Summer's Almost Here?!?! Now's the time to Start Preparing for Pool Opening

Oh, those lazy dog days of summer, lounging beside the pool with a cool drink and a good book, the scent of suntan lotion drifting through the air. Most who are fortunate enough to have a condominium pool know the enjoyment that it can afford. And in this current economic climate, the condo pool will be getting even more use as owners opt to stay poolside, cutting back on more expensive vacations and weekend trips.

Getting those sparkling blue waters ready for the summer swim season is no small feat. If your condominium is one of the thousands of New England condos planning on opening its pool in time for the traditional Memorial Day weekend, then now is the time to get yourself in gear. “Three weeks before you want the pool to open is when the process starts,” states Mike Giannamore, vice president of Aqua Pool and Spa in East Windsor, Connecticut. “You want to open the pool with plenty of time to handle and fix any problems.” In other words, an early start is no luxury, but a necessity.

Pool Opening 101

Where to begin can sometimes prove to be the hardest decision. As with most things in life, preparation is everything—and the pool proves no exception.

Lifeguards: “No Lifeguard on Duty” may be added to your pool’s safety signage if management is not on the ball early in the hiring process. If last year’s lifeguards have not signed on for another season, then it's best start the lifeguard search sooner rather than later. Area colleges as well as the local Red Cross chapter are good places to start. Word of mouth and referrals fromprior pool lifeguards also work well.

Deciding how many trained lifeguards are needed is oftentimes dictated by the local health and safety boards. The size of the pool area comes into play in determining this number. William R. White, vice president of The Niles Company, a property management company located in the Boston area, explains: “If a pool has a 2,000 to 5,000-square-foot surface area, then one lifeguard is typically needed. If the pool surface area is greater than 5,000 square feet, then twoor more would be required.” Condo pools are most often open from 10 in the morning to 9 in the evening, so two shifts are usually required.

Once lifeguard staffs are in place the upfront pool preparation begins in earnest. Assuming proper care was taken at the pool closing, the opening follows a fairly consistent routine—although sometimes not as uneventful as hoped for.

Cover: Despite this seemingly simple task, care should be taken to prevent leaves and debris from falling into the pool when removing the cover. To prevent covers from becoming easy targets for mold and mildew, they must be thoroughly cleaned and dried beforebeing stored for the summer season.

Pool Water: Items installed to protect against freezing will next need to be removed and the pool examined for leaks. Any large debris such as sticks and leaves will need to be raked up and removed. Dirt, sand and other small debris should be vacuumed. Thewater depth will need to be brought up to its normal operating level.

Filter: The pool’s filter should have been thoroughly cleaned at closing; however if it wasn’t, now is the time to do it. Once cleaned, the filter system should be started up and tested. If any problems arise there should be plenty of time to make repairs or purchase new parts before the “official” opening.

Water chemistry: Pool chemistry is the most important aspect of the pool opening and is critical to a successful swim season. Water should be carefully tested and monitored early in the opening process. Adding too much of one chemical or another can damage and/or stain the pool. Pool chemicals can also irritate bathers’ skin and eyes if levels are not in check. In an effort toforgo this issue altogether and ensure less irritating water, some condo-miniums have adopted an alternative to the well-established use of standard chlorine: salt-water chlorination.

Salt-water chlorination has been around for the last 15 years and has been used even longer in Florida and Australia. Through an attachment to the filter, added salt in the water is converted into sodium hypochlorite (liquid chlorine). “There is not a cost savings but condos are opting for it because it is not as harsh as chlorine; itis easier on the skin and eyes,” states Brian Diglio, president of Blue Wave Pool Service & Supplies, located in Hamden, Connecticut.

Equipment and Signage: Check and install pool equipment and signage. Handrails, ladders, diving boards and slides all need to be carefully inspected for wear and damage. The diving boardshould be inspected closely for any stress cracks and the surface should have maintained its non-skid surface. Pool safety signs should be taken out of storage and clearly posted.

Cleaning: Before opening, the sides of the pool and deck should be properly cleaned. Every building superintendent, manager and pool service seems to have their own favorite deck cleaning formula. Diglio recommends a 1:10 mixture of chlorine to water to clean decks. White suggests a simple “multi-purposepool deck cleaner that (is) applied and then power washed.”

However, all seem to agree that the tried-and-true pool brush and pool water do the trick for keeping algae and grime from forming on the pool sides.

Pool safety

Everything leading up to the pool opening has been in an effort to ensurea safe pool environment. A series of checks and balances has also been put in place by state and local health and safety boards in an attempt to guarantee pool safety.

Management looking for a standard set of rules and safety regulations may be hard pressed because guidelines change from state to state and town to town. In fact, requirements might even change from year to year.

The burden of responsibility to detangle the political red tape and be aware of new permit requirements and deadlines typically falls on the shouldersof the building superintendent or management company. “It is important that management does their due diligence and knows what permits are needed and when,” states Dan Fitzgerald of Stone Edge Design, a Pepperell, Massachusetts company that specializes in design, building and renovation of residential and commercial pools. “No one makes it easy and it has become a troublesome process.”

Depending on how your state and local boards of health are staffed, an initial safety inspection prior to the pool opening will usually take place and then an unscheduled inspection might occur at any time during the season or if a complaint is received. Several general areas will be looked at: A review of the daily water record log, an initial testing of water quality at pool opening, review of safety equipment, and an inspection of fencing and signage.

Just as the inspection requirements differ from one community to the next so, too, do permit deadline dates and fees. Boston, for example, requires all pool applicants to fill out paperwork and pay a fee in January, while many neighboring towns require applications to be received only 15 days prior to the pool opening. Also don't forget about compliance with a new federal regulation regarding drain covers and safety switches. The Virginia Graeme Baker Act (see New England Condominium, March 2009) requires that all public pools, including apartments, condominiumsand HOAs, install safety equipment to prevent entrapment injuries.

Whose Job is This Anyway?

It is no small achievement to get a pool up and running, but that’s just the beginning as management must ensure a constant and consistent level of safety, cleanness and smooth operations throughout the summer season. For this reason, most New England states require pools to have on staff a pool expert, in the form of a Certified Pool Operator (CPO).

CPOs are certified in every aspect of the mechanics, operation and safetyof pools. However, the emphasis is on water chemistry. The CPO is also responsible for checking in weekly or bi-weekly with the pool staff and making sure the pool log is up to date. In some instances the CPO is the individual responsible for the supervision of the lifeguards. Building superintendents or staff from the management company typically will find themselves taking the two-day intensive course and pulling double duty as the designated CPO.

In addition to CPOs, many condos may opt to spread out pool responsibilities by outsourcing to a pool service company. When taking into consideration the potentially short pool seasons New England can have, a professional pool maintenance company might prove to be a smart move. “A pool maintenance company would be able to spot problems and issues before others and would alleviate the risk of shortening the season even more with repair delays,” points out Diglio. Fitzgerald agrees, but adds, “Once-weekly pool maintenance from a pool service, which would include backwashing the filter, cleaning (vacuuming), chemical check and adding chemicals might be enough.” However, most would agree that paying the average $150 to $200 weekly cost of a pool service really depends on the size and usage of the pool and the budget that condos have to work with.

In the current economy, condo associations might find that relying on in-house personnel makes better financial sense, especially considering that some condo pools will need maintenance once a week and others once a month. White sees benefits notonly financially, but also “with someone in-house, condos will have more control and more frequent checks on equipment and water quality levels.”

Whoever lays claim to the laborious pool responsibilities, they clearly have their plate full. Maintaining a clean and chemically-balanced swimming environment throughout the summer season, as well as keeping a watchful eyeon pool safety standards and permit codes, is no day at the beach.

Hillary Pember is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium magazine.

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