Deep Blue Diving into Pool Maintenance and Upkeep

Deep Blue

 A beautiful amenity space just footsteps away from one’s morning coffee is a luxury most residents would love to consider when deciding  which property to call home. A well-maintained swimming pool can captivate  potential homebuyers but also increases property values in existing buildings.  

 A swimming pool is a rare and valuable amenity for any residential building, and  a real treat in the summer. Over the last 20 years, it seems that the amount of  pools in the city has grown tremendously. Stuart Roaker, past president of the  National Pool Management Association and owner of the Pool Therapist on Staten  Island estimates there are 750 to 800 pools in New York City, as more and more  luxury condominium developments include a pool in their design.  

 Some buildings with pools include Riverhouse and the Visionaire in Battery Park  City downtown, 40 Mercer Street in SoHo, 200 Chambers in Tribeca, the Atelier  and The Strand in Hell’s Kitchen, the Lucida on the Upper East Side, One57, Ariel, The Rushmore and 15  CPW on the Upper West Side, Oro in Brooklyn and the Viridian in Greenpoint, to  name a few.  

 Maintenance Matters

 Knowledge of swimming pools is the best equipment you can have when it comes to  maintaining them. Commercial swimming pools generally provide most maintenance  equipment on site; these swimming pools need constant care and are more than  likely to be managed by a recreational amenities or pool management company.  

 “The attractiveness of a beautiful swimming facility does not come without  challenges faced by many board members and property managers,” says Michael Zuchelli, vice president of operations of Elite Pool & Fitness Management Inc., located in Whitestone. “Proper operation, maintenance, and water safety of your swimming pool is a daily  task that is governed by The New York City Board of Health.”  

 Basic maintenance items include chemical test kits, vacuum equipment and  chemical additives, however most swimming pool operators use their experience  and expertise to diagnose issues outside of general maintenance items.  

 Joseph W. Grimes, president of New York City-based EPG Spa & Pool Management, Inc., which services luxury high-rise condominiums with pools  and/or health clubs, provides pool lifeguards and takes full charge of the care  of the pool water chemistry and filter system at the properties it’s contracted for.  

 “Swimming pools need a lot of attention to keep the water clean, clear and fresh.  Our lifeguards take chemical readings every two hours to ensure the pool is  maintained at a constant perfect level of chemical balance. We test for water  pH as well as water temperature,” he says. “We vacuum the pools and clean around the water line daily. The pool decks are  swept and mopped regularly all day. The facilities must be kept as clean and  sanitary as possible.”  

 “It’s important to hire a licensed professional for care of a pool, not just someone  who does it here and there, as it’s a full-time job,” says Roaker. “The key thing is that people try to save money but end up spending five times as  much. They just need to use common sense.”  

 Chemical Care

 Everyone knows that you need to vacuum a pool and add chemicals, but it’s important that the right mixture is used, and that the pool is cleaned  regularly. An unbalanced pool is the most common call that pool companies get  and they’ll come in and blend the chemicals correctly.  

 Roaker says pool care also depends on the structure the pool is made of as  steel, fiberglass and cement pools all require different services. “You wouldn’t use as much of a particular chemical on a steel pool as you would on a cement  pool, so it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines,” he says. “Other things that come into play are where a pool is located—a basement, on a roof or somewhere else indoors.”  

 Different chemicals are placed into a swimming pool for different solutions and  results. In New York City, the water has a high amount of metal, causing the  water to have a greenish tint when it is untreated. According to Zuchelli,  adding a metal releaser will mitigate the green tint when fresh water is first  added to the swimming pool.  

 Chlorine is the primary chemical when fighting and eliminating bacteria and  contamination in a swimming pool. The pH is measured by determining the acidity  of the water, and a pool that does not have an ideal pH balance can cause  swimmers to have skin and eye discomfort. Ensuring that a swimming pool has  enough calcium is also essential when caring for its pipes and heating system.  

 “Most commercial pools require a backwash of the filtration system weekly,” Zuchelli says. “This process will increase the rate in which your swimming pool water is  filtered, and is an essential part to optimizing the disinfection process  within your swimming pool. Similar maintenance items should be performed by the  certified pool operator that oversees the operation of your swimming pool.”  

 Safety First

 The day-to-day operation of New York City swimming pools requires a certified  lifeguard to watch over the pool during all hours of operation. The New York  City Board of Health further requires all swimming pools to test their water  chemistry hourly to ensure there is no risk for contamination. This daily water  chemistry test must include the ratio of chlorine, acidity, calcium and  alkalinity present in the swimming pool water.  

 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning  ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the  United States.  

 “The safety of your clientele is a concern most board of directors do not leave  to chance,” Zuchelli says. “Property managers and boards alike rely on the expertise of amenity management  companies to ensure the management of their health club is one that always  provides an atmosphere of luxury and safety right at home.”  

 By the end of 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act forced the commercial swimming pool industry to act quickly to  comply with a nationwide mandate. Under the law, all public pools and spas must  have ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 compliant drain covers installed and a second  anti-entrapment system installed, when there is a single main drain other than  an unblockable drain.  

 Swimming pools that are not compliant face closure, and their operators are  subject to heavy fines.  

 Designed to prevent injuries and fatalities caused by swimmers and soakers being  trapped by the suction of underwater drains, the law became effective on  December 19, 2008. The law was named after the seven-year-old granddaughter of  former Secretary of State James Baker III, who died in June of 2002 when the  suction from a spa drain trapped her underwater.  

 “You must make sure that any pool has a device that’s VGB-regulated, so that any deviation in pressure acts as a kill switch and  automatically shuts it off,” Roaker says. “It’s a win-win situation—it can save the motor, but more importantly, it can save someone’s life.”  

 More recently the ADA passed a law requiring many public access swimming pools  to have a handicapped pool lift for swimmers that are not able to access the  pool via stairs or ladders. This is something that many condos have needed to  comply with in the past year.  

 The Ins and Outs

 Indoor and outdoor pools require similar maintenance procedures. They both  require a certified lifeguard to be on duty at all times, their chemical levels  must be taken every two hours, and adjusted if necessary and the pool must be  vacuumed, and the filters must be maintained and cleaned.  

 “Outdoor pools are subject to the sun and will burn off much faster than an  indoor pool,” Roaker says. “An indoor pool is climate controlled with dehumidification systems and the water  is heated, so things remain on a constant.”  

 Twenty years ago, most pools were outside on rooftops, but developers are much  more savvy now and understand that real estate up top is too valuable so most  new pools are built indoors.  

 As spring comes in, outdoor pools begin preparation for the summer season in  late April. Generally the owner likes to have the pool open on Memorial Day of  course and perhaps a few weeks before on a limited weekend basis.  

 “The pool, if covered has the cover removed and the water is 'shocked' to clean  it up and kill any bacteria,” Grimes says. Shocking simply means that “large amounts of chlorine are added to the water along with algaecide to  circulate throughout the system for several days. The filter system is  backwashed frequently to remove dirt and debris. If the pool was not covered,  there is usually more work with draining out any remaining water from rain and  snow and the leaves and other debris at the bottom are removed.”  

 At the end of the season, water is drained down below the filter return line and  the pool is shocked again and algaecide added. The plumbing lines are drained  of water from the filter to the pool so that plumbing lines do not freeze and  burst.  

 Grimes says that once a year, an indoor pool should be completely emptied and  thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before refilling. Every few years the filter  medium in a sand filter should be changed out and fresh sand and gravel  installed.  

 “The steam rooms, saunas, aerobics and gyms are also under our management and are  kept clean and closely monitored to see they comply with the department of  health’s codes and the condominium’s rules and regulations,” Grimes says. “The steam and sauna on/off timers and emergency alarms all must be calibrated  and kept in top working order.”  

 Be Prepared

 A swimming pool is the jewel of many luxury development health clubs, so when  entrusting your swimming pool operation to a professional, plan a walk-through  with the pool operator to inspect any areas of your swimming pool that may show  signs of work that might be needed.  

 Oftentimes, swimming pool repairs can be planned before the repair becomes an  emergency. To avoid a major problem, swimming pool pumps should also be  inspected each year during annual maintenance.  

 “We will encourage the properties we manage to have a secondary pool pump on site  in the event there is a failure to the primary pump,” Zuchelli says. “There’s nothing worse for a managing agent to encounter a weekend summer scorcher, and  your swimming pool is out of service because the pump went down.”  

 Money Issues

 Having a pool presents a significant insurance risk. There’s always the chance someone could injure themselves by slipping on a wet spot,  and despite lifeguards being present, something more serious could happen in  the water. Talking with your insurance agent to ensure you have the best  coverage is vital.  

 The cost to operate a pool mostly depends on the number of hours the pool is  open for use because each hour it is open the lifeguard must be on duty. If the  owner elects to keep the pool closed down for all but a few hours per day the  lifeguard costs go down. The pool filter and chemical feeders must remain on to  maintain the chemical levels at all times whether the pool is open or closed.  

 One final thought: Every condominium and building owner in New York City must be  careful to renew the pool permit on a yearly basis at the beginning of the year  or violations will be issued and the pool closed by the city until the permit  is secured.`       

 Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.  

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