What you should do before meeting your pool builder

contemporary pool shenandoah

With March Madness behind us, we are coming upon our spring blitz. Summer is approaching at a rapid clip, so now is a time when people look into installing a swimming pool. We enjoy this time of year, as it gives us a chance to meet new customers and further branch out into the community.

But it’s not necessarily as simple as “I want a pool, what can you do for me?” Well, it can be if you want, but that initial meeting with a pool builder could be a humbling and discouraging one without doing some research first. The last thing we want to do is to discourage and intimidate you from getting that dream pool by quoting a ridiculously large fee that’s way out of your price range.

So with that being said, here is a checklist of what you should research/have in mind prior to meeting with a pool builder. Or, in other words, this is our version of this:

What to do before meeting the builder

Before deciding which features are important and which bells and whistles you want to have alongside your swimming pool, the first thing you have to do its figure out the exact money you want to spend. If we know your financial ballpark before we start discussing the size of your pool and all of the options that can be added along with it, we can devise with a realistic game plan that fits your vision of your pool while also being within your budget.

A lot of times pool builders will include all of bells and whistles in their initial estimate, which makes for a large, intimidating quote. If you figure out your budget beforehand and communicate it to us, we can skip the awkward initial stages and start further along down the path of building your pool.

Once you have your budget in place, it’s time to prioritize your features. Here are some of the main questions you have to ask yourself:

  • How big do I want my pool to be?
  • How much decking do I want surrounding my pool?
  • Do I want a hot tub and if I do, where do I want it to be in relation to my pool?
  • Do I want features such as waterfalls, waterslides, lighting or a swim-up bar?
  • Do I want any automated systems such as IntelliTouch, EasyTouch, robotic cleaners or water chemistry tools such as IntelliChem or ozonators?
  • Do I want lighting and if I do, do I want LED or regular lighting?

Once you have answered the following questions, then you have to rank each answer in the order of most important to least important. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you might have to choose between a few square feet of decking over a waterfall, at least initially. Either way, it’s important to have a ranking of priorities that you can communicate to your builder to find the perfect combination of features.

When considering your priority rankings, also keep in mind that some aspects of the pool-building process need to be settled right away, while others can be added down the road. Therefore, keep the following things in mind in this order when you are deciding what your dream pool should be:

  • Once the project has started, your pool size is permanent and your deck size might as well be: You can’t just call an audible and make your pool bigger once the ground has been broken — the size of your pool is set from that point on. Also, adjusting your decking size is a huge pain and can be quite costly. If you decide to add more decking after the deck has been framed out, the colors might not match and the costs will likely rise. Therefore, decide these sizes and costs first before proceeding. This is the point where you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to sacrifice size for more bells and whistles.
  • Decide whether you want a spa and where you want that spa to be: A spa doesn’t necessarily need to be present at the start of construction, but it’s best to tell your builder at that point whether you’ll eventually want one. If you want one down the road and communicate that to us, we can install the necessary piping and drainage at initial construction for a much lower cost than it would be down the road. However, once you decide you want a spa, you need to come up with a set placement for it. You can’t pick up and move the spa, and the overall cost of the spa is directly related to its distance from the pool equipment pad.
  • Features can come later, but it’s best to decide now if you’ll eventually want them: Items such as waterfalls, plaster, slides, swim-up bars, and fire pits are things that can be added down the road and can be treated as line-item additions, but it’s best to plan for their addition during the initial construction. If you decide at the beginning that you’ll want a waterfall down the road, we can install a main drain now and wouldn’t need to drain or replaster the pool in the future to install the waterfall. Having to drain and replaster the pool in the future would cost considerably more money, so if you think you might want a waterfall down the road let us know now. Your bank account will thank you.
  • You can add smart systems at any time: Items such as the IntelliTouch, EasyTouch, ScreenLogic, ozonators or robotic cleaners can be installed at any point along the way. We add these systems to pools that were built years ago, so if you decide you want to control your pool functions and water chemistry through your computer or smartphone down the road, we can help.
  • Lighting can be installed at any time, but once you decide on the type of lighting, that’s permanent: We can install regular lights or LED lights whenever you’d like, but if you get regular lights initially, we can’t retrofit existing lighting niches to LED down the road and vice versa. The technology for that change simply isn’t available yet. It’ll come, perhaps soon, but for now, whatever lights you choose are the lights you’re staying with.

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!

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!

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!

Cleaning your pool filters: Why it’s important to do

Ultimate Pools offers many cutting-edge products, such as IntelliChem and Dolphin cleaners, that help keep your pool clean and swimmable at all times. That being said, it’s important for pool owners to clean their filters on a regular basis, as clean pool filters provide a base that keeps your pool water fresh and ready to go at all times. If your pool filter is dirty or compromised, water flow is compromised and your IntelliChem/Dolphin Cleaners aren’t as effective in doing their jobs.

How do you know when it’s time to get your pool filters cleaned? Here are some common indicators:

pool with waterfall steps

  • When the spillway of your spa is producing a weak stream of water: When a pool filter is clean, the pumps in your spa will send out a steady stream of water in pool mode which eventually gets circulated throughout your spa and pool. When a filter is dirty, that water stream is reduced greatly, even to the point of dribbling out. That lessens the circulation of water throughout your pool.
  • Your suction cleaner isn’t moving as fast: Your suction cleaners (such as the Pentair Racer) use the energy that comes from water being pumped into your pool to run. If you notice that your cleaner is going slower or even sputtering along, then there’s a good chance that your filter is dirty and depriving your cleaner of the necessary water energy. As a side note, robotic cleaners such as the Dolphin cleaner do not rely on suction and still work effectively when your pool is in this state.
  • If your pool isn’t chlorinating properly: Whether you use a smart system such as IntelliChem to refresh your chlorine levels or prefer to use chlorine disks, a dirty pool filter will hamper the efficiency of getting the appropriate level of chlorine in the water. If you notice that your readings are off, or that the chlorine disks aren’t as effective, the filter might need to be cleaned.

Cleaning filters and water pumps

There are other ways to figure out when it’s time to clean your pool filters. One of them is checking to see if there’s any change of pressure in your conventional water pump. This will only work if a) you have a conventional pump instead of a variable pump like the IntelliFlo® VF pump and b) if you took a reading of your water pressure upon installation of the pump.

Part b is very important because it gives you a base pressure to base future observations off of. If there is an increase of over 10 PSI from installation, then your pool filter is dirty and likely clogged, but there is no way to know this if you don’t take an initial reading. However, once the filter is cleaned you can reset the pressure gauge as a reference for future readings. If you have the IntelliFlo VF pump, reset your sensor for the same effect.

How often should you get your filters cleaned?

Getting your filters clean increases the life of your pool and also decreases the frequency and cost of replacing your filters. While your pool filter will never be fully back to 100 percent pristine after you get it cleaned — body oils and suntan lotion, among other things, prevent a 100 percent cleaning — treating pool filter cleaning as a regular process such as changing oil in your car will save you money and aggravation in the long run.

So how often should you get your filters cleaned? At Ultimate Pools, we recommend getting it done twice a year. There are two ideal times to do this — in the spring after the pollen has fallen (which usually proceeds the hot weather ideal for swimming) and once your pool season ends (typically late fall). You can get the most bang for your buck by having them cleaned at these times.

As far as cleanings, it is possible for you to do them yourself, but to do that, you have to get the exact model of your filter and research how to specifically clean that model. That can be inconvenient and difficult, so let us do it for you. We offer cleaning of your pool filters on a by-appointment basis. Give us a call or email us to set this up!

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!

Taking at look at IntelliChem

pool spa rocks 5

One of the products that we have mentioned frequently in our write-ups since redesigning the website is the IntelliChem system. A product of Pentair, IntelliChem is an automated system which allows a user to control and monitor a pool’s chemical levels and water chemistry from their computer or devices such as iPads and smartphones. It’s a product that can be installed in new pools or retrofitted into pools that have already been built.

But what does the IntelliChem system measure and how does it keep your pool’s water and structure in tip-top condition? Here are some of the elements that IntelliChem monitors and the reasons why its an ideal tool to have installed with your pool.

Chlorine: The primary job of the IntelliChem is to keep the pH levels of the water at a certain level, ideally between 7.2 and 7.8 pH. A main way to do that is add and dilute the water’s chlorine level. Instead of “shocking” a pool with jugs of chlorine and making it unswimmable for 4-5 hours, the IntelliChem releases the chlorine necessary to stay within the ideal pH level.

If you want to speed up the process, you can pour a little bit of liquid chlorine to raise the pH or add some water to lower it. Those are better and safer alternatives to shocking to raise the pH (which can leave your pool in a dangerous state to swim in for several hours) or adding muratic acid to lower the pH, which is a common do-it-yourself solution to lowering the water’s pH level. Muratic acid is corrosive, not only to the concrete around the edge if it spatters, but to your skin as well.

Cynaric acid: Cynaric acid serves as a stabilizer for your pool, as it protects the chlorine that’s present in your pool from elements such as sunlight. However, having too much cynaric acid in your pool will decrease the chlorine’s effectiveness in combating bacteria and algae while also making the water cloudy. You can test your cynaric acid level and input the results into your IntelliChem, where it will tell you if your water is at one of four stages: Corrosive, normal, ideal or scaling. In general, you want keep your cynaric acid levels between 40 and 70 parts per million to allow your chlorine to do its job effectively.

Calcium: Another thing IntelliChem will do is use calcium levels to tell you what stage your pool’s water is at. The ideal calcium level in your pool should be roughly 250 parts per million. A range of 200 to 400 parts per million is acceptable, as that serves as the margin of error for cynaric acid to stabilize the calcium in your pool. Excess calcium can cause scaling on the pool surface and cloud the water of the pool, while not enough calcium will cause the pool water to eat away at the calcium in the plaster of your pool’s surface to compensate. Testing your water’s calcium level and inputting it into the IntelliChem will help you find the ideal calcium balance.

Alkalinity: Like with cynaric acid, alkaline substances serve as a stabilizer, as they keep the pH levels of the water from going all over the place while allowing chlorine to do its thing. However, like cynaric acid, water with too much alkalinity can make your water murky and unclear along with hamstringing your chlorine’s effectiveness. Too little alkaline has a similar effect to having too little calcium, causing plaster and metals to corrode and cause scaling on the surface. You can test your water and load the results into your IntelliChem to see where its alkalinity level lies. The preferred range of alkaline substances in between 80 and 200 parts per million, with 120 parts being a good place to set it at.

IntelliChem will do the math for you as far as finding the ideal levels of chlorine, cynaric acid, calcium, pH and alkalinity. You can even play with different numbers to find the perfect chemical balance for your water. We install the system for a fee, so ask us about IntelliChem today!

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!