Pool maintenance: Five things to check in the fall

The chilly weather we had this weekend was a reminder that fall is upon us. While we’ll have plenty of time to swim in the upcoming months (thank you Southeast Texas subtropical weather), now is the time to make sure your pool maintenance is on point. Everyone likes lists, so we’ve compiled a quick checklist of five things you need to check on this fall to keep your pool maintenance up to date.

Five fall maintenance steps

1. Clean your filters: As we have written in a previous article, fall and spring are the ideal times to clean your pool filters. With the increased amount of leaves and debris that fly into your pool during this time of year, you want to make sure that your filters are in tip-top shape. It’s more important this year than normal, as the rainwater and biologicals (leaves, dirt, and other natural debris) from Hurricane Harvey have certainly tested the capacity of your filters.

Clean filters allow for your robotic cleaners to do their job and your water chemistry to stay on point. And it’s best to clean them now while it’s still warm — going out and doing it in the winter when the water and air temperature are in the 40s and 50s is no one’s idea of a good time.

2. Cover/drain your backflow preventer: One of the biggest problems one can run into in pool maintenance is a frozen backflow preventer. When a freeze comes (and it’ll most certainly come), the backflow preventers are susceptible to cracking. They crack because they aren’t completely drained, therefore the remaining water inside freezes, expands and puts stress on the backflow preventer. Near-freezing temperatures and wind can also cause trouble, as cold wind sometimes cools the preventer enough to cause freezing and cracking.

Draining the backflow is important (and something we’ll come over to do for a fee), but covering the preventer to keep out the wind is important, too. There are several ways to do this: you can wrap the preventer in a plastic bag, shield it with a dry box, or even put a trash can upside down over it. Call us for consultation or head to the websites of our suppliers (Febco, Wilkins and Watts) for covering and draining tips. These tips also work on backflow preventers for sprinkler systems. A Total Coverage can handle those issues.

3. Check your water chemistry: This is something that you should do regularly, but if you only do it a few times a year, the fall is one of those times. You’re just emerging from the high-usage summer/early fall months, which typically involves regularly placing chlorine tablets in the pool. If you use chlorine tablets regularly (or more than that), there’s a chance that your pool chemistry is a little off-kilter. Too much chlorine can result in too much cynaric acid, which not only will stain the surface of your pool, but could also corrode the elements of your heater (which we’ll go into more in point No. 4).

Along with the cynaric acid, it’s important to check your water’s calcium and alkalinity readings as well. Checking on these things are something you should do weekly via your IntelliChem system, but it’s very important during the fall months.

4. Make sure your heater and lights are tip-top shape: When it’s 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity, as it is during the summer months on non-rainy days, the last thing you think about is heating your pool. But come Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the water and air are cooler, a heater is suddenly very important for that post-meal/post-giftgiving dip. So it would stink if you turned on your heater Thanksgiving Day, only for it to be needing maintenance. As much as we’d like to help you right away in those circumstances, the logistics of the holidays make it extremely difficult to do so.

Therefore, this is the perfect time for a dry run of your heater to make sure everything is good to go. Hopefully all will be good, but if there’s corrosion or any other problems, finding that now will give you plenty of time to contact us and for us to come out and attend to the problem. A quick check/call now is a heck of a lot better than discovering the problem on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve. The same logic applies with lights — discovering any lighting problems now will allow us to fix them in time for your holiday get-togethers.

5. Skim your pool for leaves: This plays into No. 1 a bit, but it’s important to make sure that the leaves that fall in your pool don’t stay and accumulate. Not only do they make the surface of the water grimy, but they put stress on the the filters and the water chemistry readings. Stagnant leaves can get stuck in robotic cleaners and filters and clog skimmers. The remnants of them can also throw your chemistry out of whack and make your pool prone to staining. Here’s a previous article we wrote on leaf removal.

Leaves can also wreak havoc on variable flow pumps. They can crack baskets and manifolds while causing all sorts of issues. The IntelliFlo VF pump has monitors that alert you before such things happen, but even if you have one, be sure to remove falling leaves from your pool regularly.

While you can do a lot of this maintenance on your own, feel free to give us a call for help at any time. We’ll come out and perform these services for you for a fee.


Discover Ultimate Pools

Ultimate Pools has been a leader in pool building and outdoor improvements in Magnolia, The Woodlands and Southeast Texas since 1991, specializing as a pool builder since 1999. From pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, decks, outdoor kitchens and outdoor improvements, Ultimate Pools will provide the highest of quality and customer service to you. Surf our website, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, send us an email, give us a call at (936) 321-9632, or visit our offices at 5170 FM 1488, Magnolia, TX 77354 today!

Getting your pool in balance post-Harvey

Cleaning and draining your pool (if necessary) is a big part of getting your pool back in shape after heavy rains. But just because your pool is glistening does not mean that its recovery from Hurricane Harvey is complete. For your pool to truly be in tip-top shape the water chemistry must be in balance.

In this article, we’re going to take that newly cleaned pool water and make sure it’s chemically in balance. If it isn’t, we’re going to show you the importance of that balance and how to achieve it.

Putting your pool water in balance

The pool in the picture above looks glistening and ready to go, but having clean, aqua pool water doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is up to snuff. There are three areas of water chemistry which are extremely important in the well-being of your pool — the amount of cynaric acid, the calcium content and the alkalinity.

It’s very important to continuously check these metrics and not simply stop and be satisfied once the water is a desirable color. If you don’t check them, especially when dealing with a rain and flooding event such as Harvey, you leave your pool susceptible to algae blooms and scaling.

We detailed these measurements in an article we did on IntelliChem. While the IntelliChem system will let you know what the measurements are, the cynaric acid and chlorine will have to be applied separately.

Of the three measurements, cynaric acid might be the most important. Cynaric acid acts as a stabilizer, protecting the chlorine from getting burned off by the sun and losing its potency. Cynaric acid operates in a similar way that sulfates do in wine or homogenization does with milk. It keeps the chlorine fresh so it can do its part to get your water in balance. Having 30-35 parts per million of cynaric acid will help chlorine do its thing and help with calcium and alkalinity.

If you simply shock the pool every so often or throw in chlorine tablets without paying attention to the cynaric acid output, you’re likely to get the dreaded algae and scaling. And that’s not a good time.

How calcium and alkalinity keep water in balance

Keeping tabs on calcium is extremely important, as too little calcium will cause the water to eat away at the plaster while too much calcium will cause scaling on walls and on the pool surface. You want to keep the calcium between 200 and 400 parts per million, with 250 being the sweet spot.

As far as alkalinity, keeping it under control is necessary to prevent corrosion of the metal equipment in the pool and staining of the plaster. The range for alkaline substances is 80 parts per million to 200 parts per million, with 120 being the ideal amount. You should also aim to have the pH in your pool between 7.2 and 7.8, with 7.5 the prime target. Chlorine, with cynaric acid as a lead blocker, can get these elements to where you need them to be. For best results, have your free chlorine at 3.0 parts per million. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions about these matters.


Discover Ultimate Pools

Ultimate Pools has been a leader in pool building and outdoor improvements in Magnolia, The Woodlands and Southeast Texas since 1991, specializing as a pool builder since 1999. From pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, decks, outdoor kitchens and outdoor improvements, Ultimate Pools will provide the highest of quality and customer service to you. Surf our website, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, send us an email, give us a call at (936) 321-9632, or visit our offices at 5170 FM 1488, Magnolia, TX 77354 today!

Picking the right types of plaster and caring for plaster

Last week we wrote about the three main types of plaster that we use as finish on pools. Today, we’ll delve more into each type of plaster, the advantages and disadvantages of it, and how to maintain and take care of your plaster once it’s installed.

pool spa green woodlands

Breaking down the types of plaster

While we did a short overview on the types of plaster in the earlier article, it’s time to go more in-depth into the benefits and drawbacks of each type of finish.

Regular white plaster: This is the most common type of plaster that is installed for several reasons: It’s the base of all plaster finishes, it’s the easiest to install, and it’s the most affordable. Along with being the “default” type of plaster, white plaster is also the easiest plaster to color, making it a popular choice for people that are looking to add a bit of a dash of flavor to the finish of their pool.

The cost and the flexibility make white Portland cement the finish of choice for many, but choosing the basic finish makes it very important to pay attention to all of the elements of your pool, especially water chemistry. White plaster is easy to damage if your water chemistry isn’t on point. If your water is more basic than acidic (or too acidic), it can eat away at your plaster and could cause you to have to replaster your pool down the road. That would eliminate any savings you received from choosing white plaster in the first place.

Deficient water chemistry can also effect the color of your plaster. Having your pH a little off can cause uneven coloring down the road.

“If your water chemistry is off, your surface color is going to be very splotchy,” said Hervey Rodriguez of Uno Construction. “It’s going to look more like an easter egg.”

Quartz plaster: Quartz plaster is a popular alternative to the basic white plaster due to two factors — durability and attractiveness. As we mentioned in the first article, the quartz finish has a similar look and feel to counter tops you’ll find in a kitchen, as they are sturdier against the main chemicals of a pool (chlorine and muratic acid). Quartz is a hard surface that will stand the test of time.

That durability makes it worth the increased cost for many, as pools that have a quartz finish need to be replastered a lot less than its white plaster cousin. But it’s not completely infalliable to water chemistry problems. While the chemicals of the pool won’t eat away at quartz, the cement base of quartz makes it especially vulnerable to scaling, as the water can extract calcium from the exposed cement and leave annoying marks along the surface.

The IntelliChem is a valuable tool with a quartz finish, as it can tell you if your water chemistry is scaling. And like we wrote earlier this month, a little scale now can cause a lot of annoyance later.

Pebble plaster: Think of pebble plaster like a luxury car — if you can afford it and it’s important for you to have it, you’ll be pleased with the purchase. Pebble plaster is the BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar of the pool-finish game, as the pebble, stone and white ash styles provide a smooth, soft surface that’s as easy on the feet as it is on the eyes. It’s also less prone to deterioration or staining.

The luxury car comparison does fit though, as pebble plaster costs quite a bit more than both white and quartz plasters. Therefore, a pebble plaster surface must be a priority. If you are working on a budget and want elements such as a waterfall, an elevated spa, or a lap pool more, then it might be tough to add pebble plaster to the menu (though more power to you if you can).

Pebble plaster is also not flexible as far as coloration. Like with many luxury items, what you see is what you get. Asked for pebble plaster to be colored is like asking for steak sauce in a premier steakhouse. You might get a funny look.

Maintenance and repair

Now you know the ins and outs of the types of plaster, we’ll talk about how you take care of the plaster. As with most things in your pool, maintaining the correct water chemistry is key. When it comes to plaster, it’s best to keep your pool’s pH on the acidic side. Rodriguez recommends having your water in the 7.2 range, as the acids combat calcium buildup and staining on the quartz and pebble finishes while keeping the dissolving of the white plaster at a minimum.

If you already have plaster issues, there are a couple of directions you can go depending on the types of plaster you have. If you have quartz or pebble, getting an acid wash is a good way to proceed. There are two main methods of acid wash, a basic acid wash and a non-grain acid wash. Both involve making the water extremely acidic (6.3 or 6.4 pH) and allowing those acids to eat away at staining. A basic acid wash is a three-day process, while the non-grain wash runs five to six days.

An acid wash isn’t advised for white plaster, as the acids will eat away at the finish. Instead, you can try a lighter, less-acidic wash or get your pool replastered entirely to bolster your surface.

When getting a pool replastered, you’ll need to have a bond coat applied to the old surface. That will meld the new plaster to the old, adhering the surfaces to prevent breakage, slippage, or any other source of unevenness. Think of it as applying primer before painting your house.


Discover Ultimate Pools

Ultimate Pools has been a leader in pool building and outdoor improvements in Magnolia, The Woodlands and Southeast Texas since 1991, specializing as a pool builder since 1999. From pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, decks, outdoor kitchens and outdoor improvements, Ultimate Pools will provide the highest of quality and customer service to you. Surf our website, send us an email, give us a call at (936) 321-9632, or visit our offices at 5170 FM 1488, Magnolia, TX 77354 today!

Plaster and your pool: The main types of plaster

While crystal-clear water and great tiling are important aspects of your swimming pool, plaster provides the foundation for your pool’s look. Plaster is the coating over the gunite shell that provides the surface of your pool. The right plaster can give your pool’s surface an attractive look that accents your entire backyard swimming environment, as that finish will make your pool stand out.

So how do you pick the perfect finish for your pool? To help you do that, Ultimate Pools will give you a bit of a crash course on plaster. Today’s article will breakdown the different types of finishes that you can have installed in your pool, while our next article will break down some of the variables that go into selecting and taking care of that plaster.

Enjoy the journey.

pool spa the woodlands

Three main types of plaster

There are three main finishes that are typically installed on Ultimate Pools pools. All of them contain the same base, but the additional ingredients make the aggregate product of each unique. Here are the main three types that we usually deal with.

Regular white: This is actually the base of all the plasters that we deal with, as this white coating comes standard for installation over all gunite shells. This plaster is made from white Portland cement, making it easy to install and color with dye packages and paint. However, this type of plaster is the least durable of the three and make white plaster susceptible to staining and dissolving if your water chemistry is not on point.

“It’s actually made from the same type of material as Rolaids,” said Hervey Rodriguez of Uno Construction. “If you and I can digest it, you can imagine what happens when your muratic acid or chlorine are off.”

Quartz: For an additional fee, you can get quartz injected into your plaster. There are several benefits to this, the main one being the increased sturdiness of your finished surface. Quartz is a harder material which is used in a variety of furnishings such as indoor kitchens, making it more durable to the wear and tear your pool will face.

While a quartz finish will not be susceptible to flaking or being eaten away by the chemicals in your water, it does expose a lot of cement to the water of your pool. That increase the odds of staining, as the calcium components of the cement can cause discolorations on the surface if the water chemistry is off.

Pebble: Unlike the previous two types of plaster, pebble plaster does not involve a high level of exposed cement at the surface. Instead, the surface consists of smooth rock, as there are three main types of pebble finishes — pebble, stone and white ash. These stones make for a smooth, even, softer surface and the rounder the stone, the better the surface feels on your feet. And the lack of exposed cement makes staining less of a concern while containing similar durability to the quartz finish.

The concerns about pebble are the price (it costs a decent amount more than the quartz and white plaster finishes) and the lack of coloration options if that’s a priority. The surface color will be even, but the color options are based on the type of pebble selected. “We aren’t Sherwin Williams,” Rodriguez said.

These aren’t the only plaster finishes that are available, as you can get a glass finish. But the above three finishes are great places to start when looking to fulfill your plastering needs. Stay tuned for the second installment on plaster.


Discover Ultimate Pools

Ultimate Pools has been a leader in pool building and outdoor improvements in Magnolia, The Woodlands and Southeast Texas since 1991, specializing as a pool builder since 1999. From pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, decks, outdoor kitchens and outdoor improvements, Ultimate Pools will provide the highest of quality and customer service to you. Surf our website, send us an email, give us a call at (936) 321-9632, or visit our offices at 5170 FM 1488, Magnolia, TX 77354 today!

Scaling: What causes it and how to prevent it

While it’s annoying, scaling is something that will happen in your pool from time to time. Whether it’s the rocks, the plaster or the tile on the surface, scaling can leave a white calcium mark or residue that can detract from the aesthetics of the pool. While scaling on plaster, tile or bricks isn’t harmful to the foundation of your pool, it does leave it looking less attractive.

How does scaling occur? How do you deal with it once it happens? And better yet, how do you prevent it from happening in the first place? We’ll answer these questions one by one in this article.

wall with scaling

Scaling, as you can see in the picture above, typically shows up as a white film or mark on the surface and is visible once a wet surface is dried. It varies in degree and severity and can range from anywhere to a slight disturbance to a huge hassle that causes plenty of headaches and consternation.

Causes of scaling

There are two main causes of scaling, one which occurs naturally with an imbalance of moisture and one that occurs when the water chemistry of pool isn’t diligently maintained.

  • Efflorescence: Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it, it’s a tough one. It’s also tough to get out of concrete, as efflorescence is a crystalline deposit that comes from salt gravitating to the surface of concrete or masonry to create a white, film-like coating. Efflorescence scale can be caused simply by a gradual moisture imbalance in a section of your pool.”The moisture causes the salts to emerge through the gunite and rise to the surface,” said Scott Gordon, the Branch Manager of Sales at Master Tile. “These salts need somewhere to go, and efflorescence is the result of that. You’ll see it happen on bricks of a house if a sprinkler keeps hitting them at a certain point.”
  • Water chemistry imbalance: Having the wrong pH and alkalinity is another main cause of scaling in pools, as it leaves more of a calcium deposit on your plaster and tile than a salt-based one. Having the water slightly out of whack allows there to be too much calcium in the pool, which latches on to the pool surface and leaves a white scale residue. Too little alkaline can have a similar effect, leaving the unsightly white film.

Preventing/Dealing with Scaling

The best way to deal with scaling is not to allow it to happen in the first place. Gordon believes that taking the initiative with water chemistry is essential in preventing scale from occurring in the first place.

“It’s up to the homeowner to keep their pH levels where they need to be,” he said. “If you don’t pay attention or neglect it, your pH will go too low and too high and scaling will occur, and once it occurs, it’s very difficult to remove. You can try to scrub it out, but it usually comes back right after. Having the correct water chemistry is key.”

You can use smart maintenance systems such as IntelliChem and ScreenLogic to keep your water chemistry on point. As detailed in the writeup on IntelliChem that we did in July, the IntelliChem system not only helps you keep your chlorine, alkalinity, cynaric acid and calcium where they should be, but they can also tell you whether your pool water is ideal, normal, corrosive or scaling. If your water is the latter, than that’s when that tricky white film starts to appear.

It’s also good to scrub the surface of your pool regularly. That will help break up any calcium or salt deposits that make it to surface before they start leaving their mark on that surface. See point No. 1 in this article — scrubbing works with scaling as well as algae.

As far as correcting current scaling, the best way to go is to make sure your water chemistry is where it needs to be. There are other possible solutions that can be considered such as scrubbing out the white film or using chemical and glass beads to blast it out, but that scale will return if the water chemistry isn’t what it should be. If you want to keep your pool looking good, learning water chemistry and implementing it is absolutely necessary.


Discover Ultimate Pools

Ultimate Pools has been a leader in pool building and outdoor improvements in Magnolia, The Woodlands and Southeast Texas since 1991, specializing as a pool builder since 1999. From pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, decks, outdoor kitchens and outdoor improvements, Ultimate Pools will provide the highest of quality and customer service to you. Surf our website, send us an email, give us a call at (936) 321-9632, or visit our offices at 5170 FM 1488, Magnolia, TX 77354 today!