Tuesday, April 10, 2001 | 8:56 a.m.
Time to slip into the foam flip-flops and begin the weekly ritual of cleaning the backyard pool. For some, the days of manually vacuuming the floor of the pool are long behind them.
Automatic cleaners that roam the floor of the pool, climb stairs and walls while you float listlessly above on an inflatable chaise lounge hint that you can be the laziest person in the world and still keep your pool clean.
If you have the money you can purchase automatic chemical dispensers capable of testing the pH balance of the water, then dispense the necessary chemicals. Or, more simply, you can hire a pool service technician to do the work for you.
According to a consumer survey conducted by the National Pool and Spa Institute in Alexandria, Va., many prospective swimming pool buyers choose against purchasing a pool because they are concerned about maintenance.
"It's a misconception that it's a lot of work," Patty Hulbert, spokeswoman for the institute, said. "If you take a look at how much the technology has changed (for maintaining backyard pools) in the last 10 to 15 years, it's simply not true. It's like maintaining the family car."
Cleaning the pool was labor-intensive 20 years ago, Jack Cergol, spokesman for the institute, said.
"First of all, the technology didn't exist. (Today) there are automatic cleaners that can run 24 hours. Other people can put it on a couple hours before they have a party," he said.
"There are devices that are automatic chemical dispensers. It monitors pH (the degree of alkalinity or acidity of a solution) and adjusts the water chemistry of the pool.
"With today's (lifestyle), two parents working, these are things that can save time and energy and in the long run, money. It's bells and whistles," Cergol said.
Even with the new technology, Cergol said he recommends hiring a service technician to check the pump, filter and heater.
Richard Lippman, an owner of Guaranteed Pool Service in Las Vegas, agrees.
Lippman said a lot of his clientele has the high-tech equipment available today, but the "human factor that once a week will come in and do the fine tuning" is still needed.
"Some of the machinery can do the testing," Lippman said. "(But) each yard has $1,000 to $2,000 worth of equipment. When you get a pro, not only are we doing fine-tuning, we're looking for leaks.
"Over a period of time, if no one's paying attention you can damage this expensive equipment."
Testing the waters
In Clark County there are approximately 60,000 residential pools, nearly 200 pool service companies and more than a couple dozen supply stores.
There are swimming pool aficionados who have researched their investment so extensively, it has turned them into semi-experts who confidently exchange terms at the sales counters of Leslie's Swimming Pool Supplies, which has outlets throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
Others are dragging themselves to pool-supply stores, saying they wish they hadn't made such a demanding purchase.
Local pool owner Mark Clarke is learning the ropes as a first-time pool owner who has accepted that task of maintaining his own pool, which he said is not that difficult.
"It's upkeep," Clarke said of his recent investment. "But it's not a real time-consuming process. It's not something you have to spend hours doing.
"Adding the chemicals -- that seems to be the tricky part," he added. "I was nervous about the chemicals but once you do it it's not as intimidating as I thought it would be.
"The (builders) give you all these books. They come out and orient you, teach you how to test the water. It's pretty thorough. If you forget, you just get the book out.
"As far as cleaning (the pool) goes, it hasn't been a problem. I like tinkering around with it."
While some pool owners say that taking care of their pool is simple and sometimes relaxing, others say it's a backyard headache that they wish would go away. Either way, there are risks.
There is the threat of black algae, green algae, calcium and magnesium deposits and sedimentary buildup from winter neglect. Algae-filled pools need draining and refilling in time for recreational opportunities in excessive summer temperatures.
One of the biggest problems found in Las Vegas pools is green algae, said Ron Osse, assistant sales manager at Leslies Pool and Spa on Valle Verde Drive in Henderson. "Las Vegas is so hot, if they don't watch how much chlorine is in the pool, if the chlorine (level) goes down to nothing, the algae can grow just like that.
"This time of year, a lot of pools are green," Osse said.
So starts the draining process which, regardless of winter neglect, should be done every two to three years. Avoid drainage during extreme temperatures, pool experts say.
"You have to be careful the time of year you drain," said Jeff Jarvis, owner of Koala-T pools in Las Vegas. "In hot weather, plaster will dry at a quicker rate than the foundation and there's a chance they'll separate." Spring and fall are ideal times to drain the pool.
Tips from the pros
Jarvis, a pool service technician, teaches swimming pool maintenance classes through UNLV's Continuing Education department six times a year to those desiring to save money by maintaining their own pools.
"A lot of people do it themselves," Jarvis said.
"Then there are people who finish taking the class and say, 'I think I better get the pool serviced. That's a lot more (work) than I'm looking for.' "
But realistically, Jarvis said, it takes only 15 minutes a week to service a pool.
"Homeowners don't normally get to it weekly," he said. "But they should. If they don't they'll get calcium and magnesium deposits that create a brown buildup on water line and tiles.
"This pool was glass-beaded (what results from a build up of mineral deposits) so much that scale built up and it had to be blasted off," Jarvis said, pointing to a backyard swimming pool in Henderson that he recently began maintaining.
"The most important thing is maintaining a proper pH," he said. "Most people don't understand that the pH of the water determines how the chlorine works. You could get as little as 15- percent chlorine efficiency if water is out of balance."
Pool owners can bring water samples from their pools to stores such as Leslie's where clerks will test the water's pH levels and recommend needed chemicals.
Jarvis said pool owners also need to regularly check their skimmer baskets, which prevent foreign matter such as leaves from entering the pump. (The pump operates the pool's hydraulic flow and pressure for filtration, heating and water circulation.) A clogged basket can damage the pump.
Weir gates, which allow a continuous flow of water to the skimmer, should also be working properly, he said. Equipment should be tested for air and water leaks that can ultimately damage the motor.
He suggests running the pool's pump one hour for every 10 degrees of outside air temperature. For example, when temperatures are in the 70s, run the pool seven hours a day; in the 90s, run the pool nine hours a day, he said.
"In the summer, run it during the day. In the winter, run it between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. to prevent any possible chance of freezing."
Also, "Be wary of what your neighbor tells you," he said. "Your neighbor might have a plaster pool. You might have Fiberglas."
There are a lot misconceptions surrounding chlorine, a gaseous chemical element that hastily sanitizes foreign matter that flies into the pool.
For one, Jarvis said, "If you can smell chlorine, if your eyes burn, it means you don't have enough chlorine. It's not chlorine you smell, it's chloramine."
Chloramine develops when chlorine comes in contact with swimmer waste and perspiration. Adding more chlorine can solve the problem. But again, Jarvis said it helps to know what you are doing.
"A lot of people like to use liquid chlorine," Jarvis said. "Liquid chlorine is old school.
"One gallon of liquid chlorine poured into a pool will burn off in two hours," he said. "And it usually has a high pH and salt content."
Chlorine tablets shouldn't be tossed freely into the pools or placed in skimmer baskets, he said. The acidic tablets landing on the floor of the pool can wear away the surrounding area, creating spots.
Tablets placed in the skimmer can wear away the skimmer basket allowing debris to get into the pump.
Also, the acidic nature of chlorine will corrode and damage metal components, such as heat exchangers, when placed in skimmer baskets, Jarvis said. "What you're getting is a straight shot of chlorine every time the pump comes on."
Chlorine, a member of the halogen family, also has an explosive tendency when mixed with other elements.
"When you're dealing with chemicals, always read the instructions," Jarvis said. "One thing you never want to do is put chlorine and acid in (the pool) at the same time. It makes mustard gas."
Water mixed with a large amount of chlorine can also start a chemical reaction, he said.
"It's all safety when it comes to your pool."