Thursday, August 02, 2007

Darn That Kid To Heck!

When I opened the swimming pool this year, I asked for help from the family in maintaining it. Specifically, in doing the daily pH/Chlorine content assay and vacumming the leaves out of it. The Stevieling volunteered.

The Stevieling means well, but she is a teenager and has a teenager's attention span, so the "daily" routine is sometimes "once every two days" and the vacuuming happens when I ask, as I did on Saturday.

Now it has been very rainy of late, and the pool has overflowed several times. When I say that, you shouldn't picture a dramatic event involving water coming over the lip of the 15 foot wide, four foot tall Cylinder of Water Retention, since the skimmer sits at a height of about 3 foot six from the pool base. When the pool overflows, the water pours from the skimmer/filter assembly which is hidden at the back of the pool. This device is the place the water is drawn into before being sucked through a coarse-weave "leaf-basket" and then through the cartridge filter itself.

One of the side-effects of heavy rains, besides Overflowing Skimmer Syndrome, is that the water becomes acidic, requiring a small amount of sodium carbonate be dumped in the filter while the pump is running. The amount has decreased over the years because the pool water has achived a buffered state - it chemically resists a shift in pH. It used to require careful rebalancing after a group swim (sweat is acidic) or after any rain, but now a couple of ounces of sodium carbonate after a heavy downpour is about all that's needed1.

When the vacuum is required, the intrepid vacuumer has to assemble an involved but not complex series of components. First the filter pump has to be switched off and the leaf trap cleaned out. Then an adapter consisting of a circular plate with a pipe sticking up out of the middle of it must be placed over the leaf trap, so that when the pump is switched on (NOT YET WAIT UNTIL I TELL YOU!) water will be drawn through it rather than through the side of the pool. We attach a 90 degree bend adapter to the pipe so it pokes through the wall apature of the leaf trap, and it is this to which we will attach the vacuum hose. We fix the hose at one end to the vacuum head, a triangular assembly with a series of stiff bristle brushes on it, the whole being attached to a long pole. We submerge the vacuum head and make sure the pole handle is wedged in the fence (LOOK OUT GRABBIT GRABBIT GRABBIT GAH NOW IT HAS TO BE FISHED OUT WITH THE END OF THE DECK BRUSH DAMMIT!) and carefully feed the pipe under the water to exclude trapped air before we attach the end of the pipe to the adapter and switch the filter pump on again. Now the water is being sucked up from the vacuum head and not from the pool surface, and the floor can be cleaned. Extreme care must be taken not to allow air into the pump or it will lose its prime and cease to pump water at all. If the pump is allowed to run in this way for too long a time it can break down due to bearing failure or overheating, since it is a so-called regenerative system and relies on the water it pumps to cool it2. If there are stubborn stains on the pool floor, which is a tad wrinkled in places owing to incompetence when erecting the pool, the job can even involve the need to get in so the proper amount of elbow grease can be applied. Leverage being what it is, when the pole is at full extension the ability to apply force to the scrubbing brushes in the vacuum head is minimal. Needless to say, the water is always cool and by late summer can be very cold indeed. Not my favourite job, this.

I asked The Stevieling to vacuum the pool on Saturday, thinking we might use it on Sunday. Of course, Sunday afternoon was notable mostly for the spectacular thunder and lightning with a side order of deluge, so swimming was not an option. She did the vacuuming and did a nice job from what I could see too.

Yesterday rolled round and the thremometer in the downstairs thermostat took a trip off the scale. Not only that, the air filled with sweat making what was only unbearable, intolerable. Within seconds of leaving the car my "24-hour" protection threw in the towel3. Throughout the day I comforted myself in the sure knowledge of a soak in the unheated bliss of the pool that night. I promised myself an hour of up-to-the-neck-in-cold-water-ism at the very least, and even the commute home in which the A/C failed was made bearable by the thought of the swim to come.

It was not to be

When I got home I ran the mower over the grass verges so I wouldn't have to do it that weekend, and made my way to the pool. I thought I'd check the filter, make sure there was a chlorine tab in it as so on. The first thing that happened when I released the leaf skimmer lid was a tidal wave of water gushed over my "corporate casual" slacks. Spiffy. This water was suspiciously cloudy too. That was when I discovered the vacuum adapter plate was still in place. This was very bad because the filter was running. When these two things are true, a vortex forms at the pipe and air is sucked into the pump. Except that there was no vortex. I put my hand carefully near the pipe to find minimal suction. I walked around the pool to the water inlet and put my hand over that. Almost no pressure at all where there should be a torrent.

Letting out a curse I turned off the pump and pulled off the adapter plate, to discover a thick layer of dead leaves in the skimmer basket. I emptied these, but it was difficult because they had been well sucked into the basket weave for a few days and had become integrated into it. I pulled the filter and examined it. Filthy. I placed it on one side while I syphoned off some of the water in the skimmer in order to clean out the crap that had fallen out of the filter as I was removing it4. I washed out the filter with a hose for about five minutes, which didn't get all the muck off it but dislodged most of the macroscopic crap that had been vacuumed into it and reassembled the system. Then I started the pump and crossed my fingers that I wouldn't have to reprime the bloody thing. That would entail getting a hose and blowing water backwards through the system until all the air was flushed. It often takes three or four reprime/restart operations to get the darn pump running properly once it is aerated. Sometimes, though, the air in the system can be blown through it by the pump itself if the rotor hasn't gone completely dry. This proved to be the case this time and the system "rebooted" cleanly5.

Which was more than can be said for the water in the pool.

Left to fend for itself for three days with nil filtering6, zero chlorine7 and a pH dropping dangerously low8, the pool was now 5300 gallons of milk. There was nothing for it but to shock the pool, rendering it unusable9. Not only that; if last year's experience was anything to go by, I was in for days of increased maintenance and re-shocking before the water would clear.

I was so furious that I did something I've never done before. I went inside, logged onto our computer and changed the Stevielings password, locking her out. When she got home I told her that for doing something so monumentally stupid she was losing her computer privileges for a week for every time I had to shock the damned pool. If things went badly, I explained, she'd be in school again before she got to look at youtoob or The Order of the Stick. Maybe then, I said, she'd learn to pay attention to detail when she did a job.

Mrs Stevie waited until the Stevieling was out of the room, then castigated me for using the word "stupid". She felt "thoughtless" would be more appropriate, and so it would if I cared about being politically correct. I didn't, I felt hot and angry, and for once not sorry one little bit for any hurt feelings. That pump had operated for 24 hours of duty time with no water cooling it. It could easily have burned out, putting me in the frame for over a hundred dollars for a replacement and the hassle of plumbing the bloody thing in, priming it and Azathoth knows what else. It could have shorted and set fire to the wiring, given the absolutely tat state of nearly everything it has been my sad duty to pull out of its hiding place into the stark light of day. Check out the New Bog never-ending saga for a recent example. In this case "stupid" was the mildest damned word I could think of, and the word anyone in the outside world would use if they were to be subject to the Stevielings lack of attention to detail. Of course, that wasn't why I used the word.

I used it because it was hot and I couldn't have the swim in the lovely cold water I'd been thinking about all day.

  1. The pH is important because if it gets to low (meaning the water is acidic overall) green algae will start growing like there's no tomorrow. If it goes too high (meaning the water is alkaline overall) it causes scale to form on the various bits in the water, including the moving parts of the filter pump, which can fail as a result. The trick is to keep the pH at between around 7.2 or so. Water comes out of our taps at about pH 7, but has no dissolved chamicals in it. Buffering the pool involves having dissolved acid and dissolved alkali in the water so that an increase in acid (or alkali) causes a chemical reaction reducing it's impact. The usual acid is "Muriatic Acid", which turns out to be a formulation containing Hydrocloric Acid (no surprise there) and the favoured alkali is Sodium Carbonate.
  2. Exactly the same as the fuel pump in the early model TR6 as it happens. I digress
  3. Which was a shame because I could have done with that towel to mop the sweat off every inch of my body. As it was, I did what everyone else did and just let my perspiration roll down my legs to pool in my shoes (my underwear having become completely innundated within the first minute of outdoorsmanship)
  4. Otherwise it falls slowly into the pipe, then gets sucked through the pump when I restart the system and gets blown back into the pool to filthy-up the floor again
  5. Pathetic Dweebspeek for "The system started like it should have"
  6. Instead of the usual 4 hours, twice a day vigorous filtration program I faound to be mandatory by experimentation
  7. Instead of the usual 5 ppm or better I and others regard as mandatory
  8. See note 1 for the importance of pH in swimming pool chemistry
  9. Like it mattered at this stage. No-one in their right mind would swim in that lake of liquid botulism. It was like something Professor Quatermass might have cooked up after a night on tequilla jelly shots

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