Salt Water Chlorine Generators

March 29th, 2007

Since the last post on ozone and its use in pools, there have been a lot of questions and comments about salt water chlorine generators. Seems that alternatives to the old-school way of checking and adding chemicals is a hot topic. So, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at salt systems. How they work, the sales pitch accompanying them, the perception, the reality. Examine plusses and minuses, let the informed consumer decide for him/herself.

Continue reading . . .

Ozone: Should You Use It In Your Pool?

February 17th, 2007

In my never-ending quest to make pools easier to maintain, I’ve been experimenting with ozonators. These little units seem to have a lot going for them. I’ve used them on a handful of jobs over the last year and a half or so, and I’m fairly pleased with the results to date: much lower levels of chlorine are needed; no irritating chloramines in the water (as in none whatsoever); and not as much fussing with pH since ozone is pH neutral. As an added bonus, the water looks crisper, brighter, clearer.

As with anything in life, though, there is the downside to consider, too. But to come to grips with the good and the bad of ozone generators, we need to first understand what they are, how they work, and the nature of ozone, especially as it relates to pools.

Continue reading . . .

What You Don’t Know About Expansion Joints Can Cost You Later

February 7th, 2007

An all-too-common problem with pools is tiles that are loose or falling off. People often ask, “How much would it cost to put these tiles back on?” Well, sticking tile back on is pretty cheap, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem. They’ll just keep coming off.

The problem isn’t with the tile. The problem is with the expansion joint, which is supposed to isolate the pool from the deck. If this expansion joint is missing or isn’t done properly, the usual result is dislodged tile.

Here’s what’s happening: As the deck heats up, it expands. Mainly laterally. As it expands, it starts pushing on the back of the coping (brick, flagstone, cast concrete, whatever). Since the force of the deck expansion is much greater than the strength of the bond between coping and bond beam, the coping is dislodged and pushed out toward the pool. Often it takes the underlying mortar bed with it. The result is that the top inch or so of tile is dislodged.

Loose tile caused by improper expansion joint

I’ve seen this occur when the deck is laid between the house and the pool. It’s fairly common, and is easy to understand why this happening: the deck’s got to expand, and it sure as heck isn’t going to move the house foundation much. So the pool’s got to give. But, on the other extreme, I’ve witnessed three-foot wide sidewalks that have knocked tiles off, too. It seems as if the sidewalk would just expand into the grass behind it and leave the pool alone. But let’s not try to out-think expanding concrete. Let’s try to remedy the situation so that we don’t have to worry about what the concrete will do.

An expansion joint between the coping and the concrete will take care of this problem, no matter what the darn deck decides to do.

But it must be done the right way. And often it isn’t. (But that’s OK … I’ll put my kids through college by fixing pools where things weren’t done the right way.) For the inside info on how to construct this little detail properly, read on.

Continue reading . . .

The Guts of a Pool: Reinforced Concrete

January 25th, 2007

A lot of people, even some who sell and build pools, don’t really understand how a pool wall works. Well, in this post we’ll cover that, which will require learning a little about the construction properties of concrete and rebar, illuminating the principle behind retaining walls, and some other fun stuff.

A standard pool wall is just a retaining wall. It’s meant to hold the dirt out of the pool. When the pool is full, that’s not usually a problem, but when it’s drained, the soil can push on the wall, sometimes causing it to crack. That’s not good. If it’s designed right, with the right amount of rebar and concrete in specific places, it can resist the push of the dirt so that it won’t crack.

Notice that verbal gymnastics in the last sentence? All that “If it’s designed right,” and “with the right amount . . . in specific places.” That pretty much describes what an engineer does. And if there’s something I’ve learned in the pool business, it’s this: let the experts do their jobs. Lawyers make sure everything’s legal, accountants watch your money, and engineers make sure your pool won’t fail. Build the pool the way your engineer specifies. Don’t cut corners, don’t do stuff on your own (this includes things like upgrading to #4 bars where #3′s are specified, or guessing how a waterfall footing should be done). Do it the right way. Believe me, you don’t want a cracked pool.

Continue reading . . .

Falling Water: the Often-Missing but Much-Needed Element

January 4th, 2007

Anyone building a new pool should seriously consider adding some sort of waterfeature. It is often the single element that visitors to your backyard will remember most. Also, it’s the sound and look of falling water that speaks to some ancient part of our souls, which is why so many find it so relaxing, so peaceful. And isn’t bringing a bit more peacefulness into your life one of the reasons you’re getting a pool, anyway?

A waterfeature in this context means some sort of moving water. Running, falling, cascading, squirting, spraying. Anything from a natural stone cascade waterfall, to a contemporary sheet waterfall; from a simple pottery spill-pot or hammered copper bowl, to illuminated laminar-flow deck jets. They come in many different styles, sounds and looks, but they all have one thing in common: that visual and auditory element that is so memorable to guests, so relaxing to residents.

In this post we’ll examine some readily available waterfeatures, as well as looking at some site-built alternatives. All have differing construction and flow requirements, some are suitable to a particular style of pool and backyard, while others aren’t. While reading about all these waterfeatures, start envisioning what you want your backyard to be like. Maybe visualize yourself in a lounge chair by the pool some quiet summer evening. Think about what style of waterfeature, visual as well as auditory, you’d like. But please, just get some falling water into your life.

Continue reading . . .

Your Dream Pool . . . That You Can’t Even Use

December 3rd, 2006

One part of a swimming pool that no one talks about much is one of its most important: the structure. If people come over to your place for a pool party, they’re not going to comment on its guts. In fact, they’ll never know anything about the innards of your pool. So why spend extra money on it?

In short: so you won’t have to spend even more later.

You see, a pool with structural problems can be very difficult– which here means “expensive”– to repair. And I’ve seen some spectacular pools that have failed. That means they’re not holding water; that they have a structural crack. And that in turn means that there are some major upcoming expenses for that homeowner. I guess it boils down to spend a little now, save a whole bunch later.

Continue reading . . .

Good Neighbors Have Big Pipes

November 24th, 2006

A near-by neighbor of mine has a swimming pool with an attached spa. His system is set to come on at 11:00 pm and circulate for three hours. I know this because I can hear the system come on and run. It wakes me up almost every night. It’s LOUD.

Know why it’s so loud? The main reason is that the pipes feeding the pump are too small. Since it’s a pool/spa combination, there’s a 2 hp pump running everything: pool circulation, spa jets. Nothing wrong with that, though; it’s pretty common around here. It’s a fairly basic (cheap) way of setting up the plumbing systems, or what us pool nerds call “hydraulics.”

Also common around here, and in many parts of Southern California, is the practice of using 2-inch lines for most pipe runs: skimmer line and pool return, spa suction and spa return, and often a 1-inch line for a suction-side pool cleaner.

That’s the set-up my neighbor has… unfortunately.

Continue reading . . .

Which Type of Plaster Is Right for You?

November 11th, 2006

There are a whole bunch of choices available when it comes to finishing your pool. From regular old white plaster to colored plaster, from a spectrum quartz aggregate plaster mixes to all of the colors of pebble finishes. It can all get a bit confusing, even overwhelming, if you don’t know the differences between all these products, and their pros and cons. So let’s dive in (sorry, couldn’t resist), and sort out these pool finishes so you can make an educated decision on your own.

Continue reading . . .

Tips for a Low-Maintenance Pool

October 28th, 2006

No one wants to spend time fussing with pool maintenance. Chlorine levels, pH, algaecides. You could be swimming or soaking up some rays instead of messing with that stuff. More free time, less maintenance is what we want, right?

So, let’s look at some things that may help you out in these areas: automatic pool cleaners, sanitizing systems, control systems, plus that old favorite that none of the pool salesmen talk about– water turnover.

Continue reading . . .

How to Select the Best Contractor (part 2)

October 8th, 2006

In the last post, I doled out some sage advice about narrowing the field of potential contractors to build your family’s pool: ask your friends, family and co-workers; look through the yellow pages, newspaper ads, websites.

Then, go to the Contractors State License Board website (here in California, it’s at Do some research. Scratch the shady contractors off your list, then make some appointments with the companies still in the running for an estimate. They’ll come out to your home to discuss what you want, what fits your lifestyle and yard. They may work up some drawings and some prices, too.

While they’re at your home, try to narrow the field further. Ask them some questions like these:

Continue reading . . .