Late Summer 2013
When Handan and I first saw the backyard of the house we now call home, we both fell in love with it. There was a beautiful little pond with koi and goldfish spanned by a lichen-covered footbridge, there were tidy beds of flowering shrubs, there was a lush green lawn, and there was a pool – a sparkling blue promise of summers spent floating upon its serene chlorine-scented waters while the poor, pool-less masses toiled away in their stifling pool-less cubicles or sat, ashen-faced and suffocating, in their sweltering, pool-less living rooms. I was to be a pool owner, a member of an elite and sophisticated club of enlightened geniuses who had unlocked the secrets of The Good Life. I would unshackle myself from the toil and the struggle and the worry of The Common Man and take my rightful place among The Water Gods. I imagined myself at swanky black-tie pool-side affairs, canapé in one hand, champagne flute in the other, clucking my tongue at the hoi polloi while I cooled my privileged ankles in a shimmering wading pool.
“I say, Old Chap, bloody awful business about the stock market crash. Bloody awful business!” A man in a tux just like mine would say.
I would tilt my head head just so, raise an eyebrow a touch and say, “Indeed, Old Man? You forget yourself. We are Pool Owners! We do not suffer such trivialities!” That said, I would let a small smirk play across one half of my mouth while the other half sipped champagne.
We would look at each other then and burst out in self-satisfied laughter.
“Right you are, Old Boy! Right you are!”
As is so often the case, reality offered an altogether different version than the story playing in my head.
We moved in on Halloween of 2013. The pool was closed and covered for the season. My tuxedo and champagne would have to wait through the winter.
When the time came to open the pool, I could barely contain my excitement. The Good Life was waiting just underneath the black plastic cover we were peeling back.
What the hell?
I was expecting an instant party, but what I saw was this:
Apparently The Good Life would have to wait until I filled and cleaned the pool. That was okay. I could wait. Since I was a novice Water God, I did a little research and started to realize that there might be a little work sprinkled in with my Eternal Lounging. That was okay, too. It would keep me humble. I jammed a hose into the pool, filled ‘er up, and tossed in a few chemicals. Easy! The next day, the pool looked like this:
Any simpleton could do this! Barish and his friends wanted to swim that weekend. “No problem!” I assured him. This was easy. Sure enough, by the weekend, I had my sparkling blue pool, and Barish had his pool party.
That summer was almost as care-free as I imagined. I occasionally stuck a test strip into the water and dumped in some pool shock (chlorine) from time to time. The water stayed balanced and clear. I knew from my online research that people went nuts with testing and chemicals. I thought they were histrionic dolts. This was so easy, a monkey could do it! This was my pool all that first summer:
When it came time to close the pool for the season, I tried to remember what Joe, the previous owner of our house, had told me. Something about anti-freeze in the lines and more shock in the pool. And draining it to a certain level. Meh, I’d figure it out. How hard could it be? After all, I just enjoyed a beautiful, care-free summer, and I wasn’t expecting anything different in the future. I bought some chemicals, and Handan and I went about the business of closing the pool. We drained some of the water, applied various chemicals here and there, and then covered the whole shebang with the same black tarp from the season before. The tarp was weighed down along its edge with long, water-filled tubes.
The winter of 2014/2015 was harsh and cold. Some of the water-filled tubes ruptured when they froze. I had over-filled them. Parts of the pool were exposed to the elements.
Meh, how bad could it be?
“Holy crap, it looks like pee!” That was the general consensus between Handan and me when we removed the cover and had our first peek at the water.
Something had gone terribly wrong.
I wasn’t prepared for this. The water the year before was positively sparkling compared to this. We weighed our options. I could add chemicals, or…
“Let’s drain it and scrub it.” Handan offered.
“Okay!” Normally I shy away from more work, but this pool was nuclear yellow. Blech, just look at that color!
[anyone reading this who owns a pool with a liner should be screaming, “NOOOOOOOO!!” right about now]
But what did I know? This was supposed to be easy! Remember the canapés? The champagne?
I extricated my little pump from the pool cover and tossed it into the deep end, thus setting off a chain of events that would alter the course of that summer.
The little pump wasn’t very powerful, so the draining took quite some time. To someone who knew about pools, watching this would have been like watching a catastrophic train wreck in super-slow motion.
As the water drained, I could swear I was seeing bubbles in the liner at the bottom of the deep and. Not bubbles on the liner, but the liner itself, bulging up from the bottom of the pool. I passed it off as a trick of the light and pretended everything was okay. The water reached the bottom of the shallow end. Ripples appeared in the liner there. Inside, I was screaming in terror, but I tried to keep cool. If I panicked, Handan would panic ten times worse, and that would set off a chain reaction of panic that would lead to a total core meltdown.
It soon became apparent that it wasn’t okay. My mind wasn’t playing tricks on me. I really was seeing blisters in the liner. We decided to stop the draining and maybe put some water back in. I plopped the hose into the pool and turned it on.
As the water level rose, the pool liner pulled away from the top edge in the deep end. I went over and looked into the newly formed pocket between the liner and the cement wall behind it. It was filled with water.
What the hell..?
“Babes?” I called over to Handan. “We have a problem.” I looked over to Handan. She had her socks and shoes off and her pants rolled up. She was stomping around in the water in the shallow end.
“Yeah, I know.” She said. “I can’t get these wrinkles out of the liner!”
“Well, over here, there’s water behind the liner.” I said.
She climbed out of the pool and came over for a look.
I decided that we should toss the pump in there to suck out that water. How the hell did it get there in the first place?
We let the pump run and went inside to dry off and warm up. Some hours later, I went to check on the pump. The water was mostly gone, but the water in the pool had now pressed the liner against the pump, so it was trapped between the liner and the concrete wall of the pool.
Oh crap. “Babes!”
Handan came outside and saw the problem. We tried to pull the pump out by its cord, but the cord snapped. I feared the pump would rupture the liner. Handan wanted to go in to get it. Somehow she decided it was a good idea for her to climb in between the liner and the concrete wall to try to retrieve the pump. The water temp was only in the 40s or 50s and it was a cold, raw day. I protested, but she wouldn’t be swayed. She climbed down between the liner and the pool wall to try to free the pump, and she became trapped. The pressure of the water had captured her feet, and I couldn’t get her out. She was shivering uncontrollably – cold is not her natural environment – and I was worried that she would become hypothermic. I ran to the neighbor’s yard and called for his help. Thank god, he was outside doing yard work. We both ran back, and the two of us were able to pull her out. I wanted to scream at her for being so stupid. I knew she was trying to save the pool liner, but she put herself at risk and I was so mad, because she gave me such a scare. I ordered her inside to take a hot shower while the fear inside me slowly released its grasp.
When she was warm and safe, we looked again at our problem and did some more research. We learned that you never never drain a pool with a vinyl liner. By doing so, we had ruined it. And in our case, our high water table overcame the pressure of the pool water, and that is what created the blisters of water. When the ground water receded a bit, it trapped the filter and subsequently, my wife. Sometimes it is possible to have the liner reset, but ours was old and had stretched way out of shape. We’d have to get it replaced. Ouch. That was going to hit the purse strings pretty hard.
And $4000 later:
The pool behaved for the rest of 2015. When it came time to close, we ordered a custom-sized pool cover from the same guy who did the liner. Hopefully this would help keep things cleaner in the spring. It would certainly help keep things neater through out the fall and winter. No more leaves in the pool.
I waited too long to open the pool last year. But we were busy! Remember our pond project? Yeah, that took up the whole spring! So when I finally got around to the pool…
Jeezum Crow, there could’ve been anything living down in there! That’s the kind of water that nightmares are made of! I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed several pounds of extra-strength pool shock and dumped it into my swamp. Maybe I should just get some alligators and call it a day?
Twenty four hours later, I had this:
The wonders of bleach never cease to amaze me.
But that was about as good as it got. I couldn’t get rid of that cloudiness. I had long ago thrown away the manual vacuum for the pool. Since that first summer, the only vacuum I used was my trusty robot. It hadn’t failed me yet. But last year, it failed me completely.
It wasn’t the robot’s fault. Again, I was operating with less-than-complete information. I had an algae problem, and those robots are not equipped to handle algae – it’s just too small for their filters, and it shoots right back into the pool. But I didn’t learn that before it was too late. The pool was closed for most of the summer. When we went away on vacation, it went untended for a week in August. When we returned, it looked just like it had on opening day. That was the last straw. That was the day when all of my previous delusions were shattered.
There would be no tuxedos.
No witty banter by crystalline waters.
There was only work.
That was the real life of a pool owner.
I took my problem to the internet and found a solution. I found a three-step treatment package. And I needed to buy a manual vacuum. After step one, my pool looked like this:
Three days later, I had it looking like this:
A week after this picture was taken, I had the pool back to the same state that it was in when we had the liner replaced. It was clear and sparkling and perfect. My big mistake was not getting rid of the dead algae. Even the pool’s sand filter can’t handle it. It needs to be removed from the pool, and I did that by vacuuming it to waste. That means that the vacuum doesn’t run through the filter, but out through a hose. I’d vacuum for ten or fifteen minutes until the water level dropped below the skimmer, then I’d refill the pool with the garden hose for the next several hours. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
In the end, I won. But it was one hell of a battle.
By that time, I’d given up on closing the pool myself. Best to leave it to the pros. Handan and I do enough ourselves. It couldn’t hurt to give up a few jobs, here and there. We even decided that we would have them open the pool for us this spring.
Here’s what we saw when they took off the cover this week:
Not again! And this time, that algae has some serious mass! Holy crap, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it tried to ooze its way out of the pool to embark on a three-state killing spree! It turns out that algae loves phosphates – they’re like steroids for the green stuff. And where do phosphates come from? Fertilizer. The summer before, we employed the services of a lawn care company. Their fertilizers blew into the water and created semi-intelligent life. Fortunately, I’ve now learned they make a chemical for that, too.
They dumped in a lot of bleach and scooped out the nascent life form. By evening, it looked like this:
Simply wonderful. Better living through chemistry!
By the next morning, most of the bottom-dwelling holdouts had given up the ghost and floated to the surface. Lovely.
I’ve been working the vacuum, and this is where we now stand:
It’s not bad, but I need to get that water clear. It’s still rainy and cold, so I figure no one’s going to be clamoring to jump in just yet. I’ve got a little time on my side, and I now have the knowledge and the firepower to win all the little battles this summer.
Owning a pool is not an endless sun-drenched party; it’s a ruthless war against a slimy opponent who will try to defeat you in life and in death.
Gear up and harden your resolve. Summer is coming.