By Marcelle Dibrell
It is an exceptionally busy time of year for pool service professionals across the country. In the Southwest, monsoons have hit, dumping dirt and debris into pools, which, followed by 115-degree days, generally means service techs are facing green pools at most of their accounts.
On the East Coast, heavy rains are flooding pools, leaving small disasters behind in the form of stains and blackening.
And those who aren’t cleaning up after pouring rain and winds have dumped pounds of dirt into their customers’ pools have just begun attempting to close pools for the winter months.
It may be profitable, but it is definitely a grind.
Labor Day has passed, marking the “official” end of the swimming season, and that means — though it may be blazing hot in some areas of the country — service techs in many areas are getting ready to shutter their pools.
And while closing a pool for the winter isn’t rocket science, the job can be intimidating to many pool owners, who would rather simply pay someone else to handle it.
Obviously, the decision to close a pool is based on regional weather conditions.
For example, because freezing conditions are a given in the Northeast, almost all service professionals in that region of the country offer winterizing packages because it represents such a large profit source.
For such pool service professionals, winterizing pools is a huge part of their businesses, and they may close hundreds of pools every fall.
Meanwhile, according to our 2022 Service Industry News survey, only 16 percent of service professionals winterize pools in the Southwest. In areas like Texas, the decision to winterize a pool is sometimes seen as a matter of personal preference. However, it is likely that many pool owners regretted not properly winterizing their pools during the 2021 freak winter ice storm, which left many without power and froze north Texas for days.
Freezing temperatures will do permanent damage to pools, pipes, and equipment if left unprotected during the off-season, and veteran service professionals know that the best time to protect their customers’ assets is before the first frost.
That’s why closing pools for the winter is big business for many service professionals, second only to what they charge to open the pool for the season. And their charges don’t necessarily include chemicals.
In the Northeast, for example, 100 percent of the service professionals responding to our survey indicated that they provide winterizing service for their customers. For this service, technicians responded that they charge a median price of $375, with a high of $450 and a low of $250.
Meanwhile, in the Southeast, (not including Florida) 84 percent of the service professionals responding to our survey indicated that they provide winterizing service for their customers. For this service, technicians responded that they charge a median price of $350.
In the Midwest, 100 percent of technicians responding to our survey indicated that they provide winterizing service for their customers. For this service, technicians responded that they charge a median price of $345, with a high of $600 and a low of $200.
In the Southwest, technicians responded that they charge a median price of $475 with a high of $550 and a low of $175.
In Southern California, service professionals indicated that they do not provide winterizing service.
However, in slightly colder Northern California, 9 percent of the service professionals responding to our survey indicated that they provide winterizing service for their customers. For this service, technicians responded that they charge a median price of $385.
How to close aboveground pools
For pool service professionals, late summer and fall are among the busiest and most lucrative times of the year, as we go about the business of closing pools for the season. It is all about protecting surfaces and equipment from freeze damage and attempting to minimize spring cleanup once the weather warms up again. In some regions that experience seasonal variation, winterizing pools and spas has already begun. This handy checklist may be useful for novice service techs to take along so as to not miss a trick:
• It’s a good idea to close pools well before the first freeze to allow all equipment adequate time to fully dry and to prevent the chance of freeze damage to hoses, fittings, and equipment. But it’s also necessary to wait for the water temperature to get down to 60 degrees or lower lest an algae bloom is caused.
• Bring the pool water to shock level and brush sides and floors thoroughly. Maintain shock levels for 24 hours with the pump running to ensure that there is no remaining algae. See chlorine chart for appropriate shock level.
• Remove, clean, and store steps and ladders.
• Drain water to 6 inches below the lowest return or skimmer opening and remove hoses and fittings.
• Skimmer return plugs or “gizmos” may be installed or they may be left open.
• An EPA-registered algicide may be administered per dosing instructions on product. Use a brush to distribute the algicide.
• Drain and remove any solar panels, cleaning them prior to storing for the winter.
• Thoroughly drain the filter and pump. Remove and store the pump, hoses, and fittings. Inspect all items for evidence of damage, and make a list of necessary replacements to order prior to spring.
• Remove multiport valves. Store the smaller fittings, hardware, and filter drain plugs inside the pump pot basket. Use silicone lubricant to lube the pump pot basket. Any remaining pump hardware can be placed inside a gallon plastic bag and taped to side of the pump.
• Store smaller filter systems inside for the winter.
• To prevent freeze or water damage, place a large durable garbage bag or tarp over larger filters.
• Install a winter cover per manufacturer’s instructions.
• For pools surrounded by trees, install a leaf net over the winter cover until the majority of leaves and autumn debris are done dropping. This is critical to avoid a swamp in the spring. Prior to the hard freeze, remove and store the leaf net.
• Head off to the next pool. Shock: Free Chlorine Levels As has been noted in prior issues of Service Industry News, the amount of hypochlorous acid present for sanitation, disinfection, and oxidation is proportional to the pH, but more importantly to the cyanuric acid that is in the water.
Because it is known that the hypochlorous acid is what is needed to combat any potential algae blooms, it is necessary to add enough chlorine to overcome the mitigating effects of the cyanuric acid.
Experts generally recommend maintaining chlorine at 7.5 percent of the measured cyanuric acid concentration for daily pool use.
However, prior to closing the pool for the season, it is recommended to shock the pool. In this case, experts say the chlorine can be brought to 40 percent of the cyanuric acid level. The accompanying chart shows shock levels of free chlorine as a function of cyanuric acid.
The original Chlorine/CYA chart was developed by Ben Powell as a “Best Guess.” Industry expert Richard Falk refined and expanded on that original chart to produce the Chlorine/CYA Chart shown here. It was developed on the basis of empirical evidence and in conformation with chemical theory. Asterisks indicate CYA levels that are not recommended.