Welcome back! Automatic pool covers are a popular safety feature for inground pools, but they tend to be high maintenance. And since inground automatic pool covers can cost $10-15K - it's a product that you want to protect and maintain.
As an automatic pool cover owner, you'll benefit from the clean pool, heat conservation and unparalleled safety. But what kind of maintenance can you expect with an automatic pool cover? Will you need professional help, or can you do it all yourself? Read on, dear reader...
DAILY AUTO COVER MAINTENANCE
On a daily basis, make sure that your cover is closed by glancing out the window. An automatic cover pump should be set-up and ready to go, if any rain should come through. Pool water level may have to be maintained daily if the pool is leaking significantly.
Monitor the water chemistry and chlorine levels on a near-daily basis. Keeping good water balance and low chlorine levels is the best thing you can do to protect an automatic pool cover. For this reason, we recommend Nature2 mineral sanitizers to auto cover owners, to help them reduce their chlorine demand.
Salt systems are not recommended with automatic covers, as it increases the possibility of corrosion to cover fabric and aluminum parts, from salty residues. If you do have a salt chlorinator and an auto pool cover, be sure to rinse the tracks, pulleys and reels monthly. Test salt levels regularly to be sure the pool is not over-salinated.
WEEKLY AUTO COVER MAINTENANCE
Open the Cover fully once per week. On a weekly basis, automatic covers should be opened for several hours, to allow chlorine byproducts to dissipate by gassing-off at the pool surface. This protects the cover material from corrosive chloramines. Always leave the cover open for several hours after adding large volumes of pool chemicals, and after shocking the pool, keep the cover open until chlorine levels subside.
Be sure that your water level is proper. If the water level goes below mid-skimmer, it places stress on the cover webbing, ropes and tracks. And if it gets below the skimmer level, any added water weight on top of the cover adds exponentially more stress. For this reason, leaks in a pool must be quickly fixed. As a trade off however, at least you do not have to worry about evaporation with an automatic cover! Also for this reason, holes in an automatic cover need to be quickly patched, so your cover pump won't pump water out of the pool - through a hole in the cover!
Cleaning an automatic pool cover is easiest when the cover is dry or almost dry. In these cases, a leaf blower works best, blowing the leaves from side to side, or blowing them down to the leading edge end of the cover. Avoid blowing leaves into the cover box (the box where the reel is housed). You can also use a soft broom, or even the pool brush to clean along the edges, and a dust pan or a Leaf Rake to collect the leaves.
When the cover is wet, a leaf blower doesn't work as well. If there are inches of water and lots of leaves, start a dredging operation with Leaf Rakes, with back and forth motions across the cover, to scoop up debris and also to loosen any dirt or algae on the cover. Set your pool cover pump(s), and pump off all of the water, or close to it. Remember that water weighs nearly 8 lbs per gallon!
When most of the water is removed*, start cleaning at the roller end of the cover, and using a garden hose with a nozzle, hose-off the first 8 ft section (seam to seam), spraying the debris toward the opposite end of the cover. Use your pool brush to push leaves and debris if needed, and then roll up the cover 8 ft, and clean the next section... continuing until you get to the last section of cover. Then use a Leaf Rake to scoop out debris, while the cover pump removes the pool of collected water. After removing all of the debris and 99% of the water, roll the cover up all the way.
Stains on automatic pool covers are inevitable. Sorry, I wish I had a magic solution, but unless your pool cover is indoors, leaves and rain water will add their own marks and colors to an automatic cover. Cleaning with a small amount of hand soap and water, or simply scrubbing with your pool brush and pumping off, will remove most stains, but not all.
Keep rain water pumped off. An automatic cover pump like the Rule 1800 or the Little Giant Water Wizard is (usually) kept on the pool cover at all times, with a discharge length of garden hose attached. When plugged into an extension cord, it turns itself on when an internal float senses a water levels, and automatically shuts off when the water level surrounding the pump subsides.
ANNUAL AUTO COVER MAINTENANCE
To protect your cover, do three things at least once per year, and some may need 2-3 times per year.
Clean out the Box. Prop open the cover lid with a long screwdriver or short pole, and have the cover rolled out, or closed, to open up more room in the box. Use a leaf blower, or small broom, or wet-dry vacuum to clean leaves and debris. A dirty box attracts insects and soon fills up with muck, mildew and algae that is not good for the cover, motor, reel parts or the box itself. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it! Also make sure that the drain is clear and that the box always drains well from splash over or rain water.
Clean out the Tracks. This one is considerably easier than cleaning the cover box, but no less important. Grit, sand, dirt, insects, leaves, etc, will clog up your tracks, it's inevitable. Spray out the tracks with a high pressure garden hose at least once per year, or more often for desert or beach pools, which have a lot of gritty sand or salty air blowing around. You can spray the tracks from inside the pool, or just hunch over and really get the spray nozzle into the track, and slowly walk from one end to the other.
Tighten and Lube. An automatic pool cover motor can be either hydraulic or electric. In either case, the rope tracks, rope reels and sliders can vibrate loose over time and all parts of the rope and reel system should be checked for tightness and position. Grease fittings are common on the rope reels and every year or two should be given a shot of fresh grease. Drive chains should also be lubed with a light oil. Tracks and sliders are not lubed, but should be checked for tightness and position.
AUTOMATIC POOL COVER REPAIRS
Every 3-5 years, New Ropes, Pulleys and Sliders are needed about every five years, although your mileage may vary. This can be done DIY, or you may want to have the dealer perform the repair, and give the entire system a clean bill of health. Materials cost is low, unless other parts are needed, around $100, plus labor.
A new Motor every 5-10 years is needed for electric motor systems; hydraulic motors can last 20 years if properly maintained. Engagement cams on the reel shaft may also be replaced if worn, although most cams will outlast several motors. Drive chains will generally last 20 years, or until the chain snaps, whichever comes first. An automatic cover motor replacement can cost $450, plus labor.
Cover fabric replacement at 8-10 years. Over time, the UV rays on the top and chemical degradation on the bottom will take it's toll. Your cover will become brittle, faded and begin to spring small leaks. Fabric replacement is not very DIY friendly, and most homeowners should have the local rep or auto cover service company make a fabric replacement. Auto cover fabric replacement can cost $2500, plus labor.
Regular automatic pool cover maintenance will add years to all components and lower your overall cost of ownership.
Take care of your water chemistry, do not use an auto cover as a winter cover, keep your water level proper, and regular cleaning are the keys to automatic cover longevity. Most care and maintenance of automatic pool covers can be done by any handy homeowner, and some repairs, too!
SPP Pool Expert