Round about the time of year when the leaves fade to brown, the days become shorter and you start seeing advertisements for pumpkin spice things, you have a decision to make.
Are you going to disassemble your above-ground pool completely, or just take more or less comprehensive precautions against the elements and hope for the best?
- Worth the Effort
- Squeezing a Few More Weeks out of Summer
- Disassemble and Store, or Leave Outside in Hibernation?
- Steps to Winterize Your Above-Ground Pool
- Prevention Is Better than Cure
Certainly, at this time of year, there are gutters to clean out, leaves to rake, fireplaces and furnaces to check over, irrigation systems to drain, weatherstripping to install, paintwork to touch up, space heaters to buy… you probably don’t need another set of chores to fill your days.
Still, considering the theory that time is money, winterizing your pool is a very profitable use of an hour or two.
Worth the Effort
Some pools, like the Bestway Fast series, are pretty inexpensive and may well be something you buy with the intention of throwing it away after a few months’ use. On the other hand, collapsing these inflatable pools takes hardly any work at all; as long as you have space in your garage, you may as well put it away for next year.
Other above-ground pools, such as the Intex Prism Frame, represent a significant investment and should allow you to get many years of use out of each. You could just let the liner rot and replace it every spring, but this is hundreds of dollars you won’t need to spend if you go to a small amount of effort.
Squeezing a Few More Weeks out of Summer
Every year, thousands of people celebrate the New Year with a polar bear plunge into literally freezing water. Presumably, they have their reasons.
Most of us, however, enjoy swimming best when hypothermia is not at the forefront of our minds. Anything below 70 °F (21 °C) is considered unsafe or at least uncomfortable, while most people prefer swimming in water of about 80 °F (27 °C).
How can you achieve this when the mercury plunges every night?
With an above-ground swimming pool, you have three options.
1) The simplest and least expensive one is to purchase a solar cover that fits over your pool. This is basically a sheet of bubble wrap floating on the water that absorbs the sun’s rays and traps heat underneath.
You can also buy this in liquid form. By reducing the amount of evaporation, you’re already keeping the water warmer – by up to 10 °F under ideal conditions.
2) If you’re willing to go to a little more trouble, or your latitude is a few degrees further north, a true solar water heater may be a better option. This will require a structure to support it as well as a bit of plumbing, as it needs to be installed between your pump and the pool’s inflow port. Assuming that your pump is up to the task, you can install as many of these panels as you want, preferably in addition to an insulating solar pool cover.
3) Solar heaters won’t raise your utilities bill noticeably, but if this is not a concern, you can also install a gas or electrical heater.
Note that there’s nothing stopping you from getting both an electrical and solar system. At worst, you’ll have to run them at different times. The combination may well enable you to keep using your pool well into fall, especially if you have an adjacent patio that’s set up for comfort even when the weather turns cool.
We recommend that you speak with an expert in your area about which of these, or what combination of them, to get. You can even think about installing a semi-permanent tent over and around your pool for the winter.
Disassemble and Store, or Leave Outside in Hibernation?
If you live in a place where even the moose wear earmuffs in winter, your only real option is to disassemble your pool and store it indoors.
How much trouble this is (and putting it up again once the trees start blossoming) depends entirely on the size and type of pool you have. A 12-foot round Bestway Steel Pro Max can be taken down and set up in about 45 minutes once you’ve done it once, but going through the same exercise twice a year with a large Intex Ultra XTR will be like pulling teeth. Fortunately, the Ultra XTR has a frame that’s powder-coated inside and out as well as a reinforced lining, so it’s nearly as durable as a permanent, walled pool.
If your climate is not quite as harsh as that of North Dakota but not as balmy as California’s, the choice of whether to keep your pool standing or store it for winter depends on how well you expect it to stand up to the elements.
In general, taking it indoors is recommended if temperatures are expected to be below freezing for any length of time.
Prepare Before Taking Down the Pool
Before taking it down and folding it, you’ll have to wait for the pool to drain, which can take several days for a large pool. You’ll also have to find out what local regulations allow you to do with discarded pool water: your neighbors probably won’t thank you for turning their property into a chlorinated swamp.
Then, you will preferably get it reasonably clean and allow it to dry out completely, or you may find it a mold-ridden mess in a couple of months’ time. All in all, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you may be looking at a week-long exercise if you do decide to store your pool indoors, even if collapsing the pool takes only an hour.
Steps to Winterize Your Above-Ground Pool
The basic idea behind getting your pool ready for winter is two-fold.
Firstly, you want to protect the three major components of your pool – the lining, the frame, and the filter pump with its attachments. You want to protect it from wind, sleet, snow, frost, hail, and whatever else nature may throw at it.
Secondly, since you probably won’t be doing a lot of maintenance on your pool until spring comes around, the aim is to preserve the water in a state that will make re-opening your pool as straightforward as possible.
Spring-Clean in September/October
We know you’d rather not, especially given that the water is unpleasantly chilly by now, but you’ll be kicking yourself in a couple of months if you don’t clean your pool thoroughly before you get on with the rest of the winterization process.
Brush down the sides, skim the surface and use a pool vacuum to remove as much gunk and debris from the water as you possibly can. Any organic matter that’s left can provide food for algae and other unwanted guests in your pool, as well as contaminate the water and end up staining your liner.
Now is also the time to cart off all pool equipment, including ladders and toys, to somewhere they’ll be safe and dry. Your pool’s pump and filter make up a significant portion of its sale price, so it makes sense to get these out of the weather since you’re not going to run them anyway. This is very highly recommended if temperatures are going to drop below freezing at night. (You will want to hold off on this step until you’ve done the next, namely adding all needed chemicals to the water).
It’s recommended to lower the water level and expose the holes in the liner, but if you don’t want to drain your pool, you will need a couple of drain plugs to seal the holes. Depending on what kind of skimmer you have, you should either remove this completely (which means partially draining the pool) if there’s a chance of ice or get a special skimmer guard to protect it.
Should you be lucky enough to have a sand filter, be sure to clean it by backwashing before putting it to bed for the winter months:
If the filter and pump are too heavy to move easily, at least drain all the water from them and their pipes: water expands as it freezes and ice can crack even steel fittings. You should have no trouble finding screw-in plugs on the bottom of these pieces of equipment that let water drip out.
Keeping the Water Crystalline, or at Least Un-Swampy
Two pool certainties in life are that
(a) water flows downhill, and
(b) its clarity goes from bad to worse without regular maintenance.
Chances are that you don’t want to spend time and money on your pool while you’re not using it. This means that you should at least get it as pristine as possible when winter arrives, or risk discovering that your swimming pool has turned into a big smelly bowl of soup a couple of months later.
The reason for this is that algae require both sunlight and warmth to grow. If your pool chemistry is off, you’ll get a clear visual indication of this fact before the pool is out of sight and out of mind.
It’s much easier to get your water balanced if you do this over a week or two rather than all at once.
What you’ll be aiming for is:
- pH: 7.2 to 7.6
- Alkalinity: 80 to 150 PPM
- Calcium: 175 to 250 PPM
- Chlorine: 1 to 3 PPM
The closer you can get to the center of each range, the better.
Note that strips don’t give especially accurate readings. For best results, you need to pay a little bit extra for a chemical testing kit – or (at least when winterizing your pool) take a water sample to your local pool supply store for professional analysis.
Winterizing Shock Formulas
Once your water tests within range, it’s a good idea to further bolster your pool’s defenses with a winterizing chemical kit. This includes a special, fast-acting shock formulation to get rid of any nasty microorganisms still hanging around as well as chemicals that prevent stains from forming on the lining (otherwise, you’ll probably end up with an unsightly ring at the lower, winter water level).
Some people add non-toxic antifreeze to their water, too. Understand, however, that this is only meant to protect the plumbing between the pool and the filter pump and is therefore of limited use in an above-ground pool.
No reasonable amount of antifreeze will stop a layer of ice from forming on your pool. If this is a concern, you’re better off adding pool pillows to prevent ice from damaging your liner (a pool pillow is basically just an air pillow). Or just take the whole pool down.
Putting Your Pool to its Winter Bed
The pool cover you use to keep insects and leaves from ending up on the surface of your pool during the summer months is probably not adequate for winterizing an above-ground pool.
The cover supplied with Bestway Power Steel pools, for instance, is prone to blowing off and takes several minutes to put back on each time. It will be well worth your while to get a pool cover specifically for winter that will stay put as well as prevent excessive ice formation. A good winter cover comes with a sturdy cable and hand-cranked winch instead of a simple drawstring.
Should ice forming on top of the water be a concern, you’ll put one or more pool pillows underneath this cover, tied to either side of the pool so they’ll stay roughly in the center. Any ice should push against these rather than the pool walls, saving your liner.
The dome shape they create in the cover isn’t going to let rainwater run off, though, as the cover fits over the lip of your pool. This water, too, can freeze and cause damage, and it’s not especially clean (most winter pool covers are waterproof, so rain just keeps accumulating on top). Unless you plan to empty this periodically using a bucket, which is a thankless task, you will buy a special pump to siphon this off as needed.
Prevention Is Better than Cure
Rehabilitating a pool that’s gone slimy and coffee-dark due to months of neglect is far from a trivial task. It sometimes seems easier just to junk the entire pool in favor of getting a new one, which you may have to do anyway if your pool winterization consisted of nothing but slapping on the cover and hoping for the best.
Owning a pool is always going to be a lot of work. The only way to minimize this is by doing the right things at the right time. Taking shortcuts virtually ensures that you’ll have to spend a lot more time and/or money somewhere down the line.
If you take the necessary precautions, on the other hand, you’ll find it that much easier to set up your pool next year.