A Winter pool cover is probably among the last things on your mind during this recent hot weather, but now is actually the best time to make arrangements before the autumn rush sets in. Merlin Industries, our quality full line Safety Cover manufacturer offers incentives for purchasing prior to fall which we are happy to pass along to you as savings, but what is really the right choice of winter covers for your pool? This article will hopefully provide you with some helpful information in choosing the right style of cover to protect both your family and your pool.
Traditional TARP-TYPE pool covers secured with water bags or weights are by far the most common style of cover used in our service area and were and are designed to simply help protect your pool water from contamination over winter. This style of cover has several advantages, among them comparatively low initial cost and the potential for greatest water quality at spring pool opening. If properly installed and properly maintained over winter and nothing happens to puncture or tear the cover or blow it into the pool, this style of cover seals the pool the best and generally gives the best water clarity at spring pool opening. This water clarity depends on a lot of “ifs”, however and the desired spring opening result is dependent on constant adjustment or replacement of water bags, pumping off rain water and removing heavy wet and decomposing leaves as they accumulate, and the ability of whoever opens the pool in spring to not dump the soupy green contents into the pool when removing the cover. These covers should be spread out somewhere and scrubbed after removal in the spring which can be a lawn-killing problematic chore and they simply look ugly on the pool during the off season. Weather, wind, UV rays and constant wear and tear are the norm and average useful life span of a tarp style pool cover in real years is about 3-5 seasons of use. Water bags leak, deteriorate, freeze, receive pet or animal damage on a constant basis and need to be replaced. Many of the alternative weights commonly used to replace water bags (patio blocks, bricks, lumber, and the like) can cause irreparable damage to both the cover and your pool should they happen to get blown or dragged into the pool inadvertently. If all this is not discouraging enough, the biggest concern with this style of pool cover is safety. Should someone or something, be it adult, child or pet, fall into a tarp covered pool over the winter, the cover is not capable of supporting this weight - you still sink into the pool but rather than being able to swim or struggle safely out of the water, the cover wraps tightly around your body, restricting movement as you sink and can result in entrapment and death by suffocation or drowning. To help minimize the chance of disaster, if you choose this style of cover for your pool, please start the winter with a cover that is in good shape and not seriously deteriorated and make every effort to keep the cover free of standing water, use a cover that sufficiently overlaps the decking of the pool, keep it secured properly with ample water bags, and keep children, adults and pets out of the pool area during the time the pool is covered by closing and locking all doors and gates leading to the pool area.
SAFETY WINTER POOL COVERS were invented to provide just what the name says - a safe pool area during the off season. For any pool cover to be classified as a “SAFETY” COVER, it must meet some specific requirements such as being anchored rigidly to the retractable anchors in the pool decking or specialized track or coping for at least the majority of the pool perimeter and must be constructed and installed to support the weight of a person or persons who may inadvertently step onto or fall onto the cover without allowing them to sink into the cover and become entrapped. There are a wide range of choices available for installation as “SAFETY POOL COVERS” but the first thing to remember is that with all the available choices, SAFETY is first and the other reasons for covering a pool - keeping debris out of the pool, water quality at pool opening, etc. actually come second. How distant a second these other factors come depends on the style and construction of safety cover you select.
“AUTOMATIC” SAFETY COVERS are available for almost any swimming pool, but are actually not designed to stand up well as a WINTER cover in our climate, but rather as a means of keeping a pool spotlessly clean, warm, ready at a moments notice, and prevent any chance of a child entering the pool during the swimming season. Automatic covers are generally motor operated and glide in a special track to cover the pool at the turn of a key when not in use and open at the turn of a key when ready to use. They do their intended job well, but are expensive to purchase and have installed initially, can be subject to frequent and rather expensive upkeep, adjustment and service, and are not really designed to be a winter pool cover and withstand the occasional heavy snow loads our Maryland winters give us. They are designed as an “in-season” safety cover and not a WINTER SAFETY COVER. If you have or are considering an automatic safety cover for your pool, you will still need a separate winter cover to properly protect your pool and your family during the winter months.
WINTER SAFETY COVERS are always made of some sort of heavy duty, rip resistant material, are generally form fit to your pool configuration, and are secured with straps and/or springs to anchors attached to the pool decking for the majority of the perimeter of the pool. Properly designed, manufactured and installed, these covers eliminate any possibility of entrapment by person or animal while the pool is covered. Additional benefits of safety covers include longevity, ease of reduced cover maintenance and attractiveness. All have a much longer useful and more maintenance free life span than even the finest of tarp covers and because they are form fit and can be color coordinated, they can greatly enhance the appearance of the pool area during the off season.
MESH WINTER SAFETY COVERS were the first style of safety cover available for swimming pools. Generally the least expensive of options in safety cover, they are made of a relatively light weight open weave mesh material and secured to retractable deck anchors with stainless steel springs that should stretch the cover as tight as a drum over the top of the pool. Our Merlin “DURA-MESH” and the tougher “ADVANCED GRADE MESH” covers fall into this category of winter safety cover. Leaves and debris that would normally accumulate on the cover either dry up and blow off on their own accord or are easily removed by standing on one side of the pool and blowing off the top of the cover with a lawn leaf blower. Rain water passes through the cover into the pool, and while there is no pumping required from the top of the pool cover, it may be necessary to periodically pump accumulated water from under the cover while there is a danger of hard freeze to help prevent damage to or overflow of the pool. Once the danger of a hard freeze has passed in spring, it is acceptable to allow mother nature to fill your pool for you which can result in substantial savings in terms of wear and tear on your well or wallet for water bill or water delivery in spring. Once initially installed, a mesh safety cover is rather easy to put on and take off and many of our customers also use them to secure the pool temporarily during the summer months when on vacation. The cover acts as a screen over the pool, keeping out unwanted debris and preventing unauthorized use of the pool when no one is home. The biggest disadvantage to any mesh safety cover is and always has been the fact that these covers allow the pool to “breathe” and chemicals to dissipate, allow dust and small debris through into the pool, and most notably, allow sunlight penetration during the off season. Given the right set of circumstances, the biggest disappointment for owners of this style of safety cover is ugly green water when the pool is opened in spring and extra work spent on getting the pool cleared up and in shape for swimming after opening. These disadvantages can be minimized rather easily with periodic treatment of the pool water under the cover over winter with chemicals to limit algae growth and earlier start up of the pool in spring before the water has a chance to warm up significantly. Even given this rather large disadvantage, the safety aspects of this style of cover make it a far better choice for any pool over the traditional tarp style cover. Simply stated, you cannot put a price tag on the safety of your children, pets, family or friends. These covers are tough and the average useful life span generally corresponds to the manufacturer warranty of either 15 years for DURA-MESH or 20 years for the heavy duty ADVANCED GRADE MESH.
SOLID SAFETY COVERS were designed specifically to address the “Achilles heel” of the older style mesh covers by providing a solid, light blocking barrier over the pool. Since algae is a green plant and needs sunlight to grow, a solid safety cover provides most of the benefits of a mesh cover with the added benefit of greater water quality and clarity on pool opening with less attention over winter. A solid safety cover can be designed as a completely solid barrier, but then has the possibility of accumulating leaves and rain water over winter. We generally recommend that if a solid safety cover is selected for any pool, it be designed with a central filter drain panel that allows rain water to be filtered and pass through into the pool below. As with a mesh cover, the pool level still needs to be monitored and adjusted periodically under the cover while there is a danger of hard freeze. Solid safety covers also have some disadvantages, however. They are a bit more expensive to purchase than a mesh safety cover. By nature they are much heavier in physical weight than a mesh cover and much more difficult to put on in the fall and remove in the spring. Because of their extra weight, they also take a heavier beating under harsh winter snow conditions and therefore have a somewhat shorter average expected life span of about 10 years or so, again corresponding roughly to manufacturer warranty. Our Merlin SOLID SAFETY COVERS are available in standard colors of either forest green or blue, but are also available in a wide range of “kaleidoscope’ colors to match almost any outside décor.
Our Merlin SMARTMESH SAFETY COVERS are currently the top of the safety cover line and manufactured to be the best combination of true safety barrier, long expected life span (15 year manufacturer warranty), and spring water quality. Constructed of a patented mesh material that is tightly woven, these covers have a tremendous 40% weight advantage over solid safety covers. The SMARTMESH material is woven so tightly that it blocks nearly 100% of sunlight virtually eliminating chance of algae growth under the cover over winter and are capable of filtering out debris as fine as 40 microns. Rain water passes through this cover into the pool below, but that is nearly all that gets through. Having a SMARTMESH SAFETY COVER installed on your pool is the closest thing to putting a child proof, debris proof filter over your pool for the winter.
Pricing of safety covers varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and pool company to pool company and if you are shopping, it is important to know you are getting a true “apples to apples” comparison. Cheaper is not always better. If you are going to make an investment for a safety winter cover for your pool, you want to make sure you are purchasing a cover that best suits your preference as well as your pool and will actually perform its function without question under the occasional extremes our Maryland winters can deliver. Factors that influence the cost of a safety winter cover for your pool include the style of cover or material used in its construction, the shape, construction and configuration of your pool and pool decking, how far the cover overlaps the edge of the pool (which has a relationship as to how much debris can blow under the edges of the cover into the pool over the winter) and “web spacing” which determines how many reinforcement straps and attachment springs are built into the cover and thus how well the cover is supported over your pool and how well it will perform under extreme load conditions. As a rule, Blue Waters Inc. will always recommend a wider than standard overlap over the edge of your pool, as we have found this to be a great advantage in terms of the success of the cover actually keeping debris out of the pool over the winter. “Standard” overlap is considered 12” or so over the pool edge. Where possible, Blue Waters always recommends increasing this overlap to 15”-18” to help keep debris from blowing under the cover edges. The relatively small additional expense in up front cover cost is well worth it in terms of margin of safety and ease of spring cleanup over the years of ownership. “Standard” web spacing refers to the minimum web space requirement for classification as a safety cover and with most manufacturers is 5’ (can vary from 4’ - 6’) web spacing. Again, as a rule, Blue Waters Inc. recommends purchasing a cover with a much smaller 3’ (can vary from 2’-4’) web spacing. While this does indeed have an effect on the up front cost of the cover, this narrower web spacing allows the cover to be stretched more tightly over the pool with less compression of the springs, allowing the cover to “give” more under extreme load conditions, resulting in greater margin of safety and greatly increased life span of the cover and attachment springs. These recommendations for overlap and web spacing are not just “sales hype”. In my 48 years of experience servicing swimming pools, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of all types of safety cover installations. Experience is the best teacher and experience has certainly taught me that these extra details pay off handsomely over your years of safety cover ownership.
Your final total cost of purchase of any safety winter cover may also include measuring fees (which we perform for you at no additional charge), shipping charges from the manufacturer (while never a surprise from us, can be excessive in other cases because of the large size and weight of the shipping container) and cost (and quality) of the initial installation of the cover on your pool. Quality measurement and installation of the cover is crucial to meeting manufacturer warranty specifications and key to final appearance and performance of the cover and is always dependent on the skill and capability of the installer. The initial installation of the cover includes assembly of the cover and springs once it arrives, proper orientation of the cover on your pool, proper placement, drilling and attachment of the deck anchors, and proper tensioning of the cover over your pool for best “drum-tight” fit and cover support. Initial installation is a one time expense only. Once initially and properly installed, the cover should be rather easily secured over the pool for off season use and rather easily removed again in the spring with little additional adjustment or service expense again for the life of the cover.
As always, you can trust Blue Waters for a recommendation of quality winter safety cover options that are best for you and your swimming pool backed up with a solid manufacturer warranty and professional installation by our trained staff. When is the best time to buy a safety cover for your pool? The answer is NOW while they are on pre-fall sale. Give us a call for your no-obligation free estimate TODAY!