Transforming the Greenest Pool in our Neighbourhood: From luminous green sludge to sparkling clear water

Is our pool green enough to win a prize?

What do you think: Is our pool green enough to win a prize?

In September last year, our swimming pool would have qualified for – and surely won! – the Greenest Pool In Our Neighbourhood Competition – if there was such a competition. Those pics weren’t photoshopped either, that really was the colour…

Since last winter, we had been struggling to get the pool into a fit state for the long hot days of summer, where one enjoys nothing better than splashing about in  sparkling cool water in the scorching midday sun.

Alas, several bags of salt (it’s a saltwater pool), shock-it-with-chlorine treatments and four-in-one floaters later, the shade of green had not only become even more toxic, but we discovered that the water levels were dropping daily. As it wasn’t very hot or windy during springtime, such water loss could not be attributed to evaporation. Evidently, the system had sprung a leak somewhere. We just hoped it wasn’t somewhere at the bottom of the pool, because – by that stage – we really couldn’t see that far. The creepy was just an ominous dark shadow lurking in the murky depths… (Cue the theme music from “Jaws”).

When family visitors from Windhoek visited us in November, they were visibly stunned by the abysmal state of our gradually emptying pool. The consensus was that, most likely, a connector had become corroded and that one of the pipes was now leaking. Nothing for it but to dig up all the pipes.

Step 1: Locating and repairing the leaking pipes

We have allowed the water level to drop below the level of the leak so that it is easier to work on the pipes

We have allowed the water level to drop below the level of the leak so that it is easier to work on the pipes

A couple of hours’ vigorous digging later, the leaks – yes, it wasn’t just one – were unearthed. Literally. All the paving bricks had been removed, and a massive pile of earth and sand perched on the edge of a deep trench, dug from the weir across to the filter. Puddles were already forming underneath the leaking connectors.

We made several trips to various hardware stores to pick up some high-tech Plasson compression joints and new black pipes. Feeding one of these long and inflexible pipes into the car and having to wrap it around two passengers, with one end poking out through the window, where it flapped and whistled for the entire drive home, was a hysterically funny experience that we unfortunately didn’t capture on camera!

At last, the repair work began in earnest.

Given the slapdash manner in which so-called professional pool repair companies nowadays seem to operate, I can honestly say that none of them would have done such a sterling job as Hubby! We had no idea that it would be so tricky to match sizes of pipes and connectors and to ensure that all the joints were completely leakproof! Despite all manner of challenges, and not much plumbing know-how, nor the best tools, Hubby persevered – and prevailed at last!

A little mishap

A trench has been dug to unearth the leaking pipes and connectors

A trench has been dug to unearth the leaking pipes and connectors

A mishap occurred right at the end of his repairs… And unfortunately, I was entirely to blame for this. (Hanging my head in shame.)

I had come home from a photographic assignment that Saturday morning, and eagerly rushed to the back to inspect – and applaud – our newly installed and connected pipes.

“I finally got everything hooked up, but there’s still a very slight leak at the one end, which I just can’t fix,” explained Hubby, a tad frustrated and peevish.

I was straddling the edges of the trench to take some close-up photos of the new connectors and pipes, when I glimpsed Tuffy-Cat winding sinuously around my feet. Trying to avoid stepping on her, I straightened up – and whacked my head on a low, overhanging branch with an alarming crack!

The new black pipes and the blue Plasson compression fittings

The new black pipes and the blue Plasson compression fittings

I saw stars, my teeth ached, and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. My knees buckled. At the same instant – whoa!!! – one side of the trench collapsed! Holding up my camera to protect it from impact on the loose paving stones, I lost my footing, and fell down quite hard ontop of the new pipes – NOOOO!!!

Sigh…

While I lay down in a darkened room to recover from yet another (hopefully mild) concussion, and to bewail my clumsiness, Hubby – closely observed by Tuffy-Cat – painstakingly re-fitted the pipes and connectors once again. This time, to our mutual relief, the slight leak disappeared!

I suppose, in retrospect, knocking myself senseless and landing ontop of the pipes had been a blessing in disguise… well, at least for the swimming pool, though definitely not for my poor, aching head.

A make-shift pool cover consisting of a couple of  drop-sheets

A make-shift pool cover consisting of a couple of drop-sheets

It was around this time that we realised that a pair of yellow-bellies (officially, they’re known as olive thrushes) had been breeding in the hedge, and that their nestling was now eager to fly! The poor parents must have been frantic with all this human activity happening so close to their nest.

One afternoon, we heard the parents cheeping loudly and insistently. When I saw Tuffy-Cat stalking something near the trench, I knew there was trouble! Oh NO! The little nestling had landed in the swimming pool!

Tuffy, in instinctive hunter mode, didn’t know whether to leap into the pool after the little one, or whether to go after the parents, who were desperately fluttering and cheeping nearby… Fortunately for the birds, her reactions aren’t what they used to be!

With one leap across the trench, Hubby was at the side of the pool, reaching into the water to scoop up the little baby bird. As soon as I had shooed Tuffy-Cat away from this exciting scene, he placed the completely drenched baby bird on a bench, and we retreated to the house, to allow the parents to take charge of their youngster. Given the chemical cocktail in the water by that stage, we were fearful that he might feel quite ill – and never mind the shock!

Step 2: Re-laying the paving stones

Relaying the paving stones - Tuffy-Cat has left her pawprints all over the soft sand

Re-laying the paving stones – Tuffy-Cat has left her pawprints all over the soft sand

Not wanting a repeat of this episode, we hauled out some plastic dropsheets that we’d used for painting the house, and covered the entire pool. Not an elegant solution, but it worked well for a couple of days, until it rained. A good reason to get a proper pool cover!

Since then, we have seen the young olive thrush flying hither and thither with its characteristic cheep-cheep call – and thankfully it has completely recovered from its ordeal!

A couple of days later, once we were sure that the pool was no longer losing water, we filled in the trench and re-laid the paving stones, which required some artistic skills with a rubber mallet and an angle-grinder.

The two curving sections are particularly tricky to lay correctly

The two curving sections are particularly tricky to lay correctly

Afterwards, I scattered a couple of bags of fine sand across the paving stones, and brushed them into the cracks, until it looked as good as new. Even better!

And then the long drawn-out process of de-greening our pool began in earnest.

We identified a pool company in Claremont (“The Pool Man”) and, over a couple of weeks, paid frequent visits to them with a sample of swimming pool water. We returned home, each time, with a batch of chemicals, and strict instructions, which I dutifully noted down and followed to the letter.

Step 3: Emptying out the pool

I'm sure our creepy is in there somewhere... I wonder what else is buried down there?

I’m sure our creepy is in there somewhere… I wonder what else is buried down there?

I wish I had been there when Hubby took the first pool sample to the Pool Man. According to Hubby, Our Friendly Expert had looked at him aghast after testing the water sample.

“What on earth have you been putting in this water?!” he demanded.

“Um…” said Hubby, racking his brain. “Salt, Shock-it, soda ash, pool acid, four-in-one, algaecide, salt again, more Shock-it, another floater….”

I suspect that Our Friendly Expert may have had a conniption fit by this stage.

“These numbers are completely off the charts!” he spluttered, dismayed.

He rattled off some measurements. I’m not sure whether the pH was too high or too low, or whether the residual whatsit was so non-residual that it was in fact non-existent… But I do remember that – much to our amazement, given the amount of salt we’d tossed in the pool – there wasn’t much salt in the sample! Go figure.

“Er, yes, that’s why we’re here. We clearly need help,” admitted Hubby.

“Right, well… unfortunately, you’ll need to start by emptying out the pool… You can’t use this water, don’t throw it on the garden either, as the plants will die. It’s got to go. Empty out about a quarter of the pool at a time, before re-filling it; you have to repeat this for the next four days.”

Oh, great.

We begin the long process of siphoning the toxic green water out of the pool

We begin the long process of siphoning the toxic green water out of the pool

Of course, you can’t just empty out a sunken pool, because the weight and pressure of the water is actually preventing the sides of the pool from buckling inwards. Running the filter on ‘waste’ only lowered the water level to just below the bottom edge of the weir, and so we needed to use our ingenious hosepipe-siphon method (remember?). The downside is that it is a very sloooooooow method. After allowing the hosepipe to siphon the entire night, by next morning the water level in our pool had dropped by about a quarter. Most of the morning was spent filling it up again to just below the level of overflow pipe. We repeated the process for four days (man, was I dreading the water bill that month…).

Gradually, though, the yucky green colour began to dissipate.

Step 4: Adding bicarbonate of soda

Apparently, this is bicarbonate of soda... though I don't think I'd try to use it for baking.

Apparently, this is bicarbonate of soda… though I don’t think I’ll use this in my next tray of biscuits…

We gradually added 2 x 2kg packets of bicarbonate of soda (Waterwell Pro – Aqua-balance 1). This is probably not quite the same stuff you use for baking. Each portion had to be dissolved in a bucket of water, then thrown into the middle of the pool, with the pump and filter off.

For three days runing, I obediently tossed in 500g in the morning and 500g in the afternoon, and on the fourth morning, the remaining 1kg.

Step 5: Adding more bicarbonate of soda, plus chlorine and salt

The instructions became more complex.

After doing a thorough backwash and rinse, we put the filter on bypass/circulate, and with the chlorinator off (apparently this was vitally important to prevent an explosion in the chlorinator!? Well, I’m not going to argue about that!), we dissolved 1kg of bicarbonate of soda in a bucket of water. We threw half into the deep end, half into the shallow end, with the pump/filter off.

The mysterious Alum Powder

The mysterious Alum Powder

Then, 3 cups of granulated chlorine had to be added at the weir, while the filter was on circulate.

Lastly, 3 bags of salt were tossed into the pool – one at the shallow end, one at the deep end, and one in the middle – with the chlorinator running for 6 hours.

Step 6: Adding alum powder – and vacuum-cleaning the pool

At the next visit to our Friendly Pool Expert, with a murky looking sample, he said that we were now ready for the next big step: removing all the particulates and clearing the water.

With the filter on bypass/circulate, I threw one cup of granulated chlorine and 1kg of bicarbonate of soda into the weir at the same time; the mixture had to circulate until it had been mixed throughout the pool.

That's green sludge is dead algae and other particulates

That green sludge is dead algae and other particulates

Half a packet of Alum Powder was stirred thoroughly into a bucket of water, and left to dissolve in the bucket until evening. In the evening, I switched the filter to circulate and slowly poured the slurry in at the weir, letting it mix thoroughly, before turning off the system overnight.

The next morning, a layer of green sludge had settled on the floor of the pool. Ick!

But apparently, this was a good thing!

We turned the filter to waste, and connected the pool-vacuum-cleaner to the creepy’s pipes. Of course, Murphy’s Law, the pipes didn’t fit properly and kept slipping off, so Hubby had to mcgyver it with some silicone-based seriously-sticky-tape. Veeeeery slowly – to avoid stirring up the sludge unnecessarily – we vacuum-cleaned the gunk from the bottom of the pool. We repeated the process the next day.

Finally, we could see the bottom of our pool again! And the water was far clearer than it had been in months!

Step 7: Adding chlorine and salt

Vacuum-cleaning the green sludge off the bottom of the pool

Vacuum-cleaning the green sludge off the bottom of the pool

After doing a backwash and rinse, I turned the filter to circulate/bypass and poured 1 cup of dry chlorine into the weir (with the chlorinator off, just in case). After letting the system run for a little bit, I turned the filter to ‘filter’ and switched the chlorinator back on.

I poured half a packet of Chlor-Guard (dry granules) in at the weir. This is supposed to stabilise the chlorine, so that it doesn’t disappear as quickly.

I threw in a bag of salt at the shallow end, and allowed the salt to dissolve. Now, at last, we were allowed to run the filter as normal, about 4-6 hours a day, throwing in 1 cup of chlorine at the weir every second day.

Step 8: Adding chlorine and pool acid

At my next visit to the Pool Man, he was noticeably relieved at the improved quality of the water sample.

Chlor-Guard

Chlor-Guard

“Tonight, put the filter on circulate, and add 2 cups of chlorine and 2 cups of pool acid to the pool at the weir,” he instructed. “Add a cup of chlorine to the weir for the next 7 days, because it is going to be a very hot week, and you’ll need some extra chlorine in the water to keep it clear.”

When mom-in-law arrived for her Festive Season visit a few days before Christmas, we proudly showed off our sparkling blue pool. As it happened to be a very hot day, we immediately took the plunge into the refreshingly cool water. And since then, we have been for a swim almost every day!

The next project: To find a way of heating the pool, so that we can continue to swim when it gets colder. 😉

Look! Our Pool Is Clean Again!

Look! The Crystal-Clear Water of Our Pool!

23 thoughts on “Transforming the Greenest Pool in our Neighbourhood: From luminous green sludge to sparkling clear water

  1. I find it amazing that you did all this work yourselves; and did such a fabulous job. Oh your poor head ! Hope you have no lingering after-effects. I have visions of flat-Kathy lying on a lounge chair, cool drink by her side, lounging by the pool.

    • Yes, I have that vision too! I wonder what is *keeping* her?! Everytime I’ve been to the post office, there’s been no sign of her; I even asked at the counter, whether an envelope from Canada had arrived, in case it was too big to fit into our postbox, but they all looked at me quite blankly. *I* suspect that she’s gadding about with that Moroccan motorcycle gang…

    • After a week of almost non-stop wind, today seems to be a very hot day… perfect for doing the laundry, and for dipping into the sparkling clear pool! 😉 We probably need to take a sample to the Pool Man again soon, to make sure that all the numbers are good. When it’s so hot and windy, it tends to deplete the chlorine more quickly – or so I’ve been told!

  2. Now that is quite a transformation Reggie–nicely done. The green pics could be used if you all decide to make a remake of one of the swamp monster movies.

    We had an above-ground pool when I was growing up and my father always complained about how much work it was to keep clean and running. Of course, we kids did not care as long as we could jump and splash.

    Glad you recovered from the bump too–I have a collection of those as well on my noggin.

    • Swamp monsters, alligators in the bayou, Koeberg nuclear power plant leak, genetically modified sharks swimming in home-owner’s pool…. ahh, so many ideas! 😉

      Quite – unfortunately now *we* are the adults who are responsible for keeping it clean! Not quite as much fun.

      I thought I was the only one collecting a series of noggin’ bumps; I’ve had quite enough now, Universe! No more! 😉

  3. Congratulations Reggie. When you showed us the green pool last year and said you were thinking of filling it, I never expected to see a photo of such a sparkling clean lovely pool. So wonderful to have success after such an enormous amount of work. Interesting to think that it was just caused by leaks!
    How is your head. Mr F whacked his head on a tree a couple of weeks ago when he had to untangle the dog’s leash.

  4. Pingback: Pool Products You’ll Want In 2013 « Swimtown Pool Supplies Blog – Pool News, Tips and More

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