by Ian Usher
Do you ever dream about house sitting a beautiful property with a swimming pool?
Imagine plunging into crystal-clear cool water on a hot sunny morning, or incorporating swimming into your daily fitness routine.
What a wonderful luxury to spend a warm evening lounging on a floating chair with a glass of wine, or taking a quick refreshing dip in the middle of a scorching sunny afternoon.
If you’d like to offer your house sitting services for home owners with pools you need to learn some of the basics of swimming pool maintenance. A pool is a huge investment for the home owner, and after pets, is often the main reason swimming pool owners will employ the services of a house sitter.
Swimming pools require regular, reasonably simple, on-going attention.
You can’t expect to simply swim every day without carrying out the routine maintenance tasks that will keep the pool in tip-top condition.
Learning About Pool Maintenance is a Great Investment
Spending time learning about pool maintenance is a great investment, as it will put you in a much better position when applying for these assignments. To give you an idea of what is possible, here are pictures from three of our recent house sitting locations.
We were able to secure these wonderful house sits thanks in some degree to our experience in looking after swimming pools. In each case one of the home owner’s major concerns was that they would return to a murky green swamp, rather than a crystal-clear pool.
In almost all situations pools will be trouble free, especially during a short house sit. However, we recently experienced a cyclone during our assignment in Fiji, where excess vegetation in the pool turned many of them green overnight.
Understanding that this was also likely to happen to our pool meant our first task was to get the leaves and sand out as quickly as possible. By taking swift action we avoided the need to completely empty, clean and refill our pool.
This would have been a time consuming and fairly costly process.
Do You Have the Skills for Looking After Swimming Pools?
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started on building your swimming pool knowledge:
- If you have friends with a pool, try to spend time with them, asking about their routines and the chemicals they use. Watch how they test the water, and learn how to interpret the results.
- If you don’t know anyone with a backyard pool, you could visit your local council-run sports facility to see if you can get some time with the swimming pool manager. Shadow him on his regular maintenance tasks. The scale is a bit larger than a home pool, but the basic chemistry is the same.
- Find out if your local pool shop or hardware store is planning on offering any basic pool care courses.
- Failing this, simply search online and study the basics – there’s a wealth of information out there.
An Overview of Basic Pool Chemistry
There are three main goals when looking after swimming pools:
1) Swimmer Comfort
A pool is for pleasure, so a major consideration is that the water doesn’t cause skin irritations or sore eyes. The water should be clear and have no strong odor.
2) Germ Neutralization
Pool water should be free from pathogens and have no risk of causing any sort of infection.
3) Equipment Care
A mix of chemicals are used to achieve the first two goals, but it’s extremely important these chemicals do not damage the pool or related equipment, which can be expensive to repair or replace. Good care and maintenance should also prolong the life of the equipment as much as possible.
How Are These Pool Maintenance Goals Achieved?
Maintain pH Balance
pH is one of the most vital aspects of pool chemistry. As well as being a major factor in swimmer comfort, it affects how most of the other chemicals in the pool work together. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the water. You may remember from school chemistry that pH is measured on a scale ranging from 0 to 14.
0 is extremely acidic and 14 is very alkaline. 7.0, right in the middle, is neutral. Our eyes have a pH of 7.2, so this is considered to be the most comfortable pH level for pool water, but anywhere between 7.0 and 7.8 is acceptable.
If the pH of a pool is too high it can be lowered by the addition of hydrochloric acid, often referred to as muratic acid, when used for swimming pools. This comes in liquid form.
If pH is too low it can be raised with sodium carbonate, a white powder, also called soda ash or washing soda.
Getting the pH right is usually the first step to keeping a pool in great condition, as this has such a big effect on other chemicals present.
The next step is making sure the pool is safe in biological terms.
Testing the pool regularly is vital. There are many different types of test kits. Make sure you understand the testing method your home owner prefers.
The vast majority of pools use chlorine to kill bacteria and microbes in the water, which if unchecked can multiply quickly, resulting in unsanitary swimming conditions. Some pools use bromine rather than chlorine, but we’ll stick to the basics here. You can study further online if you need information specific to bromine pools.
Chlorine can be introduced into pools in several ways – powder, liquid, gas, or by salt water generation (SWG).
Some people are under the misapprehension that salt water pools do not use chlorine at all – this isn’t the case.
Whichever method is used the goal is the same – clean, germ-free water.
To achieve this the pool needs enough chlorine to kill contaminants, but not so much that it causes swimmer discomfort.
In the process of killing germs chlorine is used up, and therefore needs replacing. The more swimmers there are, the more work is created for the chlorine to deal with. pH, sunlight and water temperature all impact the effectiveness of the chlorine in the pool.
Some pool systems are chlorinated by fully automated systems and simply need occasional checks to confirm all is operating well. Other pools generate some chlorine automatically, but also need an element of manual balancing too. Some pools are chlorinated manually all the time.
Regular testing and small adjustments to chlorine levels are much better than the occasional random test followed by a slightly panicky mass input of chlorine!
When testing chlorine levels there are three readings:
- Free chlorine
- Combined chlorine
- Total chlorine
Free chlorine is responsible for killing the germs. Combined chlorine is the result of this germ neutralization, and total chlorine is these two added together. You can read more about the different stages of the chlorination process here, or at many other pool websites.
Regular testing and cleaning will ensure small issues do not develop into serious problems.
Buffering pH and Chlorine
Two agents are used to buffer pH and chlorine levels, with the aim of keeping them within a narrow range to increase the effectiveness of the whole system.
Total alkalinity (TA) is a measure of the pool water’s ability to resist changes in pH. The goal is to keep TA within a range that holds the pH steady. If TA is too low then pH can fluctuate wildly. If TA is too high, it can be extremely hard to adjust the pH if you need to change it.
Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is used to raise TA. It will also raise pH level at the same time. To lower TA the only practical method is to dump some pool water and top up with fresh water.
Cyanuric acid (CYA), usually in granular powder form, is used to stabilise chlorine levels, and helps the chlorine to be more effective. CYA is also referred to as “stabiliser” or “conditioner”.
Chlorine dissipates quickly in sunlight, so is usually added to outdoor pools in the evening. CYA helps prevent this chlorine loss, and also means less chlorine needs to be added to create the same degree of disinfection.
There are several other factors at work in the pool too. They are beyond the scope of this article, which aims to arm you with all of the basics needed to cover the most commonly encountered situations.
Swimming Pool Maintenance Skills Help Secure Luxury Assignments
As a house sitter you will need to discuss in detail how the home owner maintains the pool. Always follow their suggestions and requirements.
Your understanding of basic pool chemistry, together with the ability to test pool water and interpret the results, will give the home owner confidence that you’ll be able to keep their pool in excellent condition.
I love this aspect of house sitting and get a little “pool separation anxiety” when I leave a property. It’s very satisfying to keep or restore a swimming pool to perfect conditions.
I keep a spreadsheet with all my test results and environmental conditions when looking after a pool. This is particularly useful for repeat sits and to give home owners a record of activity during longer assignments.
As you build your experience of looking after pools you can also build on your own knowledge and understanding.
You will soon find that you are being considered for some very luxurious assignments.
This website is my favourite for a simple, basic overview of all the chemicals and measurements involved, and how everything works together when looking after swimming pools:
There’s also a great tool for calculating chemical quantities based on pool volume and what you’re trying to achieve. See here:
There are lots of other resources available online. Here are a few useful PDF files you can download for reference. An internet search will produce a wealth information if you run into any sort of problem.
Final Word of Warning About Chemicals
Before you start any hands-on work with pool chemicals, make sure you read all the labels, follow the guidelines and use the appropriate safety wear.
These chemicals can be dangerous if not handled properly and should be stored away from children and pets. Never mix chemicals together. Use appropriate containers, and always ask for qualified assistance from your local pool specialist if you are unsure about anything.