Imagine a doctor trying to assess your health problem without knowing the first thing about the human body. Actually, stop imagining that—it’s downright scary.
But when it comes to maintenance, you’re like a doctor for your pool. A pool is similar to any other system: it is made out of several parts that fit and work together to achieve a common goal. In order to make sure you’re giving your pool the routine maintenance it needs, it’s absolutely essential to understand all of its parts.
That’s just it: understanding the parts of your pool and how they work together is the first step toward a sparkingly clean pool. I’ll explain how every pool circulation system works, as well as explain every single part of a swimming pool in order. Those will be broken down in three easy-to-follow sections.
This is going to be a whole lot easier than anatomy class. Let’s go.
Seriously, it’s great that you’re taking the initiative to learn all the parts of your pool. Not only will it help you to deliver routine maintenance, but it will also make it easier to troubleshoot any problems your pool encounters, such as an overheating pool pump or weak pool jets.
Every part can encounter its own issues down the road. You’re taking the time now to be prepared. Good on you for that.
How Does a Pool’s Circulation System Work?
In order to understand how the part I’m about to list out fit together, let’s visit the big-picture of how a pool circulaiton system works. This is how water travels through your system:
- First, your pump sucks in water from the pool through the skimmer. You always want water to be above the skimmer so that it can suck in water and water only.
- Next, water passes through the pump’s strainer basket, which catches large debris like leaves. It also passes into the filter, which cleans the water of microscopic debris and contaminants.
- Finally, the water passes out of the filter and back into the pool through the pool jets—those would be the little circular pieces embedded in your pool wall. You’ve probably seen or felt them pushing water out when the pump is on. Make sure you angle these toward what pool experts call “dead areas,” such as behind ladders, around the pool steps, and underneath the skimmer. These are usually pockets with poorer circulation than the rest of your pool.
Ideally, this process involves every drop of your water, and repeats a few times per day.
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Learn All the Parts of a Swimming Pool—In Three Sections
Now that you know how all these parts fit together, let’s describe each and every one—in the order of your water’s circulation. This is the process the moment you turn on your pump, but it happens so quickly that the water probably seems continuous immediately.
We’re going to break it down slower than what happens in real time, but it’s worth it. You’re just a few minutes to understanding every single part of your pool, and one step closer to mastering the art of DIY pool care.
Section 1: The Suction Side
The suction side is the side that is pulling water from your pool to your pump. As you read above, this is the very beginning of the process. Water comes through just three different parts—take that, complicated car engines.
The main drain is a drain at the bottom of an inground pool, usually at the deep end, which assists in pulling water to the pump. Although it’s called the main drain, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever use it to actually drain your pool.
If you have a newer inground pool, you probably have two of them. If you have an older inground pool, you probably have one of them. If you have an above ground pool, it’s likely you don’t have any at all.
But if you do have a main drain in your pool, especially if you only have one, use caution. Sometimes the suction can be very powerful and hazardous to swimmers or anything that’s made its way into your pool. It’s because of this safety hazard that new inground pools have two main drains, to cut each suction power in half.
The skimmer plate is usually a rectangular port in the pool wall. It sort of looks like the hole in your sink that keeps water from overflowing—but you actually want your water line to always be midway up the skimmer, to ensure that your system is pulling in water and not air. Skimmers and the rest of your circulation system really, really don’t like air.
Near the skimmer plate is usually a skimmer basket. This basket is usually built into your pool’s deck, and has a flat cover over it. The skimmer baskets filter out debris like leaves, twigs, and other junk that might have come in with your pool water through your skimmer plate.
There can be multiple skimmer plates and multiple skimmer baskets, so poke around your pool area to see exactly what your unique set up is—you’ll want to be checking that your water line is halfway up those skimmer plates at all times, and you’ll want to clean out your skimmer baskets regularly to prevent clogs in your system.
Isn’t it great that you can actually see and locate all of these parts, without having to, say, open up an engine? That won’t apply until we get to your pool pump and filter, but even then, they’re pretty straightforward devices.
The suction plumbing is as clear as day, though hopefully yours isn’t too obvious, thanks to your pool planner. It’s the PVC pipe that runs from your pool to your pump, and you want to make sure your pipes have no cracks or leaks—because depending on how powerful your pump is, that water is travelling fast.
If you don’t have a pool alarm yet, make sure to get one that is ASTM certified—this is not the kind of device that has any room for manufacturer error. I recommend the PoolWatch Certified ASTM Alarm. It’s loaded with patented features that immediately alarm you to the happenings around your pool, all while circumventing false alarms.
Section 2: The Filtration Hub
So why is all that water moving through your main drain, your skimmers, and your section plumbing in the first place? Well, it’s all so that the water can travel through your filtration system, which consists of two very important pieces of equipment indeed: your pool pump and your pool filter.
Together, the pump and the filter form a powerhouse of cleaning out your water, so that it can return to your pool without all the microscopic gunk it had when it arrived into their housing.
The Pool Pump
The pool pump is the reason why all of this water is traveling at all. It consists of two sides: the motor, and the housing. The motor is the side that is using what is called an impeller to pull all of that water into your filtration system and push it out through your pressure/return side (more on that side in the next section). The pump’s housing continues to filter out debris from your water.
The pump is often referred to as the heart of your pool’s circulation system. And just like how none of us humans can stay alive and healthy without a heart, neither can your pool. In order to have ultra safe waters, those waters need to flow, get rid of debris, and, most importantly, pass through your pool filter.
The Pool Filter
The pool filter is a big reason why we can swim in pools without worrying too much about getting sick. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t that why I add sanitizer to my water? Well, don’t get me wrong. That’s absolutely essential to maintaining a safe pool, and without it, I don’t even recommend swimming.
But sanitizer only does half the job. Because what happens when sanitizer neutralizes bacteria is that that same bacteria—though a shell of what it once was—continues to float in your water, and continues to take up space where your sanitizer should be working. Enough neutralized bacteria, and your sanitizer won’t work at all.
Thankfully, your pool filter takes all that microscopic junk—including stuff that you just can’t see with the human eye—and filters it from your water. It can also take out small pieces of debris.
Pool filters come in three types: sand filters, diatomaceous earth (DE) filters, and cartridge filters. Once you have the right pool filter for you, it’s a breeze to maintain—but exactly what that maintenance involves depends on filter type.
To keep your circulation system in top shape, you’ll need a reliable, powerful, and energy-saving pump like the ultra-powerful Black & Decker 3 HP Variable-Speed Pump to make sure all your water is sanitized. Plus, it comes with a free warranty, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year. According to customer James Robinson, “Great price, quick shipping and delivery. Installed it and turned it on, and it was so quiet that we both reached down to feel if it was vibrating! Simple controls. I’d buy it again.”
Section 3: The Pressure/Return Side
The pressure/return side—you guessed it—pushes all that water back into your pool.
Similar to the suction plumbing, the return plumbing is made of PVC pipe that you’ll want to make sure isn’t cracked or leaking. Since this whole system depends on pressure, any introduction of air into your circulation is a major issue.
The return plumbing can go straight to your return jets, or you might have some additional equipment hooked up on the way.
Optional: The Electric Heat Pump
This one is my favorite, because while a lot of swimming pool equipment can give you a cleaner swim, the electric heat pump can actually give you a more comfortable one. If you have an electric heat pump (and by the way, every pool owner should), it acts as a heating channel for your pool’s water, which then returns to your pool for a goosebumps-free swim. It heats depending on a specific temperature you set for your water, so you can choose your perfect pool temperature.
Optional: Saltwater Cell
This is another piece of equipment that contributes to a more comfortable swim. A saltwater cell is what makes a pool a saltwater pool, which means that instead of need chlorine manually added to your water, your pool makes chlorine on-site. As a result your pool uses the lowest, most stable doses of chlorine, which is easier on swimmers’ skin, hair, and eyes.
If you have a saltwater cell, it adds those ultra-low doses of sanitizer directly to your water. But you’ll still need to balance you chemicals specifically for your saltwater pool.
Optional: Chemical Feeder
Many pool owners opt to add a chemical feeder to their return lines. A chemical feeder is a small device that can be filled up with your sanitizer of choice and slowly adds the sanitizer in. This way, you don’t have to worry about manually adding sanitizer—except to fill that feeder up.
Some people find this device really helpful, but I usually go the old-fashioned way by adding chlorine tablets right into my skimmer. All’s fair!
You probably already know what return jets look like—especially if you’re ever been in a hot tub. Unfortunately, the return jets in your pool don’t have fun bubbles. In fact, if your return jets are bubbling up, it’s likely you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The now-clean water that has been through your main drain/skimmers, your suction lines, your pump, your filter, your return lines, and any other optional equipment is then pushed back into your pool through return jets. Make sure you angle your jets so that the water is circulating in a round pattern around the pool. One of their additional functions is to keep water from stagnating in the pool itself.
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In the Flow State!
And that’s how we come full circle. Congratulations, you’ve figured out every aspect of the parts of a pool. This is the first step toward your new life as a pool DIY expert—but for now, this calls for a quick tour of your own circulation system, followed by a celebratory plunge. Enjoy.