Covering all bases: what’s the best option for your client?


By Alice Richard
Wednesday, 01 October, 2014



Covering all bases: what’s the best option for your client?

Just as every pool - and its owner - is unique, so too are each customer’s requirements for a pool cover. Solar, mesh and rigid covers all have their pros and cons, as do pool enclosures, but what’s the best option for your client? We’ve asked some experts for their advice.

Picking a winner

“We find that pool owners often don’t consider the practical implications of pool cover operation before purchasing; that is, how difficult or easy the cover is to retract or extend,” said Carl Voshege, GM of Remco Pool Covers & Enclosures.

“We know that many buyers end up with a product that gathers cobwebs because it is difficult to use. Buying a low-cost, manually operated floating cover for a large pool may be the most economical option, but it may also be too difficult for the primary operator to use.”

Selecting a cover on price alone can be a false economy, Voshege says. Spending a little extra can save money down the track in reduced heat expenditure, water and chemical use, and pool maintenance.

Richard Norrish says the Elite Pool Covers team spends time with the client to ascertain what the cover is going to be used for. “A lot of clients come in and say, I’ve got young kids; I would like some heating … We say to them, if you want heating and security, then you’re going to be in the upper end of the market,” said Norrish.

“If you just want heating, then you can get away with a nice easy solar blanket. If you want security where somebody can walk on it but you want it priced right, you can use a mesh cover.”

Covers vs enclosures - how do they compare?

In terms of heat retention, retractable pool enclosures are very comparable to pool covers, says James Hutchins, CEO of The Pool Enclosure Company.

Enclosures offer UV protection - a definite plus for customers with children or those who are sensitive to the sun. An enclosure can be opened partway so part of the pool is open air but the remainder is UV protected. An enclosure’s polycarbonate segments and rubber seals will heat not only the air inside the enclosure but will also heat the pool water by up to 10-15°C, Hutchins says, saving heating costs.

By effectively converting an outdoor pool into an indoor pool, enclosures extend the swimming season to 12 months of the year, even without pool heating. However, they can’t quite compete with a rigid cover in terms of keeping the heat in the water, Voshege says.

“The natural greenhouse effect, combined with our insulated polycarbonate options, ensure that the environment inside the pool enclosure is pleasant during even cold days. Pool enclosures can also help in raising the temperature of the pool water, but not to the same degree as a good quality pool cover system,” said Voshege.

“It’s also important to mention that, in Australian conditions, pool enclosures need to be retracted in warmer months as the enclosed area can become unbearably hot. Significant thought then needs to be given to storing the enclosure behind the pool. If there is no room for the enclosure stack, a pool cover may be a more practical solution.”

However, this is only an issue for fixed, rather than retractable enclosures, Hutchins says. Building in ventilation windows or opening just a few segments can solve this problem.

According to Hutchins, the combined natural heating and heat retention qualities of enclosures make for far higher water temperatures than covers. An enclosure can be constructed with a low twin-wall polycarbonate enclosure that is designed specifically to retain heat.

Leave it out

Leaves can be the bane of a pool owner’s existence. Even with a cover, debris still needs to be removed from the top of the cover before swimming. And with some covers, some of that debris will end up back in the pool. No-one wants to be cleaning when they could be swimming. This is where enclosures come out ahead.

“We’ve got lots of clients that have had pool covers and they haven’t solved their problems with leaves. When people want to use their pool, they want to be able to jump straight in. With a cover, sometimes the leaves will go back in the pool and then you’ve got to clean the pool before you can swim. It makes things harder than just opening the door and jumping in,” said Hutchins.

Some debris can still slip through into the pool with a floating cover - and any debris that falls on the cover will stay there, potentially ending up in the pool when the cover is removed. In this instance, a mesh cover can be a solution. Because it sits above the water, any debris that falls on top of it can be blown or swept off prior to swimming. Rain will fall through the mesh, instead of pooling on top.

When water and debris collect on a solar cover, it can be difficult to clean.

“That’s why when we’re selling one we have to find out what is around the pool - how many trees, what they’re trying to keep out of the pool - because sometimes we have to talk them out of a solar cover and into a mesh cover,” said Norrish.

However, while mesh covers certainly keep leaves out of the pool, they have other drawbacks.

“If the customer is looking to reduce evaporation or the pool’s heated, then the mesh cover’s not going to do all those functions for them. It’s going to do a fantastic job of keeping the leaves out of the pool, but it’s not going to completely reduce evaporation and it’s not going to insulate a heated pool,” said Garry Long of ABGAL Liners & Covers.

“So then they have to balance up what’s the most important. The floating blanket will keep leaves out of the pool, but because it doesn’t overhang the coping, it’s not guaranteed to keep 100% of leaves out of the pool - but it does insulate the water if it’s heated.”

ABGAL recently launched an inflated pool cover that, according to Long, has the ability to self-clean leaves and debris. “It is ideal for situations where a there are lots of leaves or dust, or where the pool is in a high rainfall area and has a mineral sanitising system,” said Long.

“Pool owners with mineral systems want to avoid excessive fresh water entering the pool as it dilutes the concentration of the minerals and means the levels need to be rebalanced.”

Practical vs beautiful

Slatted covers give a pool “a refined architectural look”, Voshege says. They can be constructed of clear or translucent material so the pool lighting and interior are still visible.

“If the customer has a house that has a nice view, then the enclosure might look out of place. Or you could imagine someone’s got this beautiful tropical-looking backyard with fountains and ponds. To go and stick a big structure and block all that out is not going to be desirable,” said Long.

“Whereas a pool cover is more discreet and as soon as it’s taken off the pool, it doesn’t obstruct the look of the pool and surrounds.”

While this might be the case with an enclosure that’s out of proportion with its surrounds, Hutchins says each TPEC enclosure is custom designed so it’s in sympathy with its environment. For clients wishing to preserve their view, Hutchins recommends a low to medium enclosure with an angular design and clear polycarbonate to ensure they can still enjoy the scenery.

Having said that, a fabric or mesh cover isn’t necessarily a less conspicuous option.

“The nasty fact is that you’ve got an ugly blanket and roller at the end of your pool, which a lot of people don’t like,” said Norrish. Recessed systems that hide the blanket and roller in a cavity at the end of the pool can solve this issue, as can roller covers that double as benches.

Commercial considerations

Voshege says commercial operators are increasingly opting for fully automated pool covers.

“There are serious OH&S implications with the installation of a manually operated pool cover for a large pool. A fully automated pool cover eliminates risk for pool operators,” he said.

“In addition, the key switch operation and speed of extension and retraction of these covers ultimately leads to the covers being used more often, significantly increasing the net benefits a pool cover offers.

“In a commercial setting, fully automated covers are often the slatted type. Slatted covers offer by far the most insulation levels available on the world market - on average, three times the insulation levels offered by the average bubble or foam blanket. Again, this translates into significant reductions in pool running costs of a normal covered pool.

“Considering the increased insulation, ease of use and potential to completely integrate the cover into new pools, commercial pool operators are finding it easier to rationalise the cost of this type of product.”

An enclosure will offer more benefit than a cover for an outdoor commercial pool, Hutchins says. “What an enclosure will do is it will offer year-round usage. With an outdoor pool, you’re not going to be giving swim classes outside in most cases; the pool’s going to be shut for a certain amount of the year,” he said.

“A cover for an outdoor swimming pool will be able to retain heat and reduce the water evaporation, but it’s not going to increase usage.”

Lifespan

“The lifespan of a cover is generally affected by how much it’s used. Some people will cover their pool permanently, so they remove the cover to swim and then they put the cover straight back on again. Therefore, the cover is not going to last as long as one that is used just for high evaporation periods or just for the winter period,” said Long.

“With mesh-type covers, we’ve had customers use them all day, every day and the average life is eight to 10 years. And then we have other customers that just put the cover on for holiday periods and for the winter period, and they might get 20 years out of their pool cover.”

“The average lifespan of a rigid cover? It really depends on how people look after their chemical levels, because that’s the biggest killer of a cover,” said Norrish.

“If the chlorine level gets too high, it can corrode everything - it just eats away at everything. Same with pH - if it gets too low and becomes acidic, it will even eat through stainless steel. Most rigid covers are warrantied for five to 10 years and you’ll easily get that out of them.”

Commercial pools are often used very differently to residential pools, and so lifespan can be quite different. Commercial covers are often only used at night, so they aren’t exposed to the elements all the time.

“The lifespan of the commercial covers is five to 10 years, depending on how often it’s used on the pool, because sometimes [operators] might only use them for the colder period to minimise heat loss and not cover the pools up during the summer, so they’re just in storage through that period,” said Long.

While an enclosure represents a significant financial outlay, it lasts far longer than any cover. “Engineers have looked at the product all around the world and they’ve said the lifespan of the product is 40+ years,” said Hutchins.

Show me the money

“On an average-sized pool, you’re looking at about $500 for a floating cover and probably around $1200 for a custom-made leaf cover,” said Long.

“Our product range won’t compare directly with a cover,” admits Hutchins.

“The low to medium [height] enclosures start around the $30,000 to $35,000 mark, fully installed. If you’re looking at an automatic cover, you might be looking at $10,000 to $20,000. So we are probably two to three times more expensive, but the other side of it is that [the customer] can use their pool every day, making the pool more of an asset, and you solve the problem of debris getting into the pool.”

“Our rigid covers start around $16,000. Our average price would be around $22,000 to $25,000. That’s mainly because the pools are slightly bigger; the backyards are slightly bigger over here [in Western Australia],” said Norrish.

As with many things in life, there’s no magic bullet that will tick every single box for every single customer. Each project needs to be assessed according to the client’s requirements and budget, as well as their personal aesthetic preferences.

Benefit Solar Mesh Rigid Enclosure
Retains heat Yes, but not as well as insulated rigid covers No Yes, better than other covers Yes
Prevents evaporation Yes Less than other options Yes Minimises evaporation; cover/ventilation may be required to prevent condensation
Reduces chemical use Yes Not suitable for mineral systems in high rainfall areas Yes Yes
Keeps leaves/debris out of pool Some debris gets through; can be difficult to clean off Easy to remove debris Some automatic covers are self-cleaning Yes
Lifespan (depending on use) 5-20 years 8-10 years 10-15 years 40+ years
Cost (approx.) $500 $1200 $13,000+ $30,000+
Appearance Low profile; can be difficult to clean; roller can be unattractive Pool stays clean but interior is not visible ‘Architectural’ look; usually hidden from view when retracted Custom designed to suit environment and clients’ needs

Image courtesy of Remco.

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