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Photo: Swim Chlorine Free

In the Clear?

Safe water involves more than just looks

Water quality doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, considering its truly the difference between a safe swimming experience or a potentially disastrous one. But experts know: Clear water doesn’t always mean clean water. Here, they weigh in on a few key areas pool pros sometimes forget.

For seasoned pool pros, water quality is one of the top priorities on a servicer’s to-do list. With each servicing, pool pros should check the basic elements for water balance, which make the customer happy and the pool pro proud.

Steven Ward, president and owner of Ward’s Pool Service and Supply, Inc., and Arizona Pool Water Recycling in Gilbert, Arizona, says starting with water clarity gives pool pros direction. “If we can’t see the bottom, we can’t tell if the drain cover is attached,” Ward says. “Worse yet is if we can’t even see a bather in the deepest water.”

Cloudy water not only looks unappealing to most swimmers, but it also creates a hotbed of bacteria and could mean a host of other issues with equipment.

Eric Knight of Orenda Technologies, a pool chemical manufacturer in Fairview, Texas, says clear water is part of the “holy trinity” of pool care: circulation, filtration and chemistry.

“You cannot have two without the third and expect clear water,” Knight says. “All three are essential.”

When cloudy water is noticeable, it creates a snowball effect that results in swimming hazards, which is why pool pros often use water clarity as a starting point for pool safety.

And while imbalanced chemicals can often play a role in cloudy water, that’s not always the problem, says David Rockwell, owner of Swim Chlorine Free in Wildomar, California, a company dedicated to high-end residential pools.

“Cloudy water may not be a chemical imbalance,” Rockwell says. “It may be a filtration system issue,” going on to tout the importance of filtration, and having a properly sized filter and proper application: “That’s the No. 1 rule for water clarity. You can put in all the sanitizers you want, but the water’s not going to be clear unless you’re filtering out the stuff you’re killing.”

Looks can be deceiving, however, and even water that appears clear can have issues. While a sparkling pool is worth showing off, it doesn’t always mean all is well.

Complacent service techs or newbies may forget to check all the areas that need to be examined — like sanitizer levels, shocking the pool, balancing water and keeping filters in good condition — simply because a customer’s pool “looks” fine.

In fact, in some cases, clear water hides a host of issues, Knight says: “Most issues are invisible. Cloudiness is usually caused by calcium carbonate coming out of the solution, or chlorine falling short. If it’s a balance issue (LSI, calcium), that’s easily rectified with getting the chemistry back in line.”

They want that pool to sparkle. Water clarity is everything in terms of satisfaction in the residential world.”

David Rockwell, Swim Chlorine Free

That clear water equals safe water is a myth that has proven hard to debunk. Redirecting that thinking for customers is a must, says Chris Bowen, president of Bowen Pools, a family-owned and operated custom pool builder in Flower Mound, Texas.

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“People think if the water is clear, you’re good to swim,” Bowen says. “That’s not the case at all. What creates balanced, safe water is based on many chemical readings that can be off even when water is clear.”

Commercial pools are some of the worst offenders when it comes to creating a safe swimming experience, says Rockwell.

He says there are “huge untapped possibilities in the commercial market,” as those pools often have tab feeders and no fully automated system to keep up with bathing loads.

“The weekend is when those disasters really happen in those pools,” Rockwell explains, noting that health department pool inspectors typically only work Monday through Friday. “Unfortunately, it never gets found out. The guests aren’t educated enough to know the difference. But, from a pool industry standpoint, we have a test kit and we should be using it. We shouldn’t be fooled by clear water.”

BEFORE: A before-and-after shot shows the difference after Bowen Pools serviced a customer’s pool in Denton, Texas. Photo: Bowen Pools
AFTER: A before-and-after shot shows the difference after Bowen Pools serviced a customer’s pool in Denton, Texas. Photo: Bowen Pools

The education of residential pool customers should be paramount, he says. To that end, he talks with close friends who own pools and care for the pools themselves. He buys them a Taylor Technologies pool test kit and instructs them to read the book inside. By the end, he says, they have the basics to keep their pool healthy.

“Homeowners need to understand how to use the test strips, and that they should care about their water quality, too,” Rockwell says.  “They want that sparkle in the pool. Water clarity is everything in terms of satisfaction in the residential world.”

Rockwell believes in sharing educational materials with customers. While pool pros should know what they’re doing and do it well, customers are in a bind if pool pros don’t talk to them about the customer side of ongoing maintenance. Encourage customers to undertake a regular maintenance schedule between pool servicing visits, and remind them that oils and organics — think sunscreen — can contribute to cloudiness.

“I’m always shocked by how much faith they put in their pool person [to do all the work], whether it’s deserved or not,” says Rockwell of pool clients he’s seen over the years.

That sort of trust must be earned from the start, experts say. Right when the pool is being installed, pool pros have a chance to build trust while also building a pool that opens for the first time with crystal-clear, clean water.

Ward says another aspect of opening a safe newly installed pool is checking water sources, making sure the water isn’t too aggressive from the fill source. “All too often, the hose is simply dropped in the pool and turned on,” he says, “then a few weeks go by and the surface shows etching, or calcium sheeting and/or stains. Testing the source water ahead of the interior application gives us a better idea and direction to see if we need to add product to correct the water right away.”

Once that pool is full, it’s vital that both the homeowner and pool pro keep up on proper chemistry. Additionally, experts say saturation index, proper circulation and inappropriate filtration systems are often overlooked too often, which lead to unaddressed water-clarity issues.

“Using the proper procedures at the proper time allows for industry professionals to show their value in all phases of pool ownership, both upfront and over many years,” Ward says.

Reducing water waste is another component of achieving water clarity. It’s possible to use less water with frequent small water changes and keeping the total dissolved solids down with options like ozone systems. Additionally other treatments like UV and AOP are extra sanitation options that help with the chemical treatment of water without increasing TDS.

Safe, sparkling pools are a team effort, involving both servicer and customer. Pool pros’ curiosity and willingness to explore issues will help customers save time, money and water. “Stress the importance of filtration — both properly sized for the pool as well as keeping it well-maintained — then water balance and water chemistry,” Rockwell says of educating customers. “That includes not letting it run out of chlorine. If you keep that dialed in, you shouldn’t have issues. For the majority of the country, water balance and filtration are the keys to keeping a clear pool.”

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