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Building and Designing Pools with Water Quality in Mind

A well-designed, installed, and maintained pool can truly be a thing of beauty. So much so it’s not surprising at all that homeowners and property owners tend to concentrate on aesthetics when they’re in the planning stages of purchasing a new pool or remodeling an old one. We humans are, after all, visual creatures by nature and we like pretty things, plain and simple.

The only problem is that the pool’s shape, plaster color, and type of coping as well as fire features, beach entries, and expensive tile mosaics is all for not if the water itself isn’t clean, clear, and sparkling. Great water makes visually average pools more appealing, and pools with exciting visual designs even more so. It’s the water that brings the shimmer regardless of the vessel that contains it, and it’s the water that will mire the most beautiful of designs when poorly maintained.

That’s why I think that many builders have it backwards when it comes to design and engineering. Instead of focusing entirely on aesthetics, shouldn’t the needs of the pool be considered first? Make no mistake, I love great design and architecture as much as anyone, but leaving water quality to an afterthought, as many unfortunately do, undercuts the whole point of owning a pool or spa in the first place.

Yes, chemical treatment is a major part of it but so is filtration, skimming, pipe size, returns, flow rates, and a host of other factors. The first questions we should be asking are: what’s the anticipated bather load and frequency of use, the desired water temperature, are there trees and other plants that will add debris to the water, are there dogs likely to use the pool? All of those and other questions about use and the environment drive decisions we make about how to treat the water and configure the system.

On the Surface

As both a service technician and a builder, I’ve come to understand a number of specifics about how you should build a pool so that it’s both easy to maintain and will consistently provide top-shelf water quality. For example, one of the most important of those lessons is all about skimming; that is, removing that top half-inch of water as quickly and efficiently as possible.

When it comes to contaminants, the surface is where the action is. Common sense dictates that all debris and environmental pollutants first enter the surface of the water and experience servicing. Using pools and spas has taught me that the stuff that humans add, and I’ll spare listing those, mostly floats on the surface. Therefore, it holds that if you can skim the surface and treat it quickly, a host of water quality problems will be either dramatically reduced or avoided altogether.

It’s not surprising that many of the problem pools I’ve serviced were those with inadequate skimmers. In designing pools for water quality, I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to overshoot the skimming action. If that design calls for 10 skimmers, I might switch gears and suggest going with vanishing edges or perimeter overflows, also known as the Lautner Edge.

Like so many aspects of pool design and engineering, making adjustments before you break ground is far better than trying to fix things when they’re literally set in concrete.

Every Aspect of Design

Much the same holds true with returns. If you distribute returns in a smart way, such as across the bottom of the pool, you’ll achieve more effective chemical distribution and in heated pools, make far more efficient use of the Btus (British Thermal Units).

Likewise, you can’t say enough about the importance of proper filtration. I’m a big fan of sand filters, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming blog, but whatever filtration you use, ensuring proper flow rates and filter area are paramount in designing for great water quality.

To that end, proper plumbing size is another critical factor, precisely because it is a key factor in the hydraulic design, increasing the efficiency of all the system components, from the pumps to the heaters to the filters to the chemical treatment systems. It’s a common refrain that’s been repeated many times, but for good reason: undersized plumbing and oversized pumps waste energy and create an imbalanced system that compromises all aspects of pool and spa operation.

And, of course, as I’ve discussed many times, multi-layered chemical treatment driven by advanced control systems brings it all together.

Each of these factors could serve as the subject of extensive discussions and often are in seminar rooms and industry publications, but the overriding point is that it only makes sense to think about the most important element in pools and spas first when it comes to designing and engineering – and that important element is always the water.

the Water Geek


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A blog about all things water, written by SRK's founder Steve Kenny.