowner, standing at the pool equipment area, I rested my hand on top of the heater cabinet. I felt a sensation that made me pull my hand away and stretch my wrist and arm. Initially I did not realize that I had been shocked. Again, I rested my hand onto the heater cabinet and again I felt this strange sensation. I yanked my hand off the heater and exclaimed, “The heater is shocking me!” The homeowner seemed a bit puzzled, but I brought out my electrical meter and used it’s non contact voltage detection to determine that not only the heater cabinet was electrified, but everything in the equipment area was as well. Essentially, the grounding wires had all become electrified with 120 volts for some reason. This made the light fixture electrified, as well as the handrail. None of the equipment would work under this condition and that was why I had been called out to begin with. I believe in this particular circumstance, the tree that had fallen caused a hot wire to cross with the bonding wire. This electrified the ground wire and made all of the pool equipment a death trap. In all of my 16 years of experience, I had never seen this happen before.

Part of my point in explaining my experiences here is to point out that this is not a common problem. In all of my years, I have only seen this happen a couple of times. We should not be blind to the fact that it can happen, but we should also not allow ourselves to become obsessed by it either. The most important lesson from this is to be vigilant about keeping our electrical boxes and conduits safe. If you notice loose wiring, rusted boxes, or missing covers then they should be repaired. If there is an issued with the pool equipment such as a tripping breaker or inoperable equipment, have it checked out.

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Pool Maintenance

Here’s a quick guide about pool maintenance.

Weekly

Every week, a few chemicals should be checked. First is your chlorine. It should be kept between about 1 – 3 ppm. Most pool owners will use tablets and shock to maintain this level. Some may have salt systems and need to adjust the production percentage to raise or lower the level. Secondly, pH should be checked and adjusted weekly. Muriatic acid is used to lower the pH, while soda ash is used to raise it. Sodium bicarbonate will also raise pH, as will most chlorine shocks, so if your alkalinity is low, you might only add the bicarb and not the soda ash. If you are using a salt system, you should check your salt every week also. Add salt directly to the pool if needed. In addition to checking these chemical levels, you should always empty skimmer baskets, check the filter to see if it is dirty, brush the walls, vacuum if necessary, and check over the system in general, looking for leaks or signs of trouble. Pool maintenance begins with these frequent tasks, but continues with less frequent, equally important duties.

Biweekly

One chemical in particular should be checked every couple of weeks. It is alkalinity and its purpose is to keep the pH from fluctuating wildly. If it is low, you can raise it with sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. When high, it can be lowered with muriatic acid. The pH will adjust slightly when making changes to the alkalinity, so be ready to compensate for this.

Monthly

Every month you should check your calcium hardness and cyanuric acid. Calcium hardness is most important to gunite pool owners. It actually helps to protect the surface of the pool from the water’s ability to absorb calcium. If not maintained correctly, a plaster surface will begin to look etched and dirty. Calcium chloride is used to adjust the calcium hardness level and it is usually required in large quantities, such as 50 lbs. Cyanuric acid is also referred to as stabilizer or conditioner. Its purpose is to prevent the sun from depleting the chlorine from the pool. At the right level (around 30 ppm), it works very well. If allowed to get too high, it will actually hinder the performance of the chlorine, resulting in cloudy slightly green water with a high chlorine level. Cyanuric acid is built into some shock and all tablets, so it is possible to add large amounts of it and not even realize it.

Yearly

Every year, the area around the pump and filter should be cleaned up. Piles of leaves, mud, and other debris should be removed. Most equipment areas have a concrete pad or slab that everything sits on. This should be exposed and not covered by mulch or gravel. These products retain moisture and accelerate the process of corrosion and rusting. Do not allow soil to build up around your heater. It will cause the cabinet to rust and deteriorate quickly.

Conclusion

As always, we can assist with any of your pool maintenance needs. We perform all of the above services, as well as many others, when we are hired to maintain a pool.

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iAquaLink 2.0

Promising an easier setup process, Zodiac introduces the iAquaLink 2.0

The original iAquaLink is a great piece of pool control technology, but it does fail on one specific point. It is incredibly hard to set up once the components are installed. The setup process involves connecting a computer to the antenna via USB and then logging onto Zodiac’s website to enter information about your router and network. For anyone that has set up a home network before, you know how mysterious it can be to make it all work properly. Setting up the original iAquaLink becomes such a chore sometimes that I usually instruct customers to set it up on their own after I leave their home. It just does not make sense for a pool technician like myself to spend hours trying to work on a customer’s home network.

With the iAquaLink 2.0, Zodiac promises a much easier setup process. They claim that the system directly communicates with pretty much all routers, regardless of the type of router or security. The communication is established by simply pressing a button on the router and then pressing another button on the iAquaLink 2.0 system. The two devices then recognize each other and setup is complete. No manual entry of the network settings with a laptop is needed. The iAquaLink 2.0 antenna acts as a wifi hotspot and after connecting a smart device to it, the programming can be completed by the installer quickly.

Time will tell if Zodiac has more improvements for the new iAquaLink 2.0 revision. I am excited about the new easier setup routine and I think it will allow installers to provide a more seamless transition to the end user.

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Pool Filters, Explained

A pool filter is necessary for clean water, but which one is right for you?

We have a few choices to make when it comes to filtering our pool water. There are three types of filters to choose from and then several sizes within each type. Remember, these are my opinions only and other people may disagree. I will assume that if you are reading this, you are probably confused by or interested in the different options available. Allow me to shed a little light on pool filters for you.

Pool FilterD.E. Filter (Diatomaceous Earth)

Wow! Diatomaceous, that’s a big word! Regarded by many as the most difficult to maintain of all the pool filters, the D.E. filter actually filters water the best.

Here is an excerpt from Pentair’s product description:

“Diatomaceous earth, or D.E. for short, is a natural substance that traps dirt and debris as small as five microns (1/10 the width of a human hair). That means body oils, suntan lotions, pollens, dust and even some bacteria are caught in a D.E. filter, leaving behind sparkling clear, healthier water. We’ve maximized the filtration area, which means longer periods between cleanings. And we’ve designed our D.E. filters to require the least amount of pumping power to achieve a needed flow rate, lowering your utility costs.”

I completely agree. The D.E. filter will filter out smaller particles than any other type of pool filter. This comes at a cost though, by increasing the difficulty of cleaning the filter significantly. For anyone familiar with a sand filter, the D.E. filter has a backwash valve exactly like the ones found on sand filters. You backwash the filter when it becomes dirty, much like you would with a sand filter. After backwashing, however, you must add D.E. powder back to the filter by pouring it into the skimmer. This powder gets flushed out during a backwash and if not added back, the filter will not clean the water as well and dirt will stick directly to the fabric grids inside, eventually requiring complete disassembly to remove. I recommend to everyone with a D.E. filter to completely disassemble and clean the grid assembly twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. This is a major maintenance headache, unless you simply pay someone to clean the pool filter for you. On top of everything else, the D.E. powder itself is labeled as a carcinogen and is hazardous to breathe, so it may filter the water great, but at what cost? D.E. filters are the most expensive filters on the market as well.

  • PROS – Great at filtering the water. Can be backwashed to remove filtered out contaminates.
  • CONS – Requires the use of D.E. powder regularly. Needs to be disassembled to clean occasionally.
  • MY RECOMMENDATION – Keep reading unless you don’t mind paying someone to take care of your pool filter. There are better options for filtering pool water.

Pool FiltersCartridge Filter

When it comes to a cartridge filter, they lie somewhere between sand and D.E. on how well they clean the water. Unlike sand and D.E. filters, they do not feature a backwash valve and this not only means you have to open them up to clean them, but it may pose an issue when you need to drain water (depending on the plumbing configuration).

Here is what Zodiac has to say about their cartridge filters:

“Our filter design takes advantage of the filter’s total surface area, providing you with the clearest possible water and extended cleaning cycles. Enjoy the clear sparkling water of your pool and spa while the CL filter is working for you.

This filter is equipped for high flow rates and optimum hydraulic performance. CL large cartridge filters are constructed of durable, corrosion resistant, heavy duty high-tech polymeric materials for long-lasting performance.

Zodiac’s large cartridge filters are technologically advanced and filled with many user-friendly features.”

Cartridge filters need more maintenance than a sand filter, but they do not require the constant addition of D.E. powder. For me, they fall into a middle position and are good for certain situations, usually smaller pools with very diligent owners. If a pool should ever turn green, good luck clearing it up with a cartridge filter. The constant cleaning of the filter elements will have you very frustrated.

  • PROS – Simple, effective, and easy to operate / maintain.
  • CONS – Must take apart to clean. Filter elements need to be replaced every few years. No way to drain water through a “backwash” valve.
  • MY RECOMMENDATION – Good for anyone maintaining their pool themselves. Easy to understand. Not my top pick, but good for well maintained pools.

Pool FiltersSand Filter

This is the most common of the pool filters and it is common for a very good reason; it is easy to maintain. A sand filter is a tank full of sand, through which the water is forced, thereby trapping any debris. A sand filter actually filters worse than the cartridge or the D.E. filter, but this is not a deal breaker. In my many years of experience, I notice little to no difference in water clarity between all three filters when the water is properly balanced and maintained correctly.

Hayward’s two cents on sand filters:

“Pro-Series high-rate sand filters are the very latest in pool filter technology. Molded of durable, corrosion-proof reinforced thermoplastic, Pro-Series filters feature an advanced, self-cleaning lateral under drain system for smooth, efficient flow and totally balanced backwashing.”

The sand in a pool filter will typically filter well for at least five years. Many sand filters will filter correctly for more than five years and there are chemicals that can be used to clean the sand. The sand itself does not break down or become ineffective at filtering, but oils and other filtered material can cause the sand grains to stick together, making the filter less effective over time. Even if a sand change is necessary every five years, this is less maintenance than cleaning a cartridge or D.E. filter a couple of times a year. If you had not guessed, the sand filter is my favorite pool filter. With the ability to backwash dirt out of it, drain water when needed, and less regular maintenance than the other options, it is a winner. The price is affordable too.

  • PROS – Easy to maintain and very affordable.
  • CONS – Does not filter as well as other options. Requires cleaning of sand with chemicals or sand change after approximately five years.
  • MY RECOMMENDATION – This is the only filter I would use if it were up to me. The sand filter strikes a perfect balance between being user friendly and ease of maintenance.
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Best Pool Cleaner 2014

The best pool cleaner will vary depending on your pool.

Over the past month, I have talked about Polaris, Dolphin, Aquabot, Hayward, and Water Tech robotic pool cleaners. Originally, when I started the chain of posts about the best pool cleaners, I intended to rank the cleaners in some sort of order (best to worst). As I researched the subject, I realized that I had been quite naïve with my original intention to pick the single best pool cleaner. There is such a variety of robotic pool cleaners and the true best pool cleaner for each person will depend solely on the pool it will clean. As a swimming pool service technician with over fifteen years of experience, I am rarely asked about robotic pool cleaners. This has been somewhat of a learning experience for me and a great exercise to further my robotic pool cleaner knowledge. And now, without further delay, I present the best pool cleaner(s) of 2014!

Best Pool CleanerAs far as my picks go, I like the Aquabot Classic for one. The Aquabot Classic is a great all around robotic pool cleaner. It is suitable for any surface, cleans the walls and floor, and has a 50′ cable length. Click the link below to go straight to amazon.com where you can find this cleaner for $714.21 at the time of this post.

Aquabot AB Aquabot Classic In-Ground Robotic Swimming Pool Cleaner

Best Pool CleanerSecond up, I really like the Dolphin Supreme M5. I believe this cleaner can really handle anything you throw at it. The price is a bit steep, but be sure that it will outdo everything the Aquabot Classic will. It also comes with a remote for when you want to quickly spot clean the pool or impress your friends. Click the link below to see the cleaner listed on amazon.com for $1650.00 as of this writing.

Dolphin Supreme M5 M 5 Robotic Pool Cleaner

Best Pool CleanerMy third and final pick is the Hayward TigerShark. I must admit that I did not see this pick coming when I started this series of posts, but I believe it is the best pool cleaner for anyone on a tight budget. The TigerShark cleans the walls, steps, and floor of the pool. The base model is available on amazon.com for $870.44 at this time and you may find it by clicking the link below.

Hayward RC9950GR Swimming Pool Robotic Cleaner

Conclusion

I hope that you too have learned some valuable information about the best pool cleaners during the last month of posts. I certainly have. I also hope that you will consider one of these cleaners as we enter a very dirty time of the year for our pools. Until next time, keep those pools clean!

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Pump Maintenance

We are entering a demanding time of year for pool pumps, so I thought we could review some information about maintaining them. Many of you will be opening your pools soon and some of you are still up and running, having braved the winter. Still, there are more of you that will not open your pool until after the pollen has come and gone. Regardless, every pump will be tested thoroughly in the coming months.

Pumps Have a Basket

PumpCall it what you will, but almost every pump out there has a basket that traps debris. Most of the year this basket may have a few leaves floating around in it, but during the Spring it can quickly fill up with blooms and pollen related debris. Once full, the pump begins to struggle, trying to suck water through the debris. This, in turn, stresses the motor and can cause the pump to lose prime, leading to overheating and damage. Another negative aspect of the pump basket being full is that the basket could break, spilling the contents directly into the pump’s impeller. The impeller is the part that actually moves water through the pump, so if debris enters the impeller, it becomes clogged. Once clogged, the impeller can no longer move water and the pump will eventually run dry, causing damage. Check your pump basket regularly during this time of year and empty it as needed.

Extra Run Time Equals Extra Stress

PumpAnother aspect of maintaining a pool in the Spring is running the pump for extended hours. During the Summer, most pool owners run their pumps for around ten hours a day. When clearing up cloudy water, however, it is recommended to run the pump 24 hours a day until clear. This could take a couple of weeks sometimes and although the pump is designed to run 24 hours a day, this longer schedule stresses the motor and will expose any weakness. The best advice I can give about this topic is to clear out any leaves, dirt, or other debris that may be gathered around the base of the pump. It needs room to breath and should not have anything piled around it.

Pumps Don’t Like Waking Up From Winter

PumpIf your pool has been closed and winterized for the Winter, you will be turning the pump on for the first time in months. Occasionally the pump will greet you with a hum instead of starting up like it should. If your pump doesn’t start, the shaft may be stuck. Every motor has a cap on the back in the center that allows you to access the shaft. If the shaft is in fact stuck, you can simply free it using a pair of pliers while the power is turned off. Sometimes this is all a pump needs to bring it back to life. Other times the motor has become completely seized or there is another problem, such as a bad start capacitor. I feel that shutting a pool down for the Winter is actually harder on a pump than just keeping it running. One last issue to look for is a leak, especially when starting a pump up for the first time in months. The shaft seal is the most common place for a pump to leak and you can determine a shaft seal is leaking by looking at where the water is dripping from. A leaking shaft seal will allow water to enter the motor and drip from underneath the motor itself. Left unchecked, a shaft seal leak will cause massive amounts of rust and corrosion inside of the motor and it will lead to complete failure in a matter of months. It is very important to find pump leaks fast and get them repaired.

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Water Tech Cleaners

Water TechA few more Robotic Pool Cleaners by Water Tech


This will be the final robotic cleaner manufacturer that I review. Next Sunday’s review post will briefly compare these robotic cleaners and then I will select a few specific cleaners that I feel are the best. For now, read on about Water Tech’s Blue line of robotic pool cleaners.

Water Tech has been around for about 40 years. In 2001 they came out with a line of battery powered vacuums very similar to a traditional manual pool vacuum. Water Tech’s battery powered vacuums do not use a hose, however. Instead, they filter the water and trap the dirt inside of a canister. They offer several residential robotic pool cleaners, as well as commercial models.

Blue Pearl

The Blue Pearl is Water Tech’s entry level robotic cleaner. It has a few features worth talking about like its beach entry sensor that keeps it from driving out of your pool. It also has an obstacle sensor that prevents it from hanging up on ladders or stairs. The Blue Pearl will clean most pools in about 60 minutes. The cord length is 60 feet and it comes with a one year warranty on the motors.

Blue Diamond

The Blue Diamond is Water Tech’s flagship cleaner. This robotic cleaner does everything that the Blue Pearl can, but better. It comes with a caddy for storing it away from the pool easily. A big feature for many people is the four year warranty. The cord length is 60 feet and it will clean most pools in 60 minutes. You can buy the Blue Diamond on Amazon.com for under $1000.

A step up from the standard Blue Diamond is the Blue Diamond RC. If you could not guess, the Blue Diamond RC comes with a remote control so that you can direct the cleaner where the dirt is.

For anyone wanting the ultimate in durability, Water Tech offers the Blue Diamond Pro. This cleaner also comes with a remote, but it is designed to clean much larger pools. The cord length is 100 feet. Almost everything about it is more rugged than the standard Blue Diamond, but the warranty is only two years. I guess they expect it to see a lot of action.

Check out Water Tech’s full line of cleaners here.

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Prepare For Pollen

Every year our pools are clogged with pollen.

Here in Atlanta, it is almost that wonderful time of year when pollen covers everything, including our pools. Every Spring, I am asked, “What do we do with the pool to get rid of the pollen?” The answer is actually quite simple. You must run the filter longer, keep the filter clean, and brush the waterline occasionally. The most important part of this is to keep the filter clean. If your filter is clogged by the pollen, it will not allow adequate water flow and the water will remain cloudy. The second most important step is to extend the run time of the pump. You may even want to run the pump 24 hours a day to clear the water up.

The pollen spores are only half of the problem. The other issue with Spring is that the blooms and pollen pods fall off of the plants. This leads to clogged skimmer and pump baskets. The baskets can get so restricted during this time of year that they actually break, allowing the contents to enter the pool’s plumbing or, even worse, the pump’s impeller. Signs of a clogged pump impeller are poor circulation and a low pressure reading on the filter. Empty your skimmer baskets daily to keep things flowing properly. This is not the time of year to ignore your pool.

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Hayward Robotic Cleaners

Hayward may not be known for their robotic cleaners, but maybe they should be.

Hayward TigerSharkThe TigerShark is one of the best robotic pool cleaners around. Hayward offers three distinct models of this cleaner. The base model is found on Amazon.com for under $900. The “plus” model, which includes a handheld remote is for sale on Amazon.com for just over $1100. Finally, Hayward has one more model, denoted “QC”, standing for “Quick Clean”, that sells for a little over $900 on Amazon.com.

The differences in these TigerShark models are subtle. All of Hayward’s robotic cleaners brush and scrub both the floor and walls all the way up to the tile. They also filter the water as they clean, trapping very small particles. The three cleaners feature an onboard computer that calculates the size of your pool and maximizes the cleaning pattern. It actually learns the best way to clean your pool. The TigerShark Plus has all the features of the base model, plus it has the handheld remote. It also comes with a two-year warranty versus a one-year warranty with the base model. As for the “QC” model, its big difference is that it can clean your pool in 60 minutes as opposed to three hours with the other two models. The “QC” version can still clean with the longer three-hour cycle, but it does boast the ability to quickly clean when needed.

Hayward SharkVAC XLAnother robotic cleaner from Hayward is the SharkVAC XL. This cleaner is slightly more affordable than the TigerShark at just under $800 on Amazon.com. This cleaner features many of the same benefits of the TigerShark and it comes with a two-year warranty. It will clean both the floor and walls. One function that I like is that it has a beach entry sensor that prevents it from driving out of your pool.

Finally, Hayward has introduced an even more affordable robotic cleaner to their TigerShark line. It is simply called the SharkVAC and it is a very affordable $550 on Amazon.com. It will only clean the floor and it only has a one year warranty, but at this price, brushing the walls every couple of weeks doesn’t seem that bad.

Hayward’s cleaners are not as flashy as some of the other robotic manufacturers, but I believe that they will get the job done just as well.

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Pool Opening

Pool OpeningWith Spring on its way, it is time to consider your pool opening and whether to do it yourself or hire a professional. Here, I will explain the benefits of allowing a pool service company open your pool for you. All pools are different and I would recommend that you check with your pool service before following any of my suggestions. These are general statements and may not apply to every situation.

Professional Pool Opening

I believe that you will find that most pool companies will limit the amount of time spent on a pool opening. Two hours will probably be the maximum amount of time allowed by any company. This is important since certain tasks, like pumping water off of a tarp cover, can take an incredibly long amount of time. I recommend to all of my customers with solid covers to keep them drained off during the winter. This way, there will not be several inches of water to remove in the spring. The biggest mistake that you can make when removing the cover is to dump the water from the cover into the pool. You should never do this during a pool opening, unless you want a cloudy pool for a few weeks.

If your cover is mesh, you don’t have as much to worry about, but I would still recommend checking the water level in the pool. That is the second point I want to make. The water level in your pool should be filled to near the top of the skimmer. This will give the technician opening your pool extra water for vacuuming to waste and backwashing the filter. Making sure the water is full will ensure that all tasks needing to be performed can be and may help prevent the technician from having to make a return visit. You should also be sure that everything needed is available to your pool technician on the day of the opening. Common items we look for are cover bags, skimmer baskets, handrails, ladders, ladder bumpers, escutcheon plates, directional fittings, equipment plugs, etcetera.

After the cover is off and folded, the pool equipment is started up. A good pool professional will start-up the system with the filter set to waste (if possible). This way any foul water will exit the system and not enter the filter or return to the pool. At this point, the pool can be vacuumed to waste as well. This prevents the debris or dirt from entering the filter and speeds along the cleanup process. In extreme circumstances or when vacuuming to waste is not an option, a separate pump may be used to vacuum the pool (draining water as vacuuming). Pool pros also tend to carry extra attachments for their vacuums, allowing them to trap debris prior to it entering the pool plumbing. This ensures that the lines are not clogged by leaves and other common debris found at pool openings. If the pool happens to be so green that the floor cannot be seen, a vacuuming is still beneficial. Every bit of algae that can be removed from the floor will help to move the cleanup process forward.

Once vacuumed, hopefully the water and floor are looking good. Handrails and ladders are installed at this point and directional fittings are put back in the returns. The chemicals should be checked and adjusted. Most pools will need some chlorine shock and I might recommend a large dose of algaecide. For very green pools, a copper based algaecide is recommended. If the water is clear, algaecide 60 may be added. After adding chemicals, it is a good idea to brush the pool to help them dissolve completely. If the pool is clear and clean at this point, any pool cleaner can be put in to finish the job. Your pool opening is now complete.

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