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A guide to pool equipment options, to help pool owners understand the many type of pool equipment for above ground pools. Pool equipment includes products used to circulate, filter, clean, sanitize and heat an above ground pool.
Above ground pool equipment packages, included with most new pools, tend to be small and ineffective. Many above ground pool owners upgrade their original pump and filter, add a pool cleaner or heater, or a chemical feeder.
Automatic pool cleaners can relieve you from the drudgery of leaf removal, and prevent algae blooms before they even start. Above ground pool cleaners are suited to work with flat bottom pools only, and will not climb walls or steps.
Pool cleaners vacuum and scrub the bottom of the pool, and assist in improving water circulation throughout the pool. There are 3 types of above ground pool cleaners, suction, pressure and robotic.
Suction Cleaners: These are the least expensive type of pool cleaner, suction pool cleaners range from $75-$150. Connected to your skimmer, they use your filter pump suction to move about the pool, and vacuum debris into your pump basket, or skimmer basket, when using a skimmer vac plate. Best suited for pool pumps of 3/4 hp or greater, and pool floors that aren't too bumpy or lumpy.
Pressure Cleaners: In the mid-price range of $190-$220, we have cleaners that work by pressure, not suction. Polaris 65 and Turbo Turtle pool cleaners attach to the pool return line, and use the pressure to move around the surface of the pool, while dragging a mesh debris bag with water jets to sweep the pool floor. Also best suited for pool pumps of 3/4 hp or greater, and pool floors that aren't too bumpy or lumpy.
Robotic Cleaners: In the higher price range of $300-$500, we find robotic pool cleaners, which operate independently of your pool pump and filter system. No installation required; robot pool cleaners are plug-n-play right out of the box. Suitable for any pool shape, size or condition, they also filter the water as they scrub and vacuum. The only drawback is their initial cost, and the potential for higher repair costs, if needed.
The lower priced suction cleaners tend to be slower and more easily clogged with larger debris. They also bring dirt and debris into your filter, requiring more filter cleaning, and when used, your skimmer is not skimming. Polaris 65 cleaners are an improvement in that they capture debris in their own bag, create surface action, and do not use your skimmer. Robotic cleaners also have an on-board debris bag, but do not connect to the filter system at all, and they shut themselves off, making them truly independent and automatic.
The most comfortable swimming temperature for most people is 82-84 degrees F, or 28 degrees C. This occurs naturally during the summer for 4-12 weeks on most U.S. pools, depending on your climate. Before and after this short period, you can use above ground pool heaters and solar covers to raise the water temperature.
Maintaining heat in an above ground pool can be difficult, with the exposed walls and raised water level. Adding an additional 5-25 degrees F is possible; and there are 3 types of above ground pool heaters - solar blankets and panels, gas pool heaters and electric heat pump.
Solar Pool Heaters: The least expensive type of solar pool heater is a floating solar pool cover. Ordered by pool size, above ground solar covers are available in round and oval shapes, to fit any pool. They can raise the water temperature by 15 degrees F, and reduce evaporation and heat loss, and is the only type of heater that works even when the pump is not running. No matter what type of pool heater used, a solar cover is the best way to reduce surface heat loss.
Solar pool heaters for above ground pools are solar panels that you pump pool water through, absorbing the solar energy. They are available as modular units in the $100-$200 range, or for larger above ground pools, use the flat solar panels available in 4'x10' and 4'x20' lengths, priced in the $200-$300 range. For pools with at least 6 hours of daily sun, solar heaters are a popular choice, although heat is not produced on cloudy or rainy days, or after the sun goes down.
Gas Pool Heaters: for natural gas or propane gas, above ground gas pool heaters are compact units that circulate water through a flame-warmed heat exchanger, much like a home gas water heater. Gas pool heaters by Hayward 100 and the Raypak 150 are priced about $800 and $1200, respectively. Installation requires a solid mounting surface, 120 or 240V power, and a gas line connection. Rigid schedule 40 PVC pipe is recommended over flexible filter hose. Gas heaters operate anytime, regardless of weather, and are the fastest way to heat pool water, raising temperature by 1-2 degrees per hour.
Pool Heat Pumps: operate like a reverse air conditioner, drawing warmth from the surrounding air to warm a refrigerant, and transferring that heat to your pool water.. Heat pumps are slower to heat than gas heaters, adding 2-5 degrees per day, but produce heat at less than half the cost of a gas heater, on average. In cool outside temperatures heat pumps run more often, and below 50 degrees F, they will not produce any heat.
The much lower price and easier installation of a solar pool heater for above ground pools makes it a popular choice, but is entirely dependent on direct solar energy. Gas pool heaters are much more expensive to buy and the most costly to operate, but have the advantage of fast heat in any condition. Heat pumps for above ground pools are very popular despite a high initial cost, and can operate for just a few dollars per day, maintaining your desired pool temperature spring, summer and fall.
The most important and necessary pool equipment, your pump and filter work together to circulate and filter the water. Above ground pool filter systems are sold as a unit, so that the pump and filter size are properly matched, but you can buy each separately, or individual pump and filter parts.
There are 3 types of above ground pool filters; sand filters, cartridge filters and DE filters. More important than the type of filter, is the size of filter. Upgrading from the original filter is not uncommon; be sure to upsize as well.
Sand Filters: Popular for their ease of use, sand filters are filled about 2/3 full with filter sand, and when the pressure gauge rises 7-9 psi, they are quickly and easily backwashed within 5 minutes. Filter sand can last 5-7 years on inground pools, but for smaller above ground pool sand filters, changing the sand every 2-3 years is recommended. Using a sand filter cleaner can help clean sand to extend the lifespan. Above ground pool sand filter systems range in price from $225-500, depending on size.
Cartridge Filters: Most original aboveground pool equipment packages include a cartridge filter and pump. When large enough, cartridge filters can go months between cleanings, which involves removing the pleated filter cartridge and hosing clean, when pressure rises 7-9 psi. Because they are not backwashed, cartridge pool filters save water. Cartridges last 2-4 years, and should be replaced after 12-15 cleanings. Using a cartridge filter cleaner can rejuvenate cartridges by removing oils and minerals. Above ground pool cartridge filter systems range in price from $400-500, depending on size.
D.E. Filters: The Diatomaceous Earth pool filter can remove particles as small as 3 microns, which is far superior to sand (20 microns) or to cartridge (10 microns) filtration. DE powder is added through the skimmer to coat the DE grids inside the filter. When the pressure gauge rises 7-9 psi, the filter handle is "bumped" to re-coat the DE grids. The DE powder is eventually flushed out, then added again to the filter. DE powder only lasts 3 or 4 months, but DE grids can last 10-15 years. Above ground pool DE filter systems range in price from $400-500, depending on size.
When upgrading an above ground pool filter system, remember that a larger and more effective pool filter can save time and money. Your water will require less sanitizer and fewer helper chemicals to stay clean and clear, and you may be able to run the pump less, and enjoy fewer water problems, and faster clean-ups. Buy the largest pool filter system that you can afford, for best results.
Above ground pools, like any pool, need a way to introduce chlorine to the pool water, to keep it clear and sanitary. Every day, all summer long, you need a constant and consistent level of chlorine in the water. Do not put chlorine tablets into the pool skimmer, which can damage your pool equipment.
Chemical feeders are used to dispense the right amount of chlorine, not too little, and not too much. There are 3 types of above ground pool chemical feeders - floating chlorinators, automatic chemical feeders and salt systems.
Floating Chlorinators: For many above ground pools, a chlorine floater is used to dissolve the chlorine tablets, necessary to keep the water clear and sanitary. They can damage a pool liner however, if they become stuck behind a ladder, or when small pieces fall out of the floater to the pool floor. Floating Chlorinators are however, the least expensive type of chemical feeder, starting at $10.
Automatic Chemical Feeders: Installed after your filter and heater, these units can hold 2 weeks' worth of tablets and have a more precise dial to control the amount of chlorine released. Above ground chemical feeders are more expensive than floaters, with prices starting at $70.
Salt Systems: Salt water chlorine generators make their own chlorine, by connecting a salt cell and adding enough salt to make the water slightly saline; around 3000 ppm. Your filter pump pushes the salty water through the salt cell, where electrolysis takes place to create chlorine instantly. After the chlorine's work is done, the molecule returns to salt+H2O, where the process can begin again. Above ground salt systems are available in the $300-500 range. Pool Salt sold separately.
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