Pools, A Deeper Dive, by Mark Guithues of Community Legal Advisors Inc.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss pool maintenance, reserves, new products, rules and common legal questions with General Manager John Walters of the Palm Valley Country Club and Alan Smith of Alan Smith Pools. CAI asked me to summarize our conversation for its membership.

Maintenance. All pool maintenance begins with chlorine. This sanitizer kills e-coli and other bad stuff in the water. Adequate chlorine is all the municipality cares about, and it is getting harder (and thus more expensive) to obtain because of fires in the chlorine manufacturing plants. (Turns out chlorine gas is explosive.) Because of this, we encourage you to stock up going into the summer – before the eastern and northern states open their pools. Also, make an appointment with your pool expert and discuss investing in chlorine-saving devices, such as ozone and UV lights, which will pay themselves off more quickly as chlorine prices rise.  Note that a salt-water pool is not a chlorine-free pool. Salt-water pools create their own chlorine by passing slightly salty water through two electrically charged metal plates. They still require regular, if less, chlorine.

Pool Chemistry.  Chlorine, left to its own devices, will quickly destroy the plaster, coping and concrete walks around your pool. The key to minimizing this damage is to understand the tools used to keep your water in “balance”:

Acid: Measured in “Ph,” the strength of acid lies how much potential hydrogen is held by the water. You want enough acid to keep the chlorine at 7.6, which maximizes its pathogen killing potential.

Calcium: If your acidity (Ph) is too high, like your night-time TUMS, adding calcium to the pool will lower it, preserving concrete and plaster.

Stabilizer: Like conditioner for your hair, stabilizer it keeps the sun from burning off the chlorine.

Salts:  As pool salt is added, the water will convert the free chlorine ions into hypochlorus acid. Hypochlorus acid, compared to chlorine tablets, has less odor and is easier on the eyes.

Test Kits. Even brand-new test kits can quickly become shockingly inaccurate, resulting in a garbage in – garbage out scenario. This means that your pool staff can easily (and consistently) measure one reading, while the municipality measures a different reading. The trick is to regularly replace your re-agents which go bad with time and heat. Make sure staff is fully trained and certified and remind them not to leave pool test chemicals in their cart or direct sunlight.

Reserve Lifespans.  Nano-technology is coming to the pool industry. Like the hydrophobic sealers used to preserve paint on new cars and trucks, new products such as MicroGlass hardens both new and old plaster, extending lifespan and helping protect it from etching, spalling, color-loss, and shortened lifetimes. These products can be added retroactively to pool finishes – not just when the pools are new – and reduce the amount of chemicals which are used for maintenance.  Studies are showing that spa plaster, which has an expected lifespan of 5-7 yrs., is expected to go 10-15 with these new products. Pool plaster, 20-30 years. Heaters and pool decking, which prematurely died from high acid content in pools, could live an additional 15 years, to 30. Sit down with your pool professional and your reserve study and develop a scenario where your annual reserve expenses actually decline.

Pool Rules.  The key takeaway from this conversation was to avoid wholesale acceptance of “over the counter” pool rules. Instead, take a hard look at what your problems are, and then craft solutions designed to creatively address them. Want to allow members to enjoy the spa after closing hours? Impose “quiet” hours from 10pm till 2am. Want to stop one group from dominating the pool and surrounding areas, consider rules based on impact to others and access to amenities. Ex: Bluetooth speakers are ok, but not if heard beyond the seating area. Disallow any use which excludes other owners from use of the amenities.  Full disclosure: Some of these rules are more “gray,” making enforcement and fining more difficult. But this exercise of reviewing and removing outdated (no cut-offs?), illegal (no children?) or unenforceable (no diarrhea?) rules is designed to result in fewer, more tailored, use restrictions.  

Legal Issues.  Boards often over-regulate their pools based on liability concerns. While we want to avoid accidents, remember that communities carry liability insurance, which provides defense (an attorney) and indemnity (cash) to address claims for injuries and drownings. Those in charge of the pool should confirm that a) fencing is above 5 feet, b) pool signage is posted, c) life preservers have attached lines the length of the pool; d) “shepherd’s hooks” are accessible, and e) at least one pool access gate can be exited without a key in the event of an emergency. Understand that hiring a lifeguarding staff brings with it the responsibility to drug-test and perform other supervision – which may outweigh an otherwise voluntary desire to add summer staff.  Auto chlorine mechanisms and trackers need to be separately monitored and regularly maintained. Fecal matter from ducks and geese is legally required to be addressed with the same protocol as is human waste, and pool lifts – even when installed at the cost of the requesting owner – still require regular inspection, maintenance and use of thoughtful restrictions and operation protocols.

Community Legal Advisors Inc is a law firm providing assessment collection and general counsel services to its community association clients. You can learn more about Community Legal Advisors Inc at www.AttorneyForHOA.com.