Cold Gold

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Much like those of us in magazine publishing, people in the pool chemical business work on a different schedule than the rest of the country. Most people are thinking of squeezing in a vacation before school starts up or planning pool parties during these dog days of summer. We're already thinking about winter around here, and so is Scott Newton, brand manager for BioGuard, Lawrenceville, Ga. Though it'll never get Wisconsin-cold down there, he's got winter on his mind just the same. (The 10-day there calls for highs in the upper '80s, by the way.)

"Winter is one of the neglected seasons that pool owners need to pay more attention to. It's also a neglected season for some of our dealers," he says. "In the Northeast and north central and the Pacific Northwest, they think about it, but our dealers in the Southeast and south central sometimes don't." And that's a big mistake, according to Newton, who says one of the reasons for that is the industry's use of the loaded term "winterizing."

"If you put it in terms of winter, sometimes people will put that in the context of temperature. It's really 'off-season' care that we want to talk about and that it's really important to talk about," he says.

Getting these dealers, and more importantly their customers, to think about winterizing can be tricky, and it certainly takes a bit more salesmanship to sell "off-season" chemicals in places where mittens and scarves aren't everyday accessories in wintertime.

"When you're talking about your real severe areas where people are accustomed to really closing down the pool — where they're disconnecting pipes and they're putting plugs in and they're adding antifreeze and covering the pool up with a solid cover — they're pretty accustomed to the idea that they're going to treat it chemically," says Terry Arko product specialist for SeaKlear, a Redmond, Wash., chemical supplier. "In other areas it may not be so much that they're completely winterizing the pool, but the pool is kind of going into a dormant state. They may even keep the filters running over the winter. They close them down but don't go into that freeze-protection mode. But they still need to use the same winterizing products."

Late To Bed, Early To Rise

Newton points to the school calendar as a commonly used guide for when to close a pool. Kids go back to class and summer's over, so it's time to shut it down, right? Wrong.

"Let's say the school decides that they're going to start in the middle of August, so the pool starts to get less use," Newton says. "So the homeowner thinks, 'Let's go ahead and close the pool.' Well, the weather conditions are still such that you're going to be running temperatures well above 70 degrees many times.

"So when you put the pool to bed and you're not circulating the pool and you're not keeping a constant level of residual sanitizer, you're creating an environment of warm water, low sanitizer, low algaecide, and that can create a problem when you open it in the spring." This is a danger for pools not only in warmer states, but in all parts of the county, he adds.

The solution? Forget the calendar and watch the weather.

"As soon as it gets so the temperatures are falling below 65 degrees consistently and your water temperature is staying at 65 or below, then you can look at putting that pool to bed," Newton says. "Then again, if you watch Mother Nature, in the springtime, as soon as you start having consistent temperatures about 65 or 70 degrees, it's time to open up. You don't need to wait. The later you can close the pool and the earlier you can open it the better off the pool is going to be and the better the pool will run. That's true in all parts of the country."

Of course, dealer knowledge is very important in helping homeowners' decisions about when to close and then open their pools. Any contact with customers builds trust and keeps them from defecting to cheaper outlets for pool supplies. Do your job well and customers will rely on you to tell them not only when to close their pools but what chemicals to buy and how to apply them. (Better yet, they'll have you do the closing for them.)

"I would say your pool service dealers, those that are very consumer-oriented, are going to spend some time walking the consumer through the steps on properly closing the pool," says Mike Moore, vice president of marketing for Advantis Technologies, a chemical supplier in Alpharetta, Ga. "We give instructions inside our closing system, but geographically there are certain tricks and certain nuances to a particular region, to a particular pool, to a particular pump and filter, or whatever else might apply."

Like Advantis, SeaKlear has a complete closing system and certain procedures it recommends.

"Our closing program is a three step program and it's really kind of like a three-day thing," Arko explains. "Do this one day, do this the second day and do that the third day. With the clarifier, for example, you need to allow filtration time and turnover time, so I suggest generally adding it at least three days ahead of when you're going to close it up and shut the filter down and everything."

Other chemicals commonly found in winterizing kits include algaecides, shocks and sequestering agents.

Advantis sells its winterizing products either separately or together as the Pool Closing System. Moore explains that while the products are designed to work in concert to ensure that water stays clear during the offseason, it's foolish to simply add them and expect satisfactory results. First, he says, you've got to make sure the water is clean and balanced.

"Obviously if the pH is too low it can be acidic and cause some corrosion issues. If it's too high it's going to be basic and you're going to have some scale formation," he explains. "Worse yet, if you don't balance the water before you drain it below the skimmer, level, you really can't get a good balance on it because you have no circulation at that point.

"And those are test levels (pH, total alkalinity and calcium hardness) you should maintain throughout the season anyway. It should be no different when you're closing the pool. It's probably even more important, because you're not going to be checking it every week or every other day throughout the winter season, particularly in freezing climates when the pool is covered in snow."

On that there's near-universal agreement. But Newton returns to the importance of regional differences in winterizing and the dealer's role in helping pool owners take care of their pools. Applying winterizing products or kits is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

"Some people using their pool kits will require mid-season shock," he says. "I think many pool owners are starting to experience, because of the warm weather and warmer winters we've been seeing, the necessity of mid-winter shock. So in the January/ February time frame, when the residual chlorine is getting low from where it was when you put it to bed, you may require a mid-season bump-up. That way when you open the pool you're not running into a chlorine-demand situation that would be costly to rectify."

Of course, pools covered in snow are unlikely to be checked as often — if they're checked at all. Is this a problem for dealers and their customers in the north?

"The best answer to that question is, certainly it's good to check it if it's accessible," Moore says. "But if closed properly, you shouldn't have to worry about it."

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