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Invest in good pool maintenance now to save money later

A backyard swimming pool can be an inviting oasis, particularly on a hot, sultry day. No surprise that swimming pools are one of the most popular sources of outdoor home entertainment.

As most pool owners know, the expense of a pool, be it an elaborate in-ground style or simple aboveground model, doesn't end with purchase and installation. Ongoing costs range from chemicals that keep water fresh to the utility costs that power equipment.

Remember that maintaining a pool is essential to a safe and healthy swim experience, and that carrying out regular maintenance can prevent big repair bills down the road.

The first and most important regular pool-maintenance task is keeping the pool water chemically balanced. Beyond making for a healthy swim environment, properly balanced water will prevent damage to the pool liner, tile and equipment. Test your pool water regularly and add chemicals as necessary.

Most pools are surrounded by concrete or wood decking. Cracks in concrete decking should be caulked or patched to prevent stubbed toes and water infiltration that can result in yet more cracking or lifting decks.

For pools with coping - a decorative edging at the perimeter of the pool - the flexible joint between the coping and the concrete decking should be restored periodically to maintain a watertight seal. Use only approved elastomeric joint filler designed for this application and not regular household caulking. Stone coping should be periodically sealed with a penetrating sealer to slow wear and spruce up appearance.

Fasteners in wood decking should be recessed to prevent injury and decking should be smooth and free of splinters. Periodically applying a fresh coat of finish will prevent deterioration from pool water and improve appearance.

Over time, waterline tile can become marred by mineral deposit buildup. Once every year or two, lower the waterline to expose the tile and use a tile-cleaning block made of pumice to restore the appearance. Loose tile should be removed and re-secured. Discolored or grungy grout can be restored by removing the outermost layer of grout and re-grouting the tile.

The interior of a pool can take a real beating over time, especially if the water isn't properly balanced. A plaster liner can become stained or so rough that it can damage swimmers' feet. A commercial cleaning can often deal with appearance or staining issues, but a rough surface will generally require resurfacing the interior with a fresh coat of plaster, fiberglass or other decorative finish such as pebbles or tile.

Pool equipment - pumps, filters and cleaning equipment - are the central nervous system of your pool. Keeping them in tiptop working order will give you the most attractive swim environment and the least offensive utility bill.

Basket strainers, surfaces skimmers and pump pots should be checked and emptied regularly to prevent straining motors. Replace cracked or damaged baskets to prevent large material (leaves, needles and so on) from making their way into the filter. Keep an eye on the pressure gauge at the filter. Excessive pressure is a sure sign that the filter needs to be cleaned or replaced. A dirty filter uses more energy and does a poor job of keeping your pool clean.

If your pool has an automatic cleaner, check it from time to time to make sure it is doing its job. Replace worn or torn collection bags. Tune-up kits, available for most automatic pool cleaners, will extend the life of the equipment for many useful years.

Make sure diving boards, slides and other equipment are in good shape, free of peeling paint and securely anchored to decking. The fiberglass used to construct most boards and slides can be restored with good-quality fiberglass cleaner and polish. It will make going down the slide a whole lot easier (and more fun).

We don't know many people who like a cold pool. Consequently, solar-heating equipment and solar covers have become increasingly popular. Periodically check solar panels and piping for leaks to ensure maximum efficiency and minimize water loss.

Beyond heating the water, a solar blanket will prevent debris from making its way into the pool water and cut the time needed to run the filter and pool cleaner. And that equals less energy and a lower utility bill.

One of the most effective means of lowering your utility costs is by installing a multi-speed pool pump. A multi-speed pool pump will use only about half as much electricity as an old single-speed pump.

There are other benefits. Your pump will run much more quietly; it will run cooler, potentially extending its useful life; most filters will work more efficiently and your pool water will circulate through the filter for more hours per day. Many utility companies offer rebates for an energy-saving multi-speed pool pump. Running pool equipment during off-peak hours, such as during the night, can mean even greater utility savings.