Automatic safety covers are gaining popularity, largely due to the many options which allow them to be installed on pools of various shapes, sizes, and designs, but also because of the great benefits they provide the homeowner, including safety, savings, and convenience.
Automatic covers that have been tested and comply with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) safety standard are considered to be safety covers. They are manufactured to incorporate just enough slack so the cover not only fits the pool’s width—from track to track—but also so it sits right on top of the water as it travels across the pool. The water supports the cover from underneath, providing the cover with its strength and safety.
In addition to safety, automatic covers offer significant savings in the operational costs of the pool. By covering the pool when it is not in use, the amount of water lost through evaporation is dramatically reduced. This also reduces heat and chemical loss, providing substantial savings for the pool owner.
Automatic safety covers also provide convenience to the pool owner. By covering the pool when it is not in use, the water is kept much cleaner. This allows the pool owner to spend more time enjoying the pool and less time cleaning it.
Installing a reliable pool cover
When designing a pool that will include an automatic cover, there are several things that can be done in the beginning to ensure it is installed properly; these tips will also help in the reliable operation of the automatic cover system.
Drop to water
Drop to water is the distance from the cover guide to the water level in the pool. For optimal automatic cover operation, it is important to keep the cover track as close to the water level as possible—preferably within 102 mm (4 in.). Generally, this puts the water level partway up the opening of the skimmer. If the pool is overfilled, water can flow over the pool’s end wall and flood the cover housing, potentially causing damage to the system.
If the water level is too low, the cover will have too much sag during operation, which adds more wear and tear to the cover system; therefore, it is critical to maintaining the correct water level in the pool. This is particularly true if the automatic safety cover is also being used as a winter cover. In this case, if the water level is too low over the course of the winter, the cover may not be able to support heavy snow loads and significant damage can occur to the pool and automatic safety cover. By simply maintaining the water at the proper level, the automatic cover system will operate more smoothly.
Drag (or resistance)
It takes almost no effort to push or pull the cover across the pool water. However, when pulling the same cover over a deck surface, there will be additional drag or resistance on the pool cover. This often occurs on wide and/or freeform shape pools.
One way to handle this is to limit any deck drag areas to 10 per cent of the overall cover size. This can be accomplished by positioning the cover track as close to the edge of the pool as possible to minimize the amount of deck the cover is pulled across. Another way to handle this challenge is by using blowers. When a blower is installed, the automatic safety cover rides on a cushion of air, rather than being pulled across the pool deck. Not only does the blower decrease the amount of drag on the cover system, it also extends the life of the cover fabric.
Having the switch correctly located can prevent many problems and costly repairs as well. When selecting a location for the control switch, keep in mind the entire pool must be visible from that location.
It is best if the operator is closer to the front edge of the cover when it is in the fully uncovered position to ensure it is running straight. Further, it is recommended the cover switch be located along the length of the pool, halfway between the middle and the mechanism end, not more than 3.6 m (12 ft) from the water’s edge. Poorly located switches are one of the largest contributors to cover failure because the cover is being operated without the user being able to see the pool and know if there is an issue during operation.
Lack of sufficient drainage from the cover housing is also a leading cause of cover failure. When the cover housing is flooded, it is not just the motor that can be damaged. The roll-up tube can also fill with several hundred pounds of water, causing damage to the roll-up tube and the cover fabric.
The best way to protect an automatic cover from flood damage is to allow for proper drainage in the cover housing. Installing at least one 76.2-mm (3-in.) drain is recommended to allow water to drain from the cover housing. Increasing the size of the drain to 101.6 mm (4 in.) can offer additional protection. More drains can be added to further prevent the possibility of flooding. Installing drain pipes smaller than 76.2 mm (3 in.) is not recommended.
Keep an eye on the following
In addition to the aforementioned guidelines, there are a number of things to watch for and maintain to ensure an automatic cover operates properly.
First, it is important to monitor the pool’s water chemistry and keep it balanced—regardless of the type of sanitizer being used. If the pool is equipped with a salt chlorine generator, it is important to make sure the unit is calibrated correctly and monitored regularly to ensure chemicals are in balance. When adding chemicals to a pool that includes an automatic cover, the general rule of thumb is to only cover a pool that can be used by bathers. Further, after adding any chemicals to the pool, allow the water to circulate before closing the cover. If the homeowner is unsure when it is safe to close the cover, suggest they use a test kit to assess the water quality at the surface.
If the cover is closed before the chemicals have had a chance to properly circulate in the water, it can shorten the life of the cover fabric as well as prevent the water chemistry from properly balancing.
A clean slate
In windy and dusty areas, leaves, dirt, and debris can accumulate in the cover track and in the cover box; therefore, it is important to keep each of these areas clean to prevent premature wear and tear and damage to the cover system.
It is also a good idea to periodically clean the cover fabric. This can be done using a mild dish soap and pool brush. Laundry detergent or other harsh cleaning chemicals can damage the cover and, therefore, should not be used.
The cleaning process should begin with the cover in the closed position. Place a small amount of diluted soap and water on the cover, near the cover housing, and use the pool brush to gently scrub the cover. Once finished, use a garden hose to rinse off the cover. Afterward, open the cover a few feet to roll the clean section on the roll-up tube. Continue to scrub and rinse the cover until it has been cleaned entirely. Use a cover pump to remove the dirty water that has collected on top of the cover.
A garden hose can also be used to spray dirt and debris out of the cover tracks. With the cover open, angle the hose so the stream of water sprays into the track’s rope channels. Concentrate on cleaning any dirt and debris out of the pulleys that are located at the far end of the cover track. The buildup of this debris, if not removed, can cause premature wear and tear on all components of the cover system.
To meet ASTM safety standards, a closed cover should always have a cover pump positioned on top of the cover to remove any accumulated water (e.g. from rain or sprinklers, etc.). Not only is the accumulated water on top of the cover a safety hazard, but the increased weight will also strain the system should the homeowner attempt to operate the cover with large amounts of water on top of it.
Some covers include a cover pump which positions itself on top of the cover fabric as the pool is being covered. Sensors turn the pump on automatically when standing water is detected. As water is removed from the top of the cover, the cover pump turns off automatically. When the pool is being uncovered, the cover pump rides on the cover fabric until the pump head has come to rest underneath the lid of the cover housing. This eliminates the need of the pool owner having to manually place the pump on the cover when it is closed, and then manually removing it prior to opening the pool.
Correct operational procedures
Proper operation of the automatic safety cover can also affect the life of the system. When pool owners operate their cover system, it is recommended the operator stops the cover roughly 0.3 m (1 ft) before the pool is completely uncovered or covered, then bump the switch until the cover is in the fully covered or uncovered position. This will reduce stress on the ropes and webbing by preventing hard hits against the coping on the pool’s deep end as the cover is closed and on the cover stops as it is opened.
Finally, it is recommended the services of a local authorized pool cover professional be considered to provide annual maintenance and operational inspections of the automatic safety cover system. These maintenance professionals can provide a variety of service options including lubricating and greasing pulleys and fittings, making cover adjustments, tightening loose bolts and screws, cleaning the cover box and cover fabric, or replacing worn covers.
Following these simple care and maintenance recommendations will help preserve the life of not only the automatic cover but also the pool. Taking time to maintain the cover will pay off in the long run by helping to keep it operating safely for many years to come.
This article was written by Azur Dzindo and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].