There are two options in winter covers for inground pools - a solid winter cover, or a safety cover. A safety cover is much more expensive, but in my opinion has worth above the extra investment. Here's why:
Safety Covers vs. Solid Covers - Pros & Cons
Solid winter cover:
Pros: Inexpensive way to cover your swimming pool, and quickly available. Easy to install, no drilling into the deck. When you are done with the cover, instead of throwing it away you can use it to cover a wood pile or old covers can be used for yard leaf removal in the fall.
Cons: Cover can rip or tear, and spill contents into the pool. Need to use water tubes alongside of cover to hold it in place. If not maintained well, solid pool covers will look like a swamp - not very appealing aesthetically, messy.
Does not last as long as a safety cover, you will typically need to purchase about 3-5 winter covers to equal the life of a safety cover.
Not safe - If anything heavy falls, crawls or walks onto a solid cover, it wraps tightly around your legs, and pulls the cover in, while water on top of the cover rushes to you.
Pros: Cover will hold 350 lbs. of weight per square foot for peace of mind - you do not have to worry while it's covered. Average life expectancy of a safety cover is approximately 10-15 years. Aesthetically, it looks much nicer than the 'lay on the water' cover. In some areas, having a safety cover can reduce your homeowners insurance.
Leaves on a safety cover can be blown off with leaf blower, and larger debris pushed off with your pool brush. You do not need to maintain a cover pump to remove rain and snowmelt, and finally, you do not have to fill up or drain slimy water tubes, and you'll never have to replace broken ones again.
Cons: 2-3 times more expensive to purchase than a solid cover, or much more for freeform pools or raised walls. They also take much more time to install, at least the first time. My 16’x32’ rectangle cover took myself and one of my buddies a few hours to install. Those who do not want to drill the recessed brass anchors into their pool deck could see the cover anchors as a downside.
Safety Covers vs. Solid Covers - TCO
Pool safety covers have a total cost of ownership (TCO) at or below the cost of using Solid covers. I can tell you firsthand that the total cost of a safety cover is less expensive than having a solid winter cover. I've had my safety cover for nearly 12 years, and it's going strong. I expect to replace it after a few more seasons.
During a 15 year period of time you only have to purchase 1 safety cover, but would need to purchase 3-5 solid covers, sending your ripped pool covers and broken water tubes to the landfill.
As a TCO example, for an 18’x36’ pool, an 18'x36' solid cover with water tubes would cost $250 every 3-5 years. If you bought a new set every 4 years - $250 x 4 = $1000. The price for our most popular 18’x36’ safety cover with step, is just $930. Freeform pool designs are considerably more expensive, being custom made, but if you have a rectangle or Grecian pool, with or without a step section, there are many stock covers immediately available.
The initial cost of a safety cover is more expensive, but in the long run the total cost can be much less, especially for rectangular pool, or simply shaped pool. The peace of mind is priceless, plus they are easier to use and much nicer looking than a messy solid cover.
Installing a Safety Pool Cover
Take the cover out of the box and lay cover over the pool and make sure you have an equal amount of overlap around entire cover. Next measure back 16 to 18 inches and then drill your anchor hole. In order to drill the anchor hole you will need to own, borrow or rent a rotary hammer drill and a ¾” masonry drill bit.
With the tamping tool provided, tamp the brass inserts into the hole. Install the springs onto the straps and then stretch the spring onto the anchor with the installation tool. For a rectangular shape, you would start on the 4 corners and then work your way around the rest of the pool following the same procedure.
Adjust the springs on the pool cover to be approximately 50% compressed. You can adjust the tension on the spring by loosening or tightening the strap, and reattaching the spring to the anchor.
Safety Covers are worth the investment, because you can’t put a price on safety of kids and animals, and that should be everyone’s first concern.
It also requires no maintenance; no pumping water off the top, or dredging leaves and muck from the surface.
Finally, a safety cover can last 12-15 years, so you do not have to worry about purchasing a cover and water tubes every 3-5 years.
Q.E.D. - Quod Erat Demonstrandum ;-)
SPP Pool Expert