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Hazy, Hot and Humid!

Bob Russell | June 1, 2011 in Pool,Pool chemicals,Pool Service,Sanitizers | Comments (0)


Sanitization Basics:
You should know these two concepts:
1) Chlorine demand
2) The “Petri Dish”

Chlorine counts can drop dramatically during very heavy bather use.

Chlorine Demand:
When I teach new pool owners about sanitization, I look to make the complex simple. The chemistry behind sanitization is complex. Understanding a principle like “chlorine demand” is easier than trying to understand the science behind it (although understanding the science is helpful if you’re in the pool business).
Chlorine demand is self descriptive. How can you recognize chlorine demand increases? Here are a few things a pool owner should watch for:
1) Increased bather load (number of swimmers)- swimmers (and pets!)  introduce things like ammonia into a pool which complicates chlorination and increases chlorine demand..
2) Water Temperature- high temperatures increase chlorine demand.
3) Sunlight- UV causes established chlorine counts in a pool to deteriorate. To minimize the effects of sunlight on pool sanitizer, “Chlorine Stabilizer” is added (also known as Cyanuric Acid).
4) Wind and Rain- Both introduce contaminants into pool water. Whether wind-borne pollen and debris or waterborne pollutants, both interfere with chlorine effectiveness or just use it up.
This past weekend, many pool owners turned on their heaters, the weather was hot and humid, the pools were used- a LOT; and we had some storms. It was a weekend of very high chlorine demand.
This is why many pools get algae shortly after Memorial Day weekend- chlorine settings that could handle a chilly, unused pool were not adequate to handle a warm and well-used pool.
Think about chlorine demand and you’ll anticipate these things and save yourself a lot of problems.

Pools on the coast have unique chlorine demand challenges:

The Petri Dish:
High School Biology taught me this principle: Introduce animal or plant life into a sterile environment with food and you have exponential growth. This is how you should look at your pool. What prevents the growth of things like: plant life (e.g. algae), Bacteria (e.g. E-Coli) or Parasites (e.g. Cryptosporidium)?
A: Your sanitizer does.
Example: When chlorine levels are at zero, one algae spore can turn a pool green (what is called an “algae bloom”) in about 36 hours.
Using these two principles will help you anticipate changes and prevent problems.
Enjoy the pool!

The Recall

Bob Russell | May 28, 2011 in Pool,Pool safety | Comments (0)

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What’s the real story?
On Friday of memorial Day weekend, the government issued a recall of the VGB and ANSI-7 approved “main drain” covers. (Remember, “main drains” are now called “suction outlets” ).
The media- as it often does- reported this story in such a way that produced some unwarranted fear among our residential pool Owners.
I spent 1/2 hour on phone that weekend with a Client who was afraid to swim in her pool and was upset that we had installed a main drain cover that was on the recall list.
She’s fine now… as is her pool and spa for bathing.
Some details and thoughts on this issue:
1) The recall has to do with concerns over accuracy of flow ratings stamped on the covers- in the rush to develop and mass produce suction outlet covers by the 2008 deadline- companies such as Hayward, Waterway and a few others used “independent testing firms” to confirm the safe maximum water flow through each cover. The new covers where then stamped with this data which is expressed in gallons per miniute (gpms).
The difficulty came when it was discovered that different testing labs were rating the same covers at different gpms. The inconsistency and confusion surrounding this issue has been attributed to a lack of national testing protocols and standards. For example:  Should a cover’s capacity rating be measured in gallons per minute (gpms) or feet per second at cover surface (fps)?
Velocity of water at the suction outlet cover is critical in preventing certain types of entrapment such as hair entanglement.
An example of new testing standards emerging is in the newly implemented “whole head of hair” test. This test uses a wig and mannequin head rather than the older “pony tail test”.
When it was discovered that suction cover outlet ratings varied significantly from testing firm to testing firm, the recall was ordered and new testing standards are being put in place.
2) Pools and Spas with dual suction points are NOT part of the recall.
3) It should be noted that the covers we have been installing since the VGB Act became law (Dec. 19, 2008) are superior to the old in many ways:
These new covers are made of better plastic (stronger, more durable); they are also better designed to protect from entrapment by hair-entanglement.
That said, by law, a service company cannot install a recalled suction outlet cover.
Other important considerations:
Statistics reveal that incidents and accidents involving a pool or spa suction outlet almost always involve: a) an improperly constructed pool or spa b) a missing or broken suction outlet cover. Data also shows that the majority of accidents involves small children.
This recall is about correcting the flow ratings that are stamped on suction outlet covers; it is also about correcting and standardizing procedures used by testing firms. Flow ratings are critical to get right- especially in commercial pools and spas employing multiple pumps; but again, a pool or spa owner should realize that these recalled covers are still superior to the old covers they replaced. It is my judgement that the reporting of this issue is a bit sensationalized.
This pool’s single floor suction outlet was “split” during a recent renovation. The third “dummy drain” was added to handle water table. New safety codes require pool companies to bring older pools up to the current standard when such work is done.
If you have any questions about the recall or obtaining a C of O, please contact us!
For further reading on this subject please visit:
Enjoy your pool!

Opening A Crystal Clear Pool- Part 2

Bob Russell | April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

In the 70′s folks often allowed their pools to turn green- not bothering to prepare them or protect from algae growth. They would look like this when opened, or worse. Such pools were typically drained, acid washed and re-filled.

In the 1980′s, we learned to conserve water. Throwing away 35,000 gallons of water every Spring became unthinkable! …and during the drought of 2002, it was illegal!


The pool industry has come a long way! What is the secret to opening a clear pool and conserving water?

Before answering this question, I should mention that [unfortunately] there are still pool owners and service firms that haven’t quite learned how to do this, or worse, they don’t think it’s important. The above picture was taken in early April this year.  This was not a foreclosure home and the landscapers did not get fertilizer in the pool.

Opening a pool quickly and getting the water to this condition should typically take 3-5 days (or less) if the pool was prepared properly for closing.

Point: The art and science of opening a crystal clear pool begins with closing the pool properly.

Easy Steps:

1) Balance the water before closing. 2) Close the pool CLEAN 3) Use a stain and scale preventer. 4) Float slow-dissolving sanitizer in the pool- use enough, and anchor them in the center.

There are some other important details, but that’s basically it.

Point: Cutting corners on the pool closing does not just produce stains, finish degredation and a frustrating and lengthy pool opening. It can lead to a massive waste of clear, clean water- a precious resource.

More to come! Stay tuned.

Spring Is Here! How To Start Up Your Pool Fast! Part 1

Bob Russell | April 27, 2011 in Pool,Pool chemicals,Pool finishes,Pool Service,Uncategorized,Winterize | Comments (0)

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It was a winter of heavy snowfall, a Spring of heavy rainfall…


Heavy rains filled our rivers and pools this past few months...


Question: What Impact Do Harsh Winters Have On Your Pool Finish?

Answer: It means precipitation has changed your water chemistry and diluted your pool water. This year you will find that your pool water is more corrosive than usual. (e.g. calcium hardness is very low) These things must be corrected at your pool opening; but what is the effect on the pool before it is opened?

A [plaster] pool finish has a high calcium content. Pool water is “hardened” with calcium chloride in order to protect a pool’s finish. This is an important part of the overall balancing required to maintain pool water that is neither corrosive or scaling but water that is just right.

A pool finish can get pretty “beat up” when water is soft (as far as calcium goes). To make matters a bit worse, we are also finding (THIS year) that our pools have a generally low pH and Total Alkalinity. Taken together these factors make for more-than-normal corrosive water. This is one of the primary factors that lead to degredation of finishes while pools are closed.

This year, pools in our area have had about 2-3 feet of new water added from snow and rainfall! Water from snow and rain is not quite like your city or well water. Rain water is very soft and what is in the atmosphere often winds up in your pool.

Key Point: Swimming Pool water will tend to be very soft and corrosive this Spring- more than normal .

Next up: Other pool challenges brought on by dilution from rain water, and how to protect your investment.


Winter Pool Dreams

Bob Russell | January 11, 2011 in Pool Service,Uncategorized,Winterize | Comments (0)

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This is a picture of a pool on the New England coast. I took this almost exactly a year ago today, January. 2010.

Looks great doesn’t it? What do you think, is this pool okay? 

Today, it’s under a foot of snow and we have a lot more coming. So, why be concerned at all about a swimming pool in the winter? Just cover it and forget it till Spring… right?

Let’s take a look under this pool cover for a moment. Same pool. Same time. Here’s the picture:

Fortunately, this Client had signed up for a “winter watch and pump down service.” During a routine check, our service technician found that the water level in this pool had dropped suddenly and substantially.

Had we NOT caught this, a Nor’ Easter (like the one coming up the coast as I write this) could drop a foot or so of heavy wet snow on this cover. With the pool water this low, even a new and strong safety cover would have been damaged or ruined.

Point: Make sure you keep track of your pool’s water levels throughout the off season.

I saw another pool last winter where water and ice levels were not kept below tile and coping. This pool easily sustained about $20-$30,000. in damage as ice lifted the beautiful granite coping and broke tile. Ouch! The pool Owner didn’t even know this had happened because the damage was hidden by a snow-covered pool cover.

I didn’t make a service agreement sale that day but their existing service company had some explaining to do along with some warranty work in the Spring!

Ice is perhaps the most powerful natural force on earth.

Your beautiful pool safety cover does a nice job covering up the pool for the winter months: Besides looking nice, it keeps leaves out and gives you peace of mind. That said, in the Northeastern United States, pool service is a 12 month thing.

This is just a friendly reminder. Don’t forget the pool! “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good approach as a pool owner in this part of the country. If you cannot keep an eye on it yourself- and we understand, people are busy and pumping down an ice-covered pool is hard work! For peace of mind, consider hiring a professional service company to keep an eye on your pool this winter for you.

Do I have a service company in mind?

Yes, yes I do.

Enjoy your winter!

Safety First?Appliance Installations- Part 1- Heaters

Bob Russell | December 4, 2010 in Equipment maintenance,Pool safety,Pool Service | Comments (0)


Why do smart and successful people take risks and do dumb things?

I performed a pool inspection this past summer and came across a strange and dangerous situation. Unfortunately, I see a LOT of this sort of thing.

 In May 1995, a tennis star (Vitas Gerulaitas) took a nap in an apartment that also housed the pool equipment. He was 40 years old and making a spirited comeback. What he didn’t know was that the new high-tech pool  heater had been set up incorrectly plus the vent was positioned at the air condintioning intake. The apartment filled up with carbon monoxide. Vitas never woke up. The event made international news.

When I see problem installations I report them in no uncertain terms. Usually folks are responsible and will deal with a dangerous situation, but sometimes I hear:  “…well, we’ve been doing it this way for years and haven’t had a problem before (or yet)…”

When I hear this, I do my best to sound an appropriate (and ethically responsible) alarm; but often, I must leave the Owner with the information and my urging to make things right.

My point?

Look at this picture. It’s an example of some of the things I see doing pool inspections.  That’s a 400,000 btu heater installed beneath a shingled roof and propped up with a board. It’s a fire hazard. Making matters worse, the roof weighs about 150 pounds and has nails protruding below making this heater difficult and hazardous to service properly.

In my report I pointed this out as an “incorrect installation” and “a fire hazard.” The cartaker of this very nice property informed me: “… we’ve been doing it this way for a long time…” and “…our pool service person works on the heater…”

Maybe we’ll see the charred remains of this building in the papers someday. I hope and pray no one is hurt. Here’s an excerpt from the NY Times, 1995 May 23:

Today the pool mechanic, Bartholomew Torpey, and his employer, East End Pools and Courts, also known as Recreational Concepts of Sag Harbor, were arraigned in Suffolk County Court here on charges of criminally negligent homicide. Mr. Torpey and the company pleaded not guilty.

My point? Be sure your appliances are installed in accordance with local, state and national codes as well as the manufacturer’s specifications, and hire licensed and responsible service people.  End of story. Thanks for reading.

Modern vs. Traditional Pools

Bob Russell | November 15, 2010 in Eco-friendly,Pool,Pool equipment,Pool renovations | Comments (0)

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Recently, I heard someone ask about “Modern Pools” and wondered what he meant.

I thought about the eye-popping pictures of swimming pools atop skyscrapers in Dubai. I thought about the huge pool on a tropical coast that you can take a sailboat out on.

So, what is “modern?”

We restored a Frank Lloyd Wright pool to it’s original beauty last year. (The pool pictured here is NOT that pool). The design of this pool is timeless and spectacular in form- grabbing one’s attention. In his day, Frank Lloyd Wright was beyond modern- he was pushing the limits of architecture in both form and function. His work was spellbinding- it’s as though you cannot look away from it. That said, this was a low-tech, 40 year old pool that happened to be designed by a man who was way ahead of his time…and perhaps ours too. So, I look at it and think it still looks “modern” …but that’s my opinion.

So what makes a modern pool “modern?”

What about the “common” rectangle pool with state-of-the-art remote controls, automatic cover, LED lighting, sonar safety system, underwater speakers and salt/chlorine generator. Does the latest technology make a pool “modern?” or, is it the design? Or both?

At Glen Gate, we create state-of-the art pools. Some of these pools are architectually beautiful to look at, some appear to be very traditional. Does “modern” and “traditional” work in the same sentence? Perhaps. Super-efficiency and cutting edge technology is modern, though the design may be “timeless.”

When I was a kid, my favorite car was the Ford GT. It’s a 40+ year old machine now and considered “old technology” but, boy are they pretty!

Recently, Ford had a brilliant idea and re-made the GT! …with the best stuff available under the hood! Timeless design never goes out of style. Performance and innovation is usually hidden out of sight.  

I think the (2) basic rules of the “modern Pool” must go something like this:

1) The modern pool must delight the eye of the Owner and be married to the surrounding land. It might look 40-50-years old or it can look like a spaceship- but it must be love every time I look at it. 

2) There’s something else the modern pool must do: it  has to run better and smarter than anything else out there.

We’re still working on the definition here.

The Perfect Winter Cover Up

Bob Russell | November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A custom fit winter pool cover is the best and most beautiful way to protect your investment.

Pools in New England are usually closed between  6-8 months. I look for the following things in a winter cover:

1) Safety.

2) Keeps debris out.

3) Minimal effect on grass, deck masonry and does not detract from beauty of landscape.

4) Beauty. That’s right, beauty. If I have to look at it 6 to 8 months, it better look nice!

Fits like a glove!


Installation: Things I look for:

Custom fit ensures debris stays out!

A great anchoring system includes planting areas and grass. This anchor is set in 14" conduit and screws down below toes and mower blades for the summer.

Brass escutcheons give brass anchors a finished look and protect deck material from installation tools.

Make sure your winter cover is custom installed by a professional. It is well worth the investment!

Pool Inspections

Bob Russell | November 2, 2010 in Pool,Pool renovations,Pool Service,Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Concrete Pool Inspections  


Yes, have the pool inspected! 

When buying a home it is considered normal to first have it inspected . When buying a home with a swimming pool or spa, most Buyers are also ordering a pool inspection. This is a wise decision! 

 A quick word about selecting a pool/ spa Inspector: 

A pool inspection should provide objective, factual and informative information about the pool. Your Real Estate Agent or Home Inspector will usually be able to refer you to a solid and reliable company. 

I cannot possibly cover everything about pool inspections in a short article, but here are some of the main things I look for during a ["gunite"] pool inspection: 


Again, space does not allow for a full discussion of this issue; but this is the number one reason you should have a professional inspect the pool or spa. 

  • I look for GFCI circuits and make sure they are in good working order.
  • I look at safety code compliance especially regarding pool or spa suction outlets.

This topic is covered more extensively in other blogs. 

Pool Masonry and Structural Issues:  

I “sound out” coping, tile and other pool stone work by taping with an instrument (like a 3 iron golf club). I am listening for hollow sounds- when I hear them, I examine these areas to see how extensive it is and why it is happening. 

Loose or hollow coping and tile are often indicators of other problems like: inadequate or missing expansion joints, or drainage around the pool site. Coping and tile problems can be expensive; an expert’s opinion is valuable here. Below is a picture I took of a typical coping problem. One thing I’d like to point out about this particular issue, “…you can’t see it by just walking around the pool.” 

Note the bluestone coping setting bed has broken bond in this picture.

 “Expansion Joints”: A bit of a catch-all term, I am referring to the joint between coping and pool deck. 

If the deck base is concrete, there must be a gap  between pool deck and pool coping (typically 1/4″ to 1/2″ ). This joint is often filled with a flexible material.

This is a very important joint, here’s why: The deck expands sideways in the sun; it may also rise and fall slightly with freeze/thaw cycles- if there is not an adequate gap, the pressure caused by such movements will damage the coping- even pushing it off it’s cement setting bed.

Note- Even pools that appear to have an expansion joint can have this problem if deck and coping is touching below the caulk. 

Cantilevered decks- are decks that lay on top of the pool beam (or pool wall); the point where the deck and pool beam interface must have a  “bond breaker” to prevent movement damage. 

Is It A Structural Problem? Or just superficial? An experienced pool inspector can usually tell the difference and advise you. 

Equipment Brief:

Is that a legal stack? Is it safe?

 Is the heater older or newer? Is it running? Well-maintained? 

 Filters, Pumps, Remote Controls, Valves: 

Does it all work as it should? Has it all been maintained well? What are my expected maintenance costs?

Is everything working as it should?


Automatic Covers: 

Automatic covers should be inspected for smooth operation; winter covers should be checked for age and wear as well as condition of anchoring system. 


Finally, I strongly recommend calling for a pool or spa inspection. I have found some problems that even the previous homeowner was not aware of. Pools are important investments and some larger repairs can run into the tens of thousands.

“…Is my pool/spa safe?”

Bob Russell | June 30, 2010 in Equipment maintenance,Pool equipment,Pool renovations,Pool safety,Pool Service,Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Is my pool/spa safe?

I enjoy writing about the joy and recreational benefits of owning a pool or spa. When it comes to safety, things get very sober and serious for pool and spa Owners and those in the business.

In the last decade there have been several changes to standards and codes in the pool and spa industry.  The question I am asked most frequently is: “Is my pool or spa safe?”

Today’s safety codes are complex. Pools and spas are also complex. Most pool and spa Owners are bombarded with media hype, marketing gimmicks and general misinformation. I’d like to help. Here are the basic things I look for while inspecting a pool or spa. 

 1) Suction Outlet Covers: Floor and wall drain covers should be in place and secured by stainless steel screws. Residential pools and spas built since 2003-2004 are required to have two suction outlets that are spaced 3 feet apart.

Spa above with a single suction outlet- built before 2003.

2) Anti-entrapment Covers- In December of 2008, all [existing] commercial pools were required to install specially designed “anti-entrapment” suction outlet covers. Residential pools were to have existing covers replaced when they failed, or at the discretion of the homeowner. Note: The new covers are designed to prevent an object (such as a human body) from creating a seal over a suction outlet; they are also designed to prevent hair entanglement. As expected, these new covers are much more expensive than the old style; they are also made of extraordinarily strong material- unlike the older covers which are relatively easy to break.

Should you replace your spa or pool floor suction covers now?

That’s a good question to ask your service professional!

Some floor suction outlets (e.g. such as the single suction outlet pictured above) are more of a risk than others- it depends on how the pool or spa is plumbed.

The first and most important “layer of safety” is the most obvious: make sure the suction outlet covers are in place and secured.

Spa pictured above is fitted with an approved anti-entrapment cover.

3) SVRS Or, Vacuum Release System- A vacuum release system is an additional layer of safety that became law in 2005  for new residential swimming pools or spas

Vacuum release units (SVRS) vary in shape and size but are all designed to do the same basic thing: release an object that has made a seal over a suction outlet. 

Some ask, “…how can people get stuck on a main drain?” The answer requires a discussion of physics but in short, there can be tremendous force at a suction port that has been sealed. A one horsepower pump (for instance) has enough force to trap a grown man and hold him fast. Some drowning accidents have in fact happened in this way.

Pictured above is a common mechanical SVRS installed on suction-side of pump.

Is your pool or spa equipped with an SVRS?

Is it operational?

These are questions to ask your service professional!



When inspecting your pool or spa, look for the following  “layers of protection”:

1)      Secured and approved anti-entrapment suction outlet covers. This is the most important layer of safety!

2)      Dual suction outlets - pools built after 2003-2004. (A second outlet can be added to existing pools.)

3)      SVRS system (vacuum release) - required in pools built after April 2005. SVRS systems can be added onto any pool for an additional layer of [anti-entrapment] protection.


If you have concerns or questions about your pool or spa after reading this post, you should contact your pool professional and get your questioned answered! Safety is nothing to guess at.