Ok, so you passed on the new big screen TV, gave in on the weekend fishing trip with your best buddies and worked some extra hard hours so that you could get the pool resurfaced. After all you must put into priority what really counts most, right? Well never the less your pool has a new coat of plaster weather it’s a Quartz Finish, a Stone Finish or Conventional Marcite (is that stuff still around?) makes no difference. Hopefully you found the right contractor to do the job and everything went smoothly? Let’s leave that for another article. So your pool is filling and what you do next could absolutely decide how long your new plaster will look new and how long it will last. I kid you not, start-up, aka fire-up of the new finish is one of the most important parts of the re-plastering process.
I have found that although you may have used a reputable pool contractor to do a superb job of the actual re-finishing does not necessarily mean they will do a proper fire-up once the pool is filled. Might be that plastering is their forte and only offer the fire-up as a courtesy because there competition does, or they may not offer it all due to the liability of damaging the new finish. So it would certainly behoove you to know exactly what is necessary to safeguard the integrity and warranty of your pool finish. After all, that weekend fishing trip would look pretty good after having your pool refinished only to be stained, streaked and discolored.
The consensus has been: once the pool is filled you need to get the water cleared and balanced as soon as possible (contractor needs that check) That usually meant shocking the pool heavily, balancing the alkalinity, PH and vacuuming the pool to remove the plaster dust and any debris that might have entered the pool during the refill. All done in one day and usually on the day the pool was finished filling.
Back in the 70’s & 80’s the plaster of choice (only choice) was conventional Marcite and a recurring problem builders were having with the plaster was a condition known as spot etching. Some other conditions that were prevalent in these same pools were streaking, grey swirls and yellowing of the finish. Everyone in the industry had their own opinion or expert advice as to why this was happening, the only problem was that the industry as a whole could not agree on the “why”. The National Spa & Pool Industry (NSPI) as it was known back then, in conjunction with several pool builders conducted several tests on demo pools to try to come up with a common denominator that could explain the ongoing conditions affecting pool finishes.
Some of the first finger pointing was at the fact that Marcite used to contain Asbestos as part of the plaster mix, for OBVIOUS reasons the EPA had the Manufactures of Marcite remove the Asbestos and low and behold every old-timer in the industry blamed the removal off the Asbestos as the source of all plaster related problems. We know better today that was not true but unfortunately those old-school plasterers are not around anymore, huh? wonder why? So these demo pools were plastered, filled and monitored for about a year. After all the hoopla, all the finger pointing and all the data was in, guess what, the NSPI and the industry determined the common denominator was human error, labor defects, defects in the actual mixing of the plaster on the job-site, defects in the actual application of the plaster, defects in the hand troweling of the plaster as well as the condition of the trowels themselves. Last but not least and most prevalent was the start-up procedure done by most companies.
Houston we have a problem!
How can this be? Was echoed throughout the industry. We are the experts, we’ve been doing this for years and years without these problems, how could all of a sudden our time and tested techniques be the blame for all of our woes? Well like all trades that have have well skilled craftsmen they all had their industry specific niche. Pool plasterers were not born from the industry but transferred from the masonry, concrete and stucco finishing trades. After all swimming pools really did not have their own industry classification until the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Pools were being built by home builders who employed skilled craftsmen, skilled in block laying, carpentry, form work, concrete finishing and plastering.
As the pool industry grew and the industry was able to support the full time employment of pool plasters. Those plasterers came from skilled backgrounds and as the industry continued to grow it attracted all sorts of people trying to get their slice of pool pie. Well unfortunately with all big business comes competition and competition can be a good thing if we all play fair like good little boys and girls. New pool companies were popping up everywhere and everywhere a new pool company started they needed laborers. Notice I said laborers not craftsmen, yes the competition was not playing fair by hiring unskilled labor to reduce the overall cost of the pool. Forcing the craftsmen still left in the industry in keep taking pay cuts until they were finally forced out of the industry by the newbie’s. OK maybe not forced so much as they were ready for retirement anyway.
They sure don’t build them like they used too
Remember that old saying? “they don’t build them like they used too” well the transfer from old school craftsmen to then new pool laborers must have missed quite a few important trade secrets and techniques. Pool plaster “101” is apparently where all the freshmen left, dropped out went to work thinking they knew all there was to know. Here is what unfortunately not passed down to them from the very wise old guys:
1) Thou shall not apply plaster unless the plaster was mixed for “x” amounts of minutes.
2) Thou shall not use well water or unfiltered water for mixing of the plaster.
3) Thou shall not use dirty trowels, worn trowels or poor quality steel trowels.
4) Thou shall not over-trowel the pool plaster.
5) Thou shall not add calcium to the plaster mix.
6) Thou shall not walk bare-foot on finished pool plaster.
7) Thou shall fill pool starting the water in the deep end only.
8) Thou shall not interrupt the filling process until the water reaches the tile line.
9) Thou shall not try to chemically balance the pool all in one day.
10) Thou shall brush, brush and brush the pool for at least 10 days.
I promise you it really was just a coincidence that there are “10” commandments, I mean RULES!
Now let me explain why it took years and years of crying foul and caused an industry to come together to solve the obvious that was not so obvious at the time. Here is what was determined to be the cause of spot etching, grey streaks or swirls, aka mottling and yellowing of the pool plaster:
1) Add plaster and water to a powered mixer, mix until it looks like pancake batter and apply to pool, sounds OK but not true. Turns out that the dry plaster and water need to be mixed for a specific amount of time (5-6min.) before they are considered married (feels like a lifetime!) also plaster that is under-mix can and does false set which requires additional mixing and addition of water to complete the process. The mixing from batch to batch needs to be as consistent as possible to ensure uniform texture and curing all around.
2) The source of the water could be high in metals, low in hardness or vice versa. Tap water or well water could have adverse effects on the plaster’s outcome. Causing staining and streaking.
3) Dirty trowels are dirty trowels no need to say more, but worn trowels have a direct affect on how hard a finisher has to apply pressure to the plaster to get it smooth. The harder the pressure applied to the trowel the more likely the trowel will transfer heat from the friction caused from the exerted pressure and burn the finish, commonly known as “trowel burns”. Trowel burns are what cause the finish to have grayish swirls throughout the pool finish
4) Over-troweling the pool has the same effect on the pool finish even if the tools are clean, in good shape and of good quality. Over troweling usually becomes necessary when the plaster false sets on the finishers and there was a mad frenzy of troweling to try to get the plaster smoothed out before it got too hard.
5) Calcium is well known as an accelerator of cement products, that being said on cooler days, colder climates or day’s with rain in the forecast plasterers found by adding calcium to the plaster mix they could accelerate the set-up time of the plaster therefore in theory finish a pool quicker without having to wait for the plaster to set at its own pace. This practice became more and more common as plaster crews were now able to get 2 and even 3 pools plastered in one day. More PIE! (more like humble pie)
6) Walking barefoot on a freshly plastered pool seemed harmless enough; certainly better then walking on the finish with work boots, shoes or sneakers. The plaster is hard at this point but by no means cured. In-fact it takes about 28 days for plaster to fully cure. The finished plaster acts like a sponge absorbing everything that comes in contact with it. The perfect outline of a foot print usually revealed itself about a month after the pool was completed. The foot print was a result of the natural oil in a person’s skin being absorbed into the plaster, that oil was retained by the plaster as it cured causing the finish to dry darker in the outline of a foot print, pinky toe included.
7) “Hey honey look the pool is filling, sure is filling slow, let’s get another hose in there so it will fill faster!” Run a second hose out to the pool to speed up the filling process also seemed harmless enough so long as the second water hose was added to the deep-end where there already is a growing body of water. When a hose is added, water must hit water and not run down the plaster from the wall or the shallow end as the very absorbent plaster will pull the minerals and impurities’ out of the water flowing down the plaster thus causing a stain/streak.
8) Turning the water fill off for the pool still happens today more often than you might think. A homeowner not being informed about how important the need to let the pool fill until water reached the tile was the main reason for this happening. Typically a pool needs a good 24 to 36 hours to fill depending on the size of the pool and of course water pressure. Mr. & Mrs. Pool owner fearful the pool might over fill during the night would turn the water of at bedtime and resume the next morning. ” Ring around the rosy pocket full of …” Sorry!, Ring around pool as in “a definite water line mark” where the pool water was stopped for several hours then resumed, resulted in a permanent stain.
9) “Patience is a Virtue” except when you’re trying to collect final payment on a pool resurface and the water is green. No GREEN for Mr. Pool Man until the pool is blue. Turns out shocking a pool that has been recently plastered is bad, very, very bad, also turns out that chlorine is the last thing that should be added to the pool for several reasons. That did not make a lot of sense at that time as it was thought without chlorine how could you clear up the water quickly. Filter, Filter, Filter. Ever wonder how a fish tank stays clear without chlorine; a swimming pool is really nothing more than a big o fish tank. Now don’t get me wrong I am not saying you should forgo on the chlorine, or that you can put fish in your pool, but you certainly do not need as much chlorine as you think. We have found that a procedure of adding a Stain & Scale control product, balancing the ph, alkalinity and calcium and running the filter for a few days before adding chlorine is the best way to nurse the newly finished plaster to good health.
10) “Brush, brush, brush that plaster dust away”, has a nice ring to it but truth is everybody hates brushing a pool especially when you are told you must brush at least twice a day. The new plaster is curing and shedding what we call, “plaster dust” plaster dust left untouched can and will resettle on the pool finish and cause yellowing on Marcite and leave a white paste on Stone or Quartz finishes. By brushing the pool constantly you are getting the dust off the surface and out into the water so that the filter can trap the dust as it is circulated. As each day passes the dust will become less and less prevalent until it is all gone, about a week in most cases. From that point on brushing the pool at least once a week is good for the pool and an upper body workout.
FOR A DETAILED GUIDE ON HOW TO START-UP A NEW POOL FINISH PLEASE READ “Proper Chemical Start-Up Guide”
OK you can breathe now, we’re done, grab a cold drink, find your favorite pool float and relax!