In the movie Tomb Raider, when we first meet the main villain, he has the line, “My ignorance amuses me.” He is saying it to fool the heroine. When I say it about myself, it is true. And embarrassing. Specifically about my swimming pool. I am constantly amazed that my husband agreed to this little slice of heaven for me. He had to have an idea of how little I knew about the care I would be responsible for. Maybe he is brave and optimistic. Maybe he is just longsuffering.
I knew I would need to learn how to take care of the chemicals, which had me a bit worried. I was prepared to struggle through that. I studied and I found help at a small, local spa store. But I knew nothing of the mechanics of the heater and filter. I only found out that they existed and were necessary when we ordered the pool package. I think in my mind “pool filter” meant something like a mesh vacuum filter magically hiding in the side of the pool somewhere. Just open a little latched panel and change it out once in a while…
When I heard the sand filter and heater described for the first time, I could sense all the information about how it worked floating over my head, just out of reach. No matter, I thought. My engineer will help me understand. What I forgot is that he regularly travels around the globe for business. What I didn’t know was that it would almost always break down when he was gone.
With my lack of mechanical intuition, you can understand why he still really likes me to check with him before I experiment too much with my problem solving. He does want me to try to think about it, but he is a tad nervous about what he will find when he gets home. However, along the way, he has taught me some about the electrical circuits, reset buttons on the outlets, breakers, timer switches, and water levels in the filter and heater. I know a certain problem solving pathway to follow if, for instance, the heater stops working:
- Are the filters clean, meaning the basket in the corner of the pool where the water leaves the pool to travel through the filter/heater plumbing and the filter basket that is attached to the sand filter?
- Are both the filter and the heater not coming on or just one of them? This helps to know if I need to check #3 and #4.
- Does the outlet that the machines are plugged into need to be reset?
- Does the main breaker to the garage need to be reset?
- Is there enough water in the pool? Being only an inch or two low may mean not enough water pressure to trigger the heater to come on.
- Is gas working in the rest of the house? This is easy to check since we have a gas range.
- Has air somehow gotten trapped in the filter, interfering with water pressure in the heater?
The deal is that the heater has a pressure gauge that is sensitive to water pressure. It won’t allow the gas flame to ignite unless there is enough water in the heater pipes. Probably keeps something from melting or blowing up. Like me.
True to the laws of what-can-go-wrong-when-the-smart-person-is-out-of-town-will, the heater stopped working for me recently, while my dear engineer was slaving away in in the alternate time zone of Shanghai. Not only that, but the night time temperatures were threatening to drop into the 20’s (°F). I knew that he was concerned about the pipes freezing and it would be expensive and a mess if it happened. I went through my checklist. I texted him, knowing full well I might not get an answer. I went to the pool and spa store with guarded hopes that they might be able to direct me. I was hoping it wouldn’t mean an expensive service call.
I was also having some trouble with the water staying clear in the last month. It had just gotten a little away from me while my granddaughter was in the NICU, but I had been applying everything about chemicals I had learned. It had seemed to be working until the heater stopped, so I gave the nice man a summary of everything, not really having any idea that it might be connected. Turns out it was.
What I had thought might be icky organisms, he knowledgeably hypothesized was just debris returning from a filter that needed to be “backwashed.” What? Because the particles in the water were white, and nothing smelled or was slimy, it was probably all signs that the filter was basically full. All I had to do was make sure the power was turned off, turn the lever on top of the filter to “backwash” and turn the power back on. Water would push out through a pipe at the back of the filter and clean out the sand. Then it would all work again.
The most I remembered about the filter was that it was a big black ball. It looks like one of those underwater mines that blow up submarines. I had never turned any levers on top, but the nice man at the store seemed to think it wasn’t too hard. The biggest problem I could see at this point was that the water would all gush right up against the back of the garage and fill the nice enclosure that my engineer had made for protection from the elements.
In one of those lovely moments of enlightenment, I remembered the array of PVC pipes that my engineer had designed when he needed to empty the pool the first day we began filling it. I wondered if I could find those. The nice man at the store assured me that as long as I kept the filter running 24/7, nothing would freeze. That was at least one possible solution, but it seemed like it might wrack up the electric bill and I wouldn’t be able to swim until my engineer got home in about 2 weeks.
Soon after I got home and was just starting to work on all of this, I got my one phone call of the day from my traveling engineer. He was able to tell me exactly where the PVC pipes were. He wished me well and went off to catch his next flight around China. I called a couple of my girls to ask if they could help me.
Part of the issue was that the PVC extension pieces were not glued together. My engineer had not been fully committed to this particular arrangement for long term. I figured if I had one person at the power switch, I could hold the pipes if necessary. Not to mention I would be right there to yell for shut down if it turned into a flooding fiasco. The other daughter would man the camera. I pushed the pipes on as tightly as I dared, then yelled, “Ready!” The water started to gush.
It gushed right through the pipes and onto the adjacent lawn. I could see how the water looked cloudy. The nice man at the store had said it should only need to backwash for about 2 minutes. I watched the water level in the swimming pool and saw that it didn’t seem much affected. Soon, the water coming out seemed more clear and we turned it off. It took a little bit of twisting to work the PVC pipes loose, but it was soon done. The filter lever was returned to it’s other position and we tested it all by turning on the power again.
I was thrilled that the heater came on right away! I had backwashed the pool filter, a procedure I knew nothing about until a couple of hours earlier! And as a result, I had “fixed” the swimming pool heater. I am one pleased helpless female. With what I see in the water, it may have to be done a couple of more times before the pool gets cleaned out, and I still have some chemicals to attend to. I also might need to remember to clean it more than once a year, but now dealing with that part of the mechanics no longer seems akin to driving a space ship. But, then, maybe I could learn to do that, too!