The Secret Lives of Winter Pool Covers

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With summer finally here, dealers and customers alike may not be thinking about winter pool covers. We here at AQUA, however, have our fingers on the pulse of the industry, and as winter covers across the snow belt came off in the last few months, it got us to thinking about their off-season: Where do winter covers hibernate in the summer. What does the "summerizing" process entail to assure that come fall, homeowners have bright and shiny covers to put over their dormant pools. For both the solid and mesh-style covers, not surprisingly, care and maintenance, as well as storage, play a big role in insuring a winter cover's long and happy life.

Closing Vs. Opening

The winter cover, of course, gets its moment to shine not in the summer, but in the fall when the pool is being winterized. Putting on the cover is the last step in winterizing, according to Gail Rose, of AQUA 100 member Colley's Pools and Spas, Hamburg, N.Y.

"They have to blow out all the lines, and winterize all the equipment and add chemicals to the pool, and at the end when they're done with all that, they put the winter cover on," she says.

Taking off the cover can also be the last step in opening pools, according to Mark Flohr, owner of Flohr Pools, Chambersburg, Pa.

"What we do sometimes is we'll go out and start the pump and filter, but we'll leave that cover on," he says. "That allows us to circulate the water and get chemicals in the pool, and make sure the chemicals are where they're supposed to be so we have crystal-clear water. Then if it starts running around the first of May, when they take the cover off, the pool water's already clear, so we don't have to deal with having a pool that's in bad shape.

Take It Off

Pre-opening aside, the first step toward summerizing is, of course, taking the cover off, and the process will be different depending on which type of cover you're dealing with. "For a solid cover [that's collected water] the homeowners will start siphoning some of the water off the cover from the snowmelt and the rain," says Rose. These covers, she adds, can have a lot of water on them when it comes time to take them off, if a cover pump hasn't been used. As for the rest of the process, the filled water tubes that weigh down the cover are removed and emptied, and the cover is simply pulled off the pool. Safety covers, on the other hand, are anchored into the coping of the pool, and require techs to use tools to remove them. "You go around the pool, and there are springs that are hooked over those anchors in the concrete. So they have to go around and take the springs off of the anchors, and then recess all those anchors back into the concrete," says Rose. "There's a tool that looks like a big Allen wrench. It's like a hex screw key, and you just put that hexagon key into the insert of the anchor, and just turn it like a screw; it threads back in."

Dry It Out

The cover is off. It's big, it's bulky and it's wet. What now. Either kind of cover will take a little time in the sun to dry off before storage, but the mesh covers usually require less cleaning at this point, according to Rose. "They just take it off the pool and they lay it on the patio or on the lawn or wherever and then hose it all off," she says.

"It's usually pretty clean, because those LOOP-LOC covers are like a trampoline-type fit across your pool, so in the spring all the leaves that were on there usually just dry up and blow away. So you don't usually have anything on the cover itself." A little more scrubbing certainly won't hurt on a mesh cover, though, if service techs have the time and inclination. What a lot of people do is they take these acid brushes, and use soap and water - you can use car-wash soap - and you can go through the entire cover and brush it all down, hose it down, and then let that dry, and then either roll it up or fold it up," says Matt Giovanisci, marketing manager for Niagara Pools & Spas in Blackwood, N.J.

The unanchored covers will require a little more time to get clean. "If you have one of those solid ones, those generally will collect all the rain water and the leaves, and it can be kind of a murky mess in the spring," says Rose. "They do have a couple of products out right now, one attaches right to your garden hose, and you can spray a cleaner on it and brush them off because they do get really gunky."

Flohr says he gives the solid covers a more thorough cleaning treatment, as well. "If there is water gathered on top, then obviously it's going to hold more dirt there," he says. "We do have some people that want them washed really, really good, and we bring them back here to the store where we have the scrub buckets and the cleaning detergent and that sort of thing and we get on them and actually scrub them, and flip them over and do both sides like that."

Put It Away

Proper storage, according to dealers, is key to ensuring a long life for a winter cover, especially the mesh ones. It doesn't matter if the cover is wet, according to Rose, as long as you hang it up somewhere. "You could probably just fold it up wet if you wanted to and put it away," says Rose. "It's not like a cloth material. The bag is mesh, the cover is mesh, so if you hang it up there's always air circulating. You don't have to worry about mold or mildew or anything. Generally technicians leave it lying on the patio for a couple of hours while they're there anyway, so it's pretty dry."

Besides hanging from the rafters, the other common storage method is folding and boxing the covers, but in that case, the cover needs to be dry, regardless of which kind it is. "You have to make sure they're dry first, and once they're dry, you can fold them up and put them in a box," says Flohr. "That's where it's important not to have anything in there that's going to make it smell bad when you open it up in six months."

Giovanisci recommends that customers buy something that unwanted visitors can't gnaw through. "What I recommend to customers is to buy a Rubber Maid trash can or storage bin, something that's hard plastic," he says. "You can store it in your shed, you can store it in the garage, in the attic, it doesn't matter, but the real reason to go and buy something like that, especially if you have a LOOPLOC cover, which you're investing almost $2,000 in, is so that rats and mice and other woodland creatures don't come and chew your cover to pieces, which happens a lot." He recommends the same for the unanchored covers. "You don't spend as much money on it, but if you want your cover to last long, that's one way to help it out."

Long Live The Cover

If the summerizing protocol is followed, how long can one reasonably expect a winter cover to last. Safety covers can last for years, according to dealers. "LOOP-LOC covers have always had a 10-year warranty, they've upped it to 12 now," says Rose. "So there's really not a problem with them at all. I actually had a mouse chew a hole in mine, but they patch very easily, or you can send it back to LOOP-LOC and they can sew on patches, or they can actually take it apart and replace panels. Generally, we have no warranty claims on them whatsoever."

Unanchored covers, on the other hand, tend to have a shorter life expectancy, but are significantly cheaper. "The average life of a tarp cover is very short," says Giovanisci. "You're lucky to get two or three years out of it. I mean I know guys that treat their covers very, very well, and there's just nothing you can do as far as the weather. If it's a really, really bad winter, you're going to have cover damage. You'll have the wind blowing, ripping it to shreds. Water collects on it, leaves collect on it, ice collects on it, and that can cause cover damage."

So the keys to a good summer holiday for the winter cover are pretty easy to master: Keep it clean, keep it away from critters, and, depending on the cover style, it will last years and years. Says Flohr, "Think clean and dry - you just want keep them clean and dry so that they'll give good service the following season."

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