Would You Trust These People To Take Care Of A New

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There are plenty of strong and varying opinions in the industry about start-up procedures with regard to the pool surface, but there are a few big concepts everyone can agree on. If you care about the beautiful plaster or aggregate or quartz surface you've just applied to a new or renovated pool, you need to care about the start-up. The attention that pool receives in its first month can have dramatic, long-term effects on the appearance and longevity of the pool surface.

While more and more pool-surface professionals are taking direct responsibility for start-up, at some point, care of the pool has to be handed over to its new owners. The better prepared they are to take care of the pool, the better your pool-surface artistry will fare over time.

But wait a minute. We've been building cementitious inground pools for decades. Don't we have it down to a science by now. Well, yes and no. A combination of new technologies and higher levels of professionalism have made for some changing trends.

"When white plaster dominated the industry, there wasn't a great deal of emphasis put on start-up," says Jana Auringer, a board member of the National Plasterers Council and owner of The Pool Lady, a pool-surface consulting firm in Coppell, Texas. "The scale that forms as the pool fills - the plaster starts producing calcium hydroxide as it's curing, that's the plaster dust - when it would stick to a white plaster surface, you'd never see it. But as the pigments came into the industry, then you started seeing this white residual."

Depending on the builder's practices or local customs, it might be the builder, the plasterer, the service company or even the homeowner who would do the start-up. "It used to be that a lot of plasterers wouldn't do the start-up because it wasn't cost effective, they didn't have a service division," says Mitch Brooks, executive director of the NPC. "It's changing now, though. What we're finding out from the research [being conducted at the National Pool Industry Research Center at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.] is that the start-up is very important and if it's not done correctly it can have long-term effects on the surface material.

"More and more you're seeing that the better guys are doing the start-up themselves," says Brooks.

NPC board member Randy Dukes of Aquavations Corp., spends weeks on the road each year teaching plasterers about water chemistry. "The initial cure of the cement is 28 days," he says. "It is a wise move for the contractor of record to make sure that it's maintained during that initial cure when 60 percent of the cure happens. A lot of professionals do that. They just don't want to trust the homeowner to brush the pool and adjust and maintain the alkalinity and pH."

Given the importance of the new pool surface's first 28 days, no matter what type of start-up is used, the pool must be carefully monitored. Auringer has seen what can happen when pool care is turned over to the homeowner too soon. "The miscommunication often appears to be from the builder to the homeowner in stressing the importance of water chemistry in the beginning weeks of the life of that pool," says Auringer.

"If you have a green homeowner who has never had a pool before, I'm sure it would be very, very overwhelming," she adds. "In fact some of the people that I talk to, they say, 'Well they told me all this at once; you have to backwash, add chemicals, and I can't remember all this. I don't understand the chemistry.' They are just so overwhelmed."

Dukes has seen it all, too. "The poor plasterer - he's putting four tons of concrete in your back yard, and he's isn't going to be there to take care of it," says Dukes. "Then when the pool has scale or is stained, because the homeowners didn't follow standard operating procedures, they call up. That's like calling Kohler when you didn't clean the toilet!"

One way to guarantee that the pool surface cures to perfection is to supervise the start-up period yourself. "I know a lot of builders in the Dallas market do have people that will follow the pool through for a minimum of 10 days to two weeks and then turn it over to the homeowner," says Auringer. "At that point, the brushing has all been done, homeowners don't need to try to adjust the calcium level on a weekly basis. It's something they need to monitor maybe on a monthly basis during the summer but [only] quarterly during the rest of the year."

Brooks observes a trend toward applicators supervising the start-up process for a longer period of time. "I would say that most professionals in the industry today will ensure that the start-up is done for the homeowner prior to the homeowner taking on care of the pool," he says. "However, after two weeks of start-up, the pool still needs to be brushed and you still have to watch the chemistry."

So even if a professional applicator babysits the pool for a longer period of time, it's still in his best interest to thoroughly educate the homeowner. "We need to make sure that they understand the importance of taking care of their pools," says Brooks. "Even if they have a service, they have to understand that the best way to maintain the pool's finish is to have balanced water, and for that to happen, the pool owner has to help. The water does need to be tested. And it does get a little complicated."

Auringer has a lot of firsthand experience with what can go wrong when homeowners take over the pool. "Most homeowners will get the pool after about 10 days to two weeks," she says. "The start-up is done, but that doesn't mean it's time to just hand it over and only look at it once a week. Especially if the start-up is done in the wintertime, those homeowners are not too enthusiastic about going out there and brushing, testing, adding chemicals. When we get to a cold season, people don't want to go outside."

The builder or surface applicator does himself a favor when he makes sure that the homeowners have received the information they need and that they understand it. "It's very frustrating when I go out to look at a problem and the homeowners say, 'Well they came out and did pool school and they told us that just once a week we have to do something.' And that doesn't cut it," says Auringer.

"Some service companies will make arrangements to go out during start-up and brush it three times a day. Others will go once a day and tell the homeowner that they need to brush it another two times. It's really important. There's no one consistent way that everyone does this," says Auringer.

Best Practices

But the NPC is working on changing that. One of the results of the ongoing research at Cal Poly is that the NPC plans to publish a start-up manual of sorts. "Right now there is literally nothing out there on what startup procedure is the best," says Brooks. "We're in the process of developing a best practices start-up reference manual. What's taking time, though, is doing the research so we have the back-up for our recommendations. We'll be able to say, 'These are the start-up procedures to get you through your first 28 days and this is why we recommend them.'"

The NPC is collecting information on all the different ways that start-ups are currently handled, including material from manufacturers and various organizations. "We'll probably come out with something preliminary in a year or so describing the current practices," says Brooks. "Then shortly after we'll have some solid research on what are the best practices."

With so many opinions and changing technologies, that will be no small task. "The plasterers have realized that water chemistry is important to their product," says Auringer. "The NPC is trying to standardize instructions, but there are so many types of water qualities across the country. What you do in Arizona doesn't make sense for a start-up in Dallas."

Teach Them Well

Even once agreed-upon standards are published, builders and applicators will still need to enlist the help of their clients. Brooks and Auringer have a few suggestions for making the process trouble free.

"No. 1, test your water!" says Auringer. When you know what's in your source water, you can plan how to deal with it. "Test it after the water has been circulating for a minimum of 30 minutes," she recommends. Testing water from the tap can be misleading, because putting a pool's worth of water through the source pipes can stir up sediment or cause the water to be drawn from different sources.

Auringer also recommends making sure that the chemicals you use match the source water. "So if you have an extreme reading like I do with 0.06 ppm iron in the water, then check with the manufacturer to see what the recommendations are for levels that high," she says. "A lot of them have a max ppm that they can hold in solution. It's doing a little bit of research." Auringer and Brooks agree that the best scenario is for a professional to supervise the start-up and curing of a newly surfaced pool. But educating the homeowner is very important, too. "We have a great DVD called Taking Care of Your Pool , which takes the consumer from starting up the pool all the way to winterizing," says Brooks. "NPC members can give it to their clients or consumers can actually order from us."

Setting realistic expectations for the homeowner is important in gaining their cooperation, too. "I know some people who say they're just going to put in a pool and get rid of the grass and they think they're alleviating a lot of maintenance," says Auringer. "If they just go out there and throw a little chlorine in, they think they're going to be good. And there are some features that are available now to make it easier, but some take it to mean that they won't have to do anything except go and swim."

Smart contractors will make sure their clients know what to expect and are ready to cooperate in making it happen.

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