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In The Swim eGuides covering pool safety topics on chemicals, fencing, main drains, swim lessons and general pool safety tips.

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Automatic Swimming Pool Covers

Automatic Swimming Pool Covers

The automatic pool cover has come a long way in recent years. From hand crank models to fully electronic, key-operated systems, today's automatic covers are more reliable, durable, and safer than ever before. Having an automatic pool cover is an additional layer of protection around a pool – like a horizontal fence!

In the traditional automatic pool cover, a reinforced vinyl fabric runs between tracks on either side of the pool's length. An aluminum roller on one end of the pool houses the cover and the tension rope when the cover is open. One end of the roller is attached to an electric motor, which is wired to a two direction switch (open or closed).

The motor that powers the reel to cover and uncover the pool is usually electric, however a hydraulic motor can be used (powered by an external electric motor), which has some advantage in terms of reliability, especially when the roller or reel is located in a deck box and is subject to moisture.

The roller can be housed in a box built at the deep end of the pool, level with the pool deck, or the roller can be housed in a box on top of the pool deck.

Automatic covers look and perform somewhat better when installed on a rectangle pool at the time of construction. They can, however, be retrofitted to almost any shape pool. No longer do we have to run track down both sides of the pool. Tracks can be hidden by cantilevered deck sections. The large leading edge, a steel tube that runs across the pool is now available in a low profile design that hides easily.

A newer style of automatic pool cover, dubbed by some to be a European Slat Design, uses vinyl or PVC air filled slats that float on the water and use no track. The slats can be custom cut to accommodate wall curves, overhanging rock waterfalls or spas, and can be designed with several covers of different sizes to accommodate nearly any pool shape.

Less expensive models are manual and pull open by a hand crank, and close by pulling a rope. For freeform pools, there is the option of going trackless, with the cover being locked down around the edge with tiny plastic anchors.

Automatic cover manufacturers boast of water, chemical, electrical and heat savings. Even the Department of Energy has a home page devoted to the economic benefits of pool covers. Auto covers have also been attributed to drowning prevention (although the solid cover must have rain water pumped off with an automatic cover pump to be considered safe).

An auto cover will keep your pool free from leaves and wind-blown debris; however, you'll have to clean off the cover before opening it. This is usually easier than cleaning the pool, however.

Below are some troubleshooting tips for automatic pool covers, from our help file.

Dirty cover?

We recommend cleaning an auto cover by panel segments. Standing at the reel end, use a blower or a garden hose and a pool brush on a telescopic pole to push debris towards the shallow end. Roll the cover up one panel at a time, cleaning in this manner. When you get to the last panel, pump off the water with a cover pump and scoop out the leaves with a leaf rake.

If the cover is inundated with leaves and/or water, use a leaf rake on the telescopic pole, scooping out as many leaves as possible before rolling the cover back. Similarly, use a cover pump to remove most of the water before rolling back the cover. It may be good medicine to treat the cover annually with a vinyl conditioner to protect against staining and fading.

Broken shear pin?

If you attempt to roll back the cover with too much leaf or water weight on top, or if the cover is hanging up at some spot from maladjustment, you may hear a loud pop which is likely the cover shear pin breaking. This is located in a hole drilled through the motor shaft and the cover engagement cams.

Most automatic pool covers have shear pins built in to prevent more costly damage to the motor and ropes. Your manufacturer should provide you with replacement shear pins and instructions on knocking out the old one and putting in a new pin.

You can find shear pins (aka roll pins) at a good hardware store, in the small parts boxes. Don’t substitute anything stronger, like a clevis pin or bolt, or you could damage the motor or reels. If the shear pin breaks without water weight on the cover surface, it could also be that the cover is stuck to the pool deck (see below). If the leading edge is out of adjustment, this can bind the ropes and reels, and also cause a pin to break.

No power to cover motor?

If you turn the switch or key and get no response, check the breaker and make sure it is on. Check that GFCI outlets on the same circuit have not tripped. Check the motor to see if there is a reset button on the end. Make sure they key is making contact inside the key box. If you are comfortable and careful, you can check the back of the motor with a test meter to see if power is reaching the motor.

Motor turns, but cover doesn't move?

This situation could mean that the shear pin has broken. Most cover owners become familiar with replacing shear pins, which are meant to break when stress on the cover reaches high enough levels. It could also mean that the motor is out of alignment and the cams are not engaging each other. This could mean that the leading edge is out of alignment and binding, or It could also mean that your rope or spring has broken.

Cover not rolling back straight?

If one side of your cover is coming back before the other side, you will need to have adjustments made. Some manufacturers make this a simple wing nut turning affair, while others are a much more complicated exercise of setting cams. Look inside the box for instructions, you may be able to fix it in a few seconds, especially after you become familiar with the process of realigning the leading edge by adjusting the brakes on one or both rollers.

Cover is stuck to the pool deck?

Owners of covers that are retrofitted (that is, added after the pool is built) with tracks that run on top of the deck may have problems with the vinyl sticking to the concrete when the cover is closed. Placing a leaf blower or a shop vacuum (exhaust side) under the leading edge (opposite end of the roller) will inflate the cover somewhat, breaking the moist seal of concrete to vinyl. The cover can then be opened with less risk of broken shear pins.

Cover came out of the track?

If the cover pops out of the track at one point, it can take two people to fix; one to operate the key, and another to help move the cover, as it rolls up. Once you get the cover rolled back to where it came out, inspect the fabric edge for fraying or tearing that may be the cause of the problem. If found, the fabric needs to be repaired to be reliable; it can be cut out and stitched up.

Do not roll open the cover too far back. If the sliders (plastic piece where the rope begins) come out of the end of the track near the cover box, it's sometimes a real pain in the you-know-what to push the slider back into the track.

Water in the cover Box?

Moisture in and around the motor is responsible for many problems with the cover. Hydraulic systems, although more expensive, have far fewer problems because there is no electric motor in an underground box. Ensure that the cover box is dry and that it drains properly. Likewise, it is important that cover boxes be cleaned annually to keep leaves and debris from clogging up the drains.

Automatic cover repair costs:

Standard technical service for diagnosis and repair labor is about $80/ hour. Rate is prorated after first hour. Parts are additional of course. Automatic pool covers should be serviced every year or two, to make lubrications and adjustments. Every 5 years, new ropes may be needed and every 10 years new fabric may be required. Average all of these costs over 10 years and maintenance on an automatic cover could reach $500 per year.

Automatic cover installation costs:

The price for installing an automatic cover over the deck depends on its size and location, and the level of automatic-ness you desire. Advances in design now allow for retrofitting these covers on almost any size and shape pool. Installation prices range from $4,000 - $10,000 for new automatic pool covers. Manufacturers include AquaMatic, CoverPools, CoverStar and Pool Cover Specialists..

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