How to Choose and Install the Best In-Ground Winter Cover For You

There are two sides to every coin, and it just so happens that the opposite side of summer—which is usually when swimming happens, unless you live in actual paradise—is winter. This is the season that most pool owners collectively sigh, winterize their pools to prepare them for the cold weather coming, and close them up until next time. But although “closing” your pool includes other tasks, like brushing pool floor and walls, using a pool vacuum or robotic cleaner, and balancing the water, a pool isn’t actually closed unless it has a winter cover installed—and a lot of the work you’ve done up to that point is only worth it if you actually cover your pool.

Not only is a winter cover safe for your pool (and your wallet come spring), but it also keeps members of your family and others safe. Read on to learn more about each type of safety pool cover, how to choose the best one for you, and how to properly install each. And remember: make the right choice, and it’ll work out for the long haul.

I’ll Just Get the Cheapest Cover. Right?

There are certainly times when it makes sense to cut your costs down—for example, if you’re a pool owner who wants to save money (and aren’t we all), the first thing you should do is get a variable-speed pump like the Energy Star Variable Speed In Ground Blue Torrent Cyclone Swimming Pool Pump—which will save you every month on your operating costs, and eventually pays itself off with energy saved. But your pool’s winter cover? Unfortunately, there are no similar win-wins there. A pool cover is an investment. Take care of it, and it’ll last you about a decade of winters. I know, nobody wants to think about cold months over the next ten years right now. I don’t particularly, either, but it’s worth it to be prepared.

Winter pool cover prices vary based on manufacturer and pool cover type, but there’s a major cost difference between a winter tarp and a mesh or solid pool safety cover. But before you click your heels and run off to your closest pool supply store, I’ll give you one fair warning: when it comes to winter pool covers, you get what you pay for. 

best winter cover

Safety First, Last, and In-between 

Listen, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. But I will say that the tarps you can get for cheap to cover your pool weren’t designed with safety in mind. And since most drownings involving victims under the age of five happen in residential swimming pools, it’s important to consider the risk—even if you don’t have small children yourself. You never know who will visit, or if your neighbors have small children who could find their way into your yard. The same goes with those furry members of your family. Seriously, it’s much better to just rule out the possibility.

Even your installation should be focused on safety, since even a pool cover that was designed for safety purposes could be unsafe if installed improperly. If you’re not confident that you can handle the installation yourself, it’s a good idea to call in a professional. My recommendation? Watch what they do so you can try it on your own next year. It’s a lot easier to replicate after the first installation—especially for the more permament installations like the pool safety covers.

One common discovery on pool opening day—and the one pool owners fear—is algae, no question. Use the BLACK+DECKER 360-Degree Bristles Pool Brush to keep microspores from attaching to your pool walls and floors. It was developed by longtime pool maintenance experts to prevent aches and pains associated with getting hard-to-reach corners.

The Pool Yin and Yang: Weight and Coverage

Other than safety, there are two factors any pool owner should consider before choosing a pool winter cover: weight and coverage. I don’t need to remind you of this, but your pool is pretty big. Oftentimes, a good sturdy tarp will be difficult to wrangle with because of its size and weight. If you’re determined to install the cover yourself—which I don’t think is necessary, since we all get by with a little help from our friends—you might want to stick with a mesh pool safety cover. But do that, and you’ll get way less coverage from the storms coming this winter, and all the debris that they’re about to bring. It’s a delicate balance, and ultimately the choice is yours.

The Basic: The Tarp Pool Cover

This one is a standard pool cover, but not a pool safety cover. A winter tarp cover will cost you between $75-$225, but be careful going in this direction: they only last from 1-3 seasons. Since it’s not mesh, this tarp keep out sunlight and a fair amount of debris. But a heavy lifter this pool cover is not. If anyone, human or animal, walks across this cover, it will cave in—bringing all the junk that’s accumulated on top into the pool you just worked so hard to close the right way for the season. That’s not what anyone means when they mention a catwalk.

Even without a visitor, this cover could give in with the weight of the debris, rainwater, and perhaps even ice that is sure to come. If you’re not hypervigilant about checking that your pool cover pump is moving all that weight off of the tarp and keeping it light and secure, make sure you have a heavy-duty, automatic cover pump like the Sunnora 800 Automatic Pool Cover Pump, which detects up to an eighth of an inch of water. Otherwise, you might as well not cover your pool at all—and seriously, you should cover your pool.

I can’t promise that a tarp will keep you safe, and they don’t tend to look beautiful by any means. But if you’re looking for the cheapest option—this is it, my friend.

winter cover

How to Install the Tarp Cover

At first, this will feel like you’re making the biggest bed of your life—and then it gets a little repetitive to make sure the cover is secured. To start this installation, you’ll need the winter cover, water bags, wall bags, and a long thin rope. 

1.     First, unfold your winter cover with a friend. Then, place the winter cover over the pool with a waving motion, so that the cover doesn’t fold over on itself. Both above-ground and in-ground pools are designed with some overlap, so that the cover won’t be too small for your pool even if you partially drain your pool or add an air pillow.

2.     Using a filled water bag, weigh down the unsecured perimeter of your pool cover. This way, you don’t have to worry about the cover falling in while you work.

3.     Then, place the empty water bags so they’re parallel to all of your pool’s edges. To prevent rolling, fit the empty water bags through the cover’s loops.

4.     Fill each bag chamber halfway with water, allowing room for ice expansion. I’d even suggest adding a bit of pool anti-freeze in each bag.

5.     Next, fill 4 wall bags halfway full and tie a long loop of rope to each bag, and then to a water bag. One wall bag should be positioned in each corner of your pool, on top of the cover.

The Long Term Choice: Pool Safety Covers

Now we’re onto pool safety covers, which most in-ground pool owners use to prevent any events they might regret—even if that’s just discovering few backyard pests in the deep end on pool opening day—and because these covers tend to last seasons and seasons. That’s significantly longer than the tarp above, so long term, the cost could potentially be around the same. That’s that long term thinking I’m all about.

The Lightest Option: The Mesh Pool Safety Cover

A mesh cover is the longest lasting at 10-15 years, and it’ll cost you around $800 to $3,000. And although they’re the lightest, most manageable of safety pool covers, they can often support thousands of pounds.

A mesh pool safety cover is designed to prevent water from collecting on top of the cover and therefore works around the need for a pool cover pump. So why use a cover at all? Well, the mesh is tightly woven to prevent any debris from settling on top, and usually prevents sunlight from working its way in and activating any microscopic algae you might have. This of course doesn’t keep out dust and dirt, which will get in with the rain. Plus, rainwater has the ability to wreck your chemical balance, which is why even during pool season you should be prepared for rain before it comes, as well as after a storm.

If you have a mesh safety cover, you’re still taking a sensible option. But you’ll have more work to do on pool opening day next year to make sure your pool is cleaned up and back in shape for the swimming season. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid.

Restoring your chemical balance is all the easier with a powerful pump. If a larger horsepower will turn over your water volume at a sufficient rate—and won’t overwhelm your filtration system—then a unit like this Blue Torrent 2 HP Variable-Speed Pump is the one to try. As customer Dave Schmidt says, “My pool has never looked cleaner. I am pleased with my new pump!” 

The Cleanest Option: The Solid Pool Safety Cover 

Solid pool safety covers will last around 6-10 years, depending on care and the severity of the winter season, and cost around $800-$3,000. Usually made of vinyl, these are less light than a mesh pool safety cover, and a little more different to wrangle.

A solid pool safety cover is the way to go if you have an extra pair of hands to help you install the cover, and both of you can lift its weight. The benefit here is that unlike the mesh cover, the solid cover will not allow rainwater to pass through, and you’re more likely to have clear water within 24 hours of opening your pool next year, instead of days (and a considerable amount of elbow grease) later. It’s fairly common for owners to open up their pool and find a cloudy mess, but the severity of that murkiness matters.

Although a solid pool cover can take more weight than a tarp before buckling under, you’ll be surprised how quickly rain water or melted ice accumulates—and you’ll be even more shocked by how heavy it can be. You’re going to need a pool cover pump, and unless you like standing outside in the cold to watch your cover pump working, I recommend an automatic model. This way, your pump will detect how much water is on top of your cover and power on and off accordingly. Try a durable and tried-and-true model like the Black & Decker 800 GPH Automatic Pool Cover Pump. Complete with a one-year warranty, it works fast to keep your cover light and secure. Basically, as it should be.

winter cover

Now Let’s Work: Here’s How to Install a Pool Safety Cover

If you’ve installed a tarp before, get ready for a whole new ballgame. A pool safety cover is secured into the pool deck via straps, springs, and anchors. It’ll take any seasoned DIYer just a few hours to complete the first year. The good news? Each year that follows gets easier. 

First, you’ll need a heavy duty rotary hammer drill with a long masonry drill bit, extension cords to power the drill, some chalk for marking the ground, a hammer to hit in the deck anchors that came with the pool cover, and a dozen buckets of water or bags of sand to hold the cover in place while you work. Protective goggles are also recommended. When your winter cover arrives, it’ll come with a few parts, which vary too much to list out here but usually include standard brass anchors. Make sure your materials match the manufacturer’s insert when you get your cover. 

And finally, here’s how to install the cover:

1.     Measure your pool and your pool cover, unless you already took measurements to determine the size of your pool. Your pool cover is going to overlap your pool from about 10 to 15 inches. Take the difference in width and length, divide it by two, and mark that point on the ground around your pool’s perimeter. This might be more approximate if your pool isn’t a neat circle, rectangle, or square.

2.     Carefully unfolding the pool cover to prevent any snagging, place it over your pool with the cautionary label facing up. You want to line up your pool cover with the markings that you made, so that your pool is perfectly situated in the center of the cover.

3.     Hold the straps in place with those buckets of water or sand mentioned above, so your cover doesn’t move around while you’re working to install it.

4.     At the center of each side of your pool, if you have a long pool, or at four points equidistant around the perimeter of your pool, if you have a circular pool, mark four anchor points about 18 inches from the edge of your swimming pool cover. Then, install the anchors.

5.     Attach the pool cover straps to the springs included with your winter cover, and then place the springs on the anchors. Make sure that the springs are at an equal tension each, usually around 50% tense.

Since many winter covers have a different system of springs, and can include a buckle, a D-ring, and even an installation rod, it’s important to also check in with your specific manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you’ve got it down pat. The last thing you want is an improperly installed cover that sags into the water, which will defeat the purpose of the cover’s use in the first place, and lead to costly damage. Let’s not do that.

In order to recover your pool on pool opening day, the sanitizer and chemicals you add to the water need to be circulated. Get balanced fast with a reliable, powerful, and energy-saving pump like the 2 HP Energy Star Variable Speed In Ground Blue Torrent Cyclone Pump to make sure all your water is treated. Plus, it comes with a lifetime warranty, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year. According to customer Dave Schmidt, “my pool has never looked cleaner!”

Honorable Mention: Hybrid Pool Safety Covers

Move over, Prius. This hybrid pool cover is a blend of the two: it blocks out most UV rays, allows in some rainfall, and keeps all but the finest debris out. Plus, hybrid pool covers are usually pretty light and easier to manage, but still just as safe and sturdy as the mesh and solid pool safety covers.

If you’re looking to install this golden child of the current winter cover market, look no further. The process is the same as that of the pool safety covers explained above.

You’ve Got It Covered!

Installing a winter cover isn’t the happiest task of the year, but come pool opening day and you’ll be glad that you did it. Now that your pool is covered, it’s more likely to be clear next spring—and you’re in the clear, too. This season, stay safe and stay warm. And when it’s time to start swimming again, your pool will be all the more ready. Enjoy.

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