by Rob Cox, March 16, 2011
Pool Troubleshooting - Use your Senses!
There are many tools available to the pool diagnostician. A good set of channel-locks, screwdrivers, nutdrivers, strap wrench and open end wrenches will be found in any poolman's toolbox. The most valuable tools however, may be your own 5 senses.
Every swimming pool is different, and will have different characteristics of water quality, flow volume, filter cycles, etc. This blog post will discuss how to pay attention to the sights and sounds, tastes and smells of your particular pool - which can be valuable indicators of how the pump and filter system is operating. Knowing your pool water - and how it normally behaves, will tip you off immediately when something is wrong.
As you approach your filter system, use your eyes to first look at the pressure gauge. It's helpful to mark the clean and dirty points on the gauge to know at a glance when it is operating outside of it's normal range.
Your pump lid likely is made of a clear plastic. This is intentional, so that you can see, at-a-glance, how the water is flowing through. If it looks like glass, without air bubbles or turbulence, you can assume an optimal flowrate. If you see a lot of action, or water low in the pump basket, this tells you something. This says that there is an obstruction like a dirty filter or pump basket, or a clog in the line, or a valve partially closed.
Remaining at the filter system, take a look for water on the ground, indicating a leak. Calcified water deposits can indicate leaks at some point in the past. Looking to the pool, your eyes will tell you quickly if the water quality is suffering. Does it sparkle, or has it lost its Charlie Sheen? Hazy, Cloudy water will tell that either filtration, sanitation or circulation is sub-optimal. Green or yellow algae? Your eyes will tell you again, that something is not right (like Charlie Sheen!)
Your ears, the ones on the side of your head - a very important tool for pool troubleshooting. How does the pump sound? If it sounds like it's gargling rocks, it may be cavitating, or starved for water - again indicating a blockage of some sort. If the motor sounds louder and screechier than before, this could indicate the motor bearings are beginning to fail. If you have a pool heater, listen to the sound as it fires off - smooth and easy, or sudden and poppy? Cycling on and off? Louder than usual? A dripping and frying sound on the inside? Banging and knocking? All of these indicate a problem that you can begin to chase down.
The ears can also tell you if your water level is too low, as your skimmers begin to suck air, or the skimmer weir could be stuck. Are your returns gurgling more than usual? Spewing out a lot of air into the pool? This can tip you off to an air leak on the suction side of the pool, which makes filtering inefficient and could create a hazardous build-up of air inside the filter tank. Popping relays, contactors or circuit breakers also tell a story, and give you a place to start troubleshooting.
The nose can tell you if your chloramine level in the pool is too high, as you notice a strong chlorine smell along with accompanying red eyes. Probably time to check the pH and shock the pool. A pool tech with a good nose can smell a burnt motor, hot wires or melting circuit boards from 10 feet away, and can even smell improper combustion from a gas fired pool heater, emitting too much carbon.
Don't touch it - it's H-O-T, your mother told you. You touched it anyway. "I told you it was Hot!" she said, and you learned something. Touching the sides of a pool heater can indicate a loss of insulation on the sides, or touching the effluent pipe on the heater to check that it's warmer than the influent pipe.Use the back of your hand, which is more sensitive than the palm for a heat check.
Pool motors are typically too hot to touch, running around 140 degrees F, but smell, touch and sound can indicate motor problems. Loose, old valves can be wiggled to determine problems with water flow, and sticking your fingers into the skimmer port or over the returns at poolside can help you know when flow is optimum for vacuuming, or if the heater is really putting out heat. Use your touch on pool cleaner wheels and throats to gauge their efficacy. Check the cleaner hoses for leaks and kinks.
A light touch on a vacuum head or leaf master or leaf rake is an important skill for the person cleaning a dark green, leaf filled pool. You will feel when it's time to empty the pump basket, as the suction reduces, or the bag gets heavier. In cases of dark green pools, sight is diminished, and all you have is your touch to clean the floor effectively.A zen like sense of the debris as you move will increase your efficacy.
Your pool is like no other pool - it's characteristic sights, smell, taste and sound will tell a story. Look and listen and you'll make quicker judgments of how to keep your pool running well.